Tehran’s Siavash Amini has been turning in some fascinating soundscapes on Hallow Ground over the years, beginning with TAR and continuing with FORAS. Fellow Iranians Sara Bigdeli Shamloo and Nima Aghiani (9T Antiope) are now based in France, but their friendship with Amini continues, and has led to this behemoth of a collaboration. The four-track album tangles acoustic and synthetic sounds for a brutal sensory experience that denotes the perils of war. The artists may live at a distance, but their anger and despair is shared. On this album, they pour out their hearts and souls to create sonic disjunction, which is initially a challenge to bear. But after repeated plays, the ambiguity of Harmistice echoes as true and its inherent beauty shines as genuine.
A piercing electric note kicks off “Blue as in Bleeding”, an expression of angst, irritation or looming disaster, followed by electric thunder that grows and sweeps, and a series of unnerving gunshot bursts. By 2:29, the guts of the album are first torn out for all to hear: Shamloo and her voice. Void of emotion, often detached and overly polished, the vocals are suffocating in their precision and disagreement with the general sense of the track and its background dissonance. Indeed, it seems fingernails on a chalkboard would be easier to handle than this. Shamloo’s vocals are the secret weapon, at first awkward, almost to the point of physical discomfort, but create a world of authentic suffering exemplified through a divorce from harmony.
But as the next two tracks play out, fear and bombs detonate in close proximity. We credit Amini for the oppressive, claustrophobic nature of the release and Aghiani for the disorienting textures, although 9T Antiope’s timbres seem constantly in flux, and have not yet settled on a signature sound. Whenever Shamloo’s voice enters, it commands the attention and dominates the conversation. The purpose of these distressed words ~ sometimes spoken, sometimes sung ~ is to bear witness: and bear witness they do.
“Silver as in Silence” circles back to the high-pitched hum of the opening track and concludes this tug-of-war between the real and the unreal. A homeland is a homeland, no matter where one may roam. Amini may be reporting from the front lines, while 9T Antiope is a foreign correspondent, but together they create a harrowing statement, softened only by the image on the cover: two hands touching, nearly grasping each other, only an impulse away.
Faint of heart, you have been warned. (Roma Fluxe)