Secret Eye

he wide-eyed forest dwellers of Avarus come from the pool of Finnish musicians that spawned the magnificent Kemialliset Ystävät. They play a brand of music on the outer extremes of the free-folk movement. A spirit of drugged-out frenzy drives this relentlessly changing music, resulting in songs that evolve like a species: not on an obvious linear path, but in fits and starts—obeying a strange logic inaccessible to the players themselves.

The basic template is similar on most tracks. Drums pound a relentless tribal groove in the background. The melody is plucked or whistled. It meanders all over the place with a jazz spirit, circling around themes only to eventually demolish them. A drone permeates the music, providing a fabric from which the other instruments emerge. The drones fluctuate within a range of pitches, making the background of the music unstable and unsettling. A celestial organ devolves into the shrill shrieks of swooping banshees, and deep rumbles sound like the dyspeptic gurgles in a huge beasts’ stomach. Their uneasiness creates an unstable atmosphere, freeing the melodic improvisation from the repetitive drumming and allowing the whole thing to hover on the edge of a tension-filled improvised abyss.

Now Stylus is a family publication, and I don’t want to corrupt our younger, more impressionable readers, but a proper understanding of Jättiläisrotta requires a quick note about LSD. LSD dissociates ego from consciousness, helping you to forget yourself. This creates the illusion that one is experiencing reality unmediated, burrowing into the truth of existence. Meanwhile, hallucinations abound and senses mix with each other in a phenomenon known as synesthesia. Combined with the loss of ego, these hallucinations take on a startling reality.

This has fantastic consequences when listening to music, the least of which is that it is often visualized as colors. The profound effect is that the music becomes real, becomes an object in the air, rather than a psychic manifestation of sound waves. In such a situation, the individual sounds feel like individuals with liberty and will. Pop music curtails this liberty, while improvisation encourages it.

I can only speculate that Avarus is inspired by acid (though Kemialliset Ystävät translates as “chemical children”), but if nothing else, LSD provides a wonderful insight to their music. The production buries the drums deep into the mix, so that the beats merge into the drone, and they more often sound like they are pushing on its surface as if on a sheet. The plucks and whistles are de-emphasized as well, struggling to surface from the drone. Thus the music feels bounded by the drone, that the drone is the undulating surface of a musical object. These drones don’t engulf the listener, ala Phill Niblock or Birchville Cat Motel. They sound from somewhere in the distance, creating a separation between the listener and the music that encourages its conception as a separate object. It is not something to be heard or entered into, but rather something that has to be approached.

In this way, the songs doesn’t sound like they were created by musicians, rather it seems they already existed. The members of Avarus are acting more like explorers in search of their songs in a dark arcane forest.

In this world the listener can be alienated. Indeed, Jättiläisrotta is forbidding and uninteresting at times. But when the tracks work, as most do (particularly “Prinssi Halonen” and “Herra Ykkönen”), Avarus conjures a gorgeous and frightening musical object, and they capture the feeling of mystery of music on acid.

Reviewed by: Bryan Berge

Reviewed on: 2005-01-03

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