Review: Nuojuva – Otavaiset Otsakkaha

Otavaiset Otsakkaha feels like a lost music, much like William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. The sounds are souvenirs from a time long gone; clambering over the crackling erosion of time to resonate into the present day, wavering in pitch as though rendered brittle with age. Just as with Basinski’s music, the listener is left with an instinctive urge to discover the original time and place in which these sounds were birthed. What were they like prior to their decay? From where did they originate?

All the clues lie within the tape itself, and the listener is left to piece together a past landscape from this solitary relic. Birdsong swirls into the skies, synthesizers bubble between waves of ethereal singing voice, drum machine patters around the high frequencies as though heard through the excess audio spill from cheap headphones. The location is perhaps a bustling jungle, or maybe a tropical marshland; warm and familiar like home, yet possessive of the sounds and language of somewhere else.

The vocals are undoubtedly the most beautiful element. They arrive detached from their source bodies, having bounced between trees and caves and arrives as mere ghosts of a mournful, beautiful song, ascending angelically out of the murk like the breathy exhales of Grouper’s Liz Harris. The album’s opening track displays them at their most bizarre – downtuned into bellowing, glutinous groans, yet carrying a melody with all of the delicate charm of a lullaby, nudged forward by the playful plonk of marimba and fluttery synth arpeggiations. Even in this mutated form, the voices provoke a warmth of human contact – a slight wisp of familiar life to cling onto in amongst the album’s more alien texture choices.

But while the album’s connections to the ethereal and mysterious prove enticing to begin with, its effect is dampened slightly by the lack of deviation. There’s a slight sense of frustration at having the sounds constantly withheld behind a veil of reverb and static; the listener can feel disconnected, uncomfortably voyeuristic even, as Otavaiset Otsakkaha prefers to remain at an intangible distance rather than an immersive entity. But of course, the record wouldn’t be the same without the consistency of its atmosphere, and thus it is arguably necessary to prevent the listener from “entering” the soundscapes. Otavaiset Otsakkaha is an elsewhere – an echo of a time and place that exists separately from the here in the now – and while there’s a certain frustration in its mystique, it means that the album perpetuates the illusion of a music passing from another dimension into this one.