::: the scaffold (w/manja ristić) :::

::: manja ristić & murmer ::: the scaffold :::
CD+DL, unfathomless, 2024

::: liner notes :::

LOCATIONS : serbia, croatia, slovenia and estonia

Recording, composing, editing by manja ristić and patrick tubin mcginley from march 2020 to november 2022.
Mastering by flavien gillié.

Cover & card design + treatments by Daniel Crokaert.
Based exclusively on photos by manja ristić and patrick tubin mcginley.

01 ::: zamišljena sjena vjetra ::: 27:29
02 ::: kaugpääs; antenn ::: 18:51

::: artist notes :::

The first person to contact me for collaboration back in the Spring of 2020 was Patrick. I was living with a sensitive child and a big dog in a small rented apartment in Belgrade when ridiculously harsh and oppressive curfews were forced upon us by the Serbian government. It is really hard to explain to anyone the situation I found myself in without acknowledging that it sounds like a dystopian SF. Only a few details to picture the reality – I had to risk getting arrested for taking the dog for a walk during the times when the kid was firmly asleep.

The invitation from Patrick came as a ray of light from a parallel universe which still had a meaningful socio-cultural framework. Not for long though, as the pandemic was progressing we all witnessed how deeply troubled and morally unrooted „contemporary“ societies are, from nation to nation revealing their pathologies, systematic cracks and hidden corruptive mechanisms. My „in-situ“ recordings were reduced to a windowsill, toys and household objects, kitchen and bathroom pipes and utilities, and sound voyeurism of the neighbours I never even met in the poorly soundproofed building.

Patrick sent me a file of a singing scaffold. I listened to it for days, almost as a therapy sequence. Imagining what sort of scaffold our society would need to rebuild this mess, or at least to stop the structure from crumbling completely.

A first exchange of files and initial work bounced between Belgrade, Serbia and Metsküla, Estonia in Spring 2020.

In June I left Belgrade, and as it happens, I never went back.

The pandemic year(s) were progressing slowly, revealing their bizarre madness from month to month, so our work on the Scaffold piece was slow. As I recollect it would take a year to start working on Antenna, another marvellous field recording coming my way from Estonia. At the time I already started moving around and recording other environments than only Korčula island’s micro world. During the summer I went to Dubrovnik, which was a terrible mistake. The tourist season was raging as if there were no pandemic at all, people from all around the world were clogging the narrow streets. I had a panic attack from not being able to walk without someone breathing into my face or neck. I found refuge in the church next to the Pile gate. It was such a contrast to find myself in an empty and silence-packed church, and then the magic happened. A group of priests started practising Gregorian chants behind the altar. The experience was mesmerizing, and today I am deeply grateful for it.

To find a solace in the midst of turmoil, to sense the spiritual resonance of the deep past in the heart of contemporary hustle, was truly rewarding.

But most of all, the friendship in sound and constant appreciation for mutual efforts and work is what is embroidered in this collaboration. Although parenting and demanding everyday flow occurs as a slow pace of working, I am certain that we have only just started our collaborative journey.

Manja Ristić, December 2023

I first encountered Manja’s work in 2017, in the same way I encounter most artists for the first time, through the constant search for sounds for framework radio. I was immediately drawn to the way she approached sound, both actively and passively, and the way she constructed her compositions. As I explored each successive release (she is much more prolific than I could ever be) I began to develop not only an appreciation but an affinity for her methods – I couldn’t help but feel that we related to sound in a similar way, and I felt a deep understanding for her compositional choices.

It wasn’t until three years later though that I finally approached her about potentially collaborating. I’d never worked with someone that I’d never physically met before, but I really wanted to hear what our sounds would sound like if they joined forces.

Our collaboration developed at a similarly slow pace to it’s product. In March 2020, I was bubbling during the first covid-19 lockdown in a small blockhouse apartment just outside Viljandi with my own family of four, my in-laws, and my wife’s uncle (a domestic age-range of 1 to 85). I tended, even in the cold weather, to use the apartment’s small balcony overlooking a wooded hillside as a retreat from the bustle inside, but at this point the balcony’s view had been blocked by scaffolding that has been put up as the building’s roof was replaced. When the winter wind blew, the scaffold pipes would sing, and finally, after several failed attempts, I was able to spend one late evening capturing that sound. A partially-composed version of this scaffold recording was the first sound I sent Manja, and the ball began rolling very slowly, back and forth, until our first work was completed just over a year later.

