Thursday, April 16, 2020

Vladislav Delay - Multila

This 2000 album on Chain Reaction split the difference between dub techno and clicks n' cuts, to intoxicating effect.

It feels like Sasu Ripatti is revered in electronic music circles despite his best efforts. The Finnish artist has repeatedly expressed his distaste for the hype machine, even when his more accessible Luomo project teetered on the brink of crossover success in the early '00s. He views Vladislav Delay as his most stubbornly personal, unfiltered work, and it's been an amorphous entity since its first EP, 1997's The Kind Of Blue. The style of the project has shifted with each release, the only constant being a slipperiness that often made it tricky to grasp. This elusive quality found a perfect balance on Multila, where the knotted intricacy of systems music meshed with the wisened textures of dub to create vast, swirling pieces of grainy time-slippage without beginnings or endings.

When it was released in January of 2000, Multila reflected an interesting moment in techno-oriented electronic music. Chain Reaction and its parent label, Basic Channel, had helped define the sound of dub techno in music from Substance, Vainqueur, Monolake and Porter Ricks. Ripatti appeared on Chain Reaction in the label's twilight years, releasing the Huone and Ranta 12-inches, which would subsequently be merged to make up Multila. The Chain Reaction sound was rooted in a kind of old world, elemental palette—rhythms and textures hewn from wood and stone, effects that billowed like untamable weather fronts. At the same time, a new vanguard was emerging that tested the possibilities in software-led production, specifically around the minimalist abstraction of the clicks n' cuts movement. There was fluidity between these trends. Acts like Oval, Kit Clayton and Pole were as indebted to dub aesthetics as they were to precise programming, but their neatly sculpted sound design felt much more futuristic than the original dub techno set.

Ripatti was more likely to be associated with the latter crowd. Some of his other projects, like the decidedly funky Luomo debut album Vocalcity and excellent <>Vapaa Muurari Live (released Uusitalo) were released on the key clicks n' cuts label Force Inc. Music Works. That same year, another key Vladislav Delay album, Entain., came out on Mille Plateaux, the label that coined the term "clicks n' cuts" in the first place. Given how long it took to get a handle on just one of Ripatti's gelatinous albums, fully grasping this many at once posed a considerable challenge.

"The Helsinki period," Ripatti once said in reference to Multila and its neighboring releases. "I have no clear memory of it, as there was lots of freewheeling in the studio—a period of power producing, where I wrote lots of music and didn't do anything else."

Multila has its fair share of pointillist crackle, but there are other atmospheric forces at work, too. There comes a point in "Pietola" when ASMR pockmarks merge with a lower frequency percolation. It's a sticky, tactile sound, one that feels more natural than the pristine digital veneer of so much left-field electronic music of its time.

The album is full of moments like this. The mid-range groove on "Viite" sounds not so much dusty as salt-eroded, like a coastal relic exposed to too much sun and sea air. The chords that linger in the background radiate a cosy familiarity, belying the sheer madness of the track's undertow. The sub bass seems completely untethered, arrhythmic even in isolation, making it the perfect vessel for the flotsam and jetsam Ripatti scatters on top. (This is not the only Chain Reaction release to inspire nautical imagery, though Porter Ricks were more explicit in their intentions.) It's this sense of arrhythmia that makes Multila so fascinating to sink into. There is some kind of funk at work, but it completely defies standard expectations of groove, as though amplifying and exaggerating the imperfect rhythms inherent in natural ecosystems.

Multila's crowning moment adheres to a more tangible structure. The 22-minute "Huone" is an audacious statement by any artist's standard. It grows from a smart, crooked slice of minimal techno into a head-spinning, polyrhythmic labyrinth overshadowed by a distant mechanical hum. In the comparatively sparse mid-section breakdown, the interlocking rhythms are wonderfully bewildering, until the kick modestly reenters the fray to guide the clamouring mesh of sound into its final half.

"The first things [I made] I really didn't know what I was doing," Ripatti once told Electronic Beats. "I wasn't in control. Sometimes it brings the best results, but I don't like this kind of accident."

His statement holds true. Multila has the loose characteristics of a series of experiments. It's a far cry from the scathing precision of his latest album, Rakka, where he stripped back his toolkit and tried to make something reflecting the violence in nature. Not everyone can gamble with sound and come up trumps, and the unsteady balance between masterful complexity and impulsive chaos is largely what defines Multila. This is music as a living, breathing force with the impression of self-determination beyond the exact control of its creator. It was here that the freewheeling experimentation of his "Helsinki period" brought the best results.

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