Tagged: Finland

Too From Tomoonttontwo



My enthusiasm for Finnish psychedelic music will never equal that of those fanatical folks at Aquarius Records. Not because of any audible shortcomings in what I’ve heard – quite the opposite in fact – but because I am so genuinely intimidated by the sheer quantity of product that I wouldn’t know where to begin, even if I had the time to check it all.

It helps immensely to have a small scene showcase on your doorstep. I was fortunate to be able to speak to Tomutonttu’s Jan Anderzen at one just a stone’s throw from here, last year. Flu-smashed yet hardy and pragmatic the way Finnish people often seem to be, he answered my questions, told me about his records (one of which I bought and review here) and went on to deliver a delirious AV set so pantomorphic one’s eyes could scarcely settle on a single shape. Harry Smith’s Abstractions had nothing on it. So intense was my experience of his work that it hardly surprises me that British man-flu should have been to Anderzen but a minor setback.

When he’s not delivering mass hypnotism, Anderzen trades actively under any number of guises in the Finnish scene. He’s the lynchpin of the rotating-cast of Kemialliset Ystävät, and features in and on too many groups and releases to mention here (including confounding variations on the alias under review). That’s what Discogs is for. Tomutonttu is Anderzen’s private playground, presumably providing some sort of release valve for the many ideas he has knocking around. Indeed, he makes something of a virtue out of putting discarded recordings to good use with this project, largely by applying a ‘smash ‘em together and see how it sounds’ credo, which seems to work in his favour for the most part.

Comprising a selection of ‘aborted’ releases dating 2005-11, and blended beautifully to beget an ever-morphing audio pot pourri that never dispenses the same scent twice, Hylyt isn’t just a whimsical spelling of the word that gives us ‘special moments’; it actually translates as ‘Wrecks’, which in this case refers to ‘the collective state of consciousness attained on the way to the bottom’. I’ll spare you the Stygian psychology; suffice to say that through its disparate array of mysterious landscapes (and fidelities), the music sublimely illustrates a shift from one state of collapsible horror to another, exposing something quite entrancing in its entirety. Defined by the artist as “diploma work for the University of Bananafish” (whose Dylan Nyoukis ratifies the proclamation by providing an anomalous poem insert), this could easily have graced any one of that beloved magazine’s cover CDs. In fact, it sounds rather like a mischievous reworking of one’s entire contents: speed, direction and pitch all victims to a capricious and curious little sprite; weaving in and out of passages of pastoral psychedelia, slug-speed walls-of- noise and amplified, night-time twinklefests. There are, admittedly, points at which the transitions are a little too sudden, raising moments of doubt, but I suspect this effect to be volitional. Overall, it is an approachable brand of chaos.

Of a similar species, if a little more refined in pedigree, Tomuuntuu is another restless, amorphous and entirely more streamlined beast. This attractive picture disc sports a recording assembled as a radio piece, commissioned by Aanem Lumo Festival for New Sounds, and performed at the Orion Theatre in Helsinki on the 8th November 2010. I imagine it made rather a good impression, if Anderzen’s kaleidescopic AV shows affect Finnish audiences the way they do me. Beginning as an effervescent organ over a measured, thudding gait, it is tugged by one of Anderzen’s slow, transparent howls through the mirror, into a labyrinthine Wonderland of alien tweets and twitters, zaps and flutters, before skidding headlong into an intense cartoon alternate dimension soundtracked by the kinds of tape-splicing boffins who turn up on plush multi-disc compilations nowadays. And so on. By virtue of the single side, time is precious, so great lengths are taken to maximise the zany, card-shuffling states of mind, leaving the listener a rather bewildered winner. Our insanity is clearly Jan Anderzen’s clarity.

Bennifer Editions
Tomutonttu’s Soundcloud page

The Angelic Conversation

Time to get our fangs into some more cassette tapes. There are times of the day when only a small-run independent tape can satisfy a man’s urges. Can a man who doesn’t own a tape deck truly be called a man, I ask myself 1. Ilya Belorukov is a Russian fellow who we spoke to for TSP issue #21, and he’s pretty much waging a one-man campaign for free music, extreme metal, drone and avant-garde jazz in Saint Petersburg, often doing so in the space of a single album. Actually it’s not really a one-man effort when he has friends like the members of Wozzeck behind him. Wozzeck appear on side one of this split tape (ALREADY DEAD TAPES AD057) which we got on 11 December 2012. In fact for ‘Puhdas Ruoka’ they teamed up with the Finnish duo Banana Pill and the four-man team made a lovely sound together in Helsinki in the spring of 2011. What may begin as abrasive texturised abstractery resolves itself into quite a heavenly and mystical episode. Angelic choirs, I would say, worthy of inclusion as soundtrack music for certain cinematic moments of Tarkovsky. Many dream of achieving this degree of perfect and translucent blending of their combined sound, where the individual contributions just melt into a cosmic share of ever-giving plenty, surrendering their identities willingly. Just 40 copies of this artefact confirm it as something of a hidden gem.