Our second piece began with two recordings from my archive – one of rain dripping on the spines of an old television antenna outside the living room window of my family’s old home in Põlgaste, Estonia, and another of “played” empty oil tanks near the sea not too far from Riga, Latvia. And a year and half later (one of my favorite Estonian words is poolteist, which means one and a half; literally “half of the second”), two and a half years after that scaffolding was recorded during the first lockdown, our first set of collaborative works was complete.

A third piece is in formation now – but it is still a germ, a tiny seed sitting in the back of both of our minds; I think we know it will sprout and root at some point, but the way our working method has developed is to never rush movement, to allow steps to be taken when they are ready to be taken, and to sit back and witness the blossom when it comes.

Patrick Tubin McGinley, December 2023

::: label notes :::

Serbian Manja Ristić is probably one of the most active & engrossing interdisciplinary sound artist within the experimental music scene and beyond…no way to list all her accomplishments so far…(you can refer to her official bio for that). Suffice to say that besides being a sound artist, she’s also a violinist, published poet, curator and researcher, and that Korčula (Croatia) where she lives has often been the pivotal point of her sound explorations and practices…she’s really an uttermost sentient being, and this infuses clearly her music. Her discography is consequently quite extended, and hold releases on labels such as Line, Flag Day Recordings, Dasa Tapes, Framework seasonal, to name but a few…Patrick McGinley/murmer‘s ID card is as well furnished, being in activity since long years…American sound artist within Europe since 1996 and relocated in Estonia since 2009, he used to compose music for theatre performances and is clearly a lover of found sounds and objects. For those that don’t know, he co-founded Framework which produces a weekly radio show on London’s Resonance 104.fm…With a peculiar aptitude for catching sounds often escaping our attention, he re-frames them in new context, bringing his audience to a universal awareness of place…murmer‘s work has been a constant search for highlighting small sonic occurrences, and arouse focused listening. His work has been published on labels such as Helen Scarsdale Agency, Gruenrekorder, Drone, Taâlem, ICR, etc…”the scaffold“ is delving into the depths of a mythic well, bringing all its wonders back to the surface along a slow raising, rubbing the components, letting the particles circulate, caressing the air…it creates an halo of diffuse presences lingering like ghosts…manja ristić and murmer join their delicate synergetic actions that induce a phenomenon of ascension…precious gestures, stars within stars, ecstatic faces…stirred gravel, tiny streams of rippling water, wind as punctuation – perhaps a primordial meditation on how to bounce back…”the scaffold“ is like a rite of renascence in a decrepit humid church with all its stained-glass windows broken…rain glides on metal, wood cracks…

One listens and starts to hear an almost redemptive sacred humming, an hazy incantation erasing all moments of despair, opening the gates, making us feel attuned…”the scaffold” blends disparate voices into a ceremony of regeneration – a path to amazement…

daniel crokaert, 2024.03.18

::: reviews :::

Two of field recording’s most dedicated practitioners, Manja Ristić and Patrick McGinley, finally began their first collaboration at a particularly unpromising time: spring of 2020, right as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning. Yet the project helped the duo through the initial lockdown, as the exchange of files between Metsküla, Estonia and Belgrade, Serbia gave them something to focus on outside of the confines of their homes. McGinley’s first offering was a recording of a scaffold installed on his apartment building, singing in the wind. It became a symbol for both of them of the beauty that can be found even in the most constricted circumstances. The second track was recorded after lockdown restrictions lessened and Ristić traveled to Dubrovnik, Croatia—too soon, as it turned out, because the crush of the tourist crowds led her to seek safety in a nearby church. There, she encountered priests practicing Gregorian chants, which became the centerpiece of “kaugpääs; antenn.” These two carefully constructed tracks are simultaneously haunting and hopeful, an artifact from a time of slow days and swift changes when connection, at whatever distance, provided a way through.

matthew blackwell, 2024.05.01, the best field recordings on bandcamp: april 2024

Manja Ristić is best known for her hydrophone recordings in and around the island of Korčula, and her resulting concern for the effect of noise pollution on local environments.  In a pair of new albums, she demonstrates expanded horizons; her collaboration with murmer is particularly notable as it unfolds during a time of compression.

