Animal Image is Verneri Pohjola’s third album with Edition Records, following on from Bullhorn (2015) and Pekka (2017 - reviewed here). In this outing Pohjola (trumpet, electronics) is joined again by Mika Kallio (drums and gongs), who also played on Pekka. Unlike the previous works however, Animal Image is a soundtrack album. The movie itself, The Image of an Animal, by Perttu Saksa, tells the story of nature-photographer and writer Heikki Williamo and his journey to the Northern wilderness of Finland, exploring Man’s ancient relationship with wildlife. With inspiration from film footage, Pohjola and Kallio created an improvised score and around this the final move was collaged.
While the album soundtrack is 37 minutes long, the short film is 28 minutes.
The opening piece, Where Do You Feel At Home, is a moody, spartan soundscape, Slow trumpet is accompanied by varied scattered timpani that brings to life the stark Finnish wild environment. An electronic drone develops, going through background to become foreground, representing in my mind at least, pervasive winds. You can hear a piece in this link to a film clip here, though the recording must have been adjusted because this exact clip is not apparent on the album. The Finnish voice-over (not present on the album) poetically describes the author’s feelings towards the natural environment he is intruding upon. “This landscape is foreign to me. Bare. Harsh. And unsafe”. The music embodies that perfectly.
Outside opens with plaintive trumpet sounding like foghorn across misty seas.
Pohjola’s playing has a very organic feel to it, twisted by playing and augmented by mouth sounds and here I am minded to imagine some huge creature (moose? / bear?) wandering into view. I must see the whole film.
Foxplay is a much livelier, erratic piece opening with sharp piercing trumpet accompanied by energetic drumming. With the title to guide, I am imagining fox(es) gamboling in the snow.
Man opens with a menacing, monosyllabic drumbeat from outset, accompanied by slow breathy trumpet and a deep electronic background. Oddly I found this the most accessible track, as somehow the drumbeat held the rest in place. Slow, ponderous man-steps leading to downfall of nature, eventually fading to nothing.
Goshawk’s Dream is another erratic piece with lots of creative sounds from Pohjola’s mouthpiece and energy from Kallio’s drums. With the assistance of the title, I am imagining a goshawk’s aerial swoopings.
Animal Image is heavily reliant on gongs and chimes to set the mood.
When it latently appears, the trumpet sounds almost bowed, like a violin.
Initially sounding quite random, this piece gains coherence and almost orchestral structure as layers are built upon layers.
How to evaluate a film soundtrack in the absence of the film? In this instance it is not a set of musical tunes collected to provide an aural distraction but a deeply intertwined soundscape reflecting the stunning visual shots. I have seen no more of the film than the short clip on the link provided (though I am intrigued and now need to see the whole film). I do not have all the visual clues that go with the film and which inspired the musicians to write and perform, to decide how much to put in and how much to leave out. So any comments I make must be on how the album stands by itself as a musical experience in isolation from the film.
The credentials of the musicians are exemplary and this can be heard in the playing. The music itself is emotionally evocative and where we do have visual clues, the music is appropriately balanced to augment and not detract. However, my preference is for music that is well-structured. Man and Animal Image stand up as independent musical pieces. Where Do You Feel At Home was given visual clues by the clip. For me, Foxplay and Goshawk’s Dream come across as too random to hold up as audible-only pieces. Those who have more of an ear for freestyle may disagree.
Perhaps, once the film is seen, the album may recall memory of the whole experience.
Grae Shennan - March 2018