“My childhood was deep blue and foamy,” writes Serbian composer Manja Ristić. Her memories of Korčula Island are pristine. As she recalls the town streets “positioned in the shape of a fish bone,” and the “natural air conditioning of the Adriatic winds,” one can imagine long, carefree days and nights spent by the sea. But when one sees photographs of the Black Isle, one begins to feel a touch uneasy. There are a lot of houses scrunched together. And tourism seems to have become the major industry. What then of the natural appeal, the unspoiled beauty? This contrast ~ which some might call a threat ~ forms the basis of Ristić’s ruminations.
One particular sequence, found in the center of “The Black Forest,” serves as a metaphor for the entire set. For the first few minutes, the sounds are unsullied: birds in the trees, an all-encompassing breeze. But then a motorbike intrudes, slightly offset by what seems like a practicing choir. Ristić’s footsteps imply that these sounds tumble through the ears while walking. Rain begins to fall, most memorably against a hollow metal source. Balance is restored, but remains precarious.
As a child, the artist would submerge her head in the ocean to enjoy its amplifications. As an adult, she retains her fascination while increasing her tools. Hydrophones allow her to capture the world below the sea in a manner the cochlea cannot. “At Bufflers” creates another curious contrast, as the sound of ice dropped in dinner glasses is challenged by the subtler sound of the submerged. “I record everything,” Ristić writes. But more than this, she seems to hear everything. She wants to understand the breadth of her local soundscape, to collect and collate its multiple timbres. In so doing, she creates a new world from bits and pieces which cannot have been recorded simultaneously. This results in the suggestion that while one is having dinner, one is missing the sound of the shore (or vice versa, as the artist is among friends); that when one is riding a motor bike, one is missing every other sound.
“The Lighthouse” is one of the album’s perfect tracks, beginning with the power of the surf and progressing to the rocky shore. One can hear, and feel, every bit of sharpened stone. There are so many local lighthouses that a website is dedicated to them. The tourist description of the Lighthouse Korkyra touts the enjoyment of “not being disturbed by other people,” but continues with listings of the “jacuzzi, TV set, bluetooth speaker, free Wi-Fi and private butler.” Is it really possible to have a private moment, to escape from the rush of humanity, when one is surrounded by its accoutrements? In “Alice in the City of Dead Warlocks,” the composer mentions a “perfect space.” In her changed environment, despite sonic pollution, she is still able to find an oasis. (Richard Allen)