In 2009 I visited Finland to research how Finnish composers had been influenced by Finnish traditional music. I met some very interesting musicians and composers, including Pekka Jalkanen. Jalkanen often composes for the kantele, a traditional Finnish instrument, something like a harp mixed with a Japanese koto. The instrument makes a really beautiful sound and it influenced the great Jean Sibelius, who even wrote a duet for violin and kantele.
Jalkanen composes music that lies somewhere between Arvo Part and traditional Finnish music, although he has a lot of influences from ancient music traditions around the world too. He has composed a wonderful Concerto for Kantele and String Orchestra, unfortunately I couldn't find it anywhere online. I have a CD of it which I got in Finland. I did find some of his kantele music at the concert below. The link starts at a haunting piece, 'Tähdet' .
Jalkenen is one of the most under-rated Finnish composers alive today. He told me his style of music took a long time to get accepted in Finland, as atonal modernism was the dominant style when he began working in this style and people mocked him for writing tonal and modal music. Since I met him it seems he has gained more acceptance as he was awarded the State music pension in 2013, the same award given to Sibelius many years ago.
I heard some of his other music at the Finnish Music Information Centre, including a great minimalist string quartet, but that does not seem to be available online either! Jalkanen is waiting to be discovered outside of Finland. He could be the next Arvo Part if some enterprising publisher or record company took the time to discover his music and release it to the wider world.
The video below shows another piece for the imaginative instrumentation of kantele, guitar and harpsichord which is a very original fusion of Finnish kantele, Japanese koto music, Baltic minimalism and baroque music!
Hypnotising and meditative in the very best sense.
This week a detour from classical composers and trad fiddlers into indie rock. Ordinarily I wouldn't post something from an indie band here, but my very recent discovery of the New Zealand band 'The Bats' has changed that, because they are a great, innovative band started in the '80's who aren't as well known as they should be.
The band's singer/songwriter Robert Scott, also plays bass in the influential band The Clean. Though the bands are from Christchurch they are associated with a scene called the 'Dunedin Sound'.
This developed in the late 70's/early 80's in the small college city of Dunedin right at the south of New Zealand's South Island. The scene was, in effect, created by the label Flying Nun, who released lots of records by bands associated with the scene. The label still exists and The Bats are still on the label, going strong 40 years later and still making great records!
It escapes me why I hadn't heard these bands until literally last week as it turns out they, and other Dunedin bands, were hugely influential on a lot of American bands in the '80's and '90's including R.E.M. and Pavement. They've also influenced more recent bands like Real Estate, The Strokes and Phoenix.
Listening to their early records now you can hear why. They took 60's influences from the Velvet Underground and The Byrds to create jangle pop and lo-fi rock sounds that are really distinctively from New Zealand.
The closest sound I can relate to these bands is the cult Australian band 'The Go-Betweens'. There's something commonly wide-open space, sunny yet nostalgic about their sounds. Below are some videos by the Bats including three 80's tunes and three more recent tracks. If you're familiar with modern bands like Real Estate you might see how the Bats sound and image influenced them. Also worth noting is the very moving video for 'Simpleton' set in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes.
If, when you listen to these tracks, you think they sound familiar, it's not because The Bats are copying anyone, this is their own sound that has traveled from 1980's New Zealand to influence countless bands, whether the bands know it or not!