Imagine my surprise when reading the Arts section of the NY Times and seeing this article on the Unsound Festival — and realizing the opening act at the Lincoln Center is none other than Finland's Sasu Ripatti, perhaps best known as Vladislav Delay. This is MAYJAH in the very essence of the word. Ripatti has never played in the States under his Vladislav Delay moniker — I believe he's played in NY before as Luomo but not otherwise. AND his style of abstract electronic music is quite possibly the warmest you will ever come across. I am completely serious with this statement. Throw out your notions of bumping 4x4 house and garbage-y trance, of shattered drum'n'bass and soothing, but heavily processed, ambient. Turn toward abstract and you get Autechre, whose music is so tantalizingly layered and alien that it comes off organic, breathing, but the 'warm' moments are few and far between. No, with Ripatti, in both his Vladislav Delay and Luomo forms, produces a very warm, albeit abstract, form of electronic music. His tracks, especially the ones that have the duration to move around and grow, really feel alive. It's funny that the other electronic act that draws such a strong reaction from me is another Finnish duo, Pan Sonic, though their style couldn't sound more different. At least you can't call them 'warm': their spectrum veers swiftly from ferocious, white-hot beats to ice-bloody-cold stretches of buzzing ambience, like icebergs moving a nearly frozen sea. But whoever told you Pan Sonic sounds like refrigerators humming, they're lying: if fridges sounded even remotely this interesting, we'd all be paying more attention. But I digress.
There seem to be two major schools of thought w/ Ripatti fans: those who came in digging him as Vladislav Delay (and/or Uusitalo, whose debut 'live album' Vapaa Muurari is very Vladislav-ian) or as Luomo, and as he began releasing albums under both names around the same time I can kind of see why the diverging interest. Plus, Luomo, on surface level, is WAY more accessible, even w/ his first album 'Vocalcity', which defined the subgenre microhouse. Ripatti takes your basic house concepts — 4x4 beat, bassline, female (mostly) vocal, hi-hat, synth — and cuts 'em down to size, repeats 'em, revises here and there and then may add a dash of this or that ingredient, but w/ restraint. The opening track on 'Vocalcity', "Market", HAS vocals, but they don't begin until like 3+ minutes into the 12-min track, though when you hear the woman's croon you'll probably find it damn catchy, even after the wait. "The Right Wing", also on 'Vocalcity', is 16 minutes long. Remember, this is accessible Ripatti. Despite the repetition and lengthy tracks, all the elements are readily IDable and, courtesy of the driving 4x4 house beats on each track, varied though they may be, you can bob along to it, dance even. Luomo's second release, 'The Present Lover', while still abstract as far as run-of-the-mill dance music is concerned, is totally made for the clubs, w/ a heavier degree of soulful singing (the 1-2 punch of "Shelter" and "What Good" does it everytime). By the time 'Paper Tigers' came out (let alone '08's 'Convivial') I began to lose the script. Dope tunes, but a bit too macro for my tastes. Still hotter than most other danceable electronic music, but not my cup of tea (though no one can touch old-school Luomo, in pure microhouse-ness).
Which brings me to Vladislav Delay, and the other school of thought. Some Luomo adherents consider Delay albums to be beatless Luomo albums, which is absolutely stupid. You must understand these are two hemispheres of one man, Ripatti, it's not like he's removing one thing (the 4x4 beat, say) to create one persona, or vice versa. His Delay tunes stand on their own as explorations into the sonic atmosphere, like aural spelunking, which makes a bunch of sense if you've heard his tracks, the ever-present delay. His stuff (bass, reverb, hiss) is DEEP. Spacious. This is where the life-form thing comes in. Delay tracks vary in length, more-so than Luomo's usual 6- to 12-min runtime. Early Delay, like the 'Ele' album, has 15- to 30- min beasts, undulating exercises in abstract electronic. And their not totally beatless, either, just fractured beats. His 'Anima' album from 2001, which many people seem to speak of either reverently or w/ disdain, is an eponymously titled hour-long improv fest, where Ripatti took a theme and built on it, deconstructed it, repeated it, echoed it, added more. It's a beguiling experience, and perhaps due to the awesome length I feel as though I hear new things every time I listen to it. Which I grant you is impossible, the track is on album, it's not like Ripatti is there conjuring new routines, but it feels that way sometimes. His 'Demo(n) Tracks' album features both short and longer tracks (some only 3 min in length), and while they're built to bleed into one another, they neatly fit a concept/melody/rhythm into each and can then stand autonomously. I sense this even better w/ his 2004 EP release 'Demo(n) Cuts', five untitled tracks of groovy, skeptical beats created after several big Luomo albums. This neat little project is a brilliant all-in primer for the Delay newbie and a personal favorite. Listen to this and the following long-player 'Demo(n) Tracks' and you'll catch remix-like similarities, but the EP is a fully-realized standalone. Plus its 5th track, not featured on 'Demo(n) Tracks', is a wicked, emotive closer — with beats AND a discernible synth line! The latest Delay release, 'Tummaa', is heavy on Ripatti's jazz roots, and features contributions from long-time collaborator Craig Armstrong and Lucio Capece. It is a cool meditative (and at times unnerving) experience, like hearing Murcof's pairing of chilly programmed beats w/ live strings, only drenched in Ripatti's breathy reverb.
Ripatti's performance this Thursday, as Delay, is alongside Lillevan, the Berlin-based video artist. His KinoVida duet w/ Ripatti debuted at Skanu Mezc Festival in Riga, Latvia in May 2009 and if it is anything like Thursday's performance (which, granted, should be extremely free-form and improvy, as is the nature of both Ripatti and Lillevan), NYC is in for something totally special.