Posted by .

Claes Andersson, Kalevi Seilonen, Erkki Kurenniemi, Otto Donner: Sähkö-shokki-ilta

Ektro Records has been proving itself to cater to quite a wide range of styles under the Punk and Metal genres. However, I recently was sent an intriguing promo for review titled Sähkö-shokki-ilta, which translates to “Electro-Shock-Evening.” Really enjoying what the label has put out so far, I threw this on and immediately asked myself one simple question: “What in the hell am I listening to?”

No, this isn’t an albyum of music in any way, but rather a piece of recently unearthed history out of Finland. Sähkö-shokki-ilta is a piece of archived audio from 1968 that Ektro Records had dug up of a performance from four artists who came together for a poetry-meets-electronics performance. But, there is a great deal more to it than just that, as the press release goes on to describe:

The Finnish artist Eino Ruutsalo had a show called Valo ja liike (”Light and Movement”) at Amos Anderson Museum in Helsinki 7–14 February 1968. As part of his show, Ruutsalo arranged an evening of performances at the Museum, including electronic music, ”machine poems”, light shows and screenings of Ruutsalo’s own experimental short films. The main attraction of this evening on February 9, 1968, called Sähkö-shokki-ilta was the integrated synthesizer designed and built by Erkki Kurenniemi for the Department of Musicology at the University of Helsinki. It was called ”Sähkö-ääni-kone” (”Electric Sound Machine”) and used for ”modulating” poetry reading in real-time. Composer/musician Otto Donner ”conducted” the evening.

What we have here is actually a tape-delay used to rehearse for the show. Sadly, no actual audio recording of the final performance exists, but was described years later by Eino Ruutsalo as ”The sentences of spoken poems are torn apart, the rhythm of the words is altered, the spoken word vanishes into the silence. The machine offers the reader different kind of echoes, the pitch varies. By using these modulations, the source material of the machine poems can be mumblings, babblings, screams, sounds – as well as words.” And if that doesn’t peak your interest, then you clearly never a painting instructor outside of school when you were a kid.

Sadly, this entire effort is in Swedish and Finnish, and since I have no transcript, I can’t translate a lot of what is being said, taking away some of the impact of the words themselves. But the real allure here is how the sounds seem to coincide with how the words are being performed. The perfect example is track “10” with the slight tone in the background and glimmers of electronics like twinkling stars against hushed spoken words that continues to create the somewhat astral atmosphere. “16” actually ends up a bit soothing in a creepy way with the whispered words and slight echo, being distorted with some additional voices that seem to make up the start of some kind of distorted reality. Sadly, both of these, and many others, probably wound up being largely different than anything you or I could infer from this recording alone.

It’s also interesting to see what noises come about from the electronics by doing simple things like smacking lips together to cause a loud echo, the sound of chewing, or mocking a babies cry. The end of track “18” even features rhythmic blowing into the microphone, and a deep inhale after each time to close that segment out. One listen to this historical recording is like some kind of weird acid-trip nerds from the sixties or seventies might take thanks to some of those effects and the many .midi file noises, some of which you could easily compare to sounds that would appear on early Atari titles like Pitfall and Space Invaders. For a gamer, it definitely can alter the way you perceive the noises in earlier games like that, a side effect for today that stems from what the genuine intent of this show was meant to do. But, no surprise here, some of these sounds can get really annoying very fast, but thankfully are kept to a minimum.

Of course, if you don’t speak Swedish or Finnish, sometimes you can’t tell if you’re hearing spoken word poetry, if it’s simple background stage directions being given, or if they’re just screwing around with the electronics and saying random gibberish to see what it sounds like all contorted. Admittedly, it doesn’t seem like the latter is really what’s going on, though sometimes, like on “04,” you really will question if it’s a serious poem or someone doing what anyone with voice distorting technology would do just to be an ass, such as myself. There’s also some spots that just end up being chunks of silence, like during many spots of “07”.

The best part about Sähkö-shokki-ilta is that it’s the perfect album to throw on around those who don’t know what it is, allowing you the given right to become a sophisticated, cultured snob. But, such an impractical use aside, this is a genuine piece of world history here, and it’s really intriguing to listen to. Hopefully the pressed version of Sähkö-shokki-ilta comes with the poetry so you can follow it, or even translate it to your language if you don’t speak Swedish or Finnish.

This is an early experimentation of word and sound by a group of artists that tried to do something new and influential for its time. While it’s not quite clear to me if there was much of an impact from the show, it’s an honour to get to hear something I wasn’t born to witness, and that’s rare in this day and age. If you’re interested in hearing or seeing rare, lost, and recently discovered footage or audio of events that were significant or otherwise, even if you’re just a fan of art, or interested in going into sound engineering and may find such a show intriguing to your passion, I cannot express enough how intriguing this piece of history truly will be for you.

Sadly, if you’re of the majority of humanity: It’s art, by default it sucks. Just go throw in some Beavis & Butt-Head and break out the Doritos, you savages…

Digital review material provided by Ektro Records.