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MP3 Discussion Group: Vladislav Delay’s ‘Tummaa’

For the next few days, several fellow ardent listeners will join me here in discussing the recent album by Vladislav Delay, Tummaa, released last month on the Leaf Records label. Delay is the adopted moniker of Sasu Ripatti, of Finland, who has made not one but several names for himself, also as Luomo and as Uusitalo, and in several ensembles, including the Moritz von Oswald Trio. The Tummaa album mixes abstract elements and found sounds into a dramatic whole. That abstraction can come to distract from its lulling sensibility, and from its rhythmic impulses. But more about that tension in the ensuing discussion.

Thanks to the folk who have agreed to participate:

Colin Buttimer has contributed to Jazzwise, e/i, Signal to Noise, The Wire, Absorb, and Milkfactory, and currently writes reviews for BBC Online. He’s responsible for hardformat.org, a website dedicated to the sublime in music design. His listening habits since 2004 can be checked out last.fm, and everything else is at www.eleventhvolume.com.

Michael Ross uses a career as a music journalist to support his other career as a musician and producer. As the former he writes for Guitar Player, EQ, Sound On Sound, and puremusic.com, among others. As the latter, when not playing funk, country, and blues, he composes and performs guitar/laptop electronica under the monicker prehab.

Alan Lockett is a sometime writer of electronic music reviews/features. Previously a contributor to e/i magazine, recent writings are mainly viewable via igloomag.com and furthernoise.org. His main interests are in ambient, drone, and the more experimental end of techno/house, post-dub, and “IDM.” He is based in Bristol, UK — a useful vantage point in being a breeding ground for stylistic tweaks which have impacted crucially in recent decades.

The track listing for Tummaa is:

  1. Melankolia
  2. Kuula (Kiitos)
  3. Mustelmia
  4. Musta Planeetta
  5. Toive
  6. Tummaa
  7. Tunnelivisio

Details on the album at theleaflabel.com and at vladislavdelay.com. Delay’s own site includes a free download of this edited version of the album’s opening track:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tag: / Comments: 15 ]

15 Comments

  1. [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 10:14 am ]

    I was totally unfamiliar with the work of Sasu Ripatti when Marc suggested this music as a topic, but one listen to a snippet of “Melankolia” (no translation needed) on iTunes had me hooked.

    Electro/acoustic music is what interests me most these days as it represents a way to move forward without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, musically speaking. More and more I am finding any music that doesn’t reference electronics in some manner lacking in relevance, while often finding music that is purely electronic cold and academic—exceptions, of course, abound.

    Even all acoustic music (or at least non-electronic) that merely hints at the changes electronic music have wrought in the way we approach composition and arrangement is preferable to that which ignores the textures and concepts that electronica has added to the palette over the last twenty years. I find that mixing acoustic and electronic elements also adds a nod to the centuries of pre-electric musical development, while adding a dollop of warmth and humanity to the endeavor.

    It is not surprising that the majority of music that I enjoy in this vein comes from Scandinavia. Since discovering ECM records in the Seventies it has become clear to me that a major trait of Scandinavian musicians is their complete disregard for musical boundaries—a propensity that I share. Mixing electronic and acoustic is only the latest evidence of this attribute. Ever since the early works by Terje Rypdal, Edward Vessala, and Arild Andersen, music from Norway and Finland has combined jazz, rock, classical and tango with abandon. Nor has there ever been the sense of self-conscious pastiche that I too often sense in the work of the Downtown NY scene.

    The other thing that I love about the aforementioned music is the willingness to mix ugliness and beauty. The Scands seem comfortable with the principle summed up in the Hans Tammen quote: “An evil sound doesn’t make the revolution, and a beautiful sound doesn’t bring Hitler back to life.”

    This is all a long-winded way of describing the good stuff that I find in Tummaa. Ripatti seems solidly rooted in the tradition of fellow Finns Vesela, Raoul Bjorkenheim, and Jimi Sumen.

    “Melankolia” combines acoustic percussion, evocative synth textures and a pretty, haunting piano melody from Craig Armstrong, in a way that solidly establishes the mood of the title. Throughout Tummaa the sounds strike me as personal and emotional rather than evolving out of a particular school or trend, unless individualistic music could be considered a school.

    On the down side, I would have liked to hear more bass clarinet, and feel that Armstrong doesn’t quite match Ripatti in the personality and creativity department, though his accessibility and, well, blandness, work somewhat as a counterbalance to the drummer’s edge. And speaking of drumming: I find the pieces with actual rhythm to be the least interesting. For someone who is, as I understand it, involved in dance music, Ripatti’s rhythms are universally stiff and for me at odds with the humanity of the textures.

