Photography KAITLYN HAMILTON
“There’s less imagination in people’s daily lives now,” says Joni Judén, when discussing his new Celestial Trax album. “We need education of imagination.”
Serpent Power is a perfect starting point. While it could be easily classified as a move towards making ambient music—a logical extension of 2017’s existential Nothing Is Real LP—there’s more at play here than heady wallpaper motifs. In a lot of ways, its 10 fluid tracks are more of an art project than a proper record.
“I was drawn to the DNA of sound,” explains Judén, “and how frequencies and textures interplay with each other, not to a preconceived model or style. I wanted this record to present itself more like paint on canvas, rather than an overly edited digital image. The organic medium was very important to me during the creative process, as was the raw emotive expression I find in abstract expressionist painting and in surreal art.”
In the following exclusive, the Finnish producer brings his entire tape into focus with a complete track-by-track commentary. And if you’d like a closer look at Judén’s personal record collection, he also wrote up his favorite Popol Vuh album on our new ambient site self | centered….
The energy that made Serpent Power happen doesn’t really have a beginning or an end, but you must start from somewhere. This track is like opening a door to another world and peeking in. It’s ultimately just a peek though—a palate/aura cleanser. I like to do things slow these days, so this is a slow (and brief) introduction.
This is where the album starts to open up and reveal itself to the listener a little more. It’s a multi-colored world, where bursts of white noise shoot through the air like jet streams; weird creatures dancing in a pool of light. To paraphrase Edward Gorey: “There’s another world—and it’s in this one.” I wanted all the individual sounds on Serpent Power to have distinct personalities that the listener can imagine as incarnate beings. One of the reoccurring characters on the album is the piano, which makes its first appearance here.
Serpent Power is probably the most colorful thing I’ve done. The expressiveness of the music was inspired by the neo-expressionists, the surrealists, and some American abstract expressionists.
“SINKING THROUGH A SURFACE”
My friend, the writer Geoff Mak, once said: “You’re free falling, and everything around you is free falling; you just have no way or perceiving that.” That was the inspiration for this track, which also works as a bridge further into the depths. I think a lot the music on this album has a quite floaty, dreamlike quality to it.
I am of course a huge advocate of non-screen culture. We’ve witnessed the shift from the big screen to television to a small parasitic device which now has its beam aimed directly at our brains and souls. This track is a good example of my interest in microtonality and micropolyphony. One of the key concepts on this album is moving away from equal temperament and the West’s obsession with intonation. These problematic concepts are directly linked with a binary, Right and Wrong mindset we suffer from, as well as the science-obsessed mathematical, linear thinking. BYE!
“WAY IN IS THE WAY OUT”
This track is built around another piano sample. It also features my voice, guitars and lots of noise from a spring reverb tank. There’s a lot of noise and hiss on this album, most of it from effect units and tapes. Noise doesn’t bother me; in fact, I celebrate surface and signal noise. The title is a very on the nose self-reflection reference. I think that if you’re able to sit alone in silence without your mind tormenting you, it means you’re doing something right. This is a goal everyday.
The sound gets a little more detailed for a moment here. “Suspended Midair” has a multi-layered arpeggiated synth line; some of it recorded onto cassette tape, some of it on a reel-to-reel. I then use a technique similar to Jon Hassell’s “counterpoint ambiance” and weave a web of layered textures, toying with levels of decay in some of the layers. This thinking was inspired by listening to a forest teeming with life, where everything seemed so chaotic yet so perfectly in harmony. This track has a darker palette of sounds but it was a real joy to make.
“Peace” is built around a motif from a flute sound I came across on an old cassette. I have an ever-expanding collection of cassette tapes and 1/4” reels which I always seem to accumulate from somewhere. I find them mainly in thrift stores and there are few good ones near where I live in Helsinki. I like to use what I sometimes call “tapeomancy”, which is basically a practice of divination using random tapes in a synchronistic way. It’s quite common with books and the tarot, but I think it works with most things really. I like old objects as they have a life and history of their own. This might be the most emotive track on the album but it’s still quite ambiguous in its disposition. I’ve always been drawn to music and art which embraces difficulty; not for its own sake of course, but as a sign of respect for its audience.
“Simple expression of a complex thought.”
“HEALING (GARDEN REDUX)”
We get a flashback to something that happened earlier on in the album. I wanted this little redux to again accent the non-linearity of the overall listening experience. If this album is to serve a utilitarian purpose, I hope it serves some kind of restorative and healing purpose. The very end of the track features a recording of a pair of swans that were flying across the sky over a lake last autumn. It was such a cool moment and a good reminder how the smallest things can have a big impact.
“He who kisses the joy as it flies lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”
“BLOSSOMS IN THE BLUE SKY”
Like I mentioned earlier, another overarching theme I had for Serpent Power was to consider sounds and recording techniques like painting. I like to improvise a lot and I don’t like to edit things too much once the sounds are recorded. There is something about the idea of unlimited editing or undo options that I find quite unnerving. There is perhaps more detail in this one than on most of the sounds on Serpent Power. I wanted to achieve a certain level of organic complexity and depth in the sound—not a hyper-realistic digitalized simulacrum. This one borrows its name from ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“IN THE END WE ASCEND”
A friend of mine described this song by saying it sounded as though time has slowed down. I’ve been thinking about time and temporality a lot lately and how everything has this weird permanence now—a data trail, a cloud of semiotic pollution following you around…. It’s all very creepy! This one features one of my homemade instruments, which is this bulky spring device with a contact mic. It’s ran through a tape machine, which I use as a tape echo here. A Big inspiration for the finale was that same birdcall I mentioned, echoing over a lake. I have some plans moving forward with artistic things. They involve shedding some skin and ascending in a way. We’ll see how all that goes.
“Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.”