»Tender Membranes« is the the label’s first release from Swedish-Finnish sound artist and electro-acoustic composer Marja Ahti. Active for a decade in the Finnish underground music scene, in recent years Ahti has developed a distinctive approach to patiently unfolding electro-acoustic constructions, documented on a string of solo releases and collaborative projects with Judith Hamann and her husband Niko-Matti Ahti.
Working with concrete and instrumental sounds, field recordings, and electronics, Ahti favours neither disjunctive collage nor monolithic consistency; rather, her work is composed of organically unfolding sequences of details and textures, which, as she says, ‘can stretch out or cut fast as long as they have a sense of inner stillness’, a sense that she connects to moments of heightened attention in everyday life. »Tender Membranes« consists of four lengthy pieces, partly inspired by the image of the senses and mind as membranes allowing for the passage between inner and outer spaces, sensation and its causes, creating a world. Ahti’s unhurried pacing encourages this sense of listening as an opening or surrender to sound, which can often create the impression that the listener is moving through a space zooming in on details. The opening »Shrine (Aether)« exemplifies this aspect of Ahti’s approach: a bell clears the air with a single long tone, followed by the ambience of outdoor spaces, crackling electronics, an archival recording of a horsefly on a windowpane. Dozens of these moments, varying in length, density, and intensity, move past the listener’s attention, momentarily brought into focus then slipping away. Like those of the masters of the French musique concrète tradition, Ahti’s sounds are not often recognisable, though they might suggest proximity or distance, open environments or closed spaces, the urban or rural, day or night. In Ahti’s work, we do not encounter spectacular metamorphoses à la Parmegiani but rather a state of ambiguity where the listener is often unsure what is organic and what is inorganic, where the careful productions of the synthesizer might end and sounds discovered in the environment begin. What Ahti calls her ‘poetic way of experiencing and organising the familiar and the unfamiliar’ is sustained throughout »Tender Membranes«, but each piece has its own character. On »Dust / Light«, human presence is more overt, as what appear to be whispers, singing, and distant speech thread between high frequencies, untraceable drips and pops, and metallic shimmers. In all this there is a melody that you can sing and to which you may dance makes more prominent use of musical instruments, gaining a sombre beauty from half-buried piano chords and organ tones. On the closing »Oh Fragrant Witness«, a delicate cloud of subtly bending pitches is repeatedly disrupted by a resounding, almost ominous mass of low tones, at once a strange detour from much of what has gone before and an almost classical finale. Arriving in a sleeve reproducing contemporary Finnish photographer Sini Pelkki’s fragmented visions of the everyday, »Tender Membranes« is a balm to reawaken tired ears.