Finnish sound artist Olli Aarni captured the attention of more than a few heads this past year with his Riioraa / Viime Talvi release on Sweat Lodge Guru, a double cassette reissue of his earliest recorded works under the alias Ous Mal, and his Ylitse tape on Avant Archive under his own name. These releases highlighted Aarni’s knack for setting classical motifs and delicate melodies lose within a free-floating mass of exquisite ambient atmospherics, positioning his work alongside such reputable artists as Pimmon, The Caretaker, and Black to Comm. Now recording as Nuojuva, and with new releases out on Hooker Vision and Preservation, Aarni continues to refine his sound in an intuitive way, focusing in on vocals and song form. Aarni kindly took the time to respond to our questions regarding his new work as Nuojuva and what else he has in store for the months ahead.
For you, what was the significance of moving on from Ous Mal to Nuojuva? Was this perhaps a way for you to explore sound in a new way?
When I started using the name Ous Mal, I wanted to have a name with no fixed meaning. That reflected me very well back then. Later on, my interest in linguistics and, especially the Finnish language, turned my head so that I wanted to use a name that is in Finnish and stands for something. I wouldn’t say this is a turning point for me in terms of exploring sound as much as it maybe is to me personally. My interest in sound develops gradually, and taking my name from my latest full-length record is maybe as gradual as a changing of name can be! Also, starting to perform and release different music under my own name influenced this changing of names in a way.
So what would the Finnish-to-English translation of the word Nuojuva stand for?
It pretty much means, “swaying”. It’s an adjective: moving very calmly back and forth. The spelling I use for the word is pretty much extinct; I’d say it appears exclusively in certain kinds of romantic poetic language.
I’ve seen your work likened to that of a hip hop producer elsewhere, which I can certainly hear in your music, but given your knack for melody and classical/orchestral instrumentation, I was wondering if you played a variety of instruments or had some type of formal training?
I have some formal training in playing the piano and in music theory. I took piano lessons for about ten years when I was younger, but music theory always seemed more inspiring to me. It’s impossible to just shake off anything I know from music theory, and earlier it seemed quite conflicting to strive for simplicity and minimalism while having lots of interest in complex harmonies and so on. Trying to build my own vocabulary within electronic music helped me to have a fresh outlook on the theory side of things and to make them my own, in a way. That’s something I found very hard as a piano player. Anyway, my compositions are very simple, but studying music has definitely helped me in what interests me a whole lot – the mixture of movement and stasis.
“Valot kaukaa” features the drifting vocals of Rachel Evans (a.k.a Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Quiet Evenings) and the delicate piano work of Sophie Hutchings. How did their contributions take shape during the making of this album? Were there specific sounds that you had in mind with this album that you called on them for or was this sort of along the lines of a ‘mailbox collaboration’?
I had been listening to and loving records by both artists before suggesting a collaboration. I had this one song I wanted to record a piano part for, but I felt like I couldn’t play it the way I wanted it to sound. So I contacted Sophie because I thought her way of playing would suit it perfectly, as it did. And when I got the idea of having a guest vocalist, Rachel seemed to be perfect match for that. Her music mixes static ambient music with songwriting remarkably well. I’m really happy with how well it turned out, even without knowing either one from before. I didn’t even need to give them any directions or anything, just sent them the raw versions of the songs and asked them to do whatever they want with them. There are some tracks with Rachel’s vocals on my recent Hooker Vision tape as well.
I know that much of your previous work utilized samples in large part, so was this the first time that you incorporated “live” instrumentation and vocal parts into your recordings?
Not really, I think this record is pretty similar to the ones I did as Ous Mal in those terms. The most significant change would be the increased vocal parts and mixing my own vocals more upfront. I think in this kind of song form music, vocal parts are quite essential. Having Rachel Evans and Sophie Hutchings as well as other contributors on the record underlines the live instrumentation side though. All in all, the record is mostly just samples.
As you stated, your vocals are more up front on several of the songs on “Valot kaukaa”, yet there is this blissful atmospheric quality to them that blends into the sound as a whole. Are there definite lyrical or thematic aspects to your vocals that play out over the course of the album? If not, sonically was there a certain set of feelings or emotions that you were trying to evoke?
One of the main themes in the record is different lights and the change in the lighting. I feel the theme carries a lot of metaphorical value and yet it’s something very fundamental in the concrete surroundings of a person. The dawn can mean hope, darkness can mean sadness or fear and so on, and we go through all these different worlds cyclically every day, reflecting ourselves against them. That’s at least something I had in mind a lot while making this record. I don’t see the lyrical and the musical side separate from each other.
Do you feel that your studies of the Finnish language have had an influence on incorporating more vocal parts in your work?
I guess it does. My studies have definitely raised my interest in all things verbal. That’s something I’ve wanted to include in my music more and more.
I’m guessing that many people that follow experimental music will associate the music coming out of Finland with that of the Finnish free-folk or Fonal Records camp. Have you followed much of this music coming out of your own country over the past decade or have your interests been elsewhere?
Finnish free-folk has definitely been a great influence to me. I love the music and to me it represents the DIY attitude really well.
Do you happen to collaborate with any other artists in Helsinki in terms of live performances or other recording projects?
I’ve collaborated with a Helsinki based duo Banana Pill. Some of my other friends have played some little parts on my records and so on. Even though I’m mostly concentrating on my solo stuff, I like to do all kinds of different things besides it. I also have a duo called Lichen Gumbo, which makes music pretty different from my solo outings.
In what ways are your duo, Lichen Gumbo, different than your solo work?
It is some kind of rock and roll duo I have with my friend Ville Oinonen. We come from pretty different musical backgrounds so collaborating leads to different things than we both would end up alone, which is great. My solo music is very much rooted in introspection and in Lichen Gumbo it’s much more about finding a common ground where our inner worlds and ways of thinking overlap.
You mentioned a release you have coming out on Hooker Vision. Do you have any other releases slated for release in the coming months, aside from “Valot kaukaa” ?
Full Of Nothing is releasing the debut tape by Lichen Gumbo very soon and Ikuisuus is releasing a tape by Niityt, which is a collaboration between Golden Cup, Banana Pill and me.
black and white photo credits (top-to-bottom):
#1, #2, #4 – Joonas Mikola
#3 – Ville Jokinen