The sixth release from Mailbox Records invites us to experience Mohammed Ashraf’s very personal form of ambient nostalgia
Pie Are Squared is the project of Mohammed Ashraf, an Italy-based, Egyptian musician who often explores forms of escapism. Through the use of field recorded samples passed through extensive effects processing and layered guitars, they are adept at transporting the listener to new places. Look no further than muri, their contribution to the ongoing Home Diaries series, or the contemplative daydreams of Con Calma – both released by Whitelabrecs in 2020 – for evidence of this. Warm, woozy and heavy with personal history, a fragile beauty permeates their work.
In his latest release, the 3-song suite of Anemoia released by Mailbox, the diaristic capturing of space and place is crucial to the creation and listening experience. In an extremely well crafted 18-minutes, Pie Are Squared takes us on a tour through collected memories. Shifting from a museum of musical instruments in Malaga to a beach in Mallorca, heading to the hills of Forlì in Italy, before ending in Mohammed’s home studio via his apartment building’s cellar, Anemoia encourages us to unravel a hand-stitched memory trail across ambient textures and drones.
Anemoia is the construction and deconstruction of a personal travelogue. “The locations provide the framework in which the music exists, and in certain cases where the music was recorded,” Mohammed writes. A scrapbook memorialising events and emotions with many moving parts, it encourages us to step into a “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known” which is the context behind the word anemoia.
The term was first coined by John Koenig’s online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (DoOS) series and is a composite Greek word combining anemos, ‘wind’ and noos, ‘mind’. “Anemoia is a psychological corollary to anemosis, which is when a tree is warped by strong air currents until it seems to bend backward, leaning into the wind,” DoOS states.
“The past is a foreign country, and we’re only tourists.
We can’t expect to understand the locals,
or why they do what they do.
We can only ask them to hold still,
so we can capture a photo to take home with us.”
– Extract from ‘anemoia’, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Pie Are Squared’s Anemoia does not present us with old photographs to take us to an exact where and when. It is a floating text, with each of its three parts forming a vignette of a wider world encouraging us to travel within an introspective space.
From the teaser trailers released by Mailbox, the sounds with the visuals instills a sense of intrigue and other-worldly atmosphere. There is a deep sense of longing as we enter a recognisable unknown, a somewhere between the organic and synthetic. It does look and sound slightly alien; warped at times. This is further enhanced by the muted blue and noir cover art, a photograph of a landscape (possibly a field covered by snow) dominated by dark angular shapes removed from reality through double exposure. The vegetation encroaching the bottom of the frame is the main element which grounds us to a recognised environment.
A major part of the EP’s DNA is the field recordings, yet their assemblage within Anemoia shifts them from their sources towards an alternate history. Gorgeous opening track ‘Mlqa’ demonstrates this world-building through a mastery of layering and motion. Out from eerie drones and faint robotic chatter comes a sinuous, slow melody which attaches itself to wordless vocals and filtered samples. The musical instruments within the aforementioned museum seem to begin to play themselves, creating atonal clanking and glassy percussive splashes to accompany hypnotic murmurs. Half way through the samples are pushed to the sides by a blanket of wind and lift in atmosphere, before dissipating and leaving melody to resonate with the air in the room.
A sample of melodic singing disintegrates into crumbs of conversation to begin the EP’s second act. ‘Colline_Cantina’ takes its 7 minutes to build, as beautiful soft synth waves reveal a sighing vocal melody while snippets of speech and sounds sneak in and out of the mix. Picture a widescreen scene, standing on top of a hill, eyes closed, listening as moments drift across the wind – children playing, branches creaking, waves rolling, minutes ticking. As it unravels you’re hit by a vaporous atmosphere, a distorting heaviness in the air which narrows the viewpoint to something more cavernous and dank. A sense of decay creeps in while other sonic elements appear in frame, only to fade away into Anemoia’s final part.
‘Parallel 44’ is perhaps the most drone heavy part and also the most consistently calming. A drifting wash of melody and distant vocals forge a nebula of sound, removing us from the concrete of the cellar, taking us through sky, perhaps towards a peaceful parallel time the track title alludes to. As with everything that has come before it there is still a reality to the sounds, a physicality and tactile quality, which makes you want to reach out and touch these places.
Anemoia not only invites us to experience the artist’s nostalgia but to contemplate our own past year and the people we haven’t met and spoken to, the things we haven’t seen or heard or learned, the conversations and encounters and connections either severed or never realised, the cancelled holidays or planned moves, the missed celebrations, the simple act of giving and receiving a hug. We all have been mourning for the memories we haven’t been able to make.
During our lockdown existence if we wanted to travel we have done so through imagination, media, going online, VR and Google Earth. What was organic and natural is now virtual and processed. Our recent past plays out more within the Cloud than beneath tangible clouds in the sky. Increasingly removed from the real thing, we have been forced to accept a digital substitute for our connections. We have become more dependant on nostalgia for nourishment and to reflect on time differently.
Anemoia’s nostalgia recalls our symbiotic relationship between nature and technology – one infiltrating the other with the grace of a slow dance – echoing Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, suggesting as humans we possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Imagine Anemoia is a place where the artist duets with nature and technology – a conduit for a single-cell organism slime mould and bio-computer capable of translating energy into sound. Maybe this is an uncanny metaphor for how humans rely on technology more than ever to communicate, traverse, connect and make new memories.
Presented in three parts, Anemoia seamlessly plays out as a connected triptych (the download includes a continuous mix). Pie Are Squared has created an intriguing and soothing ambient space to wander through. An imaginary form of travel which weaves threads together from memories, nature and technology.
Based in Bristol, Mailbox has recently celebrated their first birthday. Run by James A. McDermid and Inês Ourives Delgado, their first six releases have showcased a careful curation of ambient and experimental sounds.
With a back catalogue brimming with variety, these releases share a commonality in theme. Tinged with nostalgic contemplation shaded by our current socio and political climates, there is often longing, a loss – whether of nature, of connections, of the self, or even of time itself.
Anemoia continues this run by spinning this theme in fresh directions. A vibrant EP, torched by a hypnotic beauty and brooding tones, with plenty of ideas to warrant repeated listens. I feel confident I will look back on listening to Anemoia as one of my favourite memories of the year and in doing so adding another layer to the nostalgia.
Anemoia by Pie Are Squared is available to buy digitally through Bandcamp from 22 March, 2021.
Explore Pie Are Squared’s past memories on his personal Bandcamp.
A year in the life of Mailbox
- anthéne and James McDermid – Transit + Transition
A double bill of short stories concerning the type of life-altering changes we feel in our heart and gut; the changes forever attached to memory
- El Conejo – A Lullaby for Elisa
A powerful wordless lullaby which holds over us a tender power
- Ishmael Cormack – Feral
A captivatingly intimate and melodic release soundtracking the wonder of nature
- Various Artists – Music for Another Sky
A 32 track compilation to raise money for Refuge Charity featuring an array of prominent and upcoming ambient and experimental artists
- Heavy Cloud – Memory Drift
Evoking a nostalgia for the recent past, text to speech sound collage, field recordings and drones echo the drifting nature of memory recall
(Full disclosure: this is the author’s own release)