Olli Aarni: Nielu

Ned Milligan: Nature Always Needs Improving

There's something extremely likable about these ambient-drone vinyl releases from Florabelle. In place of the cerebral chill that holds many a drone recording at arm's length, Olli Aarni's and Ned Milligan's invite the listener into their spaces with their personalized character and the humility of their home-spun presentation. Milligan's in particular draws the listener into its world by featuring recordings collected outdoors on porches or in yards and by including the natural sounds of resonant chimes and kalimba. The material often suggests what the experience would be like of sitting on a remote country porch in the peaceful early morning with one's eyes closed while attending to the real-time soundtrack emerging in the immediate surround. Adding to the releases' appeal is the fact that they're hardly faceless products of mass production: issued on Milligan's own label, both are small-run editions, his issued in a 100-copy run and Aarni's 150.

Its somewhat tongue-in-cheek title lifted from a phrase in a decades-old beauty ad, Milligan's Nature Always Needs Improving replicates the structure of his third album, Continental Burns, by backing short pieces with a side-length soundscape. The incorporation of untreated elements into the material suggests an appreciation on Milligan's part of nature's inherent beauty, the suggestion being that it's humanity in need of improvement, specifically in the blunders we've made in our treatment of the natural world, its species and resources.

The opening “Blush” blends singing bowl-like tinklings with dog barks to immediately establish a sense of real-world context; “The Sun Elides,” by comparison, inhabits a more ethereal space when identifiable sounds are replaced by the gentle whirr of electronic tones. The resonant chime tinklings return in “Rose Bench,” though this time accompanied by the loud sound of a relentless downpour, whereas the pluck of the kailmba is the central element in “Gypsy Moth,” the instrument's natural sonorities modified by treatments that see its plucks shadowed by fuzzy echo effects. The nineteen-minute “Sternal Sky” plays like an encapsulation of what's come before, as if Milligan set out to distill all five of the opening side's tracks into a single, long-form meditation. Peaceful in tone, the setting undergirds chimes, real-world rustlings, surface crackle, and softly shimmering shadings with warbling tones that emerge midway through, only becoming conspicuous around the seven-minute mark and blossoming and multiplying incrementally thereafter.

While creating the recording, Milligan subjected many sound elements to processing, such that while they largely retain their natural character, they're also subtly tinted by reverb and their presence magnified by overtones. Federico Durand and Chihei Hatakeyama are namechecked by Milligan in his description of the album's character, and even a single listen to Nature Always Needs Improving reveals identifiable parallels between their styles and Milligan's.

Of the two albums, Aarni's Nielu is the more animated and densely layered. Having previously issued material on labels such as Preservation and Cotton Goods, the Vantaa, Finland-based artist brings a good half-decade's worth of experience to his Florabelle debut. One English translation for the Finnish word nielu is vortex, which seems particularly apropos given the immersive swirl presented on the album's two side-long ambient-drones. But whereas vortex often carries with it connotations of violence and destruction, Nielu exudes a kind of ghostly calm—even when one feels wholly enveloped by its churning masses.

Inspired, so we're told, by the harsh weather conditions of Fennoscandia, both “Hehkuva tuuli” and “Sumuhuntu” include outdoors field recordings and deep, cavernous whorls of volcanic rumblings that, rather paradoxically, have the effect of more soothing than agitating the listener. That's especially true of the second side's “Sumuhuntu,” which Aarni pitches throughout its nineteen minutes at a subdued level, such that rain dribble and howling winds are clearly audible alongside the softly murmuring ambient washes that drift so peacefully alongside them. Rather than presenting abstract realms that can never be more than objects of contemplation, Nielu, similar to Milligan's release, establishes explicit connections to the natural world that makes the recording feel as if its sounds could be happening immediately outside one's front door. Serenity and turbulence aren't generally considered comfortable bedfellows, but they are here.

January 2018