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Since the very beginning, there’s always been tension between what experimental electronic music sets out to do and what it does. Conceived as a revolutionary language for democratic sonic creativity and communication, attempting to liberate creators and listeners alike - pushing them into the unknown, it never fully took root in the popular mind. It was, for a time, too wild for all but most adventurous minds. These days, however, it can often feel like that great journey has come to an end, rendering safe, familiar sounds which emphasize generative tools over ambitious ideas. It’s become rare to encounter those visionary voices who push toward the unseen and unheard, offering the unsettling slap that the historic figures of experimental electronic music once did. This exactly what Marja Ahti achieves on her latest LP for Hallow Ground, Vegetal Negatives. Steeped in history and forward thinking radicalism, it embraces the root challenges of her realm, sailing toward an unknown horizon in the spring breeze.
Swedish-born and Finland based, Marja Ahti has been releasing slow waves into the field of experimental music for the better part of the last decade, working within the psychedelic improv collective Kemialliset Ystävät and issuing solo efforts under the moniker Tsembla. Fittingly, though loosely connected to her previous ventures, Vegetal Negatives, feeling like a radical emergence of artistic voice, is the first album to appear under her own name. Recorded at EMS, Stockholm, WORM, Rotterdam, and on locations in Greece, Alaska, Finland and Sweden, it plays a game of sonic mutations, mimicry, inversions, and association. Inspired by the French writer, René Daumal’s attempts to break the perceived separateness of natural forms through poetic imagination, while drawing upon Annea Lockwood's ideas relating to the associations of sounds, across the LP’s two sides Ahti explores a new formal language and sonic palette - textures of detailed acoustic sound and sustained tones, punctuated by gentle microtonal beating patterns, culminate to evoke the precision of musical narrative. Juxtaposing recordings of rooms, empty vessels, natural and artificial climates, against spontaneous, staged events, and tonal intervention, it is an inward journey sculpted by the world beyond - a spectrum of ambient expanses and rattling texture and tone which pulls the rug from beneath what is perceived to be known.
Across Vegetal Negatives, Ahti creats rich, poetic landscape of sound where acoustic environments mutate into synthetic shadow forms. Rippling with pure abstraction, flirting with an image of the golden age of electroacoustic music, while taking a hard turn into uncharted realms, it’s an album filled with challenge and surprise, while remaining intoxicating at every turn. You couldn’t ask for more. One of our favorite records of 2019. This is Ahti coming into her own as a truly singular and visionary voice in the field of experimental electronic music. Grab a copy fast. It’s sure to be gone in a blink. We’re already waiting anxiously to hear what comes next.