Mika Bjorklund – Risen

Webbed Hand Records (WH066), 2005

Apparently, Mika Bjorklund was an eighteen-year-old student living in Finland when he created Risen in 2005 along with two other albums, Nocturne and Gunkanjima. Two compilation tracks aside, he’s not been heard from since, which is a right shame, for he was a budding ambient artist with an unusual grasp of the genre, especially for one so young.

Risen is composed of two tracks, “Risen” and “Harmaa Hiljaisuus,” each running exactly thirty minutes in length. There’s a powerful sense of an untold story here – something Bjorklund excels at – which gives the album a rare strength of identity. Despite its somewhat muffled audio quality, Risen manages to capture and develop an oddness and deep mystery that stays with you long after its hour plays out.

Both tracks are somewhat minimal and mechanical in structure, but Bjorklund plays with your anticipation, looping elements at unexpected times, defying our sense of continuity even as you fumble for the familiar. On “Risen,” it is the portentous sound of heavy footsteps which are the culprit, lurching about like someone (or something) trapped in your attic. Who (or what) is up there? Is it the risen of the title? Do you dare investigate? Or are you the risen, strapped to a table and unable to move, as an unseen entity circles you with nervous footfalls, unsure of your ultimate fate? Bjorklund isn’t telling, and the album is the better for it.

Encased in swaths of noise which swell and recede with organic ease, the track blossoms into beautiful chord sequences backed by waves radio feedback and clear peals of sound, as those unknown footsteps continue. The feel of the track shifts here, from the menacing to the mysterious; it’s admirable how Bjorklund changes the mood with such subtle shifts in sound, without breaking the immersion. Twenty-two minutes in, when sparkles of synth notes appear, things fall into place with a logic of rhythm you weren’t fully aware was there. The layers of noise begin to fall away until only the keyboard chords are left – yes, there’s music here as well, and it’s just as effective as the ambiance.

“Harmaa Hiljaisuus,” which translates roughly as “gray clouds,” is a bit more ominous, but no less effective. Beginning with a requisite processed drone of noise, the track slowly unfolds into a tapestry of far-off buzzes, deep looped booms, and the beacon of bells, somewhere in the murk; near, but always out of sight. Once again, Bjorklund loops wisps of noise to and fro, gradually reintroducing them until they slowly become familiar; perhaps we are forever lost in this fog, and are retracing our steps, searching for the source of the bell but never finding it. As with “Risen,” the structure of the track is mechanical, and in fact it’s increasingly so here, but with the skillful way in which the sounds merge with each other, it manages to avoid repetition in spite of the long track length and similar feel.

Risen is longform ambient at its most effective. This is a genre that works best with an aesthetic undercurrent that moves below the surface, and Bjorklund uses samples and field recording in a measured but subtle way to tell a story that becomes an integral part of the experience. In fact, the listener is the one that fills in the narrative details. The album is an hour long, but it feels wider and deeper, and when it is done, you emerge from the journey with a sense of adventure and mystery that comes from only the best works of ambient. Mika Bjorklund may have had a short career to date, but it was a brilliant one.

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