Flip it over to hear the Coaxil side, which contains two pieces, ‘Gulf Of Izmir’ and ‘Mzee’ and represents quite a different burst of digital malarkey. It’s more in the zone of strident avant-garde Techno than dreamy droning. Synths and sequencers and rhythm boxes spit out slightly addled phrases and half-formed patterns, occasionally interrupted by the voice of a chanting female mystic issuing a terse and enigmatic sentence. The overall sound seems so stripped-down that I assumed it was the work of a single synthesist, and was a tad surprised to learn that Coaxil are a threesome of Russians who have been doing it in Saint Petersburg since about 2009, often joined by their singer and a fifth member who does live mixes of visual material for their multi-media shows. On a chilly Russian night at 2 AM, fortified by strong vodka and surrounded by enthused clubbers hopefully wearing fur coats, I expect the Coaxil experience is truly memorable – especially if amplified and accompanied by fast-moving visuals on a big screen. On this cassette tape though, it comes over a bit limp and constrained. The itchy restlessness of their scatter-shot music may appeal, but unlike the flip side of this split their pieces don’t feel “performed” enough for me, and I harbour some doubts as to how much the team are able to successfully control or direct their equipment in their favour.

Keeping things more or less Russian, I thought fit to delve into the box of goodments kindly sent to us in September 2012 by Ivan Afanasyev from Petrozavoosk. Very coincidentally of the six tapes herein (all released on his Full Of Nothing label), one of them is a self-titled cassette by Banana Pill (FULL OF NOTHING fon31). This gives one a chance to hear their solo turn, and the two Finns Dmitri Zherbin and Sasha Kretova spread themselves out quite luxuriantly with their guitar and violin-based performances, the rich and melodic drone-music much enhanced and deepened by use of synths and some studio processing, or simply using a smidgen of digital delay. Sasha and Dmitri may be a little slow to start (like a Tunturi on a cold morning), but when they uncoil at length into the correct musical niches, they tend to occupy the space like an incandescent python. A very sleepy python. The duo also exhibit their own brand of the whimsical eccentricity and cluttering sound that has come to characterise certain strands of music from Finland, often labelled by some as “Finnish Folk” for want of a better way to pigeonhole any music made with acoustic instruments. However, there’s little aggression or grit in their spacey-vibey trance music, and even the label notes tend to emphasise the calm, sweetness and peacefulness of Banana Pill. Nothing wrong with those sentiments, but when that Pill is wafered into the more punchy-noisenik tendencies of Wozzeck as above, a more complex dosage results.

  1. This gag borrowed from Lawrence Burton.

Don’t even go to the Fat Stars

Another item from the Attenuation Circuit envelope of January 2012 is by the Finnish musician Esa Ruoho. As Lackluster, he’s been working in the area of avant-garde Techno music for a long time, but Riversmouth (ACM 1009) is not modern disco hoppery – it’s twenty minutes of ambiguous and exploratory drone work produced by digital means. We’re invited to savour its minimalist leanings, but Ruoho’s work here seems to me just a shade too cluttered to qualify as pure digital glitch, that near-inhuman genre of electronic music which constantly celebrates its characteristic steely glint and diamond claw. Ruoho prefers soft edges and undefined contours to the geometric Raster-Noton grid. He cannot resist introducing harmonies, textures, washes, and additional tones on top of the basic calm undercurrents he generates, almost adding elements at random until a certain pleasing unpredictability is achieved. The path is far from clear and the original aims are being steadily forgotten. The short piece feels like a journey across the surface of a huge lake that’s been half-filled with blue jelly.

Machinefabriek is the ever-popular Rutger Zuydervelt. If anyone knows about crossing lakes filled with gelatin, he’s your man. He could probably do it while wearing a pair of stilts. On Veldwerk (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR156CD) we get a very nice sampling of some recent-ish field recording work and slow droney music from this Netherlandish sound artist, representing a variety of approaches; some are aural portraits of places and events, others have been self-consciously edited together into a narrative structure to represent a diary of a trip overseas. There’s also audio from an art gallery installation, and a film soundtrack. At all times the aim of Machinefabriek is to steadily contemplate the world from a centre of incredible stillness, neither casting judgement on his surroundings nor excluding anything that might be of potential import. Nothing escapes his all-seeing eye or his all-hearing ears. I would imagine it’s taken him many years to achieve this Zen-like state and if there were marks of distinction for being a “perfect master” in the high arts of field recording and phonography (or even just taking the time to simply listen), Zuydervelt ought to have achieved a black belt or the honorary title of the Akond of Sennheiser. Of particular interest: the “rough editing” techniques used to create a great sense of urgency and naturalism on ‘Slovensko’, where the artist is deliberately emulating techniques he learned from Yan Jun; and the 21-minute ‘Apollo’, a soundtrack work that’s a collaboration with Makino Takashi. The films of this Japanese cineaste reveal a preoccupation with galaxies and outer space, always a popular theme for avant-garde dronery of all stripes. Machinefabriek was torn between his natural inclination for uneventful minimalism and Takashi’s requirements for more layers and action. The results aren’t exactly the same as standing next to a Saturn V lift-off, but this subtle and mystical piece can easily hold its own with the incredible music of Matsuo Ohno. A lot of this was released on small editions of CDRs and singles, probably quite hard to find now, so this could be a useful comp. From 16 January 2012.

