Review: Marja Ahti – The Current Inside (Hallow Ground, May 8)

Competent sound artists are those who can organize or present sound in a compelling way. Skilled sound artists are able to imbue their work with something more: the unique perspective or relationship they have with the source material, the particular aspects of their gathered materials in which they are most interested, the slippery uncertainties at which their creations poke and prod can all be made sufficiently palpable by the hands of a true master of the craft. Marja Ahti is certainly one of those. The Current Inside, her second LP for Swiss label Hallow Ground (she’s also previously amazed me with releases like The Hole in the Landscape as Tsembla and Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear? with partner Niko-Matti Ahti), is as spare and striated as the ink drawing that adorns its cover, each of the five pieces carefully pieced together with delicate textural artifacts, resonant frequencies, and minimally processed field recordings in immersive arrays of tactile sound objects with the weightlessness and free movement of a gossamer sheet. Commissioned by INA GRM for Sonic Acts, the 20-minute “The Altitudes” occupies the entirety of the A side of the record and explores the beauty of the most abstract of earthly elemental interactions, “connecting and animating movements in the form of air, water and electricity.” In an approach perhaps truest to the origins of electroacoustic music, Ahti’s compositions dwell in resolute neutrality, her crystal-clear metallic vibrations, soft rattles, and natural extracts never tainted with conventional beauty or wanton ugliness. Instead, they drift like stark-white boats on a cold, current-less expanse of water, fleeting oases of land and foliage always in the distance, disembodied laments nestled in the breeze.

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