The term ‘electroacoustic’ unveils itself a lot these days, indicative of the way instrumental music is heading. Ambient atmosphere: check. Glitchy effects: check. Indie-folk structures: check. However, rather than a homogenised genre cluster, this sort of music stretches into boundless regions. Take note of Finland’s VIRTA. Electroacoustic artists, maybe, but more a cinematic jazz-warp trio that let the story and performance do the heavy lifting.
With a name roughly translating to electricity or energy, there’s a strong underlying current throughout VIRTA’s career. Initially a group of schoolmates honing their multi-instrumental talents (Antti Hevosmaa’s flugelhorn and trumpet; Erik Fräki’s percussion; Heikki Selamo’s bass, guitars and lap steels; their combined vocals, programming and electronic arts), their live setting is where their high-voltage chemistry bursts from sparkle to explosion. And that’s captured on record too, no less than on their third effort Horros. Despite meaning hibernation, and its creation in a humble cottage, its sound matches the concert hall that you could imagine the trio filling with luminous velocity.
Signed to Svart, the same label as avant-garde metallers and fellow countrymen Oranssi Pazuzu, there seems to be an infectious creativity in the water. Horros is filmic: an excursion into a blackened haze, then finding oneself comfortable in another place or timeline entirely, mapped by the sound of manipulated instruments, weighty layered vocals and metaphors of seasonal change. Immersing us into this world, the muted horns and warped echoed voices of Aelita feel uneasy and otherworldly. Its slow synth pulses rub up against jarring jazzy rhythms which have found themselves straightened out by the time of Tunneli, where a second half of guitar atmospherics and energised light drumming pulsates with purpose.
The trio’s wispy syrup-drenched vocals (which sound a little like HEALTH) ooze in between the instrumentals, sometimes harmonised together in a tasteful hum that adds another element of calm as the landscape opens up on Sola, horn solo included. Mood is at the thought-out forefront and dips into the cyberpunk imagery that served as inspirations, namely Ghost In The Shell and Metroid Prime; Millennium’s rain swells mimics the sodden South London ambience of Burial, even using like-minded vocal samples, while Fräki’s drums tinker and splash to coat the track in a mild downpour. By the time we reach May (Toukokuu), the watery city drains give way to slightly warmer climes. It almost carries the swing of neo-soul, adeptly showcasing the band’s jazz stylings, while Sininen’s eponymous sky-blue thinking is a part-time summer bop that clamours into a drumming rampage and ringing guitar solo. Karhu gives more glimpses into math-rock, eventually overflowing from a burgeoning build up that’s unfortunately short-lived.
Closer Aamu plays with every bit of the former soundscape in succession: heady bubbling atmospherics, galloping jazz cymbals and snares, big horn melodies and the full-band coming into focus. Getting lost in the murk and awakening in the morning, VIRTA had envisioned a journey and it’s one easy to get whisked along with. Featuring the jazz inflections of Moses Boyd, the noir fun of Cowboy BeBop, and overwhelming melancholy, it’s a successfully pieced-together work that makes electroacoustic an even tougher thing to pin down.
For fans of: Aiming For Enrike, Mopo, RinneRadio
‘Horros’ by VIRTA is released on 6th October on Svart Records.
Words by Elliot Burr