Japanese pop singer Tujiko Noriko makes a return to the Mego label with GYU (EDITIONS MEGO 239), and I had to rack my memory banks to recall that she released Make Me Hard for this label ten years ago. She’s been busy enough in the interim with records for Nature Bliss and Room40, including a collaboration on that label with Lawrence English. Here on this album of electro-pop beat songs, she’s assisted by the technical and writing skills of Tatsuya Yamada, masquerading as Tyme. The sleeve drawings by Toshiko Kimura promise wonderful vistas of birds and human escaping the confines of city life to rise reborn into organic bliss, but the music is 100% synthetic; not a sound slips by but has been processed into little shards of slippery pink candy. I’m not saying the production has been overcooked, but a lot of the soul has been drained from Noriko’s singing, and even the meticulously constructed stacks of Beach Boys harmonies don’t liven things up a whole lot. The preponderance of synths, drum machines and sequencers used for the backing music gives the whole album a sealed-off, unreal sensation. Six years to cpomplete it took, but this is because of the creative processes involved in the collaborative writing, rather than the making of the album; disposable pop this ain’t, even at its most elevator-friendly moments. It has a kind of artificial sheen of exquisiteness, even when the unwavering 4/4 time signatures and monotonous melodies become wearying. The titles are poetic though, if the translation provided is anything to go by: it’s a world of Tropic Penguins, Golden Hearts, Vacation of God, Slow Motion and an Unforgettable Lightworld.

Jazz is the new WWF

Arrived 20 December 2011, another envelope from the Helsinki jazz label TUM that impressed us quite favourably in January. Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto are two big names in the Finland jazz world and have been playing together since 1964. Conversations (TUM CD 024-2) is a two-disc set of saxophone and piano improvisations from this venerable duo, including some original compositions by the pianist Sarmanto and a couple of Schwartz-Dietz standards that ought to be familiar to anyone who ever heard a jazz record made after 1940. It’s flawless playing throughout, even if not especially innovative, and Aaltonen comes across like a slightly mellower version of Trane when he was in an introverted, meditative frame of mind. Sarmanto is a melodic genius, and he’s quietly working overtime to add no end of melodic flourishes and glissandoes on his keyboard with modest grace and expertise. You can tell he’s an arranger; he seems to be sketching out scores for a full orchestra as he plays the keys. The cover painting is suitably autumnal with colours that match the wistful and burnished mood of much of the music, and was executed by the Finnish abstract painter Juhana Blomstedt.

From 16 December last year, we received Not Far From Here (PFMENTUM CD065), a set of impressive jazz-based improvisations by the Los Angeles musician Dick Wood, who composed and led the sessions as well as playing the flute and alto. He’s built a strong small combo with the cornet player Dan Clucas, the trombonist Dan Ostermann who sometimes adds a “space mute” to his trombone, the drummer Marty Mansour, bassist Hal Onserud who joined by way of Cecil Taylor, tenorman Chuck Manning, plus live electronics from Mark Trayle. Together, these energised and expert players harness mucho free jazz energy while also managing to negotiate all the wild twists and turns of Wood’s freaky, pretzel-shaped compositions; some startling dynamics on offer throughout all six tracks, showcasing instruments in highly imaginative and unconventional ways, all of which makes for a very satisfying listen. More often than not with this set I bethought me of a 21st-century update on Art Ensemble of Chicago with the added hookery-pamookery of digital whoops from the Supercollider electronics section, but it seems Wood has a very large range of musical ambitions in mind which feed into his elaborate mind-circuits, not all of them from the jazz world either. Blues, avant-garde composition, and Zen philosophy are all strong forces which Wood intends to marshall in his private army. In fine, a glorious listening experience of jazzy brass toots, percussion, bowed and scraped bass sounds, and generally mutated loopiness managed with the sparing use of electronic treatments and breathy growling effects. I like the lively stop-start angularity of ‘Cook The Books’, but if in need of something more “out there” you might enjoy the electronics-heavy diablery of ‘No Known Knowns’, which samples the voice of US defense secretary Rumsfeld and combines it with the octokoto instrument (a hand-made modified zither) of Dan Clucas. In the semi-shady mystery world of this cut, the rhythm section manage to sound positively cynical and blasé at the same time with their ramshackle percussion and resigned bass sighs. The record also boasts an exciting, bright sound, for which we must give due credit to Scott Fraser, the technician who recorded it at Architecture in LA in just two separate sessions. The mangos are in!

The English trio of power-jazz players Hession Wilkinson and Fell opened many ears to what the English could really do with the free jazz mode, particularly in 1992 when Foom! Foom! was first released and even veteran jazz writer Byron Coley waxed lyrical at that time about the raw blastage coming from Alan Wilkinson’s bell. Now here they are again on 2010 date released as Two Falls & A Submission (BO’WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVIL44CD), and the passage of 18 years has done absolutely nothing to dim the fire nor crack the binding of these three, as the opening cut ‘First Fall’ bears witness – over 32 minutes of uninterrupted sustained jazz-improv energy which is as welcome as a roaring bonfire in the middle of a cold and damp May Day field. The album and track titles are derived from the metaphor devised by drummer Paul Hession, who sometimes likens the act of improvising to a wrestling match. By his reckoning, the trio of Hession Wilkinson and Fell have a “playful, grappling style”, and it’s this very physicality which asserts its unignorable presence on almost every minute of this disk…you can almost feel the three players interlocking their very bodies, if that isn’t too indelicate an image. There’s something about Hession’s drum rolls in particular that seem to suggest acrobatic back-flips and rope-bounces aplenty as another body flattens against the canvas, but mostly it’s the way the rhythm section work together that creates an endless flow of forward-moving complex musical information, an express train packed with a delegation of University professors and toting 5,000 doctoral theses piled in the caboose. Meanwhile Wilkinson, switching between alto and baritone with the gusto of an Italian gourmet visiting the sweet trolley, exhibits a huge range of techniques – crazy overblowing shrieks, sad and mysterious basso-burbling, sonorous growls and grunts, and (mostly) endless streams of free-thinking diatribes flowing through his supple fingers at a speedy rate of knots. It’s pure streams of abstracted emotional wallop, set to a syncopated beat that makes every sinew in your body pop. In short, the album is a hip throw…from the hippest of the hip!

