Marja Ahti - Tender Membranes
From its humble beginnings back in 2009, Oren Ambarchi's imprint, Black Truffle, has steadily picked up the pace and emerged as one of the most exciting labels working within the field of experimental sound. Guided by an artist’s ear, it’s delivered an incredible stream of releases from David Rosenboom, Arnold Dreyblatt, Alvin Lucier, John Duncan, Crys Cole, Keiji Haino, Annea Lockwood, Kassel Jaeger, AMM, Charlemagne Palestine, Alvin Curran, Will Guthrie, and numerous others. While Black Truffle has often been most recognizable for albums by historical titans of experimental music, central to its mission is the support for a younger generation of visionary artists in the field. Their latest, “Tender Membranes”, by electroacoustic composer Marja Ahti, is a case in point. Building on the accomplishments of three groundbreaking solo LPs - 2019’s “Vegetal Negatives”, 2020’s “The Current Inside”, and 2021’s “Still Lives” - as well as “Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear?” (2020), her duo with Niko-Matti Ahti, and “A Coincidence is Perfect, Intimate Attunement”, her stunning collaboration with Judith Hamann from last year, Ahti reaches a new high-water point with one of her most ambitious and striking releases to date, offering further proof that she is unquestionably one of the most important artists working in Europe today.
Active for more than a decade, first issuing solo efforts under the moniker Tsembla, as well as working within the psychedelic improv collective Kemialliset Ystävät, over the last few years the Swedish-born, Finland based, artist and composer, Marja Ahti, has risen to prominence within the global context of experimental music, increasingly gaining critical accolades for a series of releases issued under her own name. An artist who takes nothing for granted, through the vessel of her work, Ahti endeavors to challenge and reconfigure fundamental elements of meaning that are carried by language and sound, setting out to build them again from scratch. The result, blending metaphor and abstraction, seamlessly binds the familiar and known - be it fleeting impressions of the natural world or elements and approaches to experimental music - through a radically unfamiliar pattern of human action and thought.
Following her previous solo ventures, issued by Hallow Ground and Students of Decay, “Tender Membranes” is Ahti’s first release with Black Truffle. Like its predecessors, it encounters the composer sculpting within a singular territory of electroacoustic practice, interweaving instrumental sounds, field recordings, and electronics to produce nonhierarchical passages of tonality and texture that organically unfold to produce an inner stillness, draw from a heightened attention to the sonorous details of everyday life.
Comprising four discrete works across its two side, “Tender Membranes” was partially inspired by a consideration of the human senses, and thus the mind, as membranes that facilitate the passage between inner and outer spaces, consciousness of sensation and its causes, and the creation of worlds. As these notions transform into sound and unfold, Ahti presents listening as a transportive surrender to sound, seamless shifting between consciousness of microscopic detail and larger wholes, beginning with the sustained long-tone of a singing bowl, at the album’s outset, the meditative calm of which is superseded by tense, bristling ambiances drawn from natural environments, crackling electronics, and an archival recording of a horsefly on a windowpane, deftly moving their material presence between the locatable and fully abstract.
Concluding Ahti’s remarkable journey through an inner landscape, dense with sonorities and rich meanings, is “Oh Fragrant Witness”, among the album’s most delicate, constrained, and forceful works, across which a delicate cloud of subtly bending pitches is repeatedly disrupted by masses of low tones and bristling harmonic conflicts.
It seems, with every album, Marja Ahti manages to up her own game, pushing further into the unknown, and creating some of the most strikingly original and moving music we’ve encountered in recent years. “Tender Membranes” moves toward the territory of masterpiece. It’s flawless and deeply moving, delicately transforming the raw sonic materiality of its source material into a shimmering and immersive tapestry - imbued with humanity and life - that presents electronic process and musique concrète on visionary new terms. Not only is a high-water mark of Ahti, but also within the incredible Black Truffle catalog as well. This is an album that can’t be missed, and contemporary electroacoustic music at its most masterful best.