Recordings from the Åland Islands is not a soundtrack to a trip — rather, it’s a journey that musicians Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer took. There were many reasons for their travels, some expected and others very surprising. The duo’s ultimate destination was the Åland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland that they first traveled to in 2017 to help two friends retrofit a small inn, Hotel Svala, in the hope of transforming it into a retreat where artists and musicians would be able to come and create throughout their stay.
The idea to record an album on the Åland Islands came about as the couple became interested in how this serene and strange place could inspire, experiment, challenge and take them outside their comfort zone as musicians. Thanks to a grant awarded to them by the Department of Culture, Honer & Chiu returned in 2019 to perform in a church at the edge of a remote island. The idea was to capture an experience that could only happen there. The connection between the landscape and how it affects emotion, memory, and perception. And then to use music as a way to present that experience.
This concert performance was recorded and the sounds gathered during that performance were used as elements and ideas for Recordings from the Åland Islands. In a sense, the project plays as a kind of fantasy or projection of what this unique archipelago in the Baltic Sea might sound like.
What materializes is a sophisticated study of place. Over the long form of Recordings from the Åland Islands we hear moments emerge – surreal and hazy moments of stillness that conjure scenes of grassy hills obscured by early morning fog, or looking out at the sea, trying to find one island among hundreds.
The music itself is an experimental mix of field recordings, synths and instrumentation—Chiu playing the piano, organs, and bass guitar, and Honer playing the viola and hand chimes. It’s relaxing and entrancing, a collection of long, ambient reveries that slowly unfurl over time. Like the lost magic hour light before dusk, the songs are as much about listening to as they are feeling what’s around you. Embracing nature as an element of inspiration and exploration, Chiu and Honer’s music creates a wide-awake dreaminess that embraces the land, the sea, and beyond.
Overall, Recordings from the Åland Islands is one of the most moving and deeply felt records I’ve heard in a long time. It’s ideal fall listening, painting a vivid auditory picture of a place in transition, as the summer winds to a close, and the islanders prepare for their own hibernation within winter’s first cold breath. The music is haunting and beautiful, with the piano and strings carrying the album’s weighty emotional core. The field recordings add life to the islands’ stories and breathing room for listeners to imagine their own woodland worlds. Time stands still here, allowing us to fully experience descriptive scenery and emotions captured on each track.
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