Remembering Heikki Huhtanen aka Henry Zalkin

It’s a certain sign of aging when you find yourself repeatedly thinking about people and events from 20, 25 or even 30 years ago. And although 40+ years is no achievement by current standards, some people don’t get even that.

The one person I’m thinking about in this case is Heikki Huhtanen, also known as Henry Zalkin, who passed away 20 years ago. My first acquaintance with Heikki was sometime in the early 1990s via a letter and a demo tape. The tape contained a demo by Bulimia, his band or more accurately a solo project. We exchanged some letters and later switched to email when it became more commonplace. I only met Heikki twice, and on both occasions quite briefly, but through our correspondence I got to know him as a man of many interests and great sense of humour. Besides making music he was a writer, a student of slavic languages at the University of Helsinki, and he also played classical music in an orchestra (I forget which instrument).

We shared quite some interests, mainly experimental and industrial music and (more or less) related subcultures, some of the stars in the hemisphere being William S. Burroughs, Genesis P-Orridge, The Master Musicians of Joujouka, Coil, Bill Laswell, Hakim Bey… and the list goes on.

Heikki’s music under the name Bulimia was released at the time on the electro-industrial compilation albums Freeze and Freeze 2 (on the Finnish EBM/industrial label Cyberware) as well as some international underground compilations. His demos received some confused reviews in Frantic Magazine which was the main electro/industrial magazine in Finland at the time.

Later, in 1997, we found both of us featured on an underground compilation tape The Members of Sonic Cults – me then under the name Cold Once Turning Dust (originally formed as a group in 1993, but the other members didn’t stick for long) and Heikki as Janko, Krul’ Albanskaj. His piece was an excerpt from a lengthy drone-noise colossus called Moscow, which, according to Heikki, contained (among other debris) field recordings made in Moscow back in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Members of Sonic Cults – compilation tape 1997
Members of Sonic Cults compilation tape from 1997, feat. Peel, Cold Once Turning Dust, Noval Dream, Vyöhyke, Grey Park, 1W and Janko, Krul’ Albanskaj.

I was fascinated by his style and approach – very knowledgeable, detailed and accomplished with decidedly lo-fi DIY methods, yet with tongue in cheek deep enough to confuse many. I guess he felt similarly about my work, anyway we both found quite a bit of mutual ground over which to discuss collaborating one way or another.

Our working methods were somewhat similar, too. Mainly abandoning conventional instrumentation, our main tools were tape recorders (for field recordings and other sound trawling), computer for crude sound generation and sequencing, and a 4-track recorder for recording and mixing. Heikki did play several instruments, though, a little example can be seen in this video from a party. (Thanks to Timo Tropiikista for uploading and blogging about it!)

At the time, in the late 1990s, Heikki was working on an album for Janko, Krul’ Albanskaj. On the basis of the Moscow excerpt mentioned above I expressed my interest in releasing the album on my newly established label Some Place Else. Finally in the summer of 1999 he completed the album and send me the master on MiniDisc, as well as a bunch of images I could use for the album cover art.

Around the same time he also mailed me a bunch of other recordings, on tape, asking me to transfer them to MiniDiscs for future use. (Before CDRs became commonplace, MiniDisc was a handy and affordable format for backups, master recordings etc.)

Then, after a brief period of silence, the sad news arrived. Heikki had passed away on September 5, 1999, from heart failure. He was 24 years old.

After recovering from the devastating news, I proceeded with the plans we had agreed on. I did the album artwork based on the images and notes Heikki had sent me. Finally in January 2001, Some Place Else released the Janko, Krul’ Albanskaj album. Bearing the cryptic title Ekezhhm, Gyuvel Pyuganlahkh Aektspyud?, it contained four pieces, including the complete 46-minute Mockba opus. Honestly, the album was no hit even in the underground scale, and I still have a bunch of CDs remaining from the edition of 500 copies. Nevertheless, I always considered it a great success on an artistic level – Heikki’s approach to experimental noise and sound collage was unlike anything else released in Finland. I just listened to the album while writing this, and find it still fresh and interesting after all these years.

One thing I still regret is that we never did that collaboration that we repeatedly talked about. Time just didn’t seem ripe for it, until there was no time anymore.

Henry Zalkin tapes and discs

Now, about the bunch of other tapes Heikki sent me back in the day. In the recent “archival excavations” I went through all the tapes and minidiscs he sent me, along with the letters, notes and tracklists, and had all of them transfered to digital. It amounts to this:

Bulimia – About two albums worth of material, including various demos and other recordings throughout the 1990s.

Janko, Krul’ Albanskaj – some tracks made for another album, plus other recordings and remixes; about one album’s worth of material.

Miscellaneous other recordings, including a collection of tracks with a theme/title “Psychoswing”.

For a long time I’ve been thinking about these recordings. I think if Heikki was still around he would most probably have released his works online, but as he’s not, and there was no plan announced, the music remains unreleased, for now.

I would certainly like to hear stories from people who used to know and be in touch with Heikki Huhtanen aka Henry Zalkin. If you have any memories about him feel free to share in the comment section. If you happen to have any of his music on tape or other formats, I would very much like to have a listen.

Life is temporary, but experiences, memories and deeds live on as long as the stories are told and the works viewed and listened to.