Recording with this Algerian guitarist, Nazim Bakour, for the upcoming album Earth Variations. We are deep in the Algerian Desert, an evening is setting in over the endless variations of sand dunes and rock forests and an oasis town down below teeming with people, animals, vegetations and agricultural soft robots. From my vantage point high on our dune I can see the rooftops of Paris through a giant window that has mysteriously appeared floating against the burning sunset sky.
The previous day Nazim had invited me to a jam session at his Cité des arts studio in Paris. There were musicians from Algeria, Benin, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Ghana, Germany and some others (whom I didn’t manage to meet properly). While sitting in the middle of the room and listening to this intercultural, borderless new music serendipitously emerging – what the late trumpeter Jon Hassell might have dubbed Fourth world music, “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques” – I began to hear a beautiful yet subtle male voice singing quietly during the calmer passages in the music. The voice was exactly what I’d had in mind for Earth Variations for some years now, and naturally I presumed it was just me imagining and projecting this voice onto the music once again. But then it grew louder, took on new variations – until I eventually realised it was this tall and handsome Ghanaian man, sitting serenely lotus-like, eyes closed and his mouth barely moving, who was producing the voice. I felt elated: in that global space in the middle of the room, I had not only found the missing guitarist but also the missing singer for my album.
Earth Variations will be out later this Autumn or early next year (depending on the forthcoming recordings).
A video painting/music visualizer for Absent River, a track from the new album Interspaces:
Absent River was originally a spoken word piece for the Radio Continental Drift compilation A Radio-Bridge across the Zambezi (2018), consisting of remixes by artists and radio-makers from around the world in response to audio/radio pieces by local BaTonga women from both sides of the Zambezi river. My piece featured a story and voice by Lucia Munenge about the challenges for women to provide fresh water in Binga, a resettlement area in Zimbabwe for the BaTonga people and a result of the World Bank financed Kariba dam and lake which destroyed the original Zambezi Valley ecosystems and livelihoods.
Two years later I was approached by this rather interesting Finnish artist originally from Zambia, who was looking for a new kind of musical direction for her upcoming nationwide project about environmental and social issues: she had been inspired by my previous album Flash of the Spirit and especially the track Terra, and asked if I could send her a couple of more pieces in the similar spirit. Her brief was of “futuristic and uplifting electronic music with an African dimension”. Exalted and thrilled, I made her a total of 42 sketches and half-finished pieces in almost one sitting in two days, of which this version of Absent River was one. And while Lucia Munenge’s story had to go, her voice remains in the ambient texture of the track.
Unfortunately the project of this artist never came to fruition, for reasons I never learned (some venues like the National Museum of Finland had already been confirmed). She went on to release new music with this more commercial dance music producer (a suggestion from her record company perhaps? “We want more of the same”) while I relocated to Paris, my 42 sketches becoming the foundation from which the albums Sharawadji, Interspaces and Earth Variations emerged.
I hesitated retaining the original title, considering the serious reality told in the first version and the seemingly jubilant flow in the new one. But then I recalled some of the liner notes from the compilation: “After 60 years of struggle, the Valley Tonga people have a story to tell about cultural survival, creative resilience and determination for self-help and self-organisation.” The track itself is a continuation, an evolution, a ‘futurality’: the possibility that things could be different.
My new album Interspaces is now available for streaming on all major music platforms.
The album is also available on Bandcamp where the release includes higher quality audio download and extended album artwork. In the end I decided to make two initially planned bonus tracks part of the official album since – thanks to the brilliant mastering once again by Gregor Zemljic – their inclusion felt natural, necessary and uplifting.
“Interspaces – my tenth album (including two collaborations) – presents 11 tracks of largely electronic instrumentals with abstracted vocals, drawing from electronic, popular, contemporary and global musics. The initial idea has been to explore a new kind of beauty and sensitivity, spatiality and intricacy in music. The album features contributions from soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko@viktoriiavitrenko, bassist Omar Harb@omarharbmusic, and musician and Ginette player Petteri Mäkiniemi@petterimakiniemi.
Influenced by diverse ecosystems and worlds between vast empty landscapes and pulsating global metropolises, the music is furthermore inspired by the idea of globality and mundialization as well as the city of Paris where the album was produced between 2020 and 2022.”
