Taavi Tulev: Taavi Tulev
Taavi Tulev

Though Taavi Tulev is apparently well known in his native Estonia, the electronic music composer's name is less familiar to those of us living outside its borders. That makes this self-titled, vinyl-only release an especially valuable document for the simple reason that its seven tracks are drawn from a seven-year period of activity, specifically 2004 to 2011, and thus provide a solid introduction to the composer's music as well as a good overview of it. The album is a mere thirty minutes in length, yet each setting manages to make a complete statement within the time granted to it.

Tulev's been active as a field recordist for many years, but that side of his production approach is downplayed on the album's seven pieces, which are generally electronic compositions free of extra-musical content. His background in interior and architectural design and engineering makes itself felt in the care with which the soundscapes have been conceived and structured. While the pieces function perfectly well as stand-alones, it also would be easy to imagine them incorporated into display environments.

Though its title translates as “Noise of the Organ,” “Orelimüra” exudes an early electronic character in its layering of brooding bass tones, mid-range patterns, and upper-register flourishes. Rich in ominous atmospheric treatments and throbbing pulses, “Ilmaga” (With Absence) brings a chilliness and austerity to the album that collapses the distance between Tulev and Pan Sonic. Using ultra-minimal means, Tulev conjures in “Milleks Ärgata?” (Why Wake Up?) an invitingly becalmed ambient landscape dotted with detail, whereas “Seisundi Seiskumine” (Halting of State) is declamatory and stately, much like a country's anthem. “Taas” (Again) concludes the album on a wistful and soothing note using combinations of lilting chords and old-school drum machine patterns.

All such pieces are fine, but the album's standouts are 2011's “Kakao Tume Minevik” (The Dark Past of Cocoa) and 2004's “Pihlakad” (Rowan Berries) for the way they capture the fullness of Tulev's vision. In the former, his skills as a sound designer come to the fore when various elements—claps, hi-hat patterns, synth washes, and chugging rhythms—cohere into an aggressive exercise in industrial IDM-electronica; the latter by comparison harks back to the early days of electronic exploration, with synth melodies this time augmented by celeste, flute, and string sonorities.

Tulev's melodic material communicates much, even when a piece is no more than three minutes long. Despite such brevity, Taavi Tulev encompasses a generous range of moods and styles, and one leaves the album hearing its creator as a member of that league of explorative electronic composers whose work branches out into related areas such as ambient and IDM. The musical content on the album offers no small amount of listening pleasure, and the presentation of the release—an attractive cover painting by Holger Loodus and the crimson red vinyl pressing—also does much to strengthen its appeal.

March 2016