Infinite Distances is an album of dichotomies. The music reflects on the distance between life and death, while reflecting fondly on a departed grandmother. Marco Vannini’s cover art symbolizes the distance between life and memory, also referred to as nostalgia. And with this album, Olga Wojciechowska and her pseudonym Strië seem to engage in a dialogue about personas. All this leads to a tentative reconciliation, no parties merging yet all choosing to live in peace: the living and the dead, the real and the imagined, the secretive and the forthright.
By the artist’s admission, this is an album of “fragments.” One can separate the pieces like the jagged edges of Vannini’s art, turn them over, examine their details and consider new ways to connect them. “Memories Of The Pioneers” is the most “Strië-sounding” track, reminiscent of the artist’s earlier work. This track contains mystery and melancholy hidden behind curtains and blinds: drones, rising chords, dots of sonic sprinkle. Nothing here is overt, although much is implied: rain, doorknobs, the clicking of a shutter. The wind chimes of “Bursts Of Static” continue in this vein, more impressionistic than explicated. Tentative touches of ivory come across like attempts to fill in the blanks of a lost story. The percussion of the center follows suit, as if Wojciechowska is knocking on the door of a room she’s not sure she wants to enter. And then of course there are bursts of static, like the firing of neurons as the brain struggles to remember, or at least try to remember with some degree of accuracy. “Ready to Return” contains what sounds like a distant clock, and takes a pointillist approach to memory: first remember the moments, then recreate the setting. The strings are particularly lovely here, suffused with pride and determination.
But that’s just one side of the story.
The other tracks (sequenced 1, 2, 5 and 7) offer more forward timbres, epitomized by the mixing of the piano upfront. One might consider these the more “Olga” tracks, recalling the artist’s more public ensemble and orchestra work. But they may also represent moments of clarity in an older person whose memory is failing, or moments of acceptance in a person swimming in vast emotion. The surprising brass of the opening piece is new to the artist’s palette, yielding notes of triumph and redemption. The closing, organ-like note conjures the dueling thoughts at the end of a funeral, encompassing earth’s loss and heaven’s gain. What should one feel?
If one jumps from the opening track to the title track, one may even feel a light euphoria. This is the happiest the artist has ever sounded, offering a bouquet of major chords, expanding at 4:21 to a choral bloom. If the album had been sequenced differently, one might have read it as an arrow. But as those who have studied the stages of grief are aware, mourning is not a straight line. We credit the artist for refusing to tell a tidy story. If there’s anything “neat” about the actual ending, it’s that “All I Have Not Seen” embraces both mystery and clarity, embodied by static and melody, wrapped in a slowly rising repetition of strings. Sometimes opposing thoughts can be held in tension, and a person can be two things at once; in such cases, reconciliation is not two halves that make a whole, but two wholes that occupy the same space. In the end, the beauty of Infinite Distances is not distance, but closeness, as Wojciechowska sews seams between past and present, abstract and concrete, composer and listener ~ more intimate than infinite. (Richard Allen)