Gnomus: Gnomus (2000)
Gnomus, the self-titled release of three Finnish musicians, delves deeply into the sounds that surround us and in turn creates its own sublime world of noise. Our world has become a noisier one over the last century, what with the proliferation of industry, telephone networks, and radio. It comes as no surprise then that recorded music, one source of the new noise, is also using these sounds as material for further exploration. Yet Gnomus is no random collection of ambient sounds and harsh, unyielding noise, rather it is a disciplined refinement by musicians seeking to make sense of our 21st century soundworld.
They list radiophony, cacophony, modalism and free jazz as their compositional tools, but the music that results sounds nothing like these sources. Gnomus carefully uses a selection of electro-acoustic instruments to produce their atmospheric transmissions, but what instrument specific sounds come from is unclear. The album credits even promote this ambiguity: "Kari Ikonen: keyboard instruments; Mika Kallio: percussion instruments; Esa Onttonen: plucked string instruments."
Picking out individual contributions on Gnomus proves difficult, for the musicians submerge their own musical voices to concentrate on creating the dense sound-environment. Onttonen finds space for delicate, minimalist phrases, yet also coaxes distorted drones and howls that drift in and out of the audio scenery. Ikonen captures a variety of tones: high-pitched piercings, bent fragments of melody and fluctuating bass drones all appear, but he gives them their own strange logic and order. On this recording and others ( "Nuijamiehet" , "Ahava" , "Gourmet" , "Karikko" ) Kallio proves himself to be one of the most sensitive ensemble drummers in jazz today. He provides subtle, delicate rhythmic phrases and colorings, resisting the urge to erupt.
"Oymyakon" and "Stratamenta Mortifera" evoke an air of mystery and creeping horror, as both make ample use of voice-like sounds. Samples or created? Unclear. At times these voices could be some ghostly chorus, and at others demons and maniacal laughs, like listening to field recordings from the outlands of Hell. At the end of "Abramis Brama", a plaintive, distorted chanting emerges from the cloud of sound that could be from any number of ethnic musics, raising the idea that sounds, and thus music, are at their base universal.
There is a section of "Mennyt Vain" where Gnomus' music itself becomes just one part of the world's cacophony. After a prelude of ambient melody, an abrupt shift occurs and it becomes apparent that a radio dial is being scanned, complete with intermittent static. Various pop music flutters by, interspersed with Gnomus' opening theme.
Gnomus transmits soundscapes that originate in the sounds swirling about in our atmosphere, yet the hand of the musician is still perceptible. Gnomus should be listened to as one would read a novel or watch a movie: you are entering another world, hence you should leave behind your own rules and conceptions of reality.
Track Listing: 1.Oymyakon 2.Stramenta mortifera 3.Mennyt vain 4.Abramis brama 5.Fungus dei
Personnel: Kari Ikonen, keyboard instruments Mika Kallio, percussion instruments Esa Onttonen, plucked string instruments