Interview: Maximilian Latva

PHOTO BY ANTTI AHONEN

I’m not surprised when Maximilian Latva says that he listens to several punk and extreme metal tracks at the same time. I’m also not surprised to hear that he creates his music amidst a fire hazard of tangled cables and pedals. His latest album on Art First Records, titled Hrön, often feels it’s folding over itself – melodies emerge, veer aimlessly through the dark, collide with found sounds and percussion, disappear, reappear…it’s a confusion of intentions and extremities, cramming the turbulence of life into the claustrophobia of stereo.

Below, I ask the Finnish musician and performance artist about emerging from the black box, the ghosts between channels and the pain of existence.

There’s so much happening on Hrön. Given that the sound of the record almost obfuscates its own creation, could you tell me about the process of putting Hrön together? What did the composition/recording sessions look like, and how long have you been working on it?

I usually begin with an idea for a sound or a phrase that has a promise of a landscape emerging around it. Soon I’m buried under a tangle of cables and guitar pedals in a tiny space where I have to be very careful not to set everything on fire. There’s maybe three square feet of floor space partially exposed. Half a year of this, never more than 12 hours a day, usually much less, always on my own. It’s a classic mad hoarder cave more than a proper studio.

I am also obsessed by the processes of decay and disintegration and the way life feeds on life. Someone’s heart is someone else’s meal.

There’s a visual artist based in Helsinki, Leonor Ruiz Dubrovin, whose method I feel somewhat resembles what I do.

A contributing factor could also be my early musical education – my mom could not afford piano lessons, so I entertained myself hunting ghosts between channels on an old valve radio. I would often record this with a tape recorder, pulling the power cord out and plugging it back in to hear the sound die and resurrect.

How easy was it to identify when Hrön had reached completion?

That part was no different compared to making more traditionally structured pieces. Just apply electricity and see if the monster walks!

What can you tell me about the artwork of the record? Where was the picture taken, and what was it about this picture that tied into the music on Hrön?

The picture is from Malpica on the Galician coast, where the oil tanker Prestige disaster happened in 2002. I don’t know how much toxicity still lingers on, but there were quite a few dead cormorants in 2016.

I thought of the acceptance of death quite a lot while putting Hrön together, so I suppose that’s where it’s coming from.

From what I’ve seen of your work, animal carcasses seem to feature frequently. No doubt these carcasses adopt different roles in different contexts, but is there anything in particular that fuels your interest in the bodies of dead creatures?

Birds in particular represent the hope of flying away from the pain of existence.

Dead things seem so peaceful that I often watch them to calm down, as my brain is in a constant state of emergency due to PTSD.

I’ve seen videos of your performance art alongside Katri Kainulainen, who I understand you’ve been working with since 2014. How did you both meet? Do you have any thoughts on what compels you to continue working with each other?

A friend of ours put together a group of artists for a performance event.

She curated – or pimped, if you will – us together. In our friend’s selling speech to Katri about me, it was mentioned that I’ve been off medication for some time now, and can also get out of my grimy bedsit now and then. What a man!

Katri is the only person I could work with as much as we do. Most people, however nice otherwise, exhaust me.

How has your relationship with performance art changed over the years, if at all? Have there been any changes in terms of the ideas you’re confronting through the work, or in your relationship/interaction with the audience?

With Katri came focus and cohesion, before her it was more like the teenage band I was in – we entered a youth club band competition three years in a row, and each time they’d cut off the power and throw us out.

I was sexually abused for most of my childhood. That still affects everything I do and how I view the world, being ever present in my performances as well.

I may have opened up a bit – I still do not talk in performance, but a few years ago all I could do was to perform inside a black box, being viewed through peepholes. For gigs abroad we had to build a collapsible one so that I could survive the performances.

What music have you been listening to recently?

The recurring bouts of depression have robbed me of the ability to enjoy music almost completely, so not too much. Galina Ustvolskaya, Nina Simone and the Lebanese oud master Marcel Khalife come to mind. Extreme forms of metal and punk, especially if there are, say, three different tracks playing at the same time.

What’s on the horizon for you?

This year Katri and I will be presenting performances about phobias in a sort of European tour. I’ll be working on a new album, and hope also to collaborate with the brilliant Lithuanian performance and sound artist Daina Dieva.

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