We all have our own pandemic stories; each of these artists was confined to a too-small space, yearning for physical and spiritual escape.  In Belgrade, Ristić was under strict curfew and could be arrested for walking her dog late at night.  Meanwhile in Metsküla, Estonia, Patrick Rubin McGinley (murmer) was yearning for a glimpse of woodland outside his balcony, but found his view obstructed by scaffolding.  In a case of sonic serendipity, McGinley found fascination in the sound of the “singing scaffolding,” and sent this sound to Ristić, who was similarly entranced; this sound became the basis of a new collaboration. The first piece, translated “The Imaginary Shadow of the Wind,” reflects the sound of the outdoor pipes, while serving as a metaphor of the winds of change blowing through society. Ristić writes that she was “imagining what sort of scaffold our society would need to rebuild this mess, or at least to stop the structure from crumbling completely.”  The scaffold obstructs, but it also sings; society, and the scaffold, may tip in one direction or the other.

The recording at the heart of “kaugpääs; antenn” reflects a different type of escape.  Overwhelmed by a crush of tourists in Dubrovnik, Ristić ducked into a local church for breathing room.  A group of priests began to practice Gregorian chants behind the altar.  The artist experienced a deep sense of solace, which she shared with her collaborative partner.  He contributed his own sounds of rain dripping from an antenna and of “played” oil tanks in Latvia.  When intermingled, these sources reveal the peace that one may obtain even in the hardest of circumstances by turning without to the sound of wind and water and within to the whisper of the spirit.  Toward the end of the track, one hears the bustle rushing back, and struggles to retain that sense of blessed peace.

richard allen, 2024.04.14, a closer listen

Off and on I reviewed music from Patrick McGinley over the years, the first one easily going back more than 20 years. In his work field recordings play a significant role and usually have a drone-like feeling. I don’t think I’ve heard of Manja Ristić before, originally from Belgrade. They started working together in the Spring of 2020, when Ristić was isolated, and her “”in-situ“ recordings were reduced to a windowsill, toys and household objects, kitchen and bathroom pipes and utilities, and sound voyeurism of the neighbours I never even met in the poorly soundproofed building.” Of course, McGinley was in a similar isolated situation, but in Estonia and from what I understand, a more rural area. Their two pieces are a combination of local sounds, combined into pieces of music. Listening to these pieces, there is a sense of isolation, perhaps. Also, I’m likely reading too much in the lengthy texts by both musicians. Unlike many other releases by Unfathomless, usually based on one location, we have two locations here. Yet the music sounds like it could have been one place: rain dripping, wind-like sounds and the omnipresence of rusty objects. Maybe these objects see some manual interference from humans or rock back and forth slowly in the wind. Very early on, I stopped thinking about which sounds are by which musician, and enjoyed the slowness of the music and the rural aspect. Because whatever Ristić brought here from her city life, there is a very rural character in these pieces. Even the choir-like singing that pops up, ‘kaugpääs; antenn’ has that feeling because it comes to the listener through some distance. Both pieces aren’t a single straightforward snapshot of events, as in both there is quite some mixing and editing going on, moving from one section to the next. An almost pastoral release – I wouldn’t mind a minor holiday now.

