Album Review: Ariel Kalma, Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer – The Closest Thing To Silence

[International Anthem; 2024]

To hell with the old adage about never meeting your idols. In 2022, BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction series invited French new age/experimental musician Ariel Kalma onto the show. The aim of the programme is to bring together musicians who wouldn’t normally get the chance to work together, so as to create new music cooperatively. Kalma reached out to Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer (who at the time had not long released their wonderful album Recordings From the Åland Islands), and their invitation was received with excitement. Chiu was especially enthused, as he had noted Kalma as an influence on his approach to electronic music composition. It’s one thing to be reserved about meeting your heroes, but who turns down an opportunity to work with them?

The trio made four compositions for the programme, but so productive and generative were their sessions that they all decided to keep working beyond the original assignment brief and after the finished work for Late Junction was broadcast. The end result is The Closest Thing To Silence, a 46 minute exploration of new age jazzy and electronic ambience. Despite the trio working predominantly in an improvisational manner, the collage work that strings it all together makes it sound remarkably mobile and deliberate. They work between each other like streams merging into a flowing river, fluid and free.

Every so often you’ll hear the definite sound of one of them rising to the surface: Honer’s silky strings at the end of “Stack Attack” and “Breathing in Three Orbits” are gorgeous in themselves, while Chiu’s playful synth melody on “Dizzy Ditty” has charming reflections of his solo album from last year. Along with musical recordings he made in the 1970s at the GRM studio, Kalma’s voice intermittently appears too, small auditory notes that capture both a sense of the creative process happening, but also an insight into the mind of one of music’s most underappreciated pioneers. The timbre of his voice even has a musical quality too, which is apparent when it comes up on “Écoute Au Loin”, echoing in stereo against the pitter-patter of a drum machine. 

At its best though, the album leaves you guessing as to where whose parts and contributions start and end. The spacey thrum of the title track swirls like a galaxy of stars spinning in the cosmos; “Une Ombre Légère” bristles with a Brian Eno-like ambience, all three musicians making for an atmosphere that is simultaneously eerie and inviting; and “A Treasure Chest” unfolds like a tea flower ball amidst the chattering drums and meditative hum. Even when one player rises to the surface, it feels more like the others inviting their team mate for a solo: Kalma’s dreamy sax playing on opening track “Ten Hour Wave” carries the track along, while his fluttery reeds on “Écoute Au Loin” offer up a soft and buoyant bed for the track to bob along on.

It’s easy to imagine Chiu and Honer in the studio quietly and contentedly letting Kalma’s voice take centre stage here; while one hardly comes away from The Closest Thing To Silence feeling shortchanged by a lack of one particular musician’s contributions, it very much plays like a celebration of the senior collaborator’s influence and style. That’s no bad thing though. While the album slips occasionally in terms of absorbing you into its sound world completely, it has no discernible weak links. (Even the short tracks like “New Air” and “Stay Centered” are small and delightful exercises in exploration.) As a whole it offers plenty of accessible entry points into the collaborative episode Kalma, Chiu, and Honer created, a glimpse into three exciting minds working together. The album serves as an example to other artists: Don’t just meet your heroes, make music with them.