Olli Aarni – Tuokioita (Ultraääni Records, 2023)

Over the last few days I’ve had some good opportunities to get out of the house and be taking photos. Outside of talking about music here, photography has been a primary hobby of mine for many, many years as a way for me to express my view of the world directly. Unfortunately with a busy work schedule and social calendar it often feels like I haven’t had much chance to exercise the photographic muscles this year to the extent I would like, and I’ve felt edgy as a result of that.

Self-expression, the kind that comes from creative endeavours, is a difficult need to articulate. It stirs from somewhere inside us, or perhaps outside from us, a force to turn our complicated thoughts and feelings into a form of language that cannot simply be spoken. It renders subconscious rumination into sound, philosophical questions into images, existential thought into text and so on, all as art in a stream that flows out from within.

But the final version of these expressions that we often allow people to see is a polished and refined one, honed down to what we hope is the most resonant, yet efficient, essence. I know from my own writings (and sometimes images) that these finished products often seem to lack the explosive spontaneity of their origins, with all the messiness and imperfection. Yet it’s there where truth is truly found in its most undiluted form, in those first essential moments of pen to paper, or in the case of Aarni, fingers to strings.

Tuokioita is an entirely improvised record, its nine pieces composed solely on two spontaneously played kanteles (a kind of zither), and mostly outdoors in the open air. With no edits or retakes, its freeform strings resonate richly out into the Summer, occasionally interrupting the lazy flight of flies who can be heard hovering near the mics several times in the quieter moments.

Its elegance stems from its simplicity and directness, a conduit straight from Aarni’s heart into our ears: “Kukkapeitto” (flower blanket) and “Haljeta” (burst) practically fall over themselves to introduce us to their idiosyncratic energies, chords in rolling arpeggiation hammering and thrumming tunes out in urgent need for communication. They have, dare I say, a particular folk charm to their excitations, unrefined but magical.

Space draws closer in “Kun tulee hämärä” (when it gets dark) which loses some early velocity and sparkle, and darkling “Ikkuna auki uneen” (window open to sleep) whose chords boil like frenzied crickets and cicadas in the cool night air, gatekeepers to our passage into sleep. In the end all of it drains away with closing “Lupaukset” (promises), as though dragging instrumentation slowly out of a crystallising moment perhaps, or indeed just taking things more slowly to savour this natural quietude.

It’s hard to pin down a record like this because it exists as-is, a series of loosely related pieces whose connection to one another is the artist simply expressing themselves intimately through these two zithers. It is the sonic equivalent to scratching an itch, releasing some nagging creative need to make and to tell. Though rather different to much of his Drone based work of the past, it exudes perhaps a state of Olli-ness, and his need to express himself directly, more so than ever before.