    Enough for now.

  2. [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 10:35 am ]

    Thanks for the initial post, Michael. I’m glad my sense that you would appreciate Ripatti’s work as Vladislav Delay was not mistaken. I imagined it had just enough of an analog/acoustic presence to cement your interest, and that your general Scandinavian-scene knowledge would help put it all in focus.

    That’s interesting to me you find the rhythmic pieces least interesting. I’m not sure it’s the rhythmic pieces that interest me foremost, so much as its the pieces in which what seems to be gossamer and background texture has a quiet but insistent groove. That subtlety to me is Delay’s hallmark as a musician.

  3. Alan Lockett
    [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 3:38 pm ]

    I have to say that, on first listen, I’m not finding Tummaa to my liking. And, to be fair, that response is nothing to do with any assessment of its qualities (if that’s measurable), and everything to do with individual genre preferences. A cursory listen to track #1, “Melankolia”, seems to locate it as more inclined towards a jazz paradigm (without actually being Jazz with a capital ‘J’) than the albums that first made me take note of the name Vladislav Delay – the early Chain Reaction and Mille Plateaux albums (“Multila” and “Entain”). I’m not generally drawn to music characterised by jamming, noodly bits, and kind of instrument-driven fiddling about (not keen on software-driven versions of fiddling about either, for that matter), of which there seems to be plenty on “Tummaa”. By contrast, I remember hearing “Multila” back in 1999/2000, and being intrigued – it had this weird kind of grainy filmy mysterious veiled quality that was compelling. I guess, to be reductive, it was more of an Ambient album; it was all obscured textures and oblique gestures, shadows and fog, and things (rhythms at times) bubbling up from below that you had to struggle to hang onto. Right now, listening to “Tummaa”, and on track #3, and… I dunno… I guess I’d have to say, simply, that I’m struggling to find anything I want to chase after and hang onto… wibble, noodle, clonk, clunk, skronk. There’s no soupy murk requiring depth-soundings. I may need to listen more, but somehow I doubt I can bring myself to. Will try again tomorrow, and, hopefully, hear what others have to say here, and see if it’s Just Me…

  4. [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 5:29 pm ]

    Keep giving it a listen, and let us know what you think.

    My initial impression was something along the lines of yours (you being Alan) — not focused on the improvisatory sensibility, which in fact appeals to me, but more on the loss of the muted quality that you describe well: the shadows-and-fog nature of earlier work of his.

    In time, though, the very lack of that vagueness came to make an impression on me. I was impressed by the nakedness of the individual elements.

  5. [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 8:28 pm ]

    It looks like I need to go back and check out his earlier work, as the soupy, shadows-and-fog parts of Tummaa were my favorite. Though perhaps jazz influenced this music is by no means jazz. I kind of liked the “wibble, noodle, clonk” aspect and found it musical. But I must say I agree that it was less compelling than it might have been. The percussive accents I found interesting but when he went into a regular beat it became monotonous, at least to one who thrives on syncopation.

  6. [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 11:17 pm ]

    While we’re listening to Vladislav Delay, I thought it’d be interested to look at what he’s listening to. So, today’s Disquiet Downstream entry is a mixtape he made for Fact magazine:

    http://disquiet.com/2009/09/30/vladislav-delay-mixtape-mp3/

  7. [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 4:12 am ]

    Regarding Michael’s preferences in sound production, I really don’t mind what machinery is used to produce music that interests me, whether it be acoustic, analogue, digital/generative, etc. Having said that, I’m a fellow fan of ECM and am currently enjoying an extended period of Steve Tibbetts, Terje Rypdal and Jan Garbarek among others. Interestingly, where you find common cause between Ripatti and his fellow Finns, I find disparity – this may be though because Tummaa represents a departure from his former practice in this guise. You’re right that Ripatti’s rhythms are stiff, that’s an aspect common to all his work even Luomo imo.

    My iTunes playcount tells me I’ve listened to Tummaa an average of 25 times and I still have mixed feelings about it. I regard his previous releases – the deservedly much-feted debut Multila on Chain Reaction and subsequent works on Mille Plateaux, Staubgold and his own label Huume – as truly innovative and deeply enjoyable art. His unique approach to rhythm, structure and texture position him as the true heir to King Tubby’s paradigm-shifting dismantling of form. (I did ask him about his attitude to the Jamaican genius, but he chose to distance himself from the connection.)

    All of Vladislav Delay’s work to date has been electronic in origin and I think Tummaa is an intriguing first step. I struggle with the swampy, repetitive rhythms on Mustelmia and Toive. They refuse to develop, but their form isn’t interesting enough to maintain interest. More importantly, their presence is antithetical to the oceanic and utterly unpredictable progress of the likes of Whistleblower, Demo(n) Tracks, The Four Quarters, Entain, etc.

    I too felt frustrated with the quality of Lucio Capece’s contributions – most of the time he’s difficult to identify – Ripatti has done a lot of post-processing. I like a lot of Armstrong’s playing here, but his melody on opener Melankolia just annoys me. It seems to be reaching for the naive simplicity of John McLaughlin’s guitar part on In A Silent Way, but fails.

    I don’t really hear the jazz references, but that’s not to say I don’t welcome the potential for exploring a heavily treated, post-produced electronic jazz form. In fact I dream of such a thing – in this case it might be a Jimmy Guiffre Free Fall for the 00’s, but led by an invisible drummer, ahem. Improvisation and electronica is an under-explored continent (exceptions – apart from ’70s Electric Jazz – being Supersilent, Wibutee, Eivind Aarset, Wesseltoft, Paul Schutze et al) and in that sense Tummaa and the Moritz Von Oswald Trio represent a fascinating beginning.

    I understand Alan’s reference to ‘soupy murk’, but Tummaa’s occluded textures are, for me, probably the most attractive development over previous albums. I can’t say that I’ve ever found any of that on his previous work. If I could only use one word to describe Vladislav Delay up to Tummaa, I’d choose ‘oceanic’. For Tummaa I’d choose ‘swampy’.

    Ripatti is set to release an album with Mika Vainio, Derek Shirley and Capece later this year. Should be fascinating particularly if Vainio is in full-on noise mode.

  8. [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 1:45 pm ]

    Still not ‘feeling it’… am I trying hard enough? Perhaps not. Would like to find a way back to how it used to be with me and the Ripatti repartee. In re: those shadows and fog, maybe this might help you understand, Michael. Go to:

    http://salocin.org/films/antigones.html

    http://www.last.fm/music/Vladislav+Delay/_/Raamat

    though I can’t vouch for it having the same effect now as then, or on *you over there” as me over here.

    Excellent post from Colin, though I have nothing to say in response at the mo’, except, yes, I think Paul Schütze was on the way to something back there in the late 90s, in re: finding a fertile and not too noodly fusion of electronica and jazz, though, alas, I have to confess my Schütze favourites of his were released under pseudonyms (Uzect Plaush and Seed).

  9. [ Posted October 2, 2009, at 4:30 am ]

    I’ve listened this much because I’m convinced of Ripatti’s genius (loved the repartee play Alan!) on the evidence of Vlad’s previous releases. I’m not tremendously enthused by his other work apart from Luomo and the Moritz Von Oswald Trio though. By this point I’ve concluded that Tummaa is a flawed, but fascinating first attempt at heavily post-processed live performance. If I ever get the chance again, I’d like to ask Ripatti why he chose to continue using the Vlad moniker for this project as the outcome seems different enough to merit a new name.

    Alan, my favourite Schutze were the two Phantom City releases, but then I’m a huge 70s Miles fan. I think it’s a shame he left that all behind to go art/ambient.

    I’d really like to hear more about what everyone thinks of previous Vladislav Delay releases. I find much of the work really unique because not only does it generally refuse structure, but it also avoids finds an alternative to the Eno-derived ambient approach as well.

  10. [ Posted October 2, 2009, at 8:25 am ]

    Colin: It is interesting that the majority of the current proponents of improvisation and electronic that you mention—Supersilent, Wibutee, Eivind Aarset, Wesseltoft— are, aside from being my favorite music these days, all Scandinavian. The connection I see to Tummaa is less about the improvisation than about the mixture of consonance with dissonance, and the sense of going wherever the music leads, regardless of genre or “hipness.” I agree that the grooves are not interesting enough to sustain their repetitiveness.

    Alan: thanks for the leads to the previous works. I find the artwork for Antigones more interesting than the music.

    Colin: I can see in that stuff what you are saying about an alternative to the Eno approach but my problem with it, and Tummaa is that I find it all unmoving. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still seek what Ry Cooder calls “chicken skin” music. I find Eno’s ambient stuff hits me emotionally, as does the work of the Scands listed above. If I have a problem with the melody in “Melankolia,” it is that it is reaching for the plaintiveness of some of Bugge Wesseltoft’s work and falling short.

    Coincidentally, I was in a terminally hip record store in Williamsburg the other night and they were displaying both Tummaa and the Moritz Von Oswald Trio. I picked up a copy of Arve Henriksen’s Strion, which I had never hear and must say, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.” I was instantly moved by the sounds and textures therein, in a way that Ripatti —early or current—has so far failed to do. Though I must say that I prefer Tummaa to the earlier stuff. Possibly because I make some of this kind of music, I feel that the earlier stuff I could reproduce in an hour, whereas the Tummaa represents a more complex, personal approach that I wouldn’t attempt to duplicate.

