Portals: Stories from Tokyo


It's a miracle, I remembered my sound recorder on my trip to Tokyo earlier this month. I was traveling alone, so I had no excuse not to put it to good use. No-one to ask for my time, or interrupt an 10-minute silence. I managed to take down a whole bunch of record stores on my trip and write about them here, yet still squeeze in a couple of days worth of field recordings. 

This latest Portals episode (six) is focused on the sound of Tokyo, Japan. My recent experience - to be exact - told through the stories of these field recordings in-and-around Tokyo. The below mix, takes on the exact same story and journey I took to gather these field recordings. In-between, I've added some of my favorite Japanese ambient music that helps extend the story from that day. 

After watching Japan exit the World Cup at 5am, I found myself on a deserted Shinjuku road (a rarity) and not wanting to return back to bed. Instead, I headed back to the hotel to grab my Zoom recorder, returning to Shinjuku station as the very first trains started to fire up. I then headed south through Yoyogi, walking to the Meiji Shrine. This is a beautiful park, set in the middle of Tokyo, a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and packed full of natural beauty. I walked around here for a few hours, and as the hoards of tourists began to appear, I made a quick exit, jumping on the train at the south of the park, at Harajuku. 

The next day, I headed out to Koenji, capturing more sounds on and around the trains, the small market area, and a very noisy Pachinko (slot machines), eventually ending up in Shibuya, roaming the streets and eating ramen. You should be able to hear all of this in the mix as the story progresses from Shinjuku to, Meiji, Harajuku, Koenji and Shibuya over the course of two days. 

Additionally, I thought why let these recordings go no further, so I've posted them up on the ASIP Bandcamp for everyone to enjoy. It's set at $1 so it adds to your collection when purchased, but feel free to email me if you'd like a Bandcamp download code. I'd happily allow you to use these recordings in mixes and productions too, just let me know - I'm interested to hear what you can create! Download Field Recordings (Bandcamp).

Enjoy this audio trip around Tokyo and the accompanying ambient music from Japanese musicians and Japan-inspired productions. 

Download Mix (MP3).

Episode 6 Tracklist:

01. ASIP - Shinjuku 6am
02. Ryuichi Sakamoto - 音盤 [Milan]
03. Ryuichi Sakamoto - 兄の亡霊 [Milan]
04. ASIP - Early Risers
05. Chihei Hatakeyama - The Distant Sound of a Bustle [Home Normal]
06. ASIP - Yoyogi commuter
07. Ametsub - Sun Of Madrid [Nothings66]
08. ASIP - The Gravel Path
09. Koss - Ancient Rain [Mule Electronic]
10. ASIP - Chōzuya
11. Hiroshi Yoshimura - Creek [Air Records]
12. ASIP - Meiji Before
13. Toshiro Masuda - Presence [Mushishi Soundtrack]
14. ASIP - Forest In A City
15. Susumu Yokota - Hagoromo [Leaf Label]
16. ASIP - Rise of the Cicadas
17. Toshiro Masuda - Mushi  [Mushishi Soundtrack]
18. Hiroshi Yoshimura - Green [Air Records]
19. ASIP - Rise of the Cicadas
20. ASIP - Interruption
21. Nobuto Suda - Nobody Levee [A Strangely Isolated Place]
22. ASIP - Selfies
23. Ian Hawgood - A Film  by Chihei Hatakeyama [Home Normal]
24. ASIP - Harajuku Station
25. ASIP - The Announcement
26. Biosphere - Fujiko [Touch]
27. ASIP - Trip to Koenji
28. Kaito - Travelled Between Souls [Kompakt]
29. ASIP - I Believe I Can Fly
30. Arc of Doves - Pluto [ANAY]
31. 仮想夢プラザ - あなたの目で [Virtual Dream Plaza]
32. ASIP - Presented Through The Curtain
33. ASIP - Goodbye Shibuya
34. Aus - Different Sky [Someone Good]
35. ASIP - The Walkthrough


Portals: The Bandcamp Ambient Compilation


Music platforms are consistently reinventing music listening and purchasing behavior. My experience with music discovery began with P2P sharing platforms such as Soulseek, evolving into the discovery-era of Pandora and Last.fm, and the playlist era of 8tracks, Spotify and Apple Music. But one platform reigns supreme when it comes to independent music discovery... Bandcamp.

This isn't a moment to talk about how great Bandcamp is. Instead, I wanted to focus on just one of the behaviors the platform has enabled, that isn't really possible anywhere else. The notion of like-minded individuals and labels coming together to create music compilations to purchase, and in many instances, for the benefit of a greater cause. Along with donating profits in aid of global movements, Bandcamp has inadvertently enabled an easy way to spread music for the greater good.

Sure, you can create playlists as compilations, but you risk seeing no profit (and it's streaming...). You can create physical releases, but then you have to overcome the barriers of production and distribution. Or, in the many instances we see, you can create a Bandcamp compilation, with high-quality downloads, fan feedback, added discovery mechanisms, and likely, a better return than anywhere else. This approach is a shining light in a world where the debate rages over the monopolization of playlists, underpaid artist royalties and, "The problem with Muzak". 

