Scattered off Finland’s west coast and close to Sweden, the Åland Islands are a liminal space between both nations. An archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia made up of more than 6000 islands, they are nominally Finnish, linguistically Swedish, and have been autonomous for over a century.
For longtime musical collaborators Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer, exploring Åland was a wholly unexpected adventure. There for a summer renovation project, Chiu and Honer quickly found themselves struck by a sensorium worth capturing. On Recordings from the Åland Islands, they offer compositions that go beyond superficial soundscapes, integrating field recordings from their trip with instrumental improvisations. In doing so, they convey not just their impressions but their experiences of a particularly idyllic Nordic summer.
The album opens with “In Åland Air”, a collage of distant birdsong and Chiu’s synthesizers. His pitches roll and waver so that all elements sound strangely organic, electronic instruments blending with sounds of sky and sea to build an energizing atmosphere. “On the Other Sea” follows, hand chimes sparkling against smooth keys and tumbling water in vibrant tribute to the Baltic. Honer’s electrified viola resonates, almost hornlike, as it pierces the ambience. “Snåcko” layers strings on strings, different lines crisscrossing in freeform waves atop one another until spiraling keys gradually overtake them.
With the world thus crafted, the subsequent tracks take a more miniaturized perspective. On “Stureby House Piano”, Chiu plays the titular instrument with preternatural grace that speeds up into trance-like ecstasy over a blurry backdrop of pleasantly mundane recorded conversations. Together, they make for a cozy slice of indoor life with an undercurrent of enchantment. Later, “Anna’s Organ” has a similar effect, albeit on a more majestic scale, with electronic keys sounding a starry chorus behind the stately leading organ.
Some compositions capture whole short stories. “Rocky Passage” flows seamlessly into “Kumlinge Kyrka”, sounding both journey and destination. After a brief multilingual montage, “Voices”, “By Foot By Sea” is perhaps the album’s most complete narrative, opening with a short conversation about an upcoming boat ride between visitors and locals. Rising and falling keyboard lines and a lyrical viola voice transport the distant audience to gentle northern waters. Later, “Archipelago” is an awestruck view of the entire region, with Honer’s strings building in luscious, droning strata. The album draws to a close with “Under the Midnight Sun”, a synth-heavy twilight that makes for a buoyant farewell.
Recordings from the Åland Islands makes for a brilliant joint debut from Chiu and Honer. While they do a fine job evoking the serenity of their surroundings, what really makes this album shine is a sense of play and humanity. This recording goes beyond soundscape ambience and utopian visions of isolation and instead delves into the living connections between people, place, and sound. Through their sonic lens, we are not discovering Åland’s ecology but encountering what is already there through carefully chosen field recordings. Chiu and Honer’s interpretations of this space build a sense of place at the intersection of their lived experience and the unique geography of the archipelago, and it’s this sense that they share with us on this new release.