Ka Baird & Pekka Airaksinen, "Hungry Shells"
Hungry Shells documents the meeting of two remarkable avant garde spirits. In 2018, Pekka Airaksinen presented Ka Baird with Buddhist parables that had been revealed to him in a mediative state. The result is a glorious recording, as the collaboration dissolves their individual states, their voices, flutes, and synths, into an organic harmonic discord.
In the history of both these artists are signs which led here. From 1967-70 Airaksinen composed as a member of infamous performance group The Sperm, who fell foul of Finnish obscenity laws. After devoting his 1970s to Buddhism, Airaksinen returned in the '80s with a system for translating the names of Buddhas into mathematical forms and then into musical compositions. Ka Baird, under her own name and as an integral part of Spires That In The Sunset Rise, always makes an intriguingly cathartic and genuinely skillful racket. Like a whirling dervish tramp emerging unscathed after an instinctive blindfold dash through a forest of rocks and bogs, she has incredibly never put a foot wrong. Baird's signpost is perhaps STITSR‚Äôs concept album Mirror Cave based on a blend of Italo Calvino‚Äôs (very) short story ‚ÄòSword of the Sun‚Äô and Shinkichi Takahashi‚Äôs After-Images: Zen Poems. The lyrics of "Hungry Shells" also bear a resemblance to elements in that Calvino story.
Araksinen has said "I think making art must be some form of madness." The album starts with "Big Stone Small Stone," a calm piece of spoken word floating amidst cascading piano notes and buzzes and bleeps which are frantic to the point of relaxation. "Syzygy" picks up the pace in a relentless flowing river of Baird‚Äôs singing, blip and boom percussive beats and synthesized flute. Should anyone be balking at the mention of flute, here is a‚Äîhopefully unnecessary‚Äîreminder that Florian Schneider‚Äôs flute powered some of Krafwerk‚Äôs finest recordings
Elsewhere the music resembles morse codesque throbs, occasional synthesized muted car horn blares, breath rhythms, a radio being tuned quickly across twelve stations, and metallic twanging the likes of which I have not heard since seeing the Gas Tank Orchestra perform live in New Orleans.¬†"Grey Body" has sound fragments perhaps not unlike an Arabic market, then swells with what seemed like the dwarf from Twin Peaks talking backwards, but reveals as Airaksinen revisiting Baird‚Äôs "big stone small stone" recital from the first track. It ends in a storm of creaking, swirling, synth gusts snorting like the breath of a demon‚Ä¶ before Airaksinen says the very Zen words "not very special."
The warbling, weaving "Roseclouds" is a blended voice duet with babbling synth-flute and chants such as "fragrance filled the earth" over popcorn beats. The peak track is "Variable Star," with a buzzing, quivering, intro and outro, bone-rattling percussion, and narcoleptic vocals. In a way this bleeds into the title track, which ends the record. Almost a mini concept album in itself, this longer piece plunges into darker fluid tones like a underwater organ played backwards as Baird narrates a poetic tale of transformation, with shells gobbling pearls, retreating undersea and suns melted together shining underwater; all reminding me of Hendrix fleeing a dying planet in a futuristic mini-sub during "1983 A Merman I Should Turn to Be."
Pekka Airaksinen passed away on May 6. The Wire magazine ran a great photograph of him which resembles the picture of Geronimo on Roy Harper‚Äôs Lifemask album.¬†For this review I spent time, like a demented peasant gathering crops before the storm, with the Spires That In The Sunset Rise back catalog. Their music is a startling combination of technique and belief, dark and weird clock stopping sounds, strangely healing time-reversing incantations, cathartic frenzy, breathless waves of heady operatic gibberish and wildly bent, looped, layered, and reversed flute, and should not be missed. I may just develop an unhealthy obsession and review all their albums in order.