Esa Kotilainen - Ajatuslapsi

Esa Kotilainen

Released 1977 on Love Records
Reviewed by aether, 03/09/2012ce

Esa Kotilainen – Ajataslapsi (1977, Love Records)

In his comprehensive collation of non-English progressive bands from Europe (excluding Germany) Scented Gardens of the Mind – Dag Erik Asbjornen describes Esa Kotilainen’s 1977 solo LP as having certain similarities to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

Although one can understand Asbjornen’s description (given the vibe 4 minutes or so in to the opening 17 minute “Unisalissa/In the Dream Hall”), one can’t help feeling this particular entry in the writer’s encyclopaedia is a little glib and over-simplified. I mean we all love The Floyd right? But if only the Floyd were this majestically minimal, this meditatively mystical and mesmerising – an illiterative description that perhaps get more to the pulsing, cosmic heart of Kotilainen’s muse on this glorious piece of late-seventies minimalist electronic music.

By 1977/78 the “Berlin School” of electronic cosmic space music had more or less turned into a parody of itself. Only a few exceptional musicians still had something interesting still with tools of electronic music(s), tools that had burned so brightly in the hands of the trailblazers just 4/5 years previous. Also, the impending merger of electronic music(s) with the nascent new-age philosophies was to make of the field an even more complicated endeavour for the electronic music fan as the eighties dawned.

Some exceptional artists - such as Bernard Sjazner (and his superb “Zed “project) and late-70s/early 80s Popol Vuh were managing somehow to develop the language and vocabulary of electronic music, seemingly re-vitalising it each time they engaged This often involved blending the music with non-western ethnic musical traditions and styles. Or, alternatively, cross-pollinating it with other media forms (Zed’s Dune project – its interesting that both Sjazner and Klaus Schulze would commit to musical interpretations of Frank Herbert’s mystical sci-fi story). Other electronic musicians of the period, such as Aldelbert Von Deyen, Peter Seiler and even Schulze and Tangerine Dream to some extent (the movement’s original trailblazers) were making music that was for the most part a pale imitation of their early-to-mid seventies creative peak. {Admittedly, by 88' even the great Florian Fricke was temporarily losing his mojo)

Over in Finland, though Esa Kotilainen (as this debut LP eloquently displays) seemed to have taken all this in by the Summer of 1976. He had been performing a busy, if not, one assumes, entirely artistically fulfilling, role as that country’s resident Rick Wakeman-in-waiting. Performing numerous keyboard styles with Finnish progressive rock acts including Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidenti (a band that were themselves no slouches and infinitely more interesting than a lot of English “1st tier” prog bands), Kotilainen was given the chance to produce his own LP for Love Records. What were we to expect? An LP full of Jan Hammer and Billy Preston parodies or a bloated wakeman-flavoured concept record? Far from it, my friends! Far, far from it!

Thus Ajatuslapsi was birthed – a spinning, wheeling, crying, glowing, pulsating, throbbing, ebbing, flowing piece of electronic wonderment and awe. Without doubt one of the most interesting pieces of mid-to-late seventies minimalist electronic music I’ve ever heard.

“Unisalissa”/”In the Dream hall”

This is a 17-minute, 10-movement piece that is so heavenly it could easily be responsible for the formation of drone and trance worshipping cults the world over. Duel winding, descending/ascending Terry Riley-like, Yamaha organ lines slope into earshot, criss-crossing, mutating, merging, meandering, and impregnating each other with harmonic pollen, they’re like two strands of sonic D.N.A. performing a sort of cosmic dance of joy! As if sliding down some endless Escher staircase the effulgent tones wrap us in a kind of cosmic warmth. That is, until some stern-sounding church chords lead us out into the cold Finnish night sky, the organ retaining a minor chord as hugely reverb-ed and affected Moog notes, are slopped out onto the track like dollops of glistening space cement.

Esa is obviously referencing Rick Wright (of Shine On 6-9) playing these notes, but it sounds like a Rick who’s developed a serious Laudanum habit. After this a brief tread around the Berlin school of the late-seventies is in order as a pummelling arpeggio forms slowly in the mix, gaseous Klaus Schulze Solina strings weaving in and out of their minor chord framework, as sonic helicopters with VCS3 on the side whoosh past occasionally.