With every release you try to reimagine the future world. And the feedback I’ve received so far regarding the new album has confirmed that music and sound, even those made by me, indeed have the capability to bring us to the world as it exists without being reduced, represented, distorted and clouded by ideologies – economic, political and religious constructs – and to show the potentiality and possibilities that the life, physical and nonphysical, continue to suggest. A complex, ambiguous, evolving, creative, more invigorating and freer state of existence: “a dawn of the world” as philosopher Deleuze described it. Or as Björk said, “this universe is truly a magnificent spectacle, and needs to be mirrored”. That’s why we have art, music and science.
I would like to thank you for all your support and feedback so far, it’s been the most inspiring and catalyzing to receive and hear. I feel I’m at the beginning of a new musical discovery and adventure, and I hope many of you will continue to share this future journey with me as well.
Naturally I would also like to extend my heartfelt gratitude once again to Viktoriia, Omar and Petteri for their invaluable contribution to the album, and to Gregor Zemljic for his genius-like/zen-level mastering of the music. I’m delighted that this same group of collaborators and talent will be featuring on my next album Earth Variations as well.
Listening to the final version of the Interspaces album (before mastering) in the heat and bustle of Paris, after having finished everything in the tranquility and bloom of Finland. It strikes me that the record exists exactly between these two worlds and landscapes: there’s a refreshing heat, bustling tranquility, serene noise, horizontal and vertical variations; a certain timelessness of something with a long history; celebration, contemplation and complexity of all things life. (yet I wish I could take a dip in that still, fresh lake while enjoying the heat and sounds of the city) Can’t wait to share this record with the world X
My new album Interspaces is now finished. Hooray! However, I decided to postpone its mastering and release until after my forthcoming “holiday” (always somehow working) in Finland: I want to listen to it against the stillness and freshness of rural Midsummer nights, with my senses quietened and reoriented from the hustle and bustle of Paris, and make any final adjustments if needed; I’ll be also finishing my other album Earth Variations while there, in the same pastoral immersion.
I’ll be working in the very same room, with the same view over fields and forests, where I made my first serious electronic compositions 28 years ago (one of those pieces almost made it onto Interspaces!). Until recently, I’d thought this would be a fitting place to finish these two albums as, for quite a while, I’d been feeling that Interspaces and Earth Variations would be my final works and then I’d quit music, move on to greener pastures like writing – and what a more poignant place to bring my adventures in music and sound to close than the one where the journey started.
Music is a strangely intoxicating and invigorating substance, however, and once you’ve discovered something through it, it’s difficult if not downright impossible to quit. Ideas, inspiration and curiosity keep flourishing, even if your work continues to be ignored by music industry and media year after year, release after release; once you’ve realised that music and music industry are actually two very different and separate things – the former is about creating possible worlds and reimagining the society; the latter is about obsessing over profits and social media hype – none of that industry fuss matters anymore and you’re able to work with greater abandon and scope. In fact, you might be onto something as critic and music historian Ted Gioia illuminates in his recent and poignant, yet solacing essay Is Old Music Killing New Music?: the real progress in music happens now outside the music industry – record companies, media, playlist algorithms etc. – because the latter is no longer interested in innovation, in discovering new sounds and nurturing new talent. “New music always arises in the least expected place.” Personally I have no problem with any of this (I listen to old music more than new stuff, yet I couldn’t make old-sounding music myself because composing for me is a way of researching and understanding the evolving world) – although it’d be great to have some kind of structural support for this emergent new sonic art happening in the margins – and perhaps we could say that music, especially Pop Music, existed happily until its demise around 2010, and now we have something new for which we haven’t found a better name and suitable function yet.
So, on my small plot of land, I recently began to get a sense of what kind of music I want to develop next (it’ll focus on words and voices, listening and performativity, new yet subtle globalities), putting my retirement from music on hold. Meanwhile, Interspaces will be out sometime in June/July while Earth Variations will be released in August/September. Have a great end of the week!
Paris, a few random pictures from recent walks (my Instagram account is currently “disabled for violating our terms”. What is it about colourful abstract visuals and pictures of Parisian streetscapes – all created and taken by me – that is so violating? Beats me).
