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Finland's Fringe Music on Forgotten Formats: A Survey of Independent Releases

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In its march to the digital future the sound recording industry has left for dead a variety of formats. The mainstream recording industry long ago abandoned the 7” vinyl single, the 45 rpm, and the cassette. But when the mainstream abandons one technology as obsolete, the underground waits to claim it as a possibility. As the recording industry consolidates its hold on technology and distribution, a growing number of musicians are using the old formats, and a new one, the CD-R (the digital version of the blank cassette) to democratize music making.

In Finland, many musicians are utilizing these formats to spread their ideas, and in the process they are showing how false are genre boundaries. A handful of independent labels are releasing recordings with a decidedly DIY spirit. The recordings are usually lo-fi and mono, covers often hand drawn and labeled, and then sold over the Internet. All these qualities bring the listener closer to the musician, letting one see, almost literally, the hand of the creator.

Many associate DIY with 70s punk, but other genres offer precedents. Sun Ra and his Arkestra often made and attached their own LP labels. The 70s loft scene produced a slew of homemade recordings, reggae started as, and in some cases continues to be, a cottage industry, and the 80s No Wave scene took delight in ignoring rules of any kind. All these provide the musicians and labels in Finland with musical and organizational inspiration. Turku-based Lal lal lal Records has produced a steady stream of cassettes, vinyl singles and CD-Rs, the music leaning towards esoteric noise experiments, improvisation and surrealistic folk atmospheres. Another Turku label, Pohjoisten kukaisten äänet (Northern Flower Sounds) specializes in improvised fusions of jazz and global musics. Outa and Rikos Records are two Jyväskylä-based labels. The former releases intense free jazz, while the latter was established to document the city’s electro scene.

So we should not fear technological progress or globalization, for those forces make it possible to hear these strangely wonderful sounds. These recordings take us into intimate spaces - some contemplative, some mystical, some inspiring and others downright disturbing. They knock at the doors of our musical preconceptions, then crash through them with maniacal glee.

Label and Band Web sites: Lal lal lal , Outa , Rikos , Mother Goose , Eclipse Records (American distributor for Lal lal lal and POK)

Quick Link Index
7”s and 45 rpms
Cassettes
CD-Rs





7”s and 45 rpms

Lauhkeat Lampat (POK)
The brothers Tolvi, Antti and Jaako, from Rauhan Orkesteri , weave a meditative tapestry that blends their passions: free jazz and Eastern musics. On the B-side Jaako first lays down a bubbling tabla groove while Antti uses the deep tones of his bass recorder as both rhythm and melody, until they culminate in a free, cluttered dialogue of vocal spasms, shakers and tiny tabla bursts. They stay reflective on the A-side, Anti blowing long, vocalized tones over bells, slides on the tabla’s bass drum and rapid comments from the treble. LL refracts world music through the brothers’ own ecstatic, idiosyncratic communication.

Vapauskysymys (Rikos)
Rikos started by documenting Jyväskylä’s electro scene, but this single breaks that mold with a bold combination of psychedelia and agit-pop. Their name means “Freedom Question,” and they weld the metaphysical freedom so vividly expressed in the 60s with the more political freedom endorsed in the 70s by the artists from Helsinki’s KOM-Theater. “Köyhät” (The Poor) rides a cyclical bass line buried deep in the mix of swinging ride, horns and wavering, filtered male voices. When the singer declares (in Finnish) “The Poor Win!” applause breaks out and guitar explodes to the foreground. “Marttyyrit” (Martyrs) sways in 6/8, letting a tenor sax ride freely until an abrupt break, where a cassette is heard flipping, and acoustic guitars take over. A thick booklet full of collages and free verse perfectly reflects this dense, intriguing patchwork.

The Demars (Lal lal lal)
OK, so this is demented hardcore and not jazz. The mythologizing liner notes speak of “the joy of improvisation and making a racket,” but that’s what Albert Ayler did so well, and Yakastuma Eye has made a damn fine career out of making a racket. Supposedly made by two adolescent cousins, the eight-year old lead singer spews tantrum-like stream of consciousness lyrics over speed metal drum machine beats and flailing feedback punk riffs. The Demars is kind of record that culture mavens point to and say, “See how our children are being corrupted!” They should instead be happy that the little rugrats have a hobby. I say it’s all good, demented fun.

Maniacs Dream/Muniaissymposium 1960 (Lal lal lal)
Seven inches of pure sonic weirdness. MS 1960’s side consists of five short pieces that sound like a lullaby gone evil. The voice pulled out of shape – dry, tortured screams, strangled moans, unsettling mewing, labored exhaling, – combines with strangled instruments – an accordion and a violin – to make a debauched study in wind and string textures, like music made by primates. On the flipside Maniacs Dream spews a poisonous cloud of crunching feedback, needling guitar and lumbering percussion. Their boozy swagger induces a state of drunken nirvana, without the hangover.

Mother Goose (If Society)
Mother Goose’s power trio format is classic, but their prismatic view of pop is anything but, leaning more towards perverted, clever fun. The lurid girl-watching of “Schizoid Ladies” has the lyrical bite and sonic roughness of On the Beach -era Neil Young, while “Rondo Fennoscandia” lurches like the best of Sonic Youth’s dissonant pop riffing. After three albums and one forthcoming, Mother Goose’s subversive vision of tight song structures laced with discordance remains a sinful pleasure.


