Olli Aarni

October 2, 2018

Olli Aarni

“Looking straight at the sun on a bright winter day”

Finnish artist and musician Olli Aarni made two great records again: the noise album Loputon and the feedback record Kehä.
When I listen to Loputon I have no clue most of the time what I’m listening to; could be electronic music, could be tape music, could be sound manipulation, could be field recordings, could be anything.
It’s basically all of the things you mentioned. The A side is created with mixer feedback with a sort of generative patching going on. What I tried to create is a cheaply executed audio illusion, a pointillistic Risset tone in which the little blips and blops seem to go indefinitely upwards – the name of the record translates as Endless. It’s processed with different tape players afterwards. The B side contains field recordings, manipulated found sounds and feedback based stuff. Everything was recorded to cassette tapes so I think the term tape music applies to the record very well!
I wanted to create a sort of crisp bubbly soundscape inspired by autumnal forest floor and all the little creatures in the moist soil. The technical side is a bit random, I just used a bunch of different techniques to approach the image I had in mind. Some of the recordings were even made in a forest in Southern Finland.
Do you see Loputon as a noise record?
Yes, it’s definitely inspired by that tradition. I’ve been working on a more straight-forward noise record for a long while so I guess I see this one as my easy-going noise record. The A side is purely synthetic, but the B side has hints of musique concrète as well.

I remember talking to Aaron Dilloway after a gig. I said: “It’s funny: you played two 18 minutes long tracks, perfect to cut as an LP”. He answered that he developed this kind of 18 minutes concentration span, that every improvisation he does seems to have this length: 15 to 18 minutes. Is this something that sounds recognizable to you? 
Yes it does, even though I never thought of it that way. It definitely makes sense.
Your music reminds me of Kevin Drumm, Lasse Marhaug, Aaron Dilloway.
I’m not surprised to hear the influence comes though, I’m a fan of all the three of them. 
Can you tell me, in your own words, what am I listening to when I listen to the Kehä album? 
Long sustained tones created with mixer feedback, layered multiple times on the top of each other sped up and slowed down according to whole number ratios to create harmonic content. There are dozens of layers of sound on top of each other, and the same features are present in the micro and macro levels of the piece, so to speak. The tremoloish ringing of the high register is duplicated in the low register as slower pulsing, but these things don’t often occur at the same time.

Basically the difference between the sides is that the B side employs one filter pedal that the A side doesn’t have. With this approach a gesture that simple makes quite a lot of difference.
I created the sound material using only mixer feedback, some people call it the no-input mixer technique. After that tuned and layered them to create harmonies and then fed the whole sound mass back to the original signal chain. I did this multiple times. The sound signal is created with feedback and a lot of the processing is done with feedback as well. The processing of slowing things down and speeding them up was done with computer to get it as precise as possible.
Which tools did you use to create this kind of feedback? 
It’s two mixers and a bunch of pedals and effect devices. Nothing too fancy though, everything’s from the cheap end of things. I recorded some of it to cassette tapes and some of it to a digital recording device. The only processing I did with computer is speeding up and slowing down the tracks on Audacity.
What fascinates you about feedback? 
It creates complex sounds that cannot be achieved by any other means. I like its unpredictable nature and the huge range of things you can create with it. It is very hard to control and it takes a lot of time to find the exact thing you’re looking for, but it’s a lot of fun to just go with it and see where it takes you.

Another aspect of it is that feedback is a phenomenon that’s literally everywhere: in everyday experience there’s a thing called a vicious circle that’s based on feedback, it is a basic term in cybernetics, it is an important process of the climate change and according to the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, the sense of self or ‘I’ is based on feedback.

The feedback on this record is not harsh, it’s one of the quite kind, almost esoteric. 

I first had the idea of how I wanted the record to sound and then started thinking how to get there. I wanted to create a sound that resembles the feeling of looking straight at the sun on a bright winter day. A tranquil but slightly piercing feeling. It took a couple of years of slow paced trial and error to get there.
Do you have the impression that, when you play an instrument like a guitar or so, you are the player, you create something. But when you use feedback, that all the sounds are already there, in the machine, and what you do is more like opening a magic box, see what comes out and make choices, deciding which sounds you’re going to use (and which ones not)? 
I feel like with playing the guitar the things you play are more so already there, because the guitar is so popular and there’s a vast amount of cultural context surrounding it. And with most guitars you’re stuck with equal temperament and certain kinds of timbres. Feedback is by comparison way less explored territory, though as I listen to music made with feedback I’m sucking in influence like a sponge. I’m not so much concerned with the idea of creating something or trying to be original anyway. I think what I do is more like contributing to something that’s already there.
My favourite feedback records are Eliane Radigue’s ‘Feedback Works’, Fossils’ feedback series and Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’. Which ones are yours?
I’m a huge fan of Radigue. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Roland Kayn and Jaap Vink who both use feedback, but in different and way more complex ways than I’ve done on these two records. I also enjoy noise music that uses feedback, such as Incapacitants. 


– Joeri Bruyninckx
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