Whilst I'm sure this isn't a genre-specific behavior on Bandcamp it seems there's a good amount of compilations focused on ambient and electronic music. They're often established as reactions to political or natural disasters, self-sustained labels who solely operate to donate to charity, or they're quite simply, just an excuse to pull together a few like-minded friends and get some good music out into the world. 

Below I've pulled together a list of my favorite ambient/electronic compilations that aim to raise money for a cause through Bandcamp. As with all of the Portals features, the main objective is to help you discover even more great music, and this time you can do it knowing you're supporting something greater. Lastly, by a very rough count, you can spend less than $100 supporting the below 8 compilations and charities, and be 350+ tracks better off...

Disquiet Series [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (multiple)
Keith Kenniff is a brilliant ambient and classical musician in his own right, but for the Disquiet series of compilations (we're on #2 as of July 2017), he teams up with his wife, Hollie, to curate some of the most essential ambient, neoclassical and experimental music one can need. Ben Lukas Boysen, Eluvium, Julia Kent, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Windy & Carl, Hammock... the list goes on. 

This isn't Keith's first venture into compilations for good either, as his, For Nihon release in aid of the Japan Earthquake is one of the best ambient compilations of recent years, charity or not.  

Dronarivm - Illuminations [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (4 Paws For Ability)
Home to Olan Mill, Offthesky, Dag Rosenqvist, Segue, Pleq, Sven Laux and many more, the Dronarivm label is one of the most consistent outputs amongst the ambient genre, and with its now yearly Illuminations compilations, it's creating yet another reason to pay close attention to the busy roster of emerging musicians. After its 2017 edition, the 2018 release featured many of the labels own great artists alongside, Loscil, Ludvig Cimbrelius, Jacaszek and more, all available for a minimum 1-Euro payment. 

Memories Overlooked: A Tribute To The Caretaker [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (Alzheimers Association)
Leyland Kirby's infamous project, The Caretaker is currently in the midst of a special concept based on dementia.  His latest release, Everywhere at the end of time "is a new and finite series exploring dementia, its advance and its totality". As if these melancholic and introspective productions weren't enough, this charity compilation reimagines 100 of The Caretaker's works to fuel the generosity and further raise awareness of the disease.

"In proper fashion, this compilation was diagnosed with having early onset dementia, and is mixed and arranged in accordance with the advancement of the disease. Every passing hour, to quote Mr. Kirby in regards to his 'Everywhere At The End Of Time' series, "will reveal new points of progression, loss and disintegration".

Headphone Commute ...and darkness came [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (Hurricane Sandy)
87-tracks curated by one of the finest ambient, modern-classical and experimental blogs out there, means you know you're in for quality and quantity. A fine place to start or get lost in, with inclusions from the 'pop-stars' of the genre, Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds, alongside many other HC friends, favorites and talented artists that deserve your ears just as much as anyone else on the track list. 

Composure - Ambient Techno for Japan [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (Japan Earthquake)
This compilation started as a CD, but was then placed on Bandcamp to further aid its good cause, so it's still worth a mention based on how defining this compilation has become. It could be argued this compilation single-handedly opened up a world of ambient music lovers to a new breed of 'ambient techno' emerging from Japan's Mindgames camp, and similarly introduced a mellowed take on techno to the dance-floor savvy. It's the one place to start if you have any interest in the ambient and techno spectrum, featuring producers such as Donato Dozzy, Rod Modell (Deepchord), Donnacha Costello, Minilogue and many others.  

Touched Music (various) [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (Macmillan Cancer Relief)
Curated by Martin Boulton, this UK-based label is synonymous with not only a series of epic charity compilations, but the ability to present releases by many classic, favorite and sometimes forgotten electronic musicians such as Autechre, Plaid and Future Sound of London. Touched's latest compilation, Found Sound, features unreleased material from John Tejada, FSOL and Milieu to name just a few of my muses, and I'm pretty certain the collection of tracks on the anonymous Covert compilations feature even bigger names in the electronic genre, albeit incognito. 

Grenzwellen Eins [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: Radio Compilation
Curated by Ecki Stieg, host of Hannover Radio station show, "Grenzwellen", Ecki promotes a refined selection of electronic music and this recent compilation was created to raise money for the station upkeep. Ecki has pulled many of his favorite artists together for the cause, with the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Hecq, Hotel Neon, and Arovane, featuring alongside lesser-known artists for you to dig your discovery hungry teeth into. 

Lost In The Humming Air (Music inspired by Harold Budd) [Buy on Bandcamp]
Purpose: for charity (Unknown)
Ambient pioneer Harold Budd is reinterpreted by a new school of ambient producers, including bvdub, Biosphere, Loscil, Taylor Deupree and Deaf Center. Released in the 50th anniversary-year of Budd's career, the compilation was conceived and curated by Marsen Jules and Rafael Anton IrisarriBudd's works are legendary and this compilation does many of them justice. 


Portals: Music For Mindfulness


Mindfulness, is undoubtedly subjective and situational. But one thing I’ve noticed, is that most of the material you hear on this topic often has a stereotypical sound; normally new-age, and often yoga or meditation focused with buddhist chanting, or crashing waves. Sometimes, you might be lucky enough to find a sweet-spot with Brian Eno, and with it, you draw a sigh of relief. 