Under the Eye: slurpy and eccentric black metal that’s open to other music genres

Ride for Revenge, Under the Eye, KVLT Records, CD KVLT004 (2011)

Finnish act Ride for Revenge traffic in a filthy-sounding, slurpy, encrusted form of black metal that happens to assimilate whatever bits and pieces of other music genres that take RfR’s fancy and Under the Eye demonstrates this cosmopolitan side very well: the opening track alone is an all-electronic message from aliens from a far galaxy warning of what’s gonna hit us if we don’t pay heed. Pay heed or not, we get hit anyway with hard-hitting reptilian BM complete with throaty monster vocals, some slimed over with reverb, of the sort only an ectothermic herpetologist could love. The music probably owes as much to death metal as it does to black metal. Drums stutter and machine effects hover about and hoover up resisting mortals to digest and spit out in the form of dried husks. In parts this music is reminiscent of Rigor Sardonicus though it’s not quite as barmy as those moss-embalmed Americans who to date have not given away the secret of their batty cymbal.

Most tracks are very short and if you sneeze, you’re liable to miss them. “Prevail in Hell” is an early highlight with martial drums, a scratchy lead guitar and a groovy rhythm that develops later in the track. The music flows surprisingly well and the more I hear this album, the more I detect a smooth groovy quality that gets my head nodding and swaying, strange though that seems. Special mention must be made of “The Endless Flood” for a latter section in which the band tortures a horrible space monster.

The second half of the album improves on the first half: “Through” has a deep spoken vocal reminiscent of Sisters of Mercy and a dark melody performed on what sounds a bit like organ in the background; the instrumental “Conversation in Death” is a tango of noisy crunch guitar and repetitive drum loops; “From Darkness We Ride” has gloopy quacking effects (like Donald Duck trying to breathe underwater) that make the song even more deranged than the usual RfR song; and “The Hawk Appears” features a tribal drumming rhythm combined with twanging percussion that gives the track an exotic Oriental feel. The outro title track starts off with an industrial noise loop that lapses into a loping song with the odd spasm of rapid-fire synth drumming and reverbed monster vocal.

In all, this album is a varied one that throws in a number of unusual sound effects and influences and reveals RfR as more than just another eccentric Finnish black metal bunch. Spacey ambient effects can be very subtle and easily missed yet they lift the music to another level just by their presence in the background. It’s a shame that most songs are quite short and very fixated on rhythms; if RfR could let the music soar far into the firmament, they’d end up with something really incredible and no less deranged than what they already do.

Contact: KVLT, Bestial Burst

Or TUM in New York

Big bundle of experimental jazz and improv albums arrived from the Finnish label TUM Records on 13 October 2011. All these releases are very well produced records and are smartly attired in colourful triple-gatefold digipaks with generous booklets of notes and photos and abstract painting cover artworks.

Olavi Trio & Friends features the trombone playing of Jari Hongisto supported with Teppo Hauta-aho’s bass and Niilo Louhivuori’s drums, but guest players join in with trumpet, tenor sax or electric guitar on some tracks of Triologia (TUM CD 026), and in many places the group dynamic is a very successful negotiation of mixed voices. I like it best when they manage to disguise their instruments’ natural tones and arrive at a low, growling rumble effect which grinds away like the teeth of an old man eating cake. But the pace of this album is a bit too subdued for me, and I wish it had a little more menace or tension. Kalle Kalima’s electric guitar seems to liven up the players somewhat and I like some of his atonal meanderings on the long track ‘Biologia’, but in the final analysis this record murmurs and mutters a little too vaguely; I just wish they’d get to the point and say something definite, instead of all these constant allusions and obscure remarks.

Route De Frères (TUM CD 027) is a much warmer and even a very entertaining jazz album. The great free jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille, famed for his work on ESP-Disk and with Cecil Taylor, goes back to his Haitian forebears as he joins forces with the combo Haitian Fascination, a foursome which is half American and half Haitian. Not really a free jazz album; these are 12 jolly tunes and toe-tapping melodies which are showcases for the players taking solo turns one after the other, in the good old-fashioned small combo jazz style. The uptempo numbers like ‘Marinèt’, ‘Deblozay’ and ‘Isaura’ can’t help but make a hit in the stoniest of hearts, and you’ll be pulling on your dancing shoes in five seconds flat. What a terrific rhythmical swing it all has. No doubt the Haitian master percussionist Frisner Augustin (also artistic director of a dance company in NYC) has a lot to contribute, but all the players provide an irresistible and unusual lilting rhythm which you won’t hear on many contemporary jazz albums, and Cyrille’s restrained drumming is a joy throughout, his bass toms giving a solid foundation to the gently skipping melodic lines on top. What strikes me is the very open and refreshing sound of the album; the acoustic guitar of Alix Pascal is as light and delicate as autumn sunlight on the falling leaves, sometimes reminding me of Dorothy Ashby’s harp albums. Hamiet Bluiett’s baritone sax also adds an unusual flavour to the combo, and it’s a splendid combination of voices. While some of the tunes may stray a little close to easy-listening, it’s still a winning and heart-warming set.

