What triggers the imagination: Ahti & Ahti

As I watched Ahti & Ahti, with their mundane choices of sound objects, I felt a familiar, but increasingly rare, child-like curiosity rise in me. During their 30-minute concert in the dimly lit puppet theatre Pygméteatern in Stockholm, they gently pulled sounds out of a bicycle tube, plate, fork, polystyrene foam and a modular synthesizer. Pointing the open valve of the bicycle tube carefully towards a microphone, the whistling air rushing through it made a ful, low-pitched howling, as the wind on a stormy day. With simple tools and careful choices, Niko-Matti and Marja activated these everyday objects through amplification and processing.

Their music is a slow-moving one, with Niko-Matti carefully deciding what sound to make next, Marja’s black suitcase of synthesizer modules resting on her lap, sampling Niko-Matti as well as utilizing pre-recorded electronic sounds and field recordings as sources for manipulation. Together they take me on an adventure which quickly shifts, depending on whether I have my eyes open or closed. They use the line between the acoustic and the acousmatic, sounds where the source is hidden, as a way of navigating the listeners through their soundscapes.

It is impossible for a curious listener not trying to assign the sounds to their sources, and yet I find that the very tactile fork-on-plate screech or rubbing of polystyrene foam becomes surprisingly soothing when I’m not looking. Though recognizable, the sound no longer makes me flinch when it is disassociated with the involuntary scrapes around a dinner table, and furthermore used in combination with electronic tones and drones. As I close my eyes I wonder wether I could guess the object for the sound if I hadn’t seen it — and so my imagination is triggered to create a different narrative in my mind. 

Ahti & Ahti manage to construct an invented imagined language through their transformation of the familiar into the abstract. In the midst of a sustained, tranquil texture, I suddenly hear footsteps and a person whistling — my focus shifts, giving me the sensation of having super hearing. When Niko-Matti then turns his microphone towards Marja, so that she can blow a low note from an empty glass bottle, I start to wonder wether they are improvising or guiding us through a planned route. It could be both, like taking a walk on familiar grounds, choosing paths as they come up. After carefully picking up leftover bits of polystyrene now dusted on his trousers, Niko-Matti starts to walk slowly around the room, bringing my attention back to here and now.

It was through this — the balancing between what is here, and what is somewhere else — that the duo managed to draw auditive narratives that transported me to a parallel reality. Ahti and Ahti’s use of existing places and seamless transitions revealed multiple layers behind the drop curtain of Pygméteatern.

(Jenny Berger Myhre)