I've often wondered how (or why) hotels and spa's choose their music and how this 'background style' has become so mistakenly synonymous with ambient music. Ask anyone who isn't familiar with ambient music is and they’ll likely say "spa music" or "meditation/yoga stuff". No digs on that type of music, I mean some elements even find their way in here - it's the root to many ambient concepts, and I could sit and listen to the sound of the sea and waves crashing for years on end. But as with all of these Portals series, I try to find and explore a different perspective where possible. 

The goal of this feature and accompanying mix was to create a journey of escapism and comfort. Whereas the previous Portals feature, ‘Music For Sleeping’ could be deemed very similar, the approach here focused on keeping an attentive layer/s that ended up being more pure to Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music: “As ignorable as it is interesting”, which aligns very well with the definition of what it means to be mindful; "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”

There’s a lot of ambient music that fulfills this goal, so what’s different here? As I was curating tracks for this mix, I found common themes that resonated with me personally when it came to mindfulness, which I tried to reflect throughout, and ultimately formed a filter for what should be included. Perhaps you’ll identify with one or more and can descend into a rabbit-hole of exploration, or hopefully you'll enjoy it as a whole. 

Field recordings and the pure sound of the outdoors is undoubtedly calming and reassuring. It’s an escape from our busy lives, and a reminder of what’s good in our world. The mix opens with my favorite field recording from Biosphere that somehow encapsulates the exact sound I used to hear from the field behind my childhood house. Nature sounds are a common theme throughout this mix, whether on purpose or inadvertently as an intro or ending to certain tracks. 

The warm, blanket-like approach to ambient music is a favorite of mine, often created through analog equipment, or layers of undulating synthesizers that build, wrap and immerse. Markus Guentner, Donnacha Costello, Marcus Fischer, Heathered Pearls, bvdub, and Billow Observatory are just some of the many moments in here that keep you warm and comforted. 

Subtle/subliminal layers
The KLF’s ‘Chill-out’ album is one of ambient music’s most pioneering pieces, and on paper, it really shouldn’t be. The sound of trains, sheep and Elvis Presley are not the first ingredients that come to mind for relaxation, but the key here, is how they’re interwoven into a moving piece of musical art - an undercurrent of subtle moments that on their own would be distracting, but together form a story. They provide moments of interest and escapism - enough to keep one foot in the door, and one foot in a world of your own. I’ve tried to replicate this approach in this mix, by lowering volumes of certain tracks into the background, or including something a little unexpected in a few places, so if you see something you like in the track-list, don’t assume it will feature prominently. 

Choral sounds
Beautiful, emotional choir singing is pretty cliche, but who can argue against it when it comes to feeling good? Whether it’s the religious connotations, or just the simple realization that the sound you're hearing is coming from a person, is as stunning as it is comforting. Moments from Hammock and Jonsi & Alex provide the highs in this instance. 

String instruments
Whether it’s a slowly drawn cello, a harp, or a lone guitar pluck, there’s something about string instruments when it comes to reflecting positivity (and in the right context, ultimate sadness!) However, I often associate these sounds with light - I have no idea why - but perhaps thats why they feature in here so heavily. Be it the acoustic version of Aphex Twin’s ‘Rhubarb’, Mary Lattimore’s beautiful harp, or Kit’s portrayal of a walk on the beach as fireworks light the horizon. 

Strong-sounds can also go to the other end of the spectrum too, with reverb-laden guitar-haze forming complex palettes that you’d normally expect to come from synthesizers. Examples in here being Manual and to a simpler extent, Neozaïre. 

We’re creatures of habits, and the beat of the drum is what makes all music so special. When it comes to ambient music, this often comes to life in loops, or slowly evolving textures that do just enough to keep you intrigued, yet are familiar enough to hypnotize and make you feel comfortable. Given its minimal nature, most ambient music is repetitive, but sometimes it can become more evident in its form, for example, a track here Klimek that anticipates each evolution and movement with a similar instrumental pluck of strings. 

Overall, I have tried to avoid anything that can be seen as daunting, intriguing or so vividly different that you switch into new worlds with every track. You may notice some distinct phases throughout the mix, where similar sounds are tied together, and you may prefer certain phases to others, but eventually I hope you finish on an extremely positive note. Just sat here listening back and writing this, I’m feeling better than I was a few hours back...

Thanks to everyone who commented on the original Facebook post with their own suggestions, a few of which made it into the final journey. 


Tracklist + links to buy/download:

