The present and the absent

By 02/07/2019articles


Helsinki, early summer morning in 1952.

Firm working class hands hesitantly stroke the keys of a brand new piano. The instrument had arrived yesterday, straight from the factory. Dark lacquer, solid wood, excellent craftmanship. A big investment for the household, radiant with the vision of a house filled with music, culture and sonic presence; the promise of an aesthetic dimension integrating the everyday life, the promise of progress.

Those hands are now recycled into organic matter, in equal weight of water and solid particles. The sounds they played dissipated into heat within seconds from the last note. Although it is now impossible to recall the sounds, it is possible – by photographic magic short-circuiting space and time – to see what the eyes saw in those days.

Obviously, the light in the fifties had a more immaculate quality. Lighter, more aerial than today’s heavily toned luminosity. Or, is it my internal fogginess? Heavy thoughts projecting fictional density in the air? Does the photographic medium purify the perception, allowing to see the world’s light as it really is?


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


Anyhow. Those eyes saw emptiness, spatiality. Broad landscapes, post-war economic expansion, construction sites, compartments being built for human and animal use, readily waiting for their occupants. A promise of future filled with labor and life. They saw a potential of presence.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


Looking at the photos, I see the promise fulfilled. Within those empty spaces, the images retain all the activity, human endeavor, hopes and wishes, feelings, arguments and deceptions that took place there once. Images full of presence, despite the absence of human representation.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


Aave is Finnish for ghost, or phantom. A phantom is a quasi-presence, the tangible feeling of an absence.

The phantomic figure dilutes the dialectics of presence and absence. It is a presence of an absence– the felt sense of someone – or something – absent being present to our senses. Or, it is an absence made present; the lack and longing being so pregnant that the solid contours of reality become porous and let the absent manifest itself to us. It is a category in-between, an existence which does not give itself directly to our senses, but it is there without doubt – as a presence in our environment.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


The filaments of haunting bring into mind Tsai Ming-liang’s Et là-bas, quelle heure est-il ? An alchemical work of cinema transforming absence into tangible presence on the silver screen. Human existence is not here and now, in a defined time and place. It errs, floods and spreads simultaneously in multiple temporalities and spatialities; here, there, in times long gone, times of our own and times of others, and also times to be, imaginary times and places. As time inflates and becomes bi-fold, personality becomes transparent, objects cease to exist as defined points in space. Sounds dilate into a phantomic presence.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


The AAVE album intertwines compositions from two imaginary times: a series of piano works from an early summer morning in 1952, and a set of electronic pieces from a late October evening in 2022. Piano notes played seventy years ago by unknown hands set in motion electronic processes four years ahead.

The compositional process started when a 1952 Hellas upright piano entered my home, arduously carried by too strongmen sweating and swearing under the weight of the mammoth. I have an enduring distaste for keyboard instruments and the musical ideology they represent. Instruments are solidified musical thought, embodiments of a way of feeling and thinking sound. The piano, with its orderly sequence of well-tempered pitches, purified tone, mathematical symmetries and flat tonal topologies comes close to my idea of a musical hell. Systematic, too perfect, too rational.

Now, this time, with the Hellas 1952, things were different. From the first touch, this piano talked to me with a soulful voice. Every key had its own tone, warped, twangy, sometimes distorted, percussive. One could clearly hear the mechanics in action, the hammers hitting, the strings vibrating. With delight, I tucked two Schoeps microphones into the mammoth’s belly, right close to the hammers and mechanics, pressed REC and started to play.


© Museovirasto.


It was the time of homecoming – coming back to my native country after twenty emigrant years. The 1952 Hellas piano brought me sounds and imaginaries from within. My lineage, the voices, words and gestures of people who were here before me. In this very place, playing this very instrument. Who were they? What did they feel, think; play?

Playing conjured presence. The presence of clear, pulsating, warm tones that felt like home.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


The music of AAVE is full of ever-changing textures, and multi-layered. Luminous and spatial in the 1952 piano works, dark and focused in the 2022 electronics. AAVE is non-polished, sketch-like; a sculpture that retains the coarse beauty of its original materials.


Photo by Valtteri Lähdeoja.


AAVE is a new album by OTSO Lähdeoja, a Finnish composer-researcher working at the interface of electronic and acoustic music. AAVE is Otso’s third solo release, a novel affirmation of a highly personal sonic quest. No ready-made electronics here. The album is composed with personal recordings of a 1952 upright piano, custom-coded sound processing modules, field recordings and synthesizer patches.

The photos dialoguing with the album were shot by Valtteri Lähdeoja in central Finland, in the ancestral past; the interior photo with a piano comes from the Finnish Heritage Agency archive.

Otso Lähdeoja

Helsinki 29.06.2019