Two years ago, we had the privilege of reviewing Utu Lautturi‘s debut EP, Korpinkorva. The Finnish artist has just completed his first full-length album, and we find it astonishingly powerful ~ so we’ve included a video premiere and interview as well!
Many albums claim to be experimental, or distinct, or impossible to classify. Lautturi is humble enough not to make such claims, but he’s the real deal. He clearly follows his own disturbed muse, and seems beholden to no one. Nielu is the sort of album one might expect to find on Miasmah, but Pale Noir got there first, quite a coup for a DIY label out of Wisconsin. Will you follow me down the rabbit hole, Lautturi seems to ask, even if I choose not to return?
The album began as a different creature, perhaps a kinder, more innocent creature: an egg, a nestling. In its preliminary stage, Nielu was an ambient album, a series of polite recording on a grandmother’s detuned piano, field recordings from the local woods, severe melancholy, and wistful, dashed hope. But then things got worse. The black dog returned. Anger and depression began to play on the backyard seesaw. The squeaking could be heard day and night. Self-doubt set in. Flame began to singe the edges. The album morphed from a whisper to a scream (“nielu”). Lautturi traveled to the Alps for centering, solace, direction ~ and after some reconciliation, brought his warring impulses home, where he allowed them to battle on tape. This album is the result.
On the one side, we have gorgeous, pristine field recordings from Finland and the Alps, providing a calming influence, a reminder that nature is larger than any of us, imposing and yet indifferent, capable of inspiring wonder and awe. To sit at a brook, or at the foot of a mountain, to dig in loam and snow, is to connect to something deep and ineffable. On the other side, we have dark, dense, imposing drones: thickets of sound like forests Grimm, a mass of tendrils and branches, a cloud of unknowing, a fog, a mental fugue. On “Wait and Witness,” the album’s longest and finest track, this oppressive cloud crashes to the ground and thrashes around. If anger and depression are two sides of the same coin, this is the edge. While composing, Lautturi eventually came to the correct conclusion – that the listener does not need resolution – taking a circuitous route, yet falling safely on the shore. In this case, it’s a literal shore, one that the listener first gleans, then experiences through sound.
After this initial collapse comes a second, marked by vinyl static and violin. Those who struggle with despair know that it comes in waves, that victories are measured in minutes and days, not in definitive events. The scraping of “With Mouths of Fingertips” is reminiscent of the pottery of Job. Even Job finally got the chance to ask his question in person, receiving less of an answer than an audience. After catching a glimpse of the unknown, he repented in sackcloth and ashes, a changed man. Lautturi finds his answer in the water that approaches and recedes and abrades: the artist a single stone, worn down and yet still solid, rounded, harder now to break.
Your new album is clearly inspired by both natural and artificial sound. What types of sounds inspire you, especially Finnish sounds?
I am what you could call a sound hoarder, always on the look out for new sound sources and elements. But I have to say I’m most inspired by natural sounds and that’s also the foundation of my music. I rarely begin composing with any kind of instrument or “musical” sound in mind – most of the time it’s a field recording of some sort. Also, I don’t use any sort of synths, samplers or drum machines. All the rhythmic, and most of the musical elements are natural sounds manipulated and rearranged. I’m drawn towards gritty sounds with a lot of texture, the kinds you hear in abundance when wandering in Finnish forests throughout the seasons. I’m also interested in how, when taken out of a visual context and possibly manipulated, you can make a sound element sound like it’s opposite for the listener. For example, in the track Skinned By Sea, it’s all a field recording of waves and pebbles on the shore but when manipulated just a bit the sound begins to remind a volcano or huge fire. Opposites and extremes are fascinating as they often overlap in one way or the other – extreme cold leaves a burning sensation on the skin and so forth. Finland is, with it’s distinct four seasons, a great place to explore these extremes and opposites. At least for now, before the increasingly warming climate turns our weather completely Dutch.
I’m glad you mentioned “Skinned by Sea”, as it’s one of my favorite tracks. The piece is mostly placid, but contains a crash at 6:26. Was that a particularly aggressive wave?
