VA, Avantometric Attachments 2002
"Avanto" is a Finnish term used to describe the act of jumping from a sauna into a pool of ice-cold water: a Finnish ritual right up there with cell phone usage. It's a fitting title for Helsinki's Media Arts Festival, which takes place each November and features the best from Finland's avant-garde music and film communities, along with select artists and works from elsewhere. Prior to each year's festival, the organizers put together a compilation CD featuring that year's performers. The CD is sold during the festival, and is afterwards available at various shops in Finland and other parts of Europe.
I'm a Southern Californian who teaches college in Novembers, so I've never been able to attend the Avanto Festival (though I'd love to some day). However, I have become an admirer of Finnish electronic music, due largely to my interest in Finland's finest, Pan Sonic. Over the past few years, I've bought just about every compilation CD that has featured Pan Sonic. This includes the 2002 Avanto compilation, which is entitled Avantometric Attachments 2002 and which features one Pan Sonic track, "Lahio." The song is a typical one for Pan Sonic: eight minutes of howling, buzzsaw waves, streaming beeps, digital breathing, hissing spiders, and... Well, the specific sounds matter less than the overall effect, which is one of claustrophobia, nausea, uncertainty, and (eventually) terror. It's fantastic.
Ah, but does the rest of the CD equal that one song? Actually, it does. This is a weird, wild collection of music that spans just about every angle of electronic music's underbelly. For example, the track prior to the Pan Sonic one, Peter Tscherkassky's "Outer Space," the soundtrack to the film of the same name (shown at the festival), shuttles between Richard Chartier-like microsound and Kim Cascone-like digital static. Meanwhile, the track following Pan Sonic's, F.R.U.I.T.S.'s "Naturally Cooked (Low noise remix)," is a more traditional, beat-laden electronic that wouldn't be out of place on Mille Plateaux's latest Clicks & Cuts compilation. Then there are the WEIRD tracks, like the demonic homage to Raymond Scott commercials from the 1950s, "Dr. Bish: Remedies for Commuters from the School For Alternatives to Success (SFAS) XIV Radio Copy (remix by Chura Smasam)," and People Like Us' "Stifled Love," which does to Patsy Cline what Fennesz did to the Beach Boys. And I haven't even mentioned that the disk even includes a track from the godfather of Finnish electronic music, Erkki Kurenniemi. This disk is just loaded with good (read: weird and experimental) music.
Many people know that Finland is home to Nokia, the cell phone company, and (not surprisingly) cell phone use in Finland is higher per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is a digital-savvy country, to be sure. More importantly, it is a country that exists in perpetual darkness for most of the winter. Put these two facts together and you get the Avanto Festival, a festival that takes place just as the sun sets in late fall, that seems to function as a celebration of the slowly enveloping darkness of Helsinki winters and all which it inspires in Finnish hearts and minds, and that manages to use the techniques of digital manipulation to put that darkness into sharp, eloquent relief. All of these elements and more come through on Avantometric Attachments 2002, which makes this disk an unusually worthwhile purchase.
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