In 2017 Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer traveled together to the Åland Islands (an archipelago that is host to around 6,500 islands) in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. They headed to the islands with the intention of helping two friends (mother/daughter duo Jannika/Sage Reed) barn raise a small inn named Hotel Svala in Kumlinge (a municipality consisting of a small group of islands and a population of about 320). The idea was that, once completed, Svala would host artist residencies and workshop programs, creating a direct link between the islands and the USA. The concept of recording music there came about as Honer & Chiu learned more and more about the islands. They were taken by the serene and strange quality of the place. The sun doesn’t set in the summer (and barely rises in the winter). The network of miniature islands is traversed by ferry which, according to Chiu, “casts a surreal horizontal movement through space and time, with islands shifting into and out of periphery, totally still and calm, yet always in motion.”
In 2019 they were awarded a grant from the Department of Culture to return and perform a concert at the Kumlinge Kyrka, a 14th century medieval church adorned with incredible frescos. The concert was recorded and became source material – along with improvisations on viola and electronics, pipe organ, pump organ, piano, synthesizers, field recordings and voice memos, all captured across both their trips at various locations on the archipelago – from which they meticulously crafted a post-script in the form of 'Recordings from the Åland Islands'. Easing listeners into the feeling of the place, the album’s opening track “In Åland Air” is a dream-like haze that slows time, invoking the feeling of descending by plane onto the archipelago, a place Chiu recalls as “lush with a gentle, brackish breeze...” On “Snåcko,” a track named for the island next to Kumlinge, the music becomes a transportive portrait, painting in sound “the romantic and gentle atmosphere of the forests in Åland — a place where your eyes slowly adjust to the rainbow-colored moss covering granite boulders. Walking around, you find the forest floor blossoming with blueberries, currants, and flowers...”
The longest and darkest movement in the collection, “Archipelago,” encapsulates “the experience of being surrounded in the vast network of islands” with a dense cloud of slowly modulating string layers, improvised by Honer in an empty swimming pool at Svala. “The heaviness of the track,” says Honer, “is a reference to the deep darkness experienced during the Nordic winter days.” But the plaintive atmosphere of that penultimate piece is succeeded with the triumphant final movement of the album, “Under the Midnight Sun,” which bellows forth like a vibrant chorus of melodious sighs, echoing classic sounds from Jon Hassell’s 'Vernal Equinox', or Franco Battiato’s 'Clic', or Brian Eno’s 'Another Green World'. Just as two eyes, two ears, and two halves of a brain work together to create a memory, on their duo debut, Honer and Chiu’s collective pallet produces a vivid three-dimensional hyperreality of painterly tones and textures – bright and kaleidoscopic, but with a deeply warm, earthen resonance. The music evokes a powerful sense of place, transporting and immersing listeners in the other-world of the Åland Islands. And though they achieve this in beautifully natural, organic manner, Chiu & Honer agree this album is quite unlike anything they’ve made before, and likely unlike anything they’ll make in the future.