By Will McGuirk
Somehow Jonas Bonnetta has captured the silence of a place like Fogo Island on his new album, “All This Here.”
There is an exhibit at the AGO of artist Yayoi Kusma, called 'Infinity Mirrors'. There are a lot of dots, there are a lot of dots in Kusama’s works. At the AGO visitors are given a sheet of dots and they can place them in a white furnished room, the idea being I guess that the colourful dots bring the space into relief.
But the dot is not the thing. The space between the dot is the thing, the space is where the art is.
There is a quote attributed to Miles Davis about it being the notes you don’t play that matter. It’s the space between the notes you play that matter.
Bonnetta’s album is about space and the silence of space. His music frames the silence of Fogo, gives its form, brings the emptiness into relief and it is there the majesty of this All This Here rests.
Although presented in several named songs, with intervals, the album should be listened to as a whole, in one sitting, to understand how sonically erudite it is.
The music is a poetic explanation of how Fogo is. There are no words spoken or sung and yet the story of island life unfolds. One hears there the long slow creak of wooden boats nuzzling each other in the harbour as they rise and fall on the tide, there the low burr of the fog horn, in there the swipe of a lighthouse beam passing, like a slap, felt more than heard; the barely there moan of a bagpipe, the slight squeaking of a fiddle and with it a feeling of familiarity, with a people never met, with the sense of lives lived, a history, invisible companions at ease with the come-from-away, on here sharing this place, this afterthought of Newfoundland.
And yet none of those sounds exist on this record. This is not a recording of the sounds of Fogo; waves, gulls, winds. This is not the dots. One simply cannot express silence with sounds but one can with feeling and this is what Mika Rosen does on violin, Anne Mueller does on cello and Bonetta tasks himself with on piano, and on synthesizer. Somehow they create a place that is not seen or heard or even touched but it is experienced.
'All This Here' began as the soundtrack to a documentary of the island and the unique architecture built there by Todd Saunders. The soundtrack was the groundwork for this record and if one closes one’s eyes while listening one gets too, the sense, at times of architecture looming in the darkness. One hears their stillness.
While Bonetta, Rosen and Mueller construct the sounds on the album there are intervals of recordings, of cars, of footsteps, but beyond these real sounds there is little of the human on the album. Bonnetta manages to be an invisible observer of Fogo Island throughout the 16 tracks but he chooses to reveal himself on the final one, “Fogo (Evening)”. On this track Bonnetta adds rhythm, a beat, an order to the pace of Fogo. Here he shows his hand and places himself on the island, if only to wave us off.
Once I visited the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. I am Irish, Dublin and in my late 20s I went out to the island of Inis Mor and as soon as I set foot on the rock, for it is just that, a 300 foot above sea level high rock in the Atlantic, the only soil is the compost of thousands of years of seaweed dragged in from the icy waters, as soon as the ferry from Galway docked and I stepped out and on to the land it was as if a flurry of souls, uncountable numbers, surged from the stone and through me and wrapped me and I have never felt so much at home in a place as I did on that rock. It spoke to my genes, sang to the deepest part of me and I awoke and knew myself.
I suspect this rock on the other side of the Atlantic may have given Bonnetta a similar experience. There is an expertise in his sonic storytelling which only comes from living it. He knows this place, knows it deeply and channels all of it through these tracks.