It hasn’t been intentional, but the idea of place has been a prevalent theme in my listening and writing over the past few months. There’s something magical, though, when music takes the sense of a specific location and finds ways to let it permeate through each passage, each note; conveying the spirit of somewhere and sharing it in a transitory, engaging way. Recordings from the Åland Islands does this with a reserved elegance that lets the Baltic archipelago weave its way through the synth and viola arrangements like a puppeteer in the shadows of the midnight sun.
Recorded in two separate trips to the Åland Islands – an archipelago between Finland and Sweden – Chiu and Honer don’t so much fade into the background as they become integral parts of the sonic landscape. On pieces like “On the Other Sea” and “By Foot By Sea,” a delicate balance is struck between the pointed yearnings of Honer’s viola and the bubbling arpeggios of Chiu’s synthesizer. There’s a dichotomy of the earthbound strings attached to these lilting, ascending electronics that turns into a mesmerizing aural ballet cast against bright white clouds.
Waves lap against solemn chord arrangements on the former while hand bells feel like boats rollicking across the swells, waiting for a storm to arrive. Worry is displaced by awe as the skies darken and the sea holds its breath. In comparison, “By Foot By Sea” is calmer; the winds have dissipated and the gentle rain is adding a shine to every surface, Honer’s viola fragments still quietly howling as a reminder that the land has scars.
Throughout Recordings from the Åland Islands, a freedom gleams through. “Stureby House Piano” takes a lovely piano recording and spins it through a dreamlike prism, buoying the blissful melodies with countless layers of electric fervor. Sound layers become rainbows spreading across the surface of the ocean bathing everything in a vibrant glow before returning back to the quieter, introspective passages that echo through the open air. Hope blooms on “Anna’s Organ,” the lilting sequences emerging from darkness as the sun rises for the first time in months whereas a joyous celebration simmers in the quixotic dance of “Under the Midnight Sun.”
So much of Recordings from the Åland Islands is a commemoration of a shared experience in a special place. I have never been to the Åland Islands (though I’ve taken the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki), but as soon as the repeating synth patterns of opener “In Åland Air” spark to life, I am transported to the rocky coast as birds flock and sing above. It’s music that is relaxed and welcoming, imbued with an engaging sense of wonder as Chiu and Honer explore and surrender to the archipelago’s charms.