It's an obvious nod to some of Kotilainen’s musical influences but it never outstays its welcome (we are only nine minutes in) and its from hereon in – when he drops the more overt and mainstream sign-posting - that Kotilainen’s muse achieves true artistic transcendence. A dripping Golem-era Sand VCS3 drips honey all over the fading synth march, and the most langorous rubbery synth bass wanders in to the track as if lost! It’s early Harmonia, a late night stroll of a tune as whistling synths gently caress the tentative bass – Kotilainen’s tune-smithery is still in attendance though – even in the minimalist milieu his tune (& his listeners) have just wandered into. Gradually rising synthesiser pulses take us into Eastern territory as a wailing, pitch-bending warbling keyboard affects the sound of a busker in some Morrocan or Delhi bazaar – like Zuckerzeit-era Cluster covering Ravi Shankar! It’s that good! And it trances out in this manner for minutes on end.

Kotilainen saves the real surprise and, for me, the best moment, till the end of this seventeen minute masterpiece of atmosphere and sonic tapestry weaving. As if to make his Finnish folk bones, the track fades from this electronic raga, into meditative drones and whispering wave-forms. Momentarily, a far away (barely heard) flute and a louder accordion sing and a stringed instrument of some ancient origin briefly sings, like a bird released, a very Popol Vuh-ian/Deuter-like kind of European volk-lament. Its an amazing 17 minutes of music and, as if finding his stride, Kotilainen retains and compounds this awe-inducing minimalist folk-tronic abstraction for the rest of this glorious LP.

“Avarta Nakemys”

This track begins in full of Cluster & Eno mode (although, impressively, this is recorded during Summer 76’). 12 minutes of Zen soundscaping! A heart beat, stuttering, 8-note bass synthesiser maintains a rhythm as birdsong and hot, but tender, caresses of extremely minimalist Rhodes piano gives the track a very crepuscular, humid, sonic tension. Bright molten glass-like chords are daubed across the track, as fizzing, shooting star electronics and a wheezing white noise sound makes as if our aural stroll has now adjourned briefly by a gushing river.

Everything comes to a head, as if sucked into another dimension, only for the birdsong to begin again, but this time tense strings have appeared and, like some threatening gaseous cloud, they approach the listener before engulfing them completelya nd rather disconcertingly. Clambering out of this sonic whirlwind, we our now floating on an eternal ever-lasting mono-chord, a pool of synthesiser string sounds that is disturbed from time to time by Kotilainen throwing great pebbles of ring-modulated notes that flitter and echo like rings rippling ever outward. The laid back, strangely alien, sonic environment is disturbed by the odd whoosh of a spaceship or the far off call of electronic wildlife. It really is a strangely alien soundscape. It reminds me of the feverishly alien landscapes created by David Lindsay, Ray Bradbury or Clark Ashton Smith. It would perfectly soundtrack some natural history documentary about such ‘worlds.’ Its nearest stylistic partner would be Cluster’s monumental 70-minute opus, “Muse Hall” from their Live in Japan 1996 CD, or maybe Ralph Lundsten's Stromkarlen (1973).


If “Avarta Nakemys” lounged by a lake on some Arcturian idyll, then “Illmasa” sets us out into the cosmic ocean of space itself. This is pictorially inscribed upon our conscious and sub-conscious minds by the cover art of Ajauslapsi as well – a great Damascian white heat haze, the earth centrally placed inside it, floats atop six other mandalas, whilst planets and pyramids float in the cosmic seas in the background. Afloat amidst celestial seas made up of waves of Yamaha organ, an octave-shifting search light fans the horizon as it bobs mysteriously up and down. Again the minimalist restraint of this track is literally monk-like. Rays of mysterious sound light dance upon the bed of organ, a rather creepy atmosphere pervades as glassy synthesisers crawl up your spine in THE most meditative manner. Of course, it all ends by slowly, prayerfully, submitting to the most beautiful sound of all…. Silence.

Anybody with a mind, body and soul should love this LP.

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