01. Biosphere - As The Sun Kissed The Horizon [Biophon]
02. Ourson - Mountain, Calm Day, Birds, Saw [Self]
03. Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Daniel Lanois - Deep Blue Day [EG / Polydor]
04. Parks - Forest [Self]
05. Kit - Girl Walking on The Beach Wearing A Skirt [A Strangely Isolated Place]
06. Sage Taylor - Raintime Ten [Cold Fiction Music]
07. Bjorn Rohde - Intentionally Gone [Self]
08. Billow Observatory - Calumet [Felte]
09. Hammock - Now And Not Yet [Hammock Music]
10. Heathered Pearls - Glass Routine [Self]
11. Donnacha Costello - This Way [Ursa/Self]
12. James Devane - Rhubarb (Acoustic) [na]
13. Aphex Twin - Rhubarb [Warp]
14. Marcus Fischer - Arctic 2 [Luxus-Arctica records International]
15. Helios - Halving The Compass [Type/Unseen]
16. Yeter - Dart 2 [A Strangely Isolated Place]
17. bvdub - 10 [Self]
18. Markus Guentner - Express Yourself [Kompakt]
19. Leyland Kirby - Polaroid [Ghostly]
20. Martin Glass - Welcome To The Four Seasons [Kit Records]
21. David Bowie & Brian Eno - Moss Garden [RCA]
22. Klimek - Sun Rise [Kompakt]
23. Mary Lattimore & Jefre Cantu Ledesma - Borrego Springs [Soap Library]
24. Brian Eno - Music For Airports 1/1 [Polydor]
25. Jonsi & Alex - Boy 1904 [XL/Parlophone]
26. Neozaïre - Blue Bell Treasure [Fauxpas]
27. Manual - Azure Vista [Darla]
28. Peter Broderick & Nils Frahm - Sketch 24 [Fugues]

If you enjoyed this, dive deeper into ambient music with our in-depth introduction 'Neither Scene Nor Heard: An Introduction to Ambient Music', or some of the other Portals series, below. 


Portals: Music For Sleeping


The easiest way to describe ambient music to somebody who isn't aware of it, is often to explain it as background music, or music that puts you to sleep. I find myself in that situation regularly, be it with taxi drivers asking about the show I'm heading off to ("so you don't dance - you just listen?!") family members asking about the music I put on the label, or pretty much anyone who only listens to nothing but pop music and think this stuff doesn't exist... However, when you explain it as "music for sleeping", it doesn't do the genre any justice whatsoever. Just take a look on Youtube, or Google "music for sleeping"; it's packed full of generic new-age type material that probably does the job for the many mums out there, but isn't a true reflection of some of the amazing coma-inducing music available. Let's open this world up a little more.

Music for sleeping doesn't necessarily mean music with the least obtrusive manner, or the most unnoticeable of noise. In my experience, you can probably fall asleep to any music you personally enjoy, feel comfort in, and can zone out to - be it full-on techno, subtle field recordings, ancient chanting or never-ending guitar loops. I think I've fallen asleep to all of the above at some point. 

During this exploration, I found several themes or styles of music that I enjoy falling asleep to. So instead of listing out individual tracks in a random order,  I've separated out the music by the five stages of the sleep cycle and given them each a theme / style of music that matches. 

Sleep cycles are apparently 90-minutes long, so you'll find two mixes accompanying this feature, (two cycles each consisting of 90-minutes) with each mix made up of the five sleep stages. The selection includes some of my favorites, as well as suggestions from a few readers via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all who suggested albums, and made compiling this feature a new journey for me in many instances. 

Stage 1 "Fragmented Visuals" 

Light sleep; we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Our eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows. People awakened from stage 1 sleep often remember fragmented visual images. Many also experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia, often preceded by a sensation of starting to fall

For stage one, I've chosen music that creates detailed and immersive textures. Music that's been crafted with pictures in mind, often including field recordings, giving you the sense of something happening, painting the world you're about to enter. These tracks have just enough detail for you to tune into whilst awake, but enough texture and unknown space to zone out to.

These types of tracks are often in the purest of ambient form consisting of simple textures made famous by many of the early ambient pioneers, such as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, The KLF and Biosphere

To help keep things interesting in this stage, the veterans sit alongside some more recent ambient/experimental artists such as Robert Rich, Gallery Six and Sage Taylor (Textural Being's more ambient guise). 

Stage 2 "Slowly floating"

When we enter stage 2 sleep, our eye movements stop and our brain waves (fluctuations of electrical activity that can be measured by electrodes) become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.

By now, I start to drift off and for this stage I've chosen the purest of ambient music focused on soft melodies and colorful textures - the easiest type of ambient music to fall asleep to due to its cloud-like feelings. It can range from simple synthesizer music, to orchestral scores, all uplifting and comforting in tone and texture; nothing too dark, and all very welcoming. 

This type of music ranges in style, from a more electronic feel to more instrumental. Kompakt's Pop Ambient Series is a great place to start (pretty much any of their stuff) and Pass Into Silence feature here alongside more soft electronic processing from Altus,  Home Normal'sChronovalve, the widely regarded Disintegration Loops from William Basinski, one of my favourite tracks from Helios and perhaps my most played album at bedtime by Jonas Munk's Billow Observatory project. 

Some of the more instrumental pieces that offer gentle, drifting lullabies include Hammock's inviting guitar drones, or beautiful soundtracks from Jon Hopkins and Stars Of The Lid's, Brian McBride - each a delicate balance between comforting melodies and a poignant attention-grabbing movie score. 

Stage 3 "Rhythmic waves"

In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves.

After drifting, comes the gentle trance-like repetition. For this stage I've chosen tracks with subtle rhythm, ambient pulses, or the gentle enveloping warmth of beats. It's hard to find music that doesn't disrupt within this style (an art it seems). Some will find this style too busy, whilst some will find the repetition soothing and comforting. 

