The avant-garde musical legacy of the Moomins


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The avant-garde musical legacy of the Moomins

By Jude Noel Art by Marine Buffard June 27, 2022

Created in the 1940s by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson, Moomins is a weird media franchise in that it doesn’t have a definitive entry point. Although this pastoral world of bohemian forest trolls and eccentric creatures debuted with Jansson’s original series of children’s novels, many fans discovered his work through later offshoots in other media formats.

His 1990 animated adaptation (not to be confused with his lesser known 1969 predecessorlisten)) sparked a cult following in America and Japan that persists to this day. Then there’s the decidedly more grown-up comic, which aired twice a week from the ’50s to the ’70s, filled with brilliant gallows humor and some of Jansson’s most iconic storylines. These examples only scratch the surface of Moomins zigzagging web of traditions and uneven continuity, but that’s the beauty of the series. Jansson’s understated, sometimes crude, whimsical brand enjoyed its unique aesthetic and left-wing philosophy about tight world-building.

An often overlooked facet of Jansson’s work is his close relationship with music. She was a prolific lyricist herself, writing songs for stage productions (more on those later) and themes for individual characters. While the above Moomin the anime featured a fairly typical pop-influenced score, the 1977 stop motion series produced in Poland would inspire a ramshackle post-punk adjoining soundtrack when adapted for British public television in 1983.



Affectionately referred to by some fans as the “Fuzzy Felt Moomins,“The series was animated using a combination of vibrant painted backgrounds and flat puppets, creating a unique collage effect. Despite its cuddly exterior, the show was somewhat known for its spooky atmosphere, featuring a legitimately terrifying interpretation of The Groke– a harbinger of winter rot – and that laugh. MoominsThe English dub of, with its revamped score, was even weirder.

Inspired by the kosmische electronica from German acts like Band and Kraftwerk, the soundtrack was produced by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill, members of a cutting-edge theater company called The Impact Theater Cooperative (Also notable for including Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham.) Its main theme, an ocarina threadbare jumble, wasp synthand improvised percussion, are both folkloric and futuristic, designed using technology that is still fairly new to mainstream audiences.



Elsewhere, the music is downright sinister. Songs like “Midwinter Rites” and “Partytime” feature sampled, ritualistic percussion, with gurgling synths and distant vocals echoing in the background. It sounds like one of Herbie Hancock’s first experiments in electronic production: primal, but inspired by science fiction. Even the duet’s version of “Silent Night”, recorded during a Moomins The Christmas episode, is eerie, transposing the melody of melody to strident pitches atop drones that sound like icy winds before moving into a delirious harmony between the flute and a sneering singer.



For decades, the soundtrack has existed as a fleeting memory of those who grew up in the UK in the early 80s, or later as a plot point for those who picked up Moominsin 2006. It was not until 2017, however, that the score was officially published on London’s Finders Keepers Recordsa boutique label specializing in dark psychedelia, 70s film scores and kitsch”B-music” of the whole world.



A similar brand of patchwork electronics would inform Miller and Shill’s score for The Impact Theater’s 1984 production carrier frequency. Written by Russell Hoban, who, oddly enough, is best known for his children’s literature (you may know Bread and jam for Frances), the post-apocalyptic piece depicts six nuclear fallout survivors in their attempts to restore civilization. Inspired by Brutalist architecture, the set design featured stagnant pools of water and skeletal scaffolding, made all the more desolate by its largely atonal incidental music. carrier frequencyThe soundtrack to , also released by Finders Keepers in 2020, is an unsettling mishmash of industrial textures, bits of shortwave radio broadcasts and tearful accordion.



One hundred five-minute episodes of Moomins were officially released in the UK over two seasons, which aired from 1983 to 1985. Miller, however, recorded new music and sound effects for a proposed third season, which sadly never materialized. On June 3, Finders Keepers made available portions of this soundtrack on a new Moomins compilation: Comet in the Land of the Moomins.

These recordings are a little more sophisticated than their predecessors, with more acoustic instrumentation and a cleaner mix. On “Raft Journey”, the fingerpicked guitar twirls aimlessly around dark synth arpeggios, as if crossing choppy waters. “Tornado” is built around a syncopated thumb piano, tufts of wood and a melodica reminiscent of carrier frequency. While the cut-and-paste charm of Miller’s earlier work isn’t as present here, Comet in the Land of the Moomins is full of unrealized potential. Its lush arrangements and longer compositions feel like peeking into a more immersive world of hazy sensations that we will sadly never get to visit.



Mika Pohjola is well aware of Tove Jansson’s ability to reach audiences of all ages. Although he has known the series since he was a child, the Finnish jazz pianist has not really entered the Moomin series until his early twenties.

“I love their multifaceted, ever-revealing sense of humor that can be understood by children in one way, and by their parents in another,” he says. “Jansson ensured that the stories were not, unlike many other children’s stories, boring for parents when reading the books to their children.”

This same display of respect for readers, whoever they may be, influenced Pohjola when organizing Moomin voices, an album of songs written in Swedish by Jansson and performed by an avant-garde jazz ensemble. Although many plays have been written for mid century theatrical productions with the help of composer Erna Tauro, Pohjola’s record is somewhat separated from its original context.

“What I tried to do with Moomin voices was a personal interpretation of how I understood the message of the Moomins,” says Pohjola. “It is quite removed from the musical language of Erna Tauro, however, and closer to the sounds, harmonies and grooves that I think the Moomins would embody if set to music today.”



finnish jazz singer Johanna Grussner, who frequently collaborates with Pohjola, is the most immediately noticeable presence on the record. Her lead vocal bounces and tumbles over rich, multi-track harmonies of her own creation, establishing her place as an ubiquitous narrator. She not only embodies the resident of Moominvalley who is the subject of a particular character sketch, such as the “visa Muminpappans” (“Moominpapa’s Song”) or the dissonant “Tootickis Vårsång” (“Too-ticky’s Spring Song”) ). She also fills their imaginary surroundings with watercolor textures and particular hues that might not have been possible to achieve live.

Instrumentally, Moomin voices draws a fine line between pop kitsch and scholarly abstraction, recalling the laissez-faire John Zorn’s creativity Tzadik label list. While opening track “Mumindalen” (“Moominvalley”) sets the tone, evoking idyllic landscapes accented with twee melodica, there’s an eerie, anarchic undercurrent that runs through the album, not unlike Miller’s soundtracks. and Shill. On “Lilla Mys Visa” (“Little My’s Song”), samples of Grüssner’s voice are edited and reversed, like a rewound tape. “Fru Filifjonks sång” (“Mrs. Filyjonk’s Song”) is a particular highlight, highlighting a chaotic drum lineup by Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Yusuke Yamamoto, who has worked with Pohjola since 1998.



Pohjola says that while his revisionist approach to the source material drew criticism from some diehard fans, he was more interested in capturing Jansson’s creative ethos than historical accuracy. Tauro’s original compositions were intentionally simple enough to perform for children’s theater, but Pohjola’s record is meant to be an experience in its own right, on par with the witty experimentation of the Moomin books.

“I heard that some of my music was too complicated for children,” he says. “My answer is that it may be too complicated for their parents. I have never heard this from children who intuitively sing, listen, jump and dance to whatever music they hear.


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