  11. [ Posted October 2, 2009, at 11:55 am ]

    Colin: About Delay’s earlier work, to cut to it, I’d say the one I return to most often is Multila — to me, its minimal-techno achievement is really special. Like the best minimal techno, it suggests more than it actually implements, letting extrapolation do the work for it.

    With that in mind, I think my favorite track on Tummma may be “Mustelmia” precisely because it has the trenchant, uniform build of early techno, but does it with such an ambitious agenda. To me it’s not jazz so much as composed jazz, a contemporary chamber music that brings to mind early Bang on a Can, the Kamikaze Ground Crew, and stuff like that. Listening to it change slowly, I think it’s quite a remarkable composition. I would love to hear Alarm Will Sound do a transcription of that piece.

  12. [ Posted October 3, 2009, at 3:11 am ]

    In response to Colin’s specific question, of all his different guises, I too feel VD has been the most satisfyingly exploratory. Haven’t ever really warmed to the distanced dancefloor of Luomo (remember the ‘microhouse’ boom of 2002?) or got my minimal mojo working to Uusitalo – both seem more like genre fiddling while elsewhere burns. For me the two early works on CR and MP haven’t been surpassed by any VD since; already by “Entain”’s successor, “Anima,” something had changed or some of the strange magic had been lost – the nebulous nature of the music had become merely dissipative, somehow adrift in a frustrating glitch-infested amorphousness (I recall at the time a guy on the ambient mailing list posting a thread-starter in re: “Anima” with the subject header: “I can’t get it started!”). And I haven’t cared that much for any other VD albums since (“Demo[n) Tracks,” “Four Quarters,” “Whistleblower”…). Anyway, what I love[d] about “Multila” is how he summoned up these dense, murky grit-swirls and ghostly detritus in this vaporous fog. At the time this seemed a completely idiosyncratic granular dubspace. This huge slippery dub-[post-]techno epic ‘Huone’ sandwiched between hazy tracks “Raamat, “ “Karha,” all awash with stray bit matter, tweaking ear’oles with come-hither barely audible bit-muck. What it brought to a new wave of ambient, distinct from Eno tradition, was a sonic architecture drawn from an oblique dub sensibility. At the same time, it was unlike other dub-influenced post-techno practitioners, in that the Ripatti patter wasn’t pat, i.e. not limited to simple drenching in delay and reverb – though these were the tools, they were deployed with more oblique strategies

    (Just about to press ‘submit comment’, and I realised I’d said nothing about “Tummaa”. Guess that says it all…)

  13. [ Posted October 3, 2009, at 1:27 pm ]

    Thanks Alan for that excellent description of Multila (now I don’t have to try it!). That’s my fave VD too. So far Tummaa is rough going for me too, but I’ll give it a few more plays. Interesting, isn’t it, that we are comparing it to Henriksen et al at all, rather than, say, Atom Heart.

  14. [ Posted October 6, 2009, at 6:31 am ]

    I really enjoy most of Ripatti’s work under the Vlad moniker. I don’t have a problem with subsequent works and hear them as further mappings of fluid spaces. In fact, much though I love Multila I wouldn’t say it was my favourite – Four Quarters perhaps or Demo(n) Tracks or Whistleblower. I hear the music as a signature performance, not that different to how I might listen to Miles or Jon Hassell or Steve Tibbetts. I’m reluctant to compare to Henriksen as his music is much more emotionally-driven and Vladislav Delay explores spaces that aren’t attributable to particular feelings.

  15. [ Posted October 9, 2009, at 4:20 pm ]

    Thanks for talking about this…I’d forgotten all about VD after having listened quite a lot to Multila, Amina and Entain when they were released.

    I must say I also find this to be a significant step in a much less interesting direction. What Alan called the “granular dubspace” of Multila was sonically alluring but structurally disorienting, the pulse constantly upsetting itself, setting up a sort of unpredictable stasis with an excellently attractive tension.

    Most importantly I think, the timbres themselves were mysterious, and the settings minimal enough for you to want to wait and see what would happen.

    All I’ve heard of Tummaa is the Melankolia edit, but I’m immediately held at arm’s length by it: it’s not so much that the wallpapery modal melody in the first half and the empty chords in the 2nd half don’t develop interestingly, it’s more like I don’t care about them enough in the first place to want to wait for them to develop. And for me the use of more “real” timbres in the percussion is tremendously less compelling than what we’ve heard on past VD releases, critically undercutting VD in one of his strongest areas: pulse.

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