This stage includes my personal favourite bedtime album from Yagya, the undercurrent of Wolfgang Voigt's, Gas project and fellow german Markus Guentner's pulsing ambient, the ethereal, angelic progression of bvdub and one of Loscil's finest ambient projects to date, Fern & Robin, taken from his album Endless Falls

Stage 4 "Into The Deep"

By stage 4, the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity

The second stage of deep sleep requires indulging atmospheres, so the theme of this stage suited more intense sounds, erring on the side of drone music in many instances. These are the washes of sound that remove the finer details and blanket you with color and texture to confirm your paralyses. 

This stage includes the deep electronic experiments of Alva NotoLine's Tu 'M, and Thomas Koner, alongside the drone gods of Rafael Anton Irisarri and the infamous Stars Of The Lid 

Stage 5 (REM) "The Other Worlds"


When we switch into REM sleep, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, our eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Our heart rate increases and our blood pressure rises. When people awaken during REM sleep, they often describe bizarre and illogical tales – dreams.

By now, you're starting to dream, which calls for new worlds and vivid landscapes. This is perhaps one of the more popular styles of sleep music looking back at what's out there already. The psychedelic worlds and space-like ambient music is often the stereotype for escapism and outer-world experiences and along with meditation and relaxation. 

For this stage I've chosen the space-like sounds of Global Communication, Biosphere, Neel, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Solar Fields and Stellardrone, alongside the eery melody of Aphex Twin's Blue Calx - potentially the softest-ever travel pillow.


The list, and the mixes could have gone on forever but I had to stop somewhere, so maybe there will be a time for future sleep cycles if you enjoy them. For now, here's two to see you through a couple of horizontal sessions. 

As described previously, the mixes are split into the above sleep stages in a hope they mirror the overall sleep cycle. I'm no doctor or expert in sleep, so this is by no way mean't to actually be a prescriptive sleep session! It was just a nice way to structure the approach, and you never know, it might work for you. 

Once you've listened, feel free to comment below with your experience and if the mixes did the job. Of course, you probably wouldn't know if they did... 

Cycle 1 (90 mins) Download

Stage 1.1 Brian Eno - Drift (Apollo A&S
Stage 1.2 Aphex Twin - Rhubarb (SAW II)
Stage 1.3 Sage Taylor - Raintime Ten (Raintime)
Stage 1.4 Gallery Six - The Frozen Lake (The Fogbound Island)
Stage 2.1 Pass Into Silence - Iceblink (Pop Ambient 2006)
Stage 2.2 Chronovalve - The Gravity Of Dreams (Trace of Light)
Stage 2.3 Billow Observatory - Pankalia (Billow Observatory)
Stage 3.1 Gas - Pop 3 (Pop)
Stage 3.2 Yagya - Rigning tiu (Rigning)  
Stage 4.1 Tu M’ - Monochrome #01 (Monochrome Vol.1)
Stage 4.2 Alva Noto - Xerrox Radieuse (Xerrox Vol.3)
Stage 5.1 Carbon Based Lifeforms - Somewhere in Russia (Twentythree)
Stage 5.2 Global Communication - 9.39 (76.14)
Stage 5.3 Neel - The Secret Revealed (Phobos)
Stage 5.4 Biosphere - Kobresia (Substrata

Cycle 2 (90 mins) Download

Stage 1.1 Biosphere - ’t Schop (The Hilvarenbeek Recordings)
Stage 1.2 Robert Rich - Summer Thunder (Echo Of Small Things)
Stage 1.3 The KLF - Six Hours to Louisiana, Black (Chill Out)
Stage 2.1 William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops 3 (The Disintegration Loops)
Stage 2.2 Helios - Vargtimme (Eingya)
Stage 2.3 Brian McBride - Girl Nap (The Effective Disconnect
Stage 2.4 Jon Hopkins - Campfire (Monsters OST)
Stage 2.5 Hammock - Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow (Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow)
Stage 2.6 Altus - Sodium Glow (Black Trees Among Amber Skies)
Stage 3.1 Markus Guentner - Dockside (Talking Clouds EP)
Stage 3.2 bvdub - I Would Have Waited (Songs For A Friend I Left Behind)
Stage 3.3 Loscil - Fern & Robin (Endless Falls)
Stage 4.1 Rafael Anton Irisarri - Persistence (Unsaid EP)
Stage 4.2 Thomas Koner - Nuuk Air (Nuuk)
Stage 4.3 Stars Of The Lid - The Artificial Pine Arch Song (The Ballasted Orchestra)
Stage 5.1 Solar Fields - Silent Walking (Origin #1)
Stage 5.2 Stellardrone - Nightscape (Echoes)
Stage 5.3 Aphex Twin - Blue Calx (SAW II)

Spotify playlist featuring a majority of music from this post:

Feature image by Dorian DenesT-shirts with the Music For Sleeping design are now available on his website.

If you're new to ambient music or would like more of the same, try our in-depth feature, Neither Scene Nor Heard : a journey through ambient music


Portals: The Varpuja of Finland

Our second Portals feature takes us to Finland, where local musician and guest-writer Utu Lautturi dives into some of the many musicians and styles to emerge from this beautiful nordic country. 