Now we come to Clustrophy (TUM CD 025), an intriguing album by Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio. This group is led by the “free-minded” saxophonist Mikko Innanen who is a graduate of music academies in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and leads what is essentially a sax-trio album with Fredrik Ljungkvist and Daniel Erdmann, supported by drummer Joonas Riipa, with no bass player in sight. So, a very full sound on the record and one which has been immaculately scored and arranged to make much of the cross-rhythms and three-way interplay of the saxophones, and the full range of woodwinds is on offer – alto, baritone, tenor, soprano and sopranino. Like a well-oiled acoustic machine they function beautifully. The band’s secret weapon is the synthesizer player Seppo Kantonen, who adds fabulous touches of fruity electronic wildness to the sound. While the title track isn’t much more than a sophisticated take on Duke Ellington, I very much enjoy the awkward and craggy compositional style of ‘Earth’s Second Moon’, which also showcases the band’s distinctive voices very well. It ain’t quite the Sun Ra Arkestra, but it’s got a strong Nordic flavour of reinterpreted and repurposed American jazz motifs. We’ve also got the subdued mystery drone of ‘A Panoramic View from the Top Floor’, where the massed breathy saxes are again augmented and coloured by Kantonen’s lovely filtered keyboard settings. And there’s the ultra-complex Zappa-esque circus jazz music of ‘The Grey Adler Returns Again’, which really puts the drummer through his paces as he attempts to render the jumpy, herky-jerky rhythms, never missing a trick; and the hauntingly melancholic clarinet tones on ‘Ardennes at Dawn’. Perhaps Innanen never quite overcomes his conservatoire training, and there is an overhanging sense of “seriousness” to the album, but this isn’t to say the music is stilted or pretentious. Clustrophy is a varied set of good experimental jazz-rock, free jazz and electronic music moves, with a perfect production sheen and not a misplaced note anywhere. I also bet if you saw this band live you would not be disappointed.

Another American free jazz hero is Billy Bang, who passed away in April 2011 just as History Of Jazz in Reverse (TUM CD 028) by Fab Trio was entering its final production stages. Simply great violin playing from Bang, with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul, and this excellent album is truly the goods. Seeing as how Bang has played with personal favourites Don Cherry, Sun Ra and James Blood Ulmer, I can’t figure out why I don’t own any of his solo records. As I listen to the variety of styles in his playing, how he performs impossible feats with evident ease, I can only sit back and enjoy in admiration. Of the records in this list so far, this is the one that hasn’t forgotten how to swing. Dynamic motion that’s like a cross-country car ride into other dimensions, sometimes as on ‘From Here To There’ speeding along at a demonic rate of knots with Bang recalling Leroy Jenkins at his most possessed and frantic, although you may prefer the brilliantly syncopated rhythms of ‘Implications’ or the smoky serenity of ‘Chan Chan’. And if it is indeed an album that contains a statement on the history of jazz in its grooves, then it’s a personal odyssey that ends with a nod to New Orleans (the cradle of jazz, natch), along the way pays a tribute to 1960s free jazz in the form of Don Cherry, and begins with a wistful tune called ‘Homeward Bound’, to the accompaniment of which I would like to think Bang is ascending to his rightful place in Jazz Paradise where he may play his golden violin for eternity. Recorded and flawlessly improvised in the studio in New York in 2005. May I recommend this great album wholeheartedly.

Can’t say the same for More Than 123 (TUM-A CD 001) which is a little out of my line; it’s a showcase for the singing and guitar playing of Dave Lindholm, with a jazz band combo under the baton of conductor Otto Donner. Lindholm, a long-serving singer since the early 1970s, may well be respected in the Finnish scene, but his croaky blues-influenced crooning is too corny for me, seriously lacking in conviction and pressing too many flattened fifths on autopilot, to say nothing of the cliché-ridden lyrics. We are invited to find resonances with Tom Waits, but it feels more like a Finnish version of the hateful Jools Holland Big Band. The supporting musicians play competently enough however. Lindholm is attempting the Zoot Suit look on the front cover, but with that cut and the sort of ordinary grey material you’d associate with a businessman or a conservative politician, a shape in a drape he ain’t!

Concerning This Square

The Tree in the Quadtych

From Sheffield here’s Cameron Deas, another guitar-playing acoustic Englishman worthy to hold his head alongside C. Joynes, with his Quadtych (PRESENT TIME EXERCISES PTECD1) CD which he kindly sent us some months ago released on his own label Present Time Exercises. This is a single work in four parts which unfolds over 70 minutes (look for the vinyl versions!) in which Deas gives himself a very broad canvas to apply his impressionistic, painterly guitar effects. While your man Basho Junghans continues to work his guitar like an orchestra, for Deas it’s more a matter of gradually creating sheets of sound, through a mixture of techniques – scraping, strumming, sliding, and an insistent rubbing method that generates vast clouds of resonating metallicness. On Part One he’s more concerned with creating this gaseous billow of steel-string noise than he is with delivering melodies or picking tunes, and thusly he ushers us into the gateway of his private world. Part Two is somewhat more “open”, and we find minimal forlorn half-tunes seep into an otherwise deserted vacuum of gently echoing stillness. By time of Part Three (and we still have not departed from the single root chord which anchors this album in place) he’s somehow creating a jangling violin-bow effect which he sustains for far longer than is humanly possible, an orchestral drone which supports his folk-tune inflected melodies. Aside from fact that this music must require four hands and eighteen extra digits to play it, I’m astonished by the innovation here, and Deas must have put many years into crafting his unique style, finding this highly individual voice for the guitar. Jake Blanchard did the striking and sympathetic cover art, suggesting not only that twigs and branches grow from the neck and head of a guitar (the music is alive), but also that guitars are already growing in the very trees that are used to make them, and it’s just a question of releasing them from the prison of the bark (music as a natural phenomenon). I’m interested enough now to search for his prior releases on the UK Blackest Rainbow label.

