Johanna Elina Sulkunen ‘TERRA’ LP/CD (Tila) 5/5

Finnish vocalist, composer and producer, Johanna Elina Sulkunen creates evocative and innovative music with the intelligent use of voice, percussion, electronics and field recordings. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, she explores how the voice resonates with nature, asking the listener to ‘question our modern life and its often destructive relation to nature’.

“Terra” is the second in a trilogy of releases from her solo project Sonority. The first album “Koan” used field recordings from Japanese Buddhist temples. The resulting recordings are literally a breath of fresh air, Sulkunen bringing together disparate sounds and fragmented musical ideas to create a uniquely fascinating soundscape.

Sulkunen’s original plan was to record “Terra” in Iceland, using sounds from the surrounding landscapes as foundations for her new compositions. Covid19 and the lockdown that followed put paid to her travel plans, and so this release is based on imagined scenery, with the composer masterfully combining voices, sounds and musical textures to create a thrilling ambient opus for the natural world.

“Just two weeks before my trip,” Sulkunen explains, “the lockdown hit, causing a chain of changes of plans. But since improvising is part of life and my music, who knows, maybe it was a ‘meant to be’ situation for this music to become and end the way it ended up to be. It has, in any case, been a transformative journey.” And indeed, the word transformative appears to be extremely apt as I listen to Sulkunen’s compelling soundscapes that wash through my mind and body; questioning, jarring, searching, soothing, and intrinsically healing.

Reflecting on the state of the world and on humanity’s poor relationship with the earth, Sulkunen expands her delicate fragments into occasional lyrics. To further her vision, the composer uses string quartet, brass and drums, resulting in beautiful, decadent and enthralling moments in time that hold the listener, then let go, breathlessly creating gorgeous layers of atmosphere that eloquently delight and surprise, time and time again.

Although highly original and astonishingly innovative, there’s also a quietly classical sense of respect and reverence to Sulkunen’s ambient masterpiece. I can touch and feel the echoes of nature’s elements re-emerging from a long distant past, living and breathing peacefully within the composer’s borderless music. Visceral and magnificently visual, the earth laments. There is a precipice we stand upon, the land and the sea calling to us in foreboding fashion. And yet, within this music, there is endless wonder and understanding that ultimately feels like hope could well be on the other side of desolation if we can only find our way there.

“The bird, caged this many years, today soars, turning clouds upon its wings.”

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Mike Gates