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Natalia Beylis
Invaded By Fireflies Daryl Worthington , July 29th, 2021 08:06

New from Cafe Oto's inhouse label Takuroku records, Natalia Beylis composes a delicate web out of friends' and neighbours' fond reminiscences

Attempts to document our surroundings rely on fixing something transitory and sacrificing the vitality which defines them. It means field recordings are really not all that far from a painting or photograph. The author’s perspective and the technology’s capabilities dictate what’s captured, only grasping some of what makes a place a place.

Surroundings dominate Invaded by Fireflies, the new composition by Ukraine-born, Ireland-based composer Natalia Beylis, and she works around the riddle of how to capture them by mapping the imprints they leave on us. Rather than try to hide the human, it seems rooted in the idea that a place is only really a place when there’s someone to respond to it. The thirty-odd minute piece uses cassette recordings of Beylis’ friends, collaborators, and neighbours, describing beautiful locations they’ve witnessed. Beylis gently starting a conversation rather than composing, gathering fleeting sensations on ephemeral situations to outline a truer sense of our relationship to place.

There’s something magical in the way the speakers grapple with language to describe the elusive. Some pile up adjectives, as though trying to build a wall around what they experienced. Others impersonate wildlife, describe their emotional response, or convey a “black desert” of industrialised peat bogs through allusion to Tarkovsky films. Some focus on what they hear, some on what they see, and others what they did in the place, opening a lid not only on the differences in how we describe, but also what it is that makes a place leave its mark on us.

The snippets of voice are glimpses into people and their worlds, hooked into constellations by the somnambulant soundtrack that surrounds them. Like Beylis’s 2020 album The Steadfast Starry Universe, these textures ebb like soggy flotsam. Specific instruments are hard to discern, something gong-like sits near the surface, but it’s so scumbled it could just as easily be rigging clanging on a metal mast. As it goes on, the piece subtly warps, suggesting the composition is perhaps laid out on a tape loop. An uninterrupted thread fixing these fragments together into a mosaic of perspectives.

In their 1964 radio composition ‘The Dreams’, Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange asked members of the public to describe what ran through their heads at night. More recently, Claire Rousay’s A Heavenly Touch had people sharing stories of their last date, while Kate Carr’s Where to Begin assembles texts from love letters shared with the composer. Invaded By Fireflies sits in a similar place, shaped by a fascination with others. The composer decenters themself from the composition and uses their music as a vehicle to bridge the different ways we process our world.