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“There’s absolute freedom here to do what you think is right,” explains Vladislav Delay, referring to his home on Hailuoto, a speck of an island off Finland’s northern coast, in the frigid Gulf of Bothnia. “There’s no scene to bother me,” he adds, “or to remind me of the mostly negative aspects of the music business.”
Delay has always been a maverick artist. But after relocating to Hailuoto in 2008, what he calls “absolute freedom” has become the de facto muse guiding his music. On 2009’s Tummaa, Delay cracked open ambient dub’s hermetically sealed aesthetic and ushered in elements of jazz-fusion, free improv and industrial noise. Tummaa is dark, restless and challenging. It’s also a stepping stone, one that leads directly to Vladislav Delay Quartet, the musician’s most radical statement to date.
Though this absolute freedom is inextricably linked to the relative isolation of his Finnish home, Delay’s latest record is very much a product of collective participation and multiple locales. In Derek Shirley, Lucio Capece and Mika Vainio, Delay has found three musicians more than willing to translate such a nonnegotiable concept into sound. A balance is reached between individuality and the demands of the unit. “This ensemble,” says Shirley, “functions as four individual and strong voices meeting together in the middle.”
Before dropping needle to wax, it’s tempting to frame VDQ as an extension of the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, which Delay also participates in. After all, each one is an electro-acoustic ensemble led by one of ambient dub’s most prominent architects. But as Delay is quick to point out, “MVOT is Moritz's thing. I bring my sounds and percussion into what he has in mind. With Quartet, it is much more what I like and want to create.”
Indeed, the album’s opening salvo — Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles — is a commanding declaration of independence. Layered with murky static, churning woodwinds and bowed bass, the music is visceral and unsettling. It also has nothing to do with ambient, dub or the myriad micro-genres they have spawned. This is noise — vital 21st-century electronic noise that cuts a sharp angle between Borbetomagus’ wicked maximalism and the wraith-like aggression coursing through black metal’s more drone-based manifestations.
That said, VDQ doesn’t deal in sonic aggression, exclusively. By the record’s midpoint, the formidable scope of their work reveals itself in full. “We cover various moods and atmospheres, from noise and hard stuff to ambient drone and a lot in between,” explains Delay. “I can't imagine having a solo album that goes all over the place, but with Quartet, it feels natural.”
Shirley concurs, adding, “Our combined musical influences are about as diverse as it gets.” Tracks five and six prove his point, seeming like oceans apart from the opener. Spotlighting Capece’s soaring, avian reed-work, Killing The Water Bed is a vaporous foray into avant-garde jazz; Presentiment is a deep liquid blues dripping suggestively from the celluloid of a long-forgotten sci-fi noir.
Vladislav Delay Quartet’s penultimate piece, Louhos (Finnish for ‘quarry’) is easily the record’s most brutal in terms of rhythm, volume and density. Recalling free jazz and heavy metal’s cacophonous flirtations in the late 1980s, the massive rock-beat anchoring the maelstrom swirling about it wouldn’t feel out of place on Last Exit’s Iron Path or even Ground Zero’s epic Consume Red. Eventually, clattering electronics, fuzz-spiked percussion and a scalding wash of reeds rise up. Obliterating all forward propulsion by track’s end, they leave a hazy cloud of reverb and feral cries in their wake.
Despite its sweaty, in-your-face primacy, Luohos is a highly refined product of Delay’s meticulous post-production work. Then again, so is the rest of the album. “This was the most difficult and challenging record I ever worked on,” admits Delay, who in recent years has found inspiration in producer Teo Macero’s innovative work on Miles Davis’ fusion material. “It remains somewhat raw and natural, even though there are tons of processing and mixing involved. It was also difficult, because everything was recorded live, with spilling between tracks and microphones. And Mika's stereo channel not only had his loops and sounds, but also the processing he was doing on my drums or Lucio’s horns.”
Recorded at the former Radio Yugoslavia studios in Belgrade, throughout one week last year, Vladislav Delay Quartet is an expansive and multifaceted listening experience. In Delay’s scrupulous production, the ensemble’s “raw and natural” interaction finds a deep coherence: the articulation of absolute freedom.
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|Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles.wav||WAV £1.00|
|Santa Teresa.wav||WAV £1.00|
|Des Abends.wav||WAV £1.00|
|Killing The Water Bed.wav||WAV £1.00|
|Salt Flat.wav||WAV £1.00|
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