In the field: Ahti & Ahti, Marta Zapparoli, Michael Pisaro-Liu

Thursday 30 November 2023

Marja Ahti and Niko-Matti Ahti created this piece for radio in 2020. Nokivesi (it means ‘soot-water’) is a musique concrète montage of domestic and natural sounds, deftly treated with electronics and some synth work, threaded through with fragments of spoken dialogue. It tells a fragmented story of some sort, which is lost on me as I don’t speak Finnish. Even though deprived of a clear meaning, it’s effective in the way it conveyed an impression of rural isolation without me needing to look that up in the sleeve notes. Even though sober tales of the ruminative and bucolic kind aren’t really my thing, I – wait, is that an electric kettle boiling near the beginning? The same kind of sound I was admiring in Ryoko Akama & d’incise’s No register No declare? Maybe they heard Nokivesi on the radio and made an homage, or it’s a happy coincidence, but for the record the Ahtis got there first.

I’ve probably ranted enough about my hangups with field recordings (tl;dr you gotta be good) so it’s nice that Dissipatio has found a novel twist on the genre. Marta Zapparoli’s field recordings are of magnetic fields, specifially those produced by the Aurora Borealis. Her Interdimensional Generated Space is a half-hour composition made from these electromagnetic emanations, captured by her on a variety of devices, including a homebrew crystal radio. It’s evidently the result of a lengthy period of field research, notable for the variety found in the thin but densely detailed sounds collected here. Zapparoli has produced something just stable enough to present a coherent listening session, yet filled with disruptions and breaks that underline the mercurial nature of the phenomenon, reflecting that their aesthetic delights (visual and aural) can be captured but not controlled. Further details emerge on re-listening. Also, props for releasing a digital download in original one-track mono instead of a dump of the CD master.

This is close to miraculous. Michael Pisaro-Liu’s A room outdoors is a 2006 composition lightly scored for harmonium, any sustaining instrument and field recordings. In this piece, the field recordings bring the outdoors, indoors, to create a imagined space for the musicians to play. These two substantial realisations published by elsewhere feature Guy Vandromme and Adriaan Severins on keyboards and synthesizer, recorded in Brussels in April 2020 (lockdown time) and a version from Cremona this summer, played by Luciana Elizondo on viola da gamba with Vandromme on Indian harmonium; Fabio Gionfrida mixes the field recordings here. The playing is sublime, recalling the subdued simplicity of Ferrari’s Presque rien, but given deeper colouring and shade by Vandromme and Severins, neither musician intruding to comment but only augment the sound into an evocative pastoral without a narrative. The Cremona realisation, with Vandromme switching to a rougher instrument and Elizondo’s string playing, adds a sharper relief of acoustic sounds to the mix, with more to direct the listener’s attention without either musician being so crass as to demand it. Each is notably different in their intepretation while staying true to the piece, with the musicians both offering a richly satisfying evocation and contemplation of landscape, much in the same way that landscape itself presents form and subject as one.