Actually the day in Nice, France (where the waves and pebbles were recorded) was a most beautiful one, the sea was calm and gentle throughout. But as I recorded the sea I entered my own meditative journey and found myself reflecting on how something so relaxing and hypnotically placid can turn into such a devastating force as in a tsunami. I also found similarities in the behavior of the sea and my own mind with it’s extremes. That’s when the idea of a huge crash came into mind. The vocals (which were recorded by a stream on the foothills of the Alps) are about bending or giving up in the face of life’s turmoils – and the crash is somewhat a picture of what I feel has happened in my mind when I won’t bend or give up – BOOM – it all breaks apart. So when I got back home and started experimenting on the manipulation of the recording, the whole track turned out fairly violent. But it ends in calm, as does all life. In the very end, at least.
The rushes of static (in particular at the end of “Mother Mountain, Father Stream”) seem to symbolize alienation. Is this accurate?
I’ve never fit in and although I work as a primary school teacher I’ve never felt being part of or conformed to any “System”. On the contrary, I’ve always fought against, through activism, graffiti painting and other sorts of positive vandalism. So the vibe of alienation is accurate. But also, the static sounds simply feel nice in my brain. As I said, I love texture.
You initially called the composition process behind Nielu as “like swallowing pins,” and you went through some personal trials during the period. The album began as a soundtrack to depression, but became something else. Is it possible that the “silent momentum” of depression was countered by the positive silent momentum of bringing something new into the world?
Definitely, well described. Also the process between those “silences” has been important. I strongly believe if I hadn’t been commissioned by Pale Noir before I (once again) fell into the abyss of depression and psychotic break-downs, I wouldn’t have had any reason to fight myself out of there. So composing the album has truly been a sort of lifeline to me. I’m very grateful for Nicole from Pale Noir for showing patience during the whole process even when the initial schedule stretched by over a year. Each track has gone through various forms and phases on their way to standing as they are now – totems of my inner strength and endurance. Which, I must add, I could not have gathered all alone. The love and support I experienced in the time of need from those closest to me has played an essential part in surviving.
In your music, what is the relationship between sound and the spiritual?
That exact relationship is at my musical core and is one of the few things I hold sacred. Not in any religious way, but simply by acknowledging the huge power and potential of sound as a re-creative tool for various purposes. Sound evokes the deepest feelings in me, I don’t know why but so it is. Not music so much, but sound. I listen to a lot of pure field recordings and value clever sound design over musical composition (where my musical history lies strongly at). Of course, at best, both sound design and musical ingenuity complement each other. But for me personally sound is the key for unlocking, to quote a classic, the doors of perception.
You’ve written that you consider composition as a form of self-expression, and try not to think of how it will be received. Now that the album is done, what do you hope listeners will hear in Nielu? Would it surprise you if some considered it to be uplifting?
You know, I was recently interviewed by a Finnish “alternative” magazine and the journalist asked the same question. I was stunned. I actually have never given real thought to what the listener may experience. Nielu is such a personal process taken form I actually feel a bit frightened by releasing it into the world. Thinking about it more closely, all I can say is music and sound created by others has been such an important part of my whole life that if I’d hope for something, it would be for the listener to have a consciousness expanding/raising experience while listening to my music. To feel the force of sound as a tool for self-examination and renewal. Actually, when I listen to the album in one sitting, I do feel uplifted in the end – a bit exhausted, sure – but with regained energy and inspiration. That’s more than I can hope for to others experience as well.
What is your interpretation of the cover art?
The cover art is a drawing by my good friend, Janne Martola, whom I hold as one of the greatest esoteric visual artists of our era. It depicts a bird he saw in his dream and quickly sketched immediately after waking up. He is an avid lucid dreamer and I have huge respect for his visions. You can check out (a small portion of) Janne’s amazing work at http://varjoasema.blogspot.fi/. The moment I saw this drawing I new it was connected with the album. Nielu means throat or pharynx, and I see the bird with only the lower half of the beak opening up as inviting on an inward journey. To swallow oneself and turn inside out, to hermetically create a union of both shadow and light.
Anything closing thoughts?
I’d like to extend my endless respect to the wonderful ambient/experimental community at SoundCloud. It’s through this community I’ve learned about a whole new musical world. And even though changes in the interface have dispersed the communal vibe somewhat, the comments, love and support shared there is a great expression of where I feel the true heart of music lies at, always in the underground. Stay creative!
Release date: 31 January