Utu Lautturi is a Finnish multidisciplinary artist, composer and experimentalist, living and breathing audio and visual arts since early childhood. Immersed in nature worship, the arcane and mythical, bending all boundaries of auditive self-expression, Utu has slowly gained recognition for his strong organic ambient/experimental releases and intense live performances as well as collaborative works with various native and international artists. Utu's debut album, Nielu, was released in January 2015 through Pale Noir.

With such high regard for the many artists and musicians to emerge from his country, I couldn't imagine a better voice to guide us through the rich spectrum of music that has grown from the mystical rivers and woodlands of Finland in recent years. Utu has selected some of the most interesting artists and styles of Finnish introspective music, portraying acoustic and electronic elements, as well as fusions, landing on a ten-track mix of lesser-known and more internationally popular artists. And as with every Portal's feature, Utu has dug-deep into the featured tracks and given us everything we need to explore even further.


The Varpuja of Finland, by Utu Lautturi.

In a country as small as Finland, the borders between artists creating different types of ambient/electronic/atmospheric music are artificial at best. Contrary to  Finnish artists' achievements in heavy metal or psy-trance scenes, it is impossible to decipher or pin-point any distinctive style or "sound" in what I like to call, by a broader term, Finnish introspective music (engulfing styles such as ambient, electronic, ethnic, electroacoustic, neofolk and others).

It's common for musicians from different styles to collaborate, creating a plethora of musical fusions. However, I feel Finnish introspective artists have something in common. There is an indescribable melancholic magic present in their music, a fluid solidness, a solemn intent of sorts. To me, this magic is entwined with the awe-inspiring extremes present in Finnish nature. It is the magic of endless mid-summer light when the burning eye of the sky barely scathes the horizon for weeks. It is the magic of the long polar night when even tiny glimpses of the sun might stretch to over a month in-between.  Spring and Autumn in Finland are both short, colorful bursts full of wonder, inducing a strong sense of cyclic change. Perhaps it's this naturally enforced surrender unto the change of seasons, or the fact that even from the largest cities you're never more than half an hour away from vast forests, lakes and rivers, that helps us reflect upon Finnish music as primarily organic, even when produced solely by electronic means.

With the sounds of traditional instruments like the Kantele and Jouhikko (both capable of producing beautiful ambience and droney atmospheres) engraved in our cultural genes it is no wonder Finns are easily drawn towards introspective music. Not to forget, as a natural consequence of living in a country with an often harsh winter lasting up to six months there's a lot of time to sink inward, both to create music and to enjoy the creations of others.

Brelo - Pohjoinen (North)

Brelo is a group of Kantele players exploring the boundaries of traditional and modern composition. In Pohjoinen [North] Brelo do homage to our northern landscape by conjuring simple yet vivid pictures both bright and dim. The track is taken from Brelo's 2009 release Uusikuu [New Moon] which features enjoyable variations of different types of Kantele playing. The versatile Kantele also suits a wider spectrum of ambient music extremely well, as can be heard in the beautiful compositions from the likes of Finnish ambient projects Marrasmaa and Nest (not to be confused with the sublime Norway/UK-based ambient/electronica project of the same name).  Last summer A.T. of Nest invited people virtually to follow a live Kantele performance at his home, which you can watch here.


Pekka Lehti & Outo Voima - Artsi

When it comes to emotional content, acoustic instruments seem to carry more weight than electronics and I feel the following pair of tracks are great examples. Starting off is Artsi (a Finnish nickname), Pekka Lehti's collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Jouko Kyhälä. The same sounds, rhythm and melodies could be produced by various electronic equipment, but I have a feeling the end-result, although certainly beautiful in its own way, would lack the soul it has through this acoustic instrumentation. The track exhibits a rare kind of force; it drives onward; yet guides within; cosmic mysticism blending with humane spiritual longing. As one of Finland's most revered bass players and genre bending composers Pekka Lehti has a colorful musical history. Artsi is a cut from one of his more avant-garde and experimental albums, Sohjo.

Another important Finnish avant-garde artist I want to mention is the widely renown accordion player Kimmo Pohjonen. Kimmo is a virtuoso, taking accordion playing and musical composition through its extremes, as heard through his extensive multidisciplinary career. He delivers exquisite avant-garde performances with Kronos Quartet (the only non-Finnish group/artist mentioned in this article, by the way) - watch them here.


Mir-0 - Liplu

Mir-0 is one of Finland's pioneers in 'looping' and the epitome of a musician creating solely for the sake of art itself. The featured track, Liplu, is a part of Mir-0's debut album Shhh which is very hard to obtain (as are all of his releases).

Using mundane objects, self-made instruments and vocals, Mir-0 creates mind-boggling, rich, trance-inducing labyrinths of sound that he describes as inverse pyramids. In a live situation Mir-0 relies on looping and effects but Liplu and other tracks on Shhh are recorded live performances all the way through. A tiny speck of Mir-0's live magic can be witnessed through a clip from his Recycled project below. 


The underground 'looping' scene in Finland is rich with a range of interesting artists such as Kulkija [Wanderer], looping various acoustic and electronic instruments and Ihmineläin [Humanimal], an acappella loop project, to groups like the electroacoustic rhythm n' dance duo Loop Repeat and the busking trio Juurisähkö [Root Electricity], who combine various ethnic instruments and percussion with throat singing and beat-boxing - watch here.  


