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Pekka Airaksinen - Madam, I'm Adam

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Artist: Pekka Airaksinen

Album: Madam, I'm Adam

Label: Love

Review date: Aug. 12, 2004

Among a glut of purportedly experimental record labels, Love Records holds a distinct place. Love is a Finland-based reissue label that piece-by-piece is filling in the jigsaw puzzle of a dissenting, underground Finnish art scene, now almost 40 years old. At the time, most of the music went largely unnoticed internationally, with the convenient exception of Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton. There is no doubt regarding Love's objective: For Finland to claim deserved recognition as a hub of experimental music throughout the '60s and '70s. This is one of the strongest reissue label M.O.s, to emphasize the utter obscurity of the involved artists while affirming their absolute indispensibility. Love is best explained by its perverse label logo - at a cursory glance, it looks merely like two horizontal hearts, yet at closer discrimination reveals two hearts amid intercourse. It's a sign of victory. Free-thinking youth made avant-garde art in opposition to an oppresive government, and here, 40 years later, their culture still survives.

The newest release, like the Erkki Kurenniemi disc from last year, highlights the work of a very prominent lynchpin in a scene that seemed otherwise utterly community-centered. Madam I'm Adam focuses on Pekka Airaksinen, whose shining moment was as a member of the Sperm, a unique collective-like operation that sparred with the Finnish government using multimedia and shock tactics. Airaksinen's music has continued in the 30+ years after the Sperm's disbandment, and as the liner notes would have you believe, predates industrial music and perhaps more importantly, the blend of populism and art terrorism that currently pervades the youth-in-revolt music market. And if you don't believe the liner notes, the extraneous second disc will certainly sway you with its tribute remixes. You know, to solidify "the contemporary context" of the music.

While Airaksinen doubtlessly had enough music to fill a second disc (the most immediately apparent trait of Airaksinin is probably his long-windedness), Love has opted to draw in some names to really nail their niche market. Mira Calix, Simon Wickham-Smith, and, of course, Nurse With Wound, all appear, though to Love's credit, a number of more obscure, presumably Finnish faces crop up. What bona fide collaborations between Airaksinin and any of these artists might've reaped is anyone's guess, but here, in a somewhat clever, though perhaps redundant move, artists tackle the tracks on Disc 1, in order. The remix music is pleasant, far more pleasant and unobtrusive than the originals, but ultimately it doesn't seem to serve much purpose other than advertising Airaksinin.

It's not a total failure, as the individual stamp of the paticipating artists is often perceptible, especially with the original tracks available for direct reference, but what does a Mira Calix track that sounds like a Mira Calix track with Airaksinen samples mean exactly? It doesn't necessarily have to mean much more than a nod in Airaksinen's direction, and perhaps it does link some of the Sperm's ideas to Airaksinen's later, rubbery, almost-tonal music, but there is a prominent sense of self-serving excess on the remix disc. Airaksinen's latex-like sound, his proclivity for sound collage (which is noticeably, and unfortunately, down-played in his later work) and his love for genreally ominous overtones seem to be the key reference points for most of the participating artists. Only Stapleton and Es seem to pick up on the humor of Airaksinen, using the shuffling, borderline-lounge rhythms to submerge the listener in a perverse supermarket of sguiggles and slap-happy percussive stabs. Both artists seem to have a true sense of Airaksinen's middle-period work and make an effort to actualize the ideas that seem somewhat fetal in the originals. The reworked "Sukirti" by Tuomo Illari Puranen and T.A. Kaukolampi aim to pick up on the understated free-jazz elements of Airaksinen's work. If there is anything obliquely related to the Digital Hardcore aesthetic in Airaksinen, Phillip Quehenberger's submission picks up on it.

Yet remove all of the "contemporary context" and you're left with Airaksinen's peculiar reality. The liner notes by Anton Nikkila (suspiciously the first remixer on Disc 2) describe Airaksinen's music as the sound of "an alien trying to pass for an earthling in a sci-fi TV series." It's a somewhat apt description, though Ziggy Stardust this is not. Airaksinen's music is extremely frustrating. He seems to share Erkki Kurenniemi's "music of the future" progressive atittude, not easily pigeonholed as "mixing mechanic beats and free jazz" as the notes suggest. His work from the '70s and '80s explores similar territory and makes up a large part of the compilation, ultimately defining Airaksinen's vision. Clashing rhythms and a clamor of unsynchronized, vaguely oriental music appear on any number of tracks on this compilation, "Molybdene" and "Suvarnbhasagarbha" being two of the stronger examples. Perhaps in line with his interest in Buddhism, there is a constant sense that Airaksinen doesn't actually want to be there, that he's functioning for some unapparent reason, he simply enjoys turning on his 808 and staggering along through a keyboard accompaniment. This sounds negative, but at the very least, it's rare that something this nonsensical and oblivious comes along. It's not clever or intellectual music, it has even shirked the Sperm's political baggage. There is something very enjoyable about being privy to this kind of private creation, the works collected were otherwise intended for an extremely small audience. The later period Airaksinen, the work he has deemed "trivial music" seems to more fully explain this thread of his work. It's music that makes no lofty claims and is satisfied with its lack of function, even on the most basic aesthetic grounds.

The Sperm work collected on Madam I'm Adam, if not clear already, is the real treat of the compilation. Overdriven Finnish noise music, an early indicator of Airaksinen's preference for arbitrariness, runs through the three Sperm tracks. While certainly not transcending its influences, the way Airaksinen's later work does, the mixture of do-it-yourself psychedelic music and 20th century nihilism is a gorgeous appropriation of elite ideas for angst-ridden dissidents. The 20-minute "Dodekafonin talvisota" is a great example. Superficially, there are some of the trappings of the slimy New York scene to which the Sperm is most frequently compared, but what's remarkable here is the attention to developing the piece over the duration of time. Rather than a droning vamp, "Dodekafonin talvisota" consists of a number of discreet sections, a number of points sounding more like tape collage than an improvising rock band. A piano, observent until the last five minutes of the recording, helps usher in the conclusion of the piece, alongside a guitar mimicking the sound of machine gun fire.

Aiaraksinen's "A Little Soup for Piano and Orchestra," previously released on Love's Arktinen Hysteria compilation, is the distinct masterpiece here. It is unlike anything collected in the Airaksinen oevure, before or after. Junk rhythms pound away as Airaksinen blurts stark noises, manipulated from a piano. Remarkably bare compared to the Sperm and Airaksinen's other work, "A Little Soup for Piano and Orchestra" has a palpable restraint to it that feature the most engaging interplay of dynamics and rhythmic shifts on the album.

So, in line with many indispensible reissues, Madam I'm Adam is a flawed collection. Yet Airaksinen has historical draw and this release, providing a glimpse into the creative process of an enduring experimental composer, is not easily ignored. It's another piece of another jigsaw puzzle, another unsung hero getting his due.

By Matt Wellins

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