Tunto Performs in Helsinki

Anthony Shaw BY

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Art Goes Kapakka
Urho's Pub
Helsinki, Finland
August 22, 2009

There's something rather reassuring about a band that takes the stage with only one microphone between its four members, especially when it's a pub venue. This might seem particularly unusual when one thinks that the group's name in the local lingo means "Feel," and might imply powerful modes of expression. But remember this is a northern locale, where emotions do not run riot in exuberant display, but are understated and intimate to the point of sounding simplistic.

The music this band plays is a minimalistic mix of rhythmic themes, not so distant from fellow countryman Tapio Rinne with his band Rinneradio, but here elaborated via the reeds of Petri Heimonen and the plucked strings of Matti Wallenius. Flanked on either side were the rhythm and background aural mixes of Jyri Teramaa and guest Panu Vartsala, each sitting also at distant ends of the audio spectrum. Shaven-headed and suave, Vartsala for the most part was seated astride his sound sources, a djembe or a caja box drum, which he tapped, tickled or pounded as appropriate. The bearded and tousled Teramaa, on the other hand, bobbed and twisted to adjust the laptop programs and the banks of his Korg. His sounds, however, are absolutely contemporary, ranging from squeaks and peeps in "Itch Music" to urgent rhythms or swells that filled any gaps in the band's otherwise acoustic palette.

Wallenius leads from the center, having also written most of tonights repertoire culled from their three CDs. The patterns he coaxes from his ukulele, 6-string banjo or guitar dominate the rhythmic mix, their colors reflecting the focus of each piece. On disc it can be hard to distinguish between these minimalist melodies; live, the interactions between the participants outline those differences, highlighting underlying structures and reinforcing the differences of texture. Moreover the intensity of the live environment focuses the listener's attention on the subtleties of sound, which tends to wander with the music on disc.

The audience in this, Helsinki's most renowned music-free pub environment, frequently includes members of orchestras from the adjacent Finlandia Hall. The lack of aural disturbance is surely a pre-requisite for their leisure. Despite this night's unusual atmospheric ingredient, occasional black dress trousers were evident too, worn by listeners appearing to be equally held by the performance as the common crowd.

Such minimalism may not be for all ears, but when in concert it suddenly becomes apparent that the percussionist is no longer astride his djembe but is silently moonwalking his way through the audience, perhaps to join you at the bar, it's clear that this is music for broader imaginations than just the sonic.

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