Salatullah - Orvokin lehto / Paavoharju - Olet maailman syli

Languages are unique but some have evolved to take uniqueness a step further. The Finnish language is one of the most versatile and difficult languages in the world and I wanted to include Finnish spoken word because of its richness and poetic phonetics. I couldn't think of a more suitable piece to represent this than Yahayakayak & Pinewoods' album Salatullah. This duo, comprised of a respected Finnish rap/spoken word artist and a talented electronic music producer, is what I regard as one of the most amazing ambient & spoken word albums ever created (and as a name your price download!) Orvokin lehto [Violet's Grove], featured here, describes and is dedicated to, Prophet Muhammad by means of a stunning, almost sacred word play. 


Sometimes when mixing, exciting and strange things take place. I had collected various suitable lyrical tracks to my computer and accidentally started playing them all at once. Muting them one by one I ended up with two tracks playing simultaneously - Orvokin lehto from Salatullah and Finnish experimental group Paavoharju's track Olet maailman syli [You Are The World's Lap], a cut from their critically acclaimed album from 2013, Joko sinä tulet tänne alas tai minä nousen sinne [Either You Come Down Here Or I Will Come Up There].

The official music video for Olet maailman syli overflows with Finnish melancholia. 

Arktau Eos - The Urn

Any mix of Finnish introspective music isn't complete without some dark ambient. As with other types of music, some of the most internationally known Finnish groups and musicians tend to be of the darker side,. And one of the most well known Finnish dark ambient groups are Arktau Eos, hailing from the incense filled halls of Aural Hypnox - a harbour for a few other strong dark/ritual ambient acts including Halo Manash

Arktau Eos are the very essence of ritual ambient. The trio are best known for their self-made ritual instruments and mesmorizing, powerful live performances which I strongly recommend. The Urn is part of the double-album Ai Ma Ra, released as a limited version in 2009.

In addition to excellent ritual acts, the Finnish dark ambient scene has some lesser known composers such as Ovro (unconventional conjurer of surrealistic soundscapes, and illustrator of dreams and nightmares with a very distinct style), ówt krì (operates between ambient, noise, industrial and darkness exclusively on self -modified or -assembled guitars) and Kausemus (experimental musical project jazzing around weird, ambient and futuristic themes). 


At the end of the accompanying mix, The Urn dissolves momentarily into Kantele artist 
Arja Kastinen's experimental piece Nietsivoo (the name of a traditional wind-instrument, from the album Kajo [Shimmer], 2005). Kastinen was the first person in Finland to earn a Ph.D. in music back in 2000. With an extensive and varied discography in the art of Kantele playing, she specializes in old musical style meditative Kantele improvisation. 

A wonderful example of her playing, below.


Tenhi - Salain

To anybody familiar with the international neofolk scene Tenhi doesn't really need an introduction. Since their first demos in 1997, Tenhi have enticed their audience with immaculate compositions seeping archaic mysticism, nature worship, nostalgia, poetry and musical ingenuity. Their rare live performances (the last two were eight years apart) and virtual silence, have covered the group in an enigmatic aura, leaving their fans on the look-out for more dark pearls to emerge. Tenhi's inimitable sound is immediately recognizable and each of their tracks a masterpiece, so it was extremely difficult to choose a feature.

Salain [Shapeless] is off their phenomenal, perhaps most melancholic, album Maaäet (2006). To those wanting to dig deeper into esoteric Finnish neofolk music I recommend the Anima Arctica label, home to various acts such as Pyhä Kuolema [Holy Death] and Tervahäät [Tar Wedding]. You can go through their wonderful radio/sampler for glimpses into the roster. Other noteworthy artists inhabiting the colorful Finnish neofolk scene include dirty folk/blues artists Pekko Käppi and Faarao Pirttikangas as well as the ethnic fusion group Aalto [Wave].


Ous Mal - Oksat

Ous Mal's work inspires both old and new generations of Finnish ambient and experimental artists.

His meticulous compositions fuse a myriad of elements and styles, breathing tangible life and bright, vivid tales - truly some of the most captivating and interesting sound design to emerge from Finland. Ous Mal's track Oksat [Branches], from his 2009 release Viime talvi [Last Winter] serves as a crux in the accompanying mix, pointing towards its serene end.

Ous Mal's work is at times very experimental, and so I'd like to introduce another very special Finnish experimental artist; the legendary Grand Old Man of experimental self-made instrumentation, Umpio. I've had the privilege of witnessing Umpio perform live, and he is nothing short of phenomenal (as broken, scratchy, delicate, dusty experimental sound design and noise goes). He also makes and sells different types of contact microphones at a ridiculously low-price with international shipping, so do check his stuff out.


Katajamäki - The Song Of Electric Whales / Pan Sonic - Comparative 

One of the first lesser known Finnish ambient artists that made a lasting impression on me was Katajamäki. One of his finest works is The Song Of Electric Whales, released in 2013 on the free download EP What The Swan Saw. The first time I heard this track its eerie atmosphere completely trapped me and hasn't let me go since. Whenever I want to be dragged under the surface of my mind and explore it's caverns in dim light, I listen to this piece. Katajamäki is a good example of the aforementioned high quality present in Finnish underground ambient/electronic music. From old timers
E-Musigruppe Lux Ohr and Nemesis, (both creating classic synthesizer/sequencer based ambient journeys, ranging from minimal to cosmic) to smaller scale composers like Sarana [Hinge] and Mooma.


