Sasu Ripatti is a busy and prolific man. The Finnish born percussionist and electronic artist until recently lived in Berlin, where he worked concurrently on music for both his Luomo and Vladislav Delay aliases. His output as Luomo falls roughly under the section marked ‘dancefloor’, exploring the experimental possibilities of house and techno. By contrast, Vladislav Delay acts as an outlet for the music he described in a recent interview with The Quietus as separate from the needs of a crowd and ‘only representing my musical wishes and visions’. As such, it touches on more abstract territory, applying the aesthetics of his background in jazz and live percussion to minimalist, expressive electronica.
In June the Moritz Von Oswald Trio released their debut, Vertical Ascent, featuring Ripatti on drums. Comparisons to Von Oswald’s seminal previous work are pretty much inevitable, and to an extent accurate: Vertical Ascent shares Basic Channel’s focus on subtle, intricate shifts in emphasis and grayscale brush strokes. The striking difference is in the Trio’s distinctly live dynamics - across its four extended tracks, Ripatti’s jazzy polyrhythmic percussion is a driving force, offsetting the cool, chrome sheen with a decidedly human sensibility.
This warmer, sentient feel has bled into this month’s Vladislav Delay album, Tummaa, released on The Leaf Label. Even to someone largely unfamiliar with his previous work it comes across as a departure. Mostly recorded live and largely improvised, its trio of players use Ripatti’s fragmented rhythmic architecture as a backbone from which to explore the circumstances of its origin, in the perpetual darkness of the Scandinavian winter. A collection more of texture and atmosphere than of overt melodic progression, nature’s influence permeates Tummaa - a result of its organic composition process but also its tonal palette, all greens, deep blues and white. It’s also strikingly beautiful.
It’s difficult to do justice to music this all-encompassing. Tummaa is almost impossibly dense in spite of its sparseness, drenched in exquisite tension and constantly poised on the edge of resolution, but rarely reaching it. The fractal blasts of brittle echo that carry opener ‘Melankolia’ seem almost entirely random in their placing, yet as they bind to the song’s mournful piano theme they coalesce to form an anxious, fidgety rhythm. Release, when it comes, is spare – a diminished chord hangs in space for several seconds before fading into the ether. Best of all is the title track, stormy arctic winds wrapped tightly around an insistent strummed chord shift that builds incrementally to a maelstrom of drifting feedback.
In its press release and several interviews Ripatti has touched on the important effect the Finnish ‘kaamos’ – the wintertime darkness - had on the composition of this record. Thick snow has the unnerving tendency to absorb and muffle sound, leaving the surrounding environment eerily silent. Tummaa’s almost inexplicable heaviness, even during its quietest moments, is testament to this influence. At their best, the soundscapes contained within are at once deep blue and purest white, both moving and motionless, and coated in starlight.