The Arktinen Hysteria compilation that came out in November 2001 was compiled by Jukka Lindfors, based on his series of radio documentaries for Finnish Broadcasting Company.
Together here are gathered for the first time some seminal tracks usually considered the milestones of early Finnish electronic music; being the real predecessors of the sounds of Mika Vainio, Pan sonic & et al.; combined with some rarities and previously unpublished tracks.
The album concentrates mostly around the output of the now-legendary Love Records label, varying from electronic music to avantgarde sounds, free-jazz and experimental rock. Here one can witness some truly timeless electronic pioneering works, delving into the real Finnish analogue roots of glitch, clicks & cuts and even modern laptop sounds.
1. M.A. Numminen, Tommi Parko, Pekka Kujanpää: Eleitä kolmelle röyhtäilijälle ("Gestures for Three Belchers", 1961)
On the opening track of this compilation we hear the future underground guru M.A. Numminen and his cohorts burping and gurgling to a simple blues theme playing in the background, as part of this home-made tape recorded in 1961 but not released before 1967. Now this sounds like a self-indulgent piece of lame schoolboy humour, but amazingly it was eventually mentioned in an international catalogue of avantgarde music. This was only a start for Mr. Numminen's decades-lasting career to shock and disturb the bourgeoisie -- and to become in the end totally embraced and adored by it.
2. M.A. Numminen & Sähkökvartetti: Kaukana väijyy ystäviä ("Electric Quartet: Far Away Lurk Friends", 1968)
This track is the Holy Grail of Finnish electronic music. Recorded live in late 1968, this one recording remains left of Sähkökvartetti's various performances, which only consisted of this one piece, sometimes in versions that could last half an hour. The instrument "Electric Quartet" was constructed by the tech-wiz Erkki Kurenniemi, and it consisted of an "electric violin" (controlled by a potentiometer), "electric drums", a "melody machine" (its pitch adjusted by covering photo-resistors with an eraser) and "a singing machine" (a microphone and an aluminium stick whose photo-resistors would trigger different filters and distortion circuits). The career of Sähkökvartetti climaxed in one scandalous performance at the Socialist youth festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, when the cacophonous proceedings managed to drive hundreds of people away, causing this electric quartet operated by four men banned from the festival.
This track could be considered a sort of beginning for the same line of development, which went on decades later with Pan sonic & co. (it is known that Jari Lehtinen, who has custom-built Pan sonic's instruments has been influenced by Erkki Kurenniemi's circuits). Musically this is quite a scary one: creepy-sounding and even hymn-like, with wailing and sounding like electronic insects. M.A. Numminen chants and recites a sonic poem, borrowing among all from the religious hymn Agnus Dei. I have never understood what the lyrics are all about, but it sounds threateningly apocalyptic and sinister. The track starts with something that sounds like machines turned overdrive, wailing and howling siren-like, and then moves onto more serene, yet disturbing, soundscapes.
Both outlandish and sublime, distorted and beautiful, noisy and harmonious, this is a lasting epitaph to the highly innovative spirit of the 1960s, an era of both technological utopies and mind-expanding mysteriousness.
3. Tommi Parko: Hysteriablues (1968)
More avantgardistic pranks. Imagine an eunuch on the verge of nervous breakdown screaming and mumbling da blues, accompanied by a piano playing jazzy licks, and you are nearly there. Probabably meant to piss people off; nevertheless, it won the Polytechnic students' contest for the best idea for a gramophone record. Beyond belief.
4. Erkki Salmenhaara: Information Explosion, prologue (1967)
The composer and music critic Erkki Salmenhaara (who sadly passed away in March 2002) created this piece for Montreal's World Expo 1967. Obviously inspired by the then-fashionable ideas of Marshall McLuhan about the "global village" and "information explosion", this, like many musique concrete pieces of its kind precedes modern techniques of sampling. The difference only being that the composers of those days didn't have the luxury of Pro Tools at their use; the editing had to be done literally by hand, with a razorblade and tons of reel-to-reel tapes... This one is, in fact, not so far from what John Lennon and The Beatles would do the following year with their 'Revolution No. 9'. It sounds like a constant switching of dial between radio stations: snippets of orchestral sounds, reverberated electronics (again courtesy of Erkki Kurenniemi) hissing snake-like or bleeping like a sonar, brief interludes of big band jazz, Bach's chorals with church choirs, a horror film organ, harpsichord, piano etudes, whatever.
5. Blues Section: Shivers Of Pleasure (1967)
Then for a change some psychedelic rock music. Blues Section, despite its name, was not a traditional blues bore combo but a bunch of hipsters, who, inspired by the studio experiments of The Beatles, Hendrix and other hepcats of the day, bravely ventured into the territory of backwards tapes, tape loops and other "mind-blowing" sonic regalia of the late 60s. The typically tight-ass snob critic of The Wire magazine called this track "shockingly awful Prog blues", but this is strangely catchy, with Hasse Walli's Hendrix/Cream pyrotechnics combined with Eero Koivistoinen's free-jazz style saxophone leanings. "What's this look of gloom in your red-and-blue method... is it you and me in this colourful spaceship?" Indeed.
6. Erkki Kurenniemi: Antropoidien tanssi ("Dance of the Anthropoids", 1968)
One of Erkki Kurenniemi's own compositions is heard on this track, which presents his Andromatic sequencer built for the Swedish Andromatic studio ca. 1967-68. This could be something by Hecker of Mego Records, only 30 years before laptops. Featuring some screeching sounds like a modem loading and insistently building up to a climax. Kurenniemi's vision was something of electronic free-jazz played by alien (anthropoid?) musicians -- forget the Star Wars cantina scene, this is the real thing. Haunting and perhaps also more music to piss your friends off. A classic, nevertheless.