Cassettes

Päivänsäde (POK)
Päivänsäde shares members of Rauhan Orkesteri, LL, and Kiila, and their flowing group interaction shares elements of all three: from RO comes an openness, LL a global influence and Kiila a pointillistic density. The six improvisations on their double cassette unfold with the gentle grace of the alap sections of Indian ragas. They use the louhikko, the kantele, flutes, voice and hand percussion to create their earthy, yet expansive atmospheres. Ligeti-like string layers emit a spectral, microtonal glow, while below the surface kanteles rustle delicately. In other places, a spare drum beat and wailing vocalizations lend the pieces a dramatic urgency. Päivänsäde is concerned with evolution, and the time limits of recording technology confine the group to glimpses of their broad-minded explorations, as if the group is trying to break their constraints in search of freedom.

Master Qsh (Lal lal lal)
Who is Master Qsh and where does he come from? The answer, typically, is shrouded in mystery, but his music bears a resemblance to Sun Ra’s more cosmic excursions. Recorded outdoors, side A sounds like a Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy outtake. Nasal, snaking horns, thickets of whistles, skittering chimes and bells, and an ominously distorted bass drum converge in pounding, primal celebration. Side B’s nine-piece percussion jam rumbles, crashes and taps its way to a thundering climax, then dissipates with shakes, bent tones and subterranean rustling. The free pulse makes the piece feel more like an experiment in percussive colors than rhythm, and the effect is more ethereal than primal.

Maniacs Dream (Lal lal lal)
Maniacs Dream is the more electric, deranged cousin of groups like Avarus and The Anaksimandros, the one they want to keep locked in the attic with only cans of chicken soup and a checkers board with pieces missing. The quartet records improvisations to four-track and then overdubs additional textures. Packed with ominous electric keyboards, dense pockets of percussion, swirling feedback and biting guitar riffs, this detailed cacophony blazes a trail that connects rock, free jazz and noise. The logic of Maniacs Dream is that of the mentally disturbed outsider, rearranging the world’s input into unheard of combinations. But the clear recording and restrained playing envelops the listener in a surreal soundscape that hits like audio shock treatment.

Kuolleena haudattaja (Lal lal lal)
Easily the most bizarre of the records featured here, Buried Dead is a Lal lal lal compilation that plays like the audio diary of budding noisemakers, featuring twenty three short tracks by, among others, Maniacs Dream, Kemialliset Ystävät, Pylon, Kukkiva Poliisi and a score of other oddly named units. The twisted experiments with voice and microphones, strangely tuned string instruments, clattering percussion, brute noise, nonsensical lyrics and garbled electronica range from the sublime, Roope Eronen’s trance miniature “3 rukouskulhoa & 5 lelukukkoa,” to the ridiculous, The Garfields’ demolition of “Satisfaction” and “Light My Fire,” to the disturbing, Hot Patongs in Paris’ self-titled demonic house mutation. A scary but fascinating ride through a funhouse of musical oddities - enter at your own risk.


CD-Rs

Keijo (Lal lal lal)
”This is trans-locality, a locality with an unrestricted ideology and dimension.” Thus does Jyväskylä-based writer and musician Keijo Virtanen describe his music, where echoes of global cultures, modern technology and psychological introspection meet. The six pieces here express Virtanen’s concept as acoustic string instruments, gongs, bells, computers, and synths merge into swirling journeys. “Supper on the beach” weds a jaunty banjo and jew’s harp ostinato to massive, howling digital tones. “One night again” builds to a dizzying density as drones, blips, xylophone, wooden percussion and distant guitar shift around in movement that is more kaleidoscopic than linear. Keijo hypnotizes with its tone meditations that evoke emotions intimate and universal, times ancient and futuristic, spaces humble and grand.

Markus (Lal lal lal)
On this six-song EP multi-instrumentalist Markus Mäki imagines his own interior world of folk melodies, nostalgic moods and extra-musical atmosphere. Overdubbing himself on vibrato-less electric guitar, kantele, louhikko (two traditional Finnish instruments) and percussion, he weaves brittle melodies, minimal bass drum pulses, scattered shakers and found sounds into enchanting cinematic miniatures. On “And She Saw the Stars Above” a lonely whistling and metallic xylophone lightly brush against a lazily strummed guitar. “One September They Arrived” fades out with a gentle rain, its pattering rhythm gently overtaking the ominous, cyclical dirge of guitar and kantele. Straight-forward, delicate and intimate music from one lone soul to another.

Vapaa (Outa)
‘Vapaa’ means free in Finnish, and this improvising unit explores some of Sun Ra’s more frenzied territory. Blistering sax, explosive drumming, dark piano clusters and clattering percussion move in fits and starts, tiny storms of dissonance balanced by swathes of silence. The six short improvisations are disquieting and restless, but in their brevity, pointed attacks. Live the group experiments with string textures, electronics and even more silence, promising an intriguing, probing future.

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