A Finnish name anyone into ambient, experimental sound design or electronic avant-garde music should know, is of course, Pan Sonic. Nowadays mostly working solo, Pan Sonic member Mika Vainio continues to be one of the most interesting artists in the field of modern electronic experimental and avant-garde. The other half of Pan Sonic, Ilpo Väisänen, is also still active (among other projects) as a part of the Finnish/German duo Angel

What happened earlier in the mix with Orvokin lehto and Maailman syli also happened with Katajamäki's The Song Of Electric Whales and Pan Sonic's track Suhteellinen / Comparative (featuring Hildur Gudnadottir on cello, from the album Katodivaihe / Cathodephase). I played the tracks on top of each other and they fit perfectly. It was like they were meant to be played this way. I feel Katajamäki's track creates the emotional stage and pulse for Pan Sonic's hyper-minimalist composition.

Usually I listen to music with the intention of trying to decipher what its creator(s) had in mind and try to reflect my own experience. I don't feel the need to make my mark on other people's work, but this is one of those rare cases when through accident, two completely independent pieces of art brought together, seem to fuse into something more than the sum of their parts.

For those aching to hear Suhteellinen / Comparative in it's plain, even raw, minimal beauty and force, here it is. 


Ari Porki - Spirit Of Ice Lantern

To end this mix I chose Ari Porki's Spirit Of Ice Lantern (from his free download album Waterway, released in 2015). Not only because Ari fits into the theme of this mix perfectly with his musical inspiration of the four seasons, but also because I feel this piece beautifully portrays the two opposites of our Northern climate. The obvious all-encompassing tingling and glistening glitter of ice present, but something else too...

Throughout The Spirit Of Ice Lantern you can hear a warm soundscape reminiscent of oars and a rowing boat; of easygoing summers in a cottage beside a lake. These two opposites create a soothing yet heightening combination I felt was a great place to leave us. At the end, I mixed some of my own field recordings of summer thunder, rain and birds to give you a taste of what Finland might sound like right now, here in the endless light of the Northern summer.


The name of the accompanying mix, Varpuja [twigs], serves as a reminder that however profound and beautiful, all artists and their wonderful music are simply twigs in the huge tree of musical expression expanding through the history of humankind. I dedicate Varpuja to Avaruusromua [Spacejunk], a national weekly radio show that's been exploring and showcasing both native and international introspective music for 25 years. 

Imagine a clear lake in the midst of a vast forest. Fir, Birch, Aspen and Pine grow on its shore, rising side by side from a lush undergrowth of Blueberry, moss, grass and hay, supporting lichen-bearded branches. Lingonberries flower, the citrus scent of northern Labrador tea. On the shore, a rock to rest upon, to dip your toes from. Fish poking tiny ripples into the lake’s still surface, feeding on water striders nearby. The distant farewell of the cuckoo echoing across a clear sky of burning dusk. This lake is one of thousands of sweet water reservoirs left in Finland after the last ice age, just over 10 000 years ago.

The lake knows all four northern seasons well enough; how, during a few short summer months the sun barely kisses the jagged tops of the forest, driving both elk and man mad. The lake has also witnessed relief from the clutches of the long grey, damp and dark Polar Night arriving in soft, pristine layers and sheets of snow. However, during the last century, snow has arrived even later and the melting ever sooner - the time of White growing shorter year after year. Only dull and dread remain. But the lake remains untouched by the mental turmoils of man. The lakes waters have served as safe haven for massive flocks of migratory birds, and so it will continue to do until it either dries out or eutrophicates. Its ever-vibrant surface will continue to provide a skating alley for water spiders and shelter for all kinds of insect and spider eggs. The lake has seen and reflected all the shifts and shapes of the sky, millennia after millennia of constant change, itself unchanged, only played by the wind at certain moments. The lake knows that in time, even the most ferocious waves will calm, and ripples turn still. This is all the lake knows. But there is one one thing the lake is a completely stranger to: haste. The lake knows no haste. It is always now for the lake, or it will forever be soon enough. Either way there is nothing the lake could, or would do if it had the power to change the course of time.

And so it is, by the shores of this lake I wish to lead you with this mix, to find a space within yourself akin to the lake, to tune into the pulse of seasons.
— Utu Lautturi

Portals Episode 2: The Varpuja of Finland (by Utu Lautturi) d/l



01. Brelo - Pohjoinen
02. Pekka Lehti & Outo Voima - Artsi
03. Mir-0 - Liplu
04. Salatullah - Orvokin lehto / Paavoharju - Olet maailman syli
05. Arktau Eos - The Urn
06. Arja Kastinen - Nietsivoo
07. Tenhi - Salain
08. Ous Mal - Oksat
09. Katajamäki - The Song Of Electric Whales / Pan Sonic - Comparative
10. Ari Porki - Spirit Of Ice Lantern



If you missed the first Portals feature on Modern Classical, you can read it here.