Weather Pressure

Norwegian instrumental band Splashgirl have their third album Pressure (HUBRO CD2509) sent to us in September, where the core trio play a jazz-like setup with piano, bass and drums, augmented by their own synths and electronics, plus guest players who supply guitar, brass, vocals, and even some live tapework. I like their skeletal sound, but I find the lugubrious pace of these plodders a bit heavy-going after a while. The whole band appear to be in a perpetual state of mild depression about something, but it’s never really revealed what is troubling their sensitive souls. It’s a frustrating listen because none of the pieces resolve in a satisfactory manner; they come and go like passing clouds in the sky. In Splashgirl’s personal weather system, no doubt this vagueness bodes a grey weekend of drizzle and mist.

Affected Youth

Ville Leinonen is a famed Finnish singer and songwriter who’s new to me, but Auringosäde / Pommisuoja (FONAL RECORDS FR-82) is his 13th album and he’s been making records since 1997. The album is intended to present “two dramatically different sides” of his complex personality, so the first four tracks are whimsical, acoustic and fey and the remaining four cuts are dark, brooding electronic noise. An idiosyncratic and well-produced record, but I’m steadfastly unimpressed by the whole thing. Ville’s voice is weak and affected, and he feels to me like a refugee from a mainstream pop-synth band like A-ha, Pet Shop Boys or The Communards. Song melodies have been deconstructed to the point where they just don’t matter any more, reducing any verse-chorus structure to disconnected rubble. The acoustic tracks are mannered, disjunctive, and in places quite cloying and twee. The Pommisuoja tracks don’t do much for me either; imagine someone practising John Lennon karaoke vocals over loud and ponderous electric guitar feedback. “Post-apocalyptic blues”, indeed!

Sax Pax for the Duration

Stéphane Rives is the French sax player who I associate with the production of a severe and hard-to-digest sound. On one of the rare occasions when I played a DJ set for a wedding, I spun one of his solo CDs and was soon asked by the distraught organiser to turn it off and go back to playing that nice chill-out music from Oval instead. Rives used to do the quiet-minimal breath-exploration technique along with a number of other European players like Axel Dörner and Robin Hayward, but I think that particular gimmick is old hat now. On Axiom For The Duration (POTLATCH P211) he teams up with the percussionist Seijiro Murayama, and the pair of them have come up with a total bruiser of solid minimalism. Just put this on as loud as the market will bear, and you’ll find yourself being gradually crowded out of your own living room by its sheer physical presence. Murayama could be the driving force behind this merciless method, since he’s been exploring for about ten years the idea that he can control the acoustic space of any given performing area through his sound alone. Depriving himself of food and sleep, he pays attention to every eyelid flicker and throat-clearing action of the audience at every gig he plays, and devises methods to weave these micro-events into his playing, thus “revitalizing the environment”. What he did in this Paris room in May 2010 is certainly a feat to remember, and it’s much to Naxos Bobine’s credit that he recorded it so faithfully. Rives honks in on the action too, by sustaining incredibly long tones (infinitely long) played in the upper registers that defy all rational thought. With one mighty gulp, he can take in as much air as is consumed by the motorbikes of Hong Kong in a single day; he unleashes these currents from his capacious lungs with the rigid control of a pressure valve such as you might find in an industrial-sized refrigeration unit, while his talons maintain a rigid clutch around the neck of his soprano sax. For a full 56 minutes, these two torture-meisters don’t rest for a single second as they issue their monstrous wall of humming and piercing with the slow deliberation of art gallery assistants executing a Sol Lewitt pencil drawing on the walls. And while we’re on the subject, dig the nifty geometry artwork for this release by Octobre. Just great!

Issue Project Redux

Get Knotted

A fine baffling patchwork piece is The Knotted Constellation (Fourteen Rotted Coordinates) (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO039). Over 32 minutes it’s hard to comprehend exactly what Kim Cascone is doing, but he starts with field recordings of church bells which he proceeds to mangle, overlay and roll up into balls of aural dough as fiercely as any Sicilian pizza chef; resultant metallic klang is something you can taste, so palpable it be. There follow streams of electro-acoustic-ish treatments where vaguely familiar events are strained, filtered and tossed about like so many olives in a green salad. Numerous collaborators appear to be involved in the weaving of this avant-garde fabric, among them C. Spencer Yeh, the tremendous violinist from Chicago, Mike Rooke, Guido Hennebohl, and others including members of the Cascone family, but their exact contributions are unclear. Violin gauze? Field gauze? Baritone gauze? What do these credits mean? If I took the co-ordinates of the subtitle as a clue, I’d still be lost as I wander this surreal landscape, for which Cascone’s digitised mayhem singularly fails to function as a map. It’s one of those compelling sonic assemblages that reflects the real world back to us in a distorted crazy-mirror fashion, and its episodic nature has already earned it the usual “cinematic” plaudits from observant writers and critics. “Made entirely on Linux”, is the boast of its creator, referring to his choice of operating system which presumably supported his audio manipulation software. I’ve only just gotten used to the idea of the laptop being accepted as a musical instrument; now operating systems count too?

