stilllife - archipelago (Ftarri)

Purchase archipelago from Ftarri (JPN) or ErstDist (US)

On stilllife's debut album Yoru No Katarogu, Takashi Tsuda and Hiroki Sasajima highlighted a different sound on each of its ten tracks. Some pieces were straightforward field recordings that pointed listeners to the general form of an ecosystem while others were intimate portraits of a single material or instrument. Similarly, the duo's sophomore album archipelago is comprised of sparse instrumentation and field recordings taken in various locations. The primary difference here is the decision to present the record as a single sixty minute track. Periods of silence separate passages of sound but there's a cohesiveness to this piece that the two constantly maintain. On the surface, this may not seem like a particularly noteworthy feature to point out; Takashi Tsuda and Hiroki Sasajima recorded this album in areas where certain sounds—namely wind, waves, and birds—are prevalent. A sense of continuity is therefore expected. None of this would be as effective though if it weren't for Tsuda and Sasajima's thoughtful performances. The very lifeblood of archipelago, and the precise reason it's a successful recording, is that their instrumentation always occupies the same tonal, timbral, and emotional range as those of the fields they're recorded in.

As archipelago opens up, we're introduced to periodic tapping, a wind instrument, and the natural sounds of the environment. Tsuda and Sasajima's contributions are distinct but the weight of their presence is never overbearing. For example, the wind instrument is airy and light. Its childlike melody and high register are appropriate alongside the busy chirping and distant waves. Conversely, the tapping is dense and always plays a consistent beat. It's an effective addition as It works to contrast the delicate textures of the piece whilst pairing nicely with some of the louder and robust bird calls and songs. Everything coalesces smoothly and the setting's musical qualities are never attenuated by what exists in the foreground. In other words, Tsuda and Sasajima aren't injecting the piece with a meditative and whimsical ambiance, they're bringing it into view and amplifying it.

The piece quickly transitions into a passage dominated by birds. Here, the chirps and squawks all amass into a dense cloud of sound. A synthesized tone occasionally appears and with its unwavering pitch, acts to counterbalance the vibrancy and energy of the bird calls and songs. Interestingly, this consolidates the bird sounds further and tapers any notion of their collective unruliness. The noises that deviate from this section's average rhythm, texture, and volume are the most captivating, naturally. However, I've found that the tones Tsuda and Sasajima play redirect my attention to the swarm of chirping that defines this 'average' and I'm left examining how these individual units interact and form something more concrete.

This carefully considered interplay continues throughout the rest of archipelago. In the following section, a string instrument is plucked and it's the most emotionally charged component of the entire record. One could make a case that the musicians are being 'manipulative' here but when considering everything they've played up to this point, it still feels in line with how they view this environment—contemplative, calming, and filled with life. A long stretch of silence bookends the next segment, and it's purposefully done as to ease the listener into, and out of, its more private and personal recording space. Here, Tsuda and Sasajima are relatively removed from the shore—we can now hear automobiles and a Westminster Chime close by while the sounds of waves and birds lie further in the distance. It's relatively quiet and the two try to capture the intimacy of this solitary space through their instrumentation. While there doesn't seem to be a direct link between their playing and the various external sounds, they all harmoniously evoke the same mood.

When archipelago ends, it does so with a passage that's centered around roaring waves and winds. It's considerably different than the previous segment yet there's an introspective quality to it that links the two together. This is, in part, a result of the synthesized tone that's laid on top of the waves; it ebbs and flows like the water, making it seem less threatening. And as the piece slowly fades into silence, archipelago concludes with a feeling that we've explored the very essence of these various locations. Each section of this record is characterized by something distinct yet is part of a greater whole. Using the same instruments helps to sustain a sense of continuity but it's ultimately the way Tsuda and Sasajima play—constantly drawing out the tranquil nature of various places and elements—that makes archipelago feel completely immersive.