Aino Tytti: Millennium Mills

The term ‘soundsculptor' has surfaced in textura's pages before, but if it ever applied, it does so in the case of Aino Tytti and Millennium Mills, the Sheffield-born sound artist's second project for Touch. A bit of background is needed to appreciate what he's done here: the Greater London Authority granted him months-long access to the titular docklands site, its decaying visage already visible in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Derek Jarman's The Last of England, and, perhaps most vivdly, Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Decommissioned more than three decades ago, the mills have slowly decomposed, even while urban renewal has taken hold around it. It doesn't take much to see its decay as a symbolic analogue to societal collapse of various kinds; it's also easy to understand the appeal that such a setting would present to sound artists working with field recordings.

Not surprisingly, Aino Tytti's approach involved gathering such material (using air and contact mics, geophones, and hydrophones) at specific places at the site and then using them to produce a number of sound portraits. Supplementing those recordings are vocals by two collaborators, which, true to the spirit of the project, were captured at the mills rather than in-studio, and sine tones that likewise were played at the site to take advantage of the natural reverb, echo, and harmonics that would result. Throughout the forty-three-minute project, one hears him shaping such source elements into multi-dimensional constructions teeming with textural detail.

One other thing's worth noting before turning to the recording itself: Aino Tytti is not the self-taught composer's real name; the moniker derives from the Finnish poem The Kalevala and literally translated means “the only daughter.” How is this significant? Aino's story, it turns out, is rather tragic but hopeful, too, and the artist himself acknowledges that he draws for inspiration in his work from hope and melancholia. Both dimensions are present in Millennium Mills, specifically in the way at certain moments an impression of devastation is evoked, whereas in other places a powerful sense of recovery is suggested.

An incredible sense of place is established, something aided considerably by the field recording details audible in “Observations from the nightwatch hut, late November” and “These halls which used to breathe and sing.” Sounds of birds, water, footsteps, winds, rattlings, and indeterminate rumblings are assembled in such a way that one can easily visualize oneself moving through the desolate locale and taking in its rotting forms. With wordless, at times anguished vocalizing woven into “England's last lies ruined,” the harrowing material even begins to suggest a descent into Hades' hellish underworld; a more plaintive quality emerges during “First light, crepuscular loculus” and “All that which was once lost” in the way hazy choir-like intonations merge with thick masses of ambient-drone shimmer. The moment when the roar of a plane flying overhead punctuates the mournful vocalizing of “A requiem for Silvertown” is one you'll likely remember after the recording's over.

While it's obviously not conventionally musical in form, the composer has shaped the material in such a careful way that a quasi-musical flow is created. At a slightly larger scale, Millennium Mills exemplifies a somewhat symphonic character in the sequencing of the eight tracks, moving as they do (without pause) through distinct stages, and in its dynamic contrasts. If ever a recording demanded a high-volume, surround-sound presentation, it's this one.

December 2015