We’ve learned a new vocabulary word today: serrism, the cultivation of grapes under glass. At one point in its history, Hoeilaart (Belgium) dedicated over 13,000 greenhouses to this purpose; today the number has dwindled dramatically. Serrisme is a celebration of the culture of the table grape via sound art, music, poetry, photography and prose in a 32-page booklet. To read, view and listen is to discover a still-proud culture, a patient counterpart to the factory-led production that has engulfed the industry.
Lieven Martens is responsible for the first audio segment, unfolding in five parts. “Effets de Serres” is lush in sound, beginning with that of rain on glass, a lovely arcade of nourishment and protection. The grapes will get their water, but they won’t be affected by the wind. Then the vast door opens; the birds chirp outside, the serrist heads inside. A rooster crows, a dog barks; the day has begun. And how are the precious fruits today? It’s time to clean, prune, taste. Martens pays the same sort of loving attention to the sounds as the serrist does to the newly sprung bunches on the vines. Farm animals are nearby, salivating. The trimmer does its work. Part IV brings irrigation, and then that door again, leading to the outside, the traffic and birds, the world outside the world. A quiet descends on the greenhouse. Do grapes sleep?
And then filmmaker-composer Christina Vantzou offers a two-part, 20-minute lullaby. Vantzou, who also lives in Belgium, offers round tones reminiscent of the grapes themselves. “Glisten” rises from humble beginnings, with bells and soft waves, incorporating happy chirps that rule the roost until Vantzou’s synthesized, wordless voice arrives. At this point, the composition begins its gentle turn from ambience to modern composition, the piano and light percussion that close part one leading to an adventure of strings in part two. This is where the album is at its finest: intimations of older cultures, dining on table grapes, knights returning from war, kings dazzling supplicants with sumptuous spreads. Martens’ sounds remain in ghostly form, along with the suggestion of princes and princesses dancing in a polished ballroom.
The culture has not been lost, merely reduced. Through Serrisme, the history has been revived. Kudos to Edições CN on the production of this cross-cultural artifact. (Richard Allen)