Silent Partner

An intricate conceptual construction is Of Silences Intemporally Sung: Luigi Nono’s Fragmente-Stille, An Diotima (REDUCTIVE MUSIC RED #4), from the American sound artist Christopher DeLaurenti, whose intellectual rigour is truly something to be admired here. What he’s done is taken a live recording of a Luigi Nono string quartet, a modernist composition notable for its bold use of long silences interleaved between stretches of dissonant tones which are described here as “anguished” and “eruptive”. DeLaurenti has edited the performance so as to remove the actual music, and leave us with the silences. Except the silence is of course not completely “silent”, because of the noises made by the audience, breathing, coughing and shifting in their chairs. DeLaurenti’s record features these ambient sounds, amplifying them to a very heightened degree, and also reveals “ghosts” of the original performance – echoes of strings and dying chords. Even the “tone” of the concert hall ends up on this record. “The silence is yours,” declares the creator in his notes; how’s that for a 21st-century update on the ideas of John Cage, and a significant democratisation of same? It’s an impressive piece, even if it is very bitty to listen to; the fragments of musical information are quite startling and disturbing as they jump unexpectedly out of the silences 1, making the work a true “inversion” of the original, as intended, and every bit as shocking as Nono probably had in mind in the first place. I’m very taken by this radical reworking and repurposing approach, as it seems to me it’s a true advance on the modernist cause and feels like the way culture is supposed to develop. Perhaps more musicians and conductors should be as imaginative and interpretive as this, instead of fossilising past glories in the mausoleum of the concert hall. While I remember, I should also mention this release is a clear progression from one of DeLaurenti’s previous works, Favorite Intermissions, which comprised secret field recordings of audience ambient noise between performances in a concert hall.

A Shambolic Frolic

Now here’s Nääksää Nää Mun Kyyneleet (FONAL RECORDS FR-78), a bracing set of hot sizzling psychedelic electronic noise from Tuusanuuskat. This Finnish duo produce very pleasing abstract patterns and colours from the process of piling up bizarre sounds in a delightfully splurgy and painterly fashion, yet they remain true to a disciplined path and never once allow the music to descend into meaningless lazy drones or leave the stew sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. The title here translates roughly as “a total shambles”, confirming the ramshackle nature of sounds heaped up in disorder, and how the creators wisely did not overcook the work with too much studio production. Raw energy bubbles like black power oil from under every crevice and nook. The other thing I like is the very positive and uplifting vibe from this album – the very full sound, the use of major keys throughout, and the relentless busy-ness of the detailed eventful music cannot fail to have an energising effect on you. Matter of fact when I’m done listening I’m going outside to chop some firewood to store in my barn for the winter. Yet another thing I like is the overall absence of the fay and whimsical nature which has sometimes characterised earlier releases from Fonal acts, but I suspect we have long since moved beyond the “Finnish Folk” pigeon-hole. Tuusanuuskat is two major creative Finnish Forces, Jan Anderzen (the main man behind Kemialliset Ystävät) and Sami Sänpäkkilä (also called Es, and the head of Fonal Records). Long may their filters and phase machines continue to gush forth with fizzing sun-drenched glories of this ilk.

Solid Geometry, Jackson!

The Ruined Map (GAGARIN RECORDS GR 2025) LP by Technical Drawings is one we’ve had in the box since May or June this year, along with a lovely album by Max Goldt on the same label which we’ll get around to one of these days. I’ve only got promo copies in plain white CD sleeves, so I’ll try and find an image of the cover for you. Technical Drawings are two creators, Melissa St Pierre with a “prepared” electric piano which is subjected to various electronic treatments and computer processes from the tool-suite of Jesse Stiles, who also recorded and produced the record; it was recorded in Pittsburgh and produced in an old textile factory, which is not inappropriate as The Ruined Map feels very much like music made with a sewing machine. The piano performance forms the core of each piece, and what may at first seem like simplistic patterns and rhythms plonked out on a toy piano soon evolves into complex and mesmerising music, with plenty of overlaid cross-rhythms, embellished with spare but ingenious use of foreign electronic sounds. Like the above release, I admire the discipline at work here: many of these eight tunes are just three minutes in length, and the duo don’t feel the need to create self-indulgent lengthy compositions when they can create an interesting and intricate statement in a concise manner. Any post-punk band singer from around 1980 would have been proud to have these players in their rhythm section, although said singer would have to be a Kraftwerk fan too and would be working overtime to fit their disaffected lyrics into the deceptively simple frameworks of Technical Drawings’ skeletal maps. Oddly enough, the guest poet Todd Jones tries to do just this by adding his rap to ‘Strange Flora’ here, and for me it’s the only track on the LP that flops; his sub-Nick Cave haunted mannerisms are something I can do without. Otherwise this release is a total winner.

  1. I am reminded of an avant-garde film-maker who had to pause between takes while he wound up the clockwork mechanism of his Standard 8 film camera. He represented this “dead time” by inserting corresponding lengths of black leader in the finished film.

Blinded By Fun

Fine album by Trawler Bycatch, a rubberised trio of greasy hotheads from Portland Oregon. Schlep’m (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4050) exhibits the outlandish guitar-bass-drum chops of these freakster humps in ways we haven’t heard since the glory days of Sun City Girls and their early LPs on Abduction. What I like is the way they’re not trying too self-consciously hard to impress us with their weirder-than-thou credentials (despite what the front cover looks like!), for example by opting for a “strange” or whimsical recording sound, a tactic which has been the downfall of many lightweights in recent years. Self-recorded, the instrumental playing and singing on this record is solid, and th’album has a strong and “natural” rock sound that wouldn’t feel out of place if you filed it alongside your Husker Du or Minutemen LPs. (Me, I’d love to hear them take on some Allman Brothers numbers.) They’re also fans of Italian prog rock, which earns the band extra chocolate points with me; no doubt this accounts for their apparent fascination with complex and ever-changing time signatures, something their drummer handles with well-oiled ease.

