Night School / UK / 2020
Tyyni is the third album by Finnish-born sound artist and musician Cucina Povera aka Maria Rossi. The second album recorded using a more studio-based scenario – as opposed to last year’s Zoom, a collection of in-situ, spontaneous recordings – Tyyni feels like a slowly unfurling mediation on the clash between nature and mechanical living, a rumination on the complexities of modern life that begin to unveil more about the inner landscape of the artist as it progresses. A Finnish word referring to still, serene weather, the title belies a new note of turmoil in Cucina Povera’s soundworld. Tyyni represents a more detailed focus on the sculpting of sounds that curl around Rossi’s hymnal vocal performances. It’s a more adventurous work than Rossi’s previous output that goes further into noise elements and vocal abstraction while maintaining the balance and ecclesiastical ecstasy of her debut Hilja.
While tension at the core of Cucina Povera is always prevalent, previously it was organic sounds that were used to counterpoint Rossi’s singing but on Tyyni these are often replaced with aggressive synths and distortion, profane clashes with the seemingly sacred hymns. Whether close mic’d and intoning in a loop or in full flight, Maria Rossi’s voice remains in the foreground, set here against a more synthetic backdrop. This development builds new worlds for Cucina Povera, a digital environment which brings in a sense of the alien for Rossi’s vocal to duel.
The effect is often dazzling. On Salvia Salvatrix, an ode to the medicinal plant used to ward off evil spirits, Rossi’s invocation is encircled by a distorted synth sound tearing at the fabric of the composition. It’s an inspired juxtaposition, leaving the listener to appreciate both sounds as separate and as a duet. Anarkian kuvajainen embraces a sense of chaos, an accidental transmitting mobile phone’s pulse is swept up gently with looped synth swells as Rossi’s prayer-like vocal rhythmically teases the composition into loops that embrace and then drift apart. Teerenpeli flirts with a minimal beat rendered by sampler and processed, layered field recordings of capercaillies, while Side A ends with one of Rossi’s most beautiful, simple tracks yet recorded. Varjokuvatanssi is an a cappela recording built on top of a wordless glossolalia, a shadowy interplay which foregrounds the solo vocal.
Pölytön nurkka is the most melodic song yet recorded by Cucina Povera. While it still maintains an off-the-cuff performance style, the synthesized chimes and 4/4 beat are smothered by a distorted synthesizer which almost replicates the bravado of an electric guitar feedbacking into the night. Rossi’s subject matter talks of trying to start anew, getting rid of extraneous material, perhaps still feeling powerless to affect positive change. On Haaksirikkoutunut, the protagonist vocal is lost, a vessel rudderless on the ocean, buffeted by waves metaphorical or real, digital, atonal chords gurgling and splashing against the bow, a storm forever brewing on the horizon. Saniaiset recalls Coil in its eldritch, nocturnal tone and digital-bell like synth, Rossi’s half-spoken/half-sung voice attaining a creepy tone before flipping into flight. Album closer Jolkottelureitti uses an escalating, sequenced synth that splinters into both abrasive tones and harmonising chords creating a kosmische effect, reminding the listener of Kluster or synth-era Popol Vuh, all the while elevated by Rossi’s searching vocalising.
For an artist with such a singularly unique musical language, Cucina Povera is continually teasing new strands and emotive tones from an evolving palette. Most importantly, Tyyni appears to be pulling back the veil to uncover an artist finding a synergy between her own emotional inner world and practice. As such, on her third album, Maria Rossi has found a third way between abstraction and extraneous emotion, personal experience turned inside out to reveal more about the listener.