7. Jukka Ruohomäki: Mikä aika on ("What Time Is", 1970)
Kurenniemi's assistant Jukka Ruohomäki (who is still active in composing and performing electronic music) plays here the Kurenniemi-built synthesizer DIMI (Digital Music Instrument); not only the first Finnish synthesizer but in 1970 probably one of the first digital synths in the whole world! In fact, the sound here panning from speaker to speaker reminisces a bit old-school arcade video games (you can virtually see the game score running in your eyes). Featuring a perverse rhythm & blues theme running subdued underneath the whole thing, with some additional stomping sounds. A couple of years more and this could have been the foundations for Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'. Actually the basic idea was to create some "non-machine-like electronic pop music", popularized only years later. Whoa, a way to go.
8. Jouni Kesti & Seppo I. Laine: Vallankumouksen analyysi ("Analysis of Revolution", 1970)
The real horror show of this record. Two madman hardline Communists improvising free-jazz in their livingroom: one plays a lonely screaming alto saxophone (whose distorted sound was created by a mike placed inside the instrument); the other bangs on frantically his snare drum, with cymbals crashing in a sound hell of the sounds of revolution running amok. Saxophone as a frenzied agitator speaker, imitating the sounds of screams and crying. Fierce staccato drumming as the sounds of a firing squad. More music to drive your parents and friends mad (unless they are truly devoted free-jazz aficionados). Pure noise inferno of explosions and chaos in all its 11-minute glory. Somewhat a sonic equivalent to some really neurotic and angstful Expressionist painting of the early 20th century. Beautiful.
9. The Sperm: 3rd Erection (1968)
The Sperm were a combination of an experimental rock group (though "ambient noise" would be closer here) and a provocative performance group, who gained notoriety with their underground shows featuring nudity and other horrible obscenities. The group's chief composer Pekka Airaksinen created out-of-this-world sounds in a small sauna hut, using an electric guitar, effect devices and several interconnected tape recorders. This little ditty features undecipherable vocals mumbling, screeching, murmuring, screaming utter nonsense, and then turning into a train going choo-choo-choo; with some tortured guitar sounds strumming background in a sonic Beckettian Theatre of Absurd. The latterday Finnish experimental bands like Kemialliset Ystävät might clearly take their cues from this. Simply breath-taking, and I don't mean only the vocals.
10. J.O. Mallander: 1962 (1968)
Another member of The Sperm, a visual artist and critic J.O. Mallander (who, like Pekka Airaksinen in the same group, later converted into Zen-Buddhism) creates here the real hit of this compilation. Basically, this is a repeated loop "Kekkonen, Kekkonen, Kekkonen" (taken from the 1962 presidential election where Mr. Urho Kekkonen was, again, voted as the President of Finland), which just goes on and on, ad nauseam. This Dadaist piece of conceptual art is a sort an aural counterpart to what Andy Warhol did with his movies of repeated boredom, such as filming for hours merely the facade of Empire State Building. This joke probably works for Finns only, with the bald-pated, bespectacled President Kekkonen being a similar national icon as Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley are for Americans. Zen state of mind through the endless repetition?
11. The Sperm: Kuoleman puutarha live (otteita) ("Excerpts from The Opera 'Garden of Death'", 1970)
The Sperm again, this time live, with edited highlights of a longer performance they did in 1970 as part of their tour in Finnish countryside. With a formal speech for an unsuspecting audience to kick it all off, the basic idea there being: take off your clothes and liberate your mind. Some polite applause from the audience, who probably have no idea what they are about to enter. Then hell breaks all loose. The usual ambient noise vs. free-jazz improvisations with distorted feedbacking guitars, wailing saxophone et al. The group's enfant terrible, Mattijuhani Koponen spouts a list of slogans amidst it all: "The best way to support revolution is to do your own revolution", "Police is essential in every demonstration", "You have nothing to do before you die", "Be ahead of your time, die now" and some obscenities, which probably were meant controversial some 30 years ago, but which now only sound like an adolescent trying to shock his elders off. It all ends in a free-for-all melee of cacophony, which sounds and feels like some collective lunatic asylum art therapy.
12. Pekka Airaksinen: Pieni sienikonsertto - A Little Soup For Piano And Orchestra op 46,8 ("A Little Mushroom Concerto", 1970)
From The Sperm impresario Pekka Airaksinen's first solo album, taking us deeper into his murky sauna hut sound expressions. More ambient noise excursions with an amplified guitar playing forwards and backwards and strumming in a mouldy basement. A lone piano note here and there, with metallic clanks. This is total antimusic and again, totally ageless.
13. S. Albert Kivinen: Spirea (1970)
Finally, another political prank, when the academic philosopher S. Albert Kivinen (later on, known for some Finnish H.P. Lovecraft adaptation short stories) sings out of tune to the melody of popular song, "Manchurian Hills". This "aleatoric assault" is about the then-US Vice President Spiro Agnew, known for his hard line against the Vietnam war demonstrators and Black Panthers. With a melancholic gypsy violin in the style of "old dance music" popular among senior citizens in Finlnand, it probably was meant to be some sort of ironic political commentary, but only sounds terribly dated now. An interesting curiosity, though.