Now here’s the latest from the visionary kings of the Finnish avant-rock scene, Kemialliset YstävätUllakkopalo (FONAL RECORDS FR-69) was released in August 2010 and is available as an LP or this triple gatefold digipack CD with a lovely fat booklet of photos and texts inserted. The core team are joined by some international stars for this outing, including C. Spencer Yeh, Neil Campbell and Hitoshi Kojo. As ever, the band walk a knife-edge between free-form chaos and tightly-compressed pop song, and to my mind present one of the most convincing updates on psychedelic music that’s ever been committed to a recording medium. Music full of wild dynamics, bizarre sounds, unpredictable twists and turns, delirious layers of cross-cutting effects, and a curious mix of whimsy and deathly seriousness underpinning all. No wonder it took them three years to complete…14 tracks of child-like, dreamy magic, largely delivered by acoustic instruments and in a decidedly non-aggressive manner – an essential listen. Very sorry we didn’t get around to noting this other-worldly gem a lot sooner.

A truly tasty item from the lunatic fringe is Cockamame (UBUIBI NO NUMBER), sent to us one fine day in November 2010 from Almeda in California, representing the work of the Bigg City Oorgastraw on a limited CDR of 400 copies. Various colourful characters with imaginary names (also hopefully long hair, headscarves and buggy eyes) are credited with guitars, keyboards, vocals and electronics; I see that merry prankster Wobbly (frequent collaborator with People Like Us) is involved too, which may give you some idea of the loopy panoramas on which these sheckle-footed loobies have ranged their shotguns. What may also surprise you is what a gentle listen it is at first hearing, mostly acoustic and quiet percussive and droney instrumentation (nice to hear the under-used harmonium on record), played with lots of gaps and unexpected silences, all wafting in as if surrounded by a tropical night-time breeze. However, the demented chantings and free-form spoken ravings of the vocalists will soon get under your skin like a glass of OJ spiked with pixie dust, and then you’ll suddenly be caught off-guard by an inexpressibly beautiful passage of brief music which drops in from nowhere. I suppose that fans of “out rock” probably won’t find much to wet their beaks here, although there’s some stoned percussion on their tribute to the early Faust on ‘Why Don’t We Eat Carrots?’ which is truly memorable, and there are two long and electronic-heavy pieces ‘Viper’ and ‘Abstract’ which close the album and will genuinely raise your spine hackles in ways that a thousand and one wannabe Suicide / TG imitators can only dream about. Perplexing and mind-sapping oddmenteria at its most gloopy.

Finns I Have Found (TSP radio 10/10/08)

  1. Semimuumio, ‘Polygamia’
    From Vamos, FINLAND LAL LAL LAL #36 CD (2007)
  2. Fricara Pacchu, ‘Winter Ambulance’
    From Midnight Pyre, FINLAND LAL LAL LAL #39 CD (2007)
  3. Avarus, ‘Hiri Ja Käki Ja Karhu Löylyttelee’
    From ruskeatimantti, USA TUMULT TM 319 2 x CD (2005)
  4. The Free Players, ‘Humble Steps’
    From The Free Players, USA LAST VISIBLE DOG LVD 103 CD (2006)
  5. Pharaoh Overlord, ‘Skyline’
    From II, USA NO QUARTER NOQ003 CD (2002)
  6. Vapaa, ‘Ajan Odotus’
    From Hum Hum Hum, USA LAST VISIBLE DOG LVD 115 CD (2007)
  7. Kemialisset Ystävät, ‘Kamelin Hikeä’
    From Alkuhärkä, FINLAND FONAL RECORDS FR-33 CD (2004)
  8. The Sperm, ‘Korvapoliklinikka Hesperia’
  9. Keijo, ‘Under the stars’
    From Whose Dream do we live in?, USA FIRE MUSEUM RECORDS FM 11 CD (2007)
  10. Musti Laiton, ‘Crazy Snake’
    From Megacity Chillout, FINLAND TEMMI KONGI 0005 CD (2008)
  11. Anton Nikkilä, ‘Late Night Loop’
    From Where Are They Now (with Alexei Borisov), RUSSIA N&B RESEARCH DIGEST NRBD-08 CD (2007)
  12. Metsämorfeus, ‘Pilvin Poikin Kottaraista’
    From Sing With Me, FINLAND HARHA ASKEL HA-4 CDR (2007)
  13. Lead Sister II, (Untitled Track 5)
    From Interplanetary Craft, FINLAND IKUISUUS IS-016 CDR (2007)
  14. Uton and Valerio Cosi, ‘Kiertoilmakfristalli’
    From Käärmeenkääntopiiri, USA FIRE MUSEUM RECORDS FM 14 CD (2007)
  15. Kulkija, ‘Illan Tullen’ + ‘Läheisyys’
    From Invisible Pyramid: Elegy Box, USA LAST VISIBLE DOG LVD 080-086 6 x CD (2005)
  16. Matomeri, ‘Joku puhuu Ransun äänellä’
    From Joys of Summer, FINLAND IKUISUUS IS-017 CDR (2007)

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

And see Finnish Folk show 2006