Merja Soria,
Arctic Silence
(self-produced, 2001)

Apart from the sauna and mobile phones, Finland has also given us Merja Soria. On her CD Arctic Silence, this 12-year resident of the United States, who teaches ancient Finnish music in San Diego, presents us with an impression of her homeland's musical legacy.

Within Europe, Finland is considered a somewhat unique country. Although geographically part of Scandinavia, the people inhabiting this vast expanse of woods and tundra have an ethnic heritage of their own. The Finnish language for example is not related to any of the other European language families. Instead, Finnish -- together with Hungarian and Estonian -- is part of the Finno-Ugric language group, the origins of which can be traced back all the way to Siberia. Since their arrival in Europe the Finnish people have made their own contributions to the continent's culture legacy, like the epic saga Kalevala and the music of composer Jean Sibelius.

On Arctic Silence Soria delves into Finland's heirloom of folk music. As a graduate with an advanced degree from Helsinki's prestigious Sibelius Academy for Music, she is well-positioned to do so. The album contains 15 songs and instrumental interpretations performed by Soria together with an array of instrumentalists and background singers. Apart from the vocals, she also plays the kantele, or Finnish folk harp. The track "Tutskovi" gives an excellent sample of this instrument's delicate sound. In the other purely instrumental number "Maaherran Polska," Soria's strumming is slightly more robust. But both tunes have a particular resonance that, for some reason, conjures up associations of angels; "heavenly" might be a good way to describe it.

Of the vocal numbers, I particularly like "Jos Mun Tuttuni Tulisi (The One I Know Came Now)" and "KylŠ Vuotti Uutta Kuuta (The New Moon)." The complex rhythm and peculiar pitch of the kantele accompaniment on the latter track creates an almost oriental atmosphere. "Likka Istu KivellŠ" and "Alalaarian Alalammi" are two songs that are primarily carried by their cadence, the effect of which is further enforced by the duet-like vocal performance. Building on the same principle are the numbers on which the voice is used as an instrument, vocalizing sounds without using words. In traditional Finnish music it was often used for performing dance music. With the album's opening number "Duui Didl" and the track "Rallatus," Soria gives us an impression of what this music sounds like.

Delicacy and simplicity are the key words that come to mind when listening to this CD. Arctic Silence conjures images of sunlight reflected in frozen lakes, bright birch forests, snow, crispy-cold winter air and Fins huddling together in log cabins singing these century-old songs.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 15 March 2003

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