“I imagine that as contemporary music goes on changing in the way that I’m changing it what will be done is to more and more completely liberate sounds from abstract ideas about them and more and more exactly to let them be physically uniquely themselves. This means for me: knowing more and more not what I think a sound is but what it actually is in all of its acoustical details and then letting this sound exist, itself, changing in a changing sonorous environment.”
~John Cage, 1952
Kemialliset Ystävät, a Finnish music collective, has been quietly releasing one exploratory masterpiece after another since 1995. Their name translates to Chemical Friends. Apt, as their music evokes not only the ancient folklore of the dark Finnish forest, but also the kind of alchemical coniunctio we might feel emanating from the dank quarters of John Dee – the sounds oozing from the penumbral region between science and magic.
When we think of the concept of music, most of us tend to believe that it is the artist’s role to collect, organize, unify, and hence, make sense of sound (an idea which opens up a whole can of worms around philosophizing a musical ontology – too many worms for now…). Increasingly in music of the late 20th century and the roiling creativity of the 21st, the listener finds him or herself in a far more active position. As sounds from the environment are stirred into a steaming admixture of synthetic tone, acoustic instrumentation, haunted voices of the disembodied choir, and the blips, squeaks, and pops of the ubiquitous electronic landscape, we find ourselves immersed in a formless stew – dreamlike and translucent – from which we somehow extract meaning.
Alchemy became known as a spagyric art, meaning to separate and join together. At its most dignified it was a spiritual quest for purifying the soul. Kemialliset Ystävät challenge us to enfold all of our experience of the sonic world within our definition of music; they challenge us to mythologize and co-create a world of meaning from the seemingly disparate aspects of our sensory awareness. We live in a time that exalts above all else rationality. This music (and perhaps music in general) encourages us to re-engage with the mystical, all too human, capacity to unify. Kemialliset Ystävät is not going to give easy answers, but herein lies their ultimate generosity – their gift to you is your own creativity.
Listen to them at Fonal Records or their own website: