At the turn of the 1970s, Helsinki’s the Sperm was dead set on challenging its cities’ conservative standards. Forty years later, the band’s work retains enough pure weirdness to challenge our modern-day presumptions of antiquity. Considering that experimental musicians have since connected just about every single point the Sperm made on – from chopping-and-splicing to signal jamming to improvising – I think we can chalk this record up as a success.
As part of the storied Nurse With Wound list, Shh! is an easier listen than one might first think. Composer Pekka Airaksinen dominates the record with an amniotic drone float (opener “Heinäsirkat I”), early looping experiments (“Hesperia”), non-traditional guitar abuse (“Dodekafoninen”) and electronic flutter (“Korvapoliklinikka”). And while the record rarely touches on pop or melody, it commands attention with a stockade of cultural metamorphisms, a work born of both consideration and chance where, thankfully, everything fit together. Their sole attempts at a traditional music – the Euro-free swoop and blood-dripping clamor of “Jazz Jazz” and the lilting, ECM-style tundra meditations of “Talvisota” – ring a few more bells, but it’s clear that the Sperm was using these parts of Shh! to involve the outside world, and show their influences a respect that would hopefully be mutual.
Looking back now, respect isn’t a problem. The members of Sperm make for one hell of a resume. Vladimir Nikamo played in longhair rock band Wigwam for a spell. Jan Olof Mallander was one of Finland’s most recognized art critics, and later a macrobiotic restaurateur. Poet Mattijuhani Koponen spent most of 1969 in jail for “desecrating” a grand piano with the help of a partner (and, uh, their parts) during a reading at the end of 1968.
These men paid dearly during the times they lived in. Their efforts to pass through history’s membrane and find willing hosts have not gone unnoticed.