Hannu Karjalainen – LUXE | Karaoke Kalk 124
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Karaoke Kalk 124
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Four years after the release of his debut album under his given name, »A Handful of Dust Is a Desert«, on Karaoke Kalk, Hannu Karjalainen returns to the German label with the audio-visual work »LUXE«. Following up on two more LPs, the last of which was released through the Helsinki-based Signature Dark in early 2021, the album sees the award-winning visual artist, filmmaker, photographer and composer explore the emotional qualities of ambient music. While most ambient these days is being used as a purely functional background sound that supposedly helps consumers with their work or relaxation—»a sleeping pill designed to maintain the status quo«, as the artist himself puts it—»LUXE« is anything but and instead highlights the stylistic richness of ambient music while offering an adventurous journey through radically different sounds and emotional states.
»I wanted the music to reflect all kinds of feelings without constraint, from dreams to nightmares, from dread and despair to hope« says Karjalainen. The main question that informed this album and the accompanying videos produced by the artist himself was whether being able to make art in times when the world is quite literally burning must be understood as a luxury or rather a necessity that helps humans to reflect upon the slowly unfolding catastrophes around them. The Finnish sound artist underlines however that his motivation was not to answer this question, but that he instead views the album and the corresponding visual content as »a long question mark«, a piece of art that serves »as an invitation to further ponder on our relationship with nature and the delusion of infinite economic growth through sometimes surreal scenes and visual experimentation«.
Born out of a series of nightly improvisations, the seven tracks on »LUXE« can accordingly feel overwhelming. Already the opener »A Hidden Star« feels both cavernous and cosmic, combining distant vocals with roaring drones. Even the decidedly friendlier tracks such as »Fish in the Afternoon« and the ethereal »Silkworms« possess an eerie quality that hardly ever becomes tangible—something seems amiss throughout the first tracks of the record. And even if the second half opens with lush, bright synth notes, it doesn’t take long for »Industry Standard« to serve as a distorting mirror whose layers and layers of noise reflect back the absurdity of the processes of accumulation that shape our societies. Also the soothing sounds that dominate the title track »LUXE« for its first half soon give way to more abrasive tones, which however can barely prepare the listener for the explosion of jittery rhythms on »Rutistus«.
After this unexpected outburst of energy, »LUXE« closes with »x7«, a track that works with manipulated field recordings and sombre drones, calling to mind Thomas Köner’s most frosty work. It is a conciliatory ending of sorts that evokes a sense of calm, though the album as a whole has made it abundantly clear that any sense of security offered by music is by default a false one. »LUXE« is an affecting work of art, immensely effective at making its audience question what they have just heard. It seeks not to provide a soundtrack for relaxation and stimulation, but to foster active emotional and intellectual engagement with the world beyond the sounds and images it comprises.