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Raoul Björkenheim/eCsTaSy: Doors of Perception

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Raoul Björkenheim /eCsTaSy: Doors of Perception
Photograph by Raoul Björkenheim
Both William Blake and Aldous Huxley – who famously borrowed the phrase “Doors of Perception” from the former’s 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and used it as a title of his iconic 1953 essay to describe the effects of his mescaline ‘trip’ – shared one important characteristic: a penchant for the visionary. In the profoundly spiritual poem the metaphor was used to represent Blake’s feelings about mankind’s limited perception of the reality around them. Aldous Huxley’s experience of the ‘trip’ ranged from the ‘purely aesthetic’ to ‘sacramental vision’. He also incorporates later reflections on the experience and its meaning for art and religion. Although Raoul Björkenheim makes no such claim anywhere to be the third person in this aesthetic triumvirate the music on this disc belies aesthetic as well as (musically, at least)sacramental visions.

Any semblance of profound metaphor must wait until track 7 (“Doors of Perception”) and later track 10 (“Ecstasy Dance”). But even before we get that far into the album, there are intimations of the visionary. Raoul Björkenheim has almost always suggested, through his voice on the guitar, that he is nothing if not a fearless musician – both as an instrumentalist as well as – and more importantly perhaps – a composing musician. As a guitarist, he is someone who thinks nothing of the deep dive into the instrument’s depths rummaging noisily through its armoury to find ways of depicting its sound of music; always defying the limits of what it can and ought to be. On this album, Doors of Perception he addresses this in the music right out of the gates on track 1 itself.

Throughout, we get a sense of the creation of a monumental, pulseless music made up of massive blocks of seemingly static, but subtly changing, textures whose component parts flow seamlessly in and out of one another. It begins with a great crashing chord covering several octaves played by guitar and picked up by saxophone, contrabass and drums to kick “Ides of March” to life heralding a spectacular event almost as enormous as that proverbially fateful day in Roman history alluded to by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. Not all allusions are literary, however, not – at least until the fateful track 7. But the impact of that explosive beginning carries on through “Answer It!”, “Buzz”, the demented outpourings, instrumental interventions in the wheezing harmonics of each.

“Jitterfug” and “Sunflower” – while not seeming out character with the rest of the songs (unless you go by title alone) – are, nevertheless, lighter in spirit. But the orchestral growl of the winds and the incessant drone of the guitar over everything including the rumbling contrabass and thrashing drums makes for a constant sense of development from darkness to light and back again as voices overlap one another each one more clamourous than the other until the coming of “Ecstasy Dance” with its enormous crescendos. This time the clusters of closely adjacent notes are built up to gradually overlapping layers.

At the end of the music one gets a sense of sculpted sound, but the combination of instrumental timbres is often radiantly beautiful, suggesting something bejewelled and glowing; ultimately totally and completely in keeping with the ‘purely aesthetic’ and ‘sacramental vision’ of Aldous Huxley and William Blake.

Track list – 1: Ides of March; 2: Answer It! 3: Buzz; 4: Surf Bird; 5: Elemental; 6: Talkin’ to Me?; 7: Doors of Perception; 8: Jitterfug; 9: Sunflower; 10: Ecstasy Dance

Personnel – Raoul Björkenheim /eCsTaSy is: Raoul Björkenheim: electric 6- and 12-string guitars; Pauli Lyytinen: bass, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, wood flute; Jori Huhtala: contrabass; Markku Ounaskari: drums and percussion

Released – 2017
Label – Cuneiform Records
Runtime – 44:30

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