frans de waard, 2024.04.09, vital weekly

I’ve been listening to and writing about the work of Belgrade’s Manja Ristić for as long as this site has been around, and by now I have reviewed more releases by her than anyone else, which, needless to say, is well deserved. Her latest work, The Scaffold, is a collaboration with Estonia-based project Murmer (a.k.a. Patrick Tubin McGinley) and probably my favorite entry in the Unfathomless catalog since 2019’s being there. Born out of a “friendship in sound and constant appreciation for mutual efforts” (Ristić’s words) and conceptually inspired by a preliminary recording made by McGinley of the titular “singing scaffold,” the handsome disc presents a pair  of patient, considered phonography pieces full of intrigue and intimacy. This is languid, tranquil music, the colors layered with careful brushstrokes and the canvases sewn together with steady hands, but it also has the subtle tension that builds when domestic interiors become less like shelter and more like confinement (unsurprising, given that the artists began exchanging materials in spring of 2020). Ristić is fond of what I like to call “thin sounds,” which she lifts from the water with her trusty hydrophones and from the air via precise mic placement, and there are plenty at play here; the textures of “Zamišljena Sjena Vjetra” are as fine and fragile as water-strider legs, distant tactility making the smallest of ripples in the whispered drone of a silent home. The final ten-or-so minutes are breathtaking, thanks to a sublime tonal current that pools in through a forgotten pipe. The more active “Kaugpääs; Antenn” gently carries us to an open window, where we can hear the murmur (pun intended) of the rain and the birds and the bustle below, all cast in a nocturnal warmth by the sound of Gregorian chants carried on the breeze.

jack davidson, 2024.04.06, noise not music

The Scaffold contains worlds. Familiar sounds, textural and ghostly, combine to build immersive sonic environments. Ristić and Patrick Tubin McGinley (Murmer) find common ground and common language across these two side-long pieces. Aqueous soundscapes are woven into the underlying fabric, the repeating blocks elevating The Scaffold. Hollow drones fueled by loose air caught between enclosures sing wordless, phantom recitations. Life begins in the water and moments of movement and electricity are highlighted in the drips and swings. Chanting monks become shrouded paeans of solace in the frenetic darkness, imbued with footsteps to nowhere, a tension building in metallic echoes. A thousand listens will reveal a thousand new details on The Scaffold, each piece an evolving universe of sound.

brad rose, 2024.03.27, the capsule garden vol 3.9

Manja Ristić is a prolific violinist, sound artist, field recordist, published poet, curator and researcher from Belgrade, Serbia. She is mostly active in the field of electro-acoustics, instrumental improvisation & experimental sound related arts.

Murmur is the experimental sound project of Patrick Tubin Mcginley who is an American-born sound, performance, and radio artist whose work is about small discoveries and concentrated attention; it focuses on the framing of the sounds around us which normally pass through our ears unnoticed and unremarked, but which out of context become unrecognisable, alien and extraordinary…

‘The Scaffold’ is their collaborative album, consisting of two longform sound compositions made up of recordings from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Estonia. You can read the full story behind this collaboration at the Bandcamp link below….

‘zamišljena sjena vjetra’ begins with layers of low, slow, shimmery drones and various sounds of human shuffling and other ambiguous sounds emerging out of the mix. Then you begin to hear some gurgling watery noises, tiny cracklings and environmental ambience, with some haunting reverberations going on. 

Throughout the rest of the piece you will hear (what sounds to me like) miniature locomotive chugging sounds, dripping water, soft dissonant drones, ambient room tones, rattling pipes, clacking wood, gurgling drains, tiny mechanisms grinding, metallic dissonance, mysterious echoes and a variety of crunchy textures and subtle weather noises. As the track builds and builds, it becomes more tense and eerie and suspenseful…

‘kaugpääs; antenn’ begins with a series of room sounds and raindrops which start off sounding light and gentle, but gradually becomes heavier and more torrential, creating an array of fascinating tones and frequencies, as distant thunder rumbles ominously in the background. Then you will begin to hear the subtle emergence of one of Ristić’s lonesome drones, accompanied by the darkly atmospheric sounds of shimmering steel, banging doors, light percussive knocks on hollow vessels, whining birds, exquisite Gregorian Chant music, a train horn blowing (?) and other ambiguous environmental noises. 

From around the halfway point, you will hear the murmurous cacophony of a public gathering, passing footsteps, metallic clattering, water gushing from a toilet/fountain/sink, eerie whistling and rumbling drones of some kind of ghostly atonal noise.

‘The Scaffold’ is a broody and beautiful album of stunning field recordings, meditative dronescapes, atmospheric ambience and ghostly sound phenomena. The rich audio sculpting and lush production on the part of both these highly-skilled soundscape artists makes for an evocative and haunting listening experience.

fletina, 2024.03.24, audio crackle non-music round-up (mar 24)