Lots of walking, pondering, working on music and writing. What can one do, aside from feeling sad and angry? There’s an utterly pointless and unnecessary war and humanitarian crisis raging on the continent, innocent people and other living entities are suffering, the war criminals of the Kremlin are committing crimes against humanity yet still allowed to remain and vote as members of the UN Security Council and sit at the international negotiating tables (WTF!?). The Hitler/Putin and his other delusional warmongering cronies belong in jail, nowhere and nothing else. Period. Why is it that the dead – tyrants, historical figures, ideologies, beliefs, yesterday’s repressive practices and policies etc. – hold so much power over the living? The Kremlin currently and so obviously embodies and exudes the dead whereas Russia and Ukraine and most of the international community belong to and continue actualising the living.
Finished four new pieces for the forthcoming albums, using the vocals of the Ukrainian soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko that we’d recorded last year. Her voice is so beautiful, transcending, pure. The vocals bring new vitality and scope to my compositions, a breeze from a possible world, deeper freedom. The music may not change anything in this world, but still, we have to continue exploring and nurturing the potential of the living while we are here, for this world alive is way greater and more brilliant than any empire, conquest or ideology of the dead ever was or will be.
I’m saddened and shocked to hear about the passing of Adja, one of the most incredible human beings and musicians that I’ve known. Adja was a musician and artist in the town of Grand-Popo, Benin, where he was revered and much loved locally and regionally (eg. in Burkina Faso where I once traveled with him), not to mention by the constant stream of Finnish artists who came in contact with him during their stay at Villa Karo, the Finnish-African culture center in Grand-Popo. That’s where I also met Adja, and during my three-month stay we recorded, performed, partied, laughed, danced, philosophised and traveled together – across Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso – and became very good friends.
What confounds me is the realisation that once such a gentle soul and a vigorous force of life walked on this Earth – and now he is no more. (I remember watching him walk barefoot across the Burkina Faso-Togo border, red dust from the red soil rising under his feet, looking so carefree and content with his customary black instrument case in one hand where he always kept his flute; afterwards I asked him why he didn’t have to queue to have his passport and other documents checked like the rest of us. He said that as a musician he was free to travel everywhere since musicians were revered in that part of Africa. Not sure how true or universal this was, but I observed him living it. Then he told me about the significance of the red soil uniting people across the borders, making the nations and divisions built on that soil seem more like that ephemeral dust hovering in the air.)
Under the stars in hot Ouagadougou nights we debated about the cosmos and meanings of life while the dusty speakers at our neighbourhood bar kept blasting the most amazing West African funk, disco, afrobeat, dancehall and gospel – raw, distorted, full of soul – and beer and pastis flowed; we chatted up women at the FESPACO film festival, trying our different approaches just for fun (Adja’s down-to-earth exuberance proved more popular); when this singer failed to turn up for my rare live gig in Cotonou, leaving me performing my electronic backing tracks alone on stage, Adja, who was to perform with his band CLAN right after me, immediately joined me with his brother and together they improvised vocal, guitar and percussion parts to my tracks they’d never heard before, bringing that human liveliness back to the music (or as Adja would tell me: in Africa they never improvise, they just play); and whenever during our travels I might feel down, confused or stressed by the challenges inevitably brought forward by the cultural differences, it was Adja who was consoling and cheering me up – and who wouldn’t be reinvigorated by those deep compassionate eyes, patiently listening ears, infectious smile and (literally) elevating bear hugs of his!
Adja had his own shortcomings and challenges like the rest of us, naturally, but what always struck me was the humility and balance he kept exuding regardless or because of those; he always seemed to be the most content and happiest wherever he was, whatever he was doing.
And I never remember seeing him without a musical instrument of some kind in hand: he seemed to be able to play any instrument he got his hands on and to find his voice in any given (musical) situation. Never a virtuoso though – at least not in the archaic Western sense and in the same way that, say, Lee “Scratch” Perry was never a virtuoso singer or Moe Tucker was never a virtuoso drummer – he instead embodied music as a living philosophy, rooted in and emanating from the very environment and life he was inhabiting; his playing radiated from a much longer now and greater here, free of current trends and institutionalised aesthetics. It was cosmic music: pure, sincere, raw, open to the outside world, diffusing the distinctions between art and life, music and nature, inside and outside. When we recorded his guitar for the song ‘Adja’ from my album Sahara, it was me who had to retune/detune my synthesizers to accommodate the living (and lived) character his guitar had aquired. Even though most of our recordings didn’t make it to that album, I never forget the commitment and enthusiasm with which he proceeded to record those various instruments of his over my tracks. He was simply a pure joy to work with.
I never learned how old Adja actually was, but based on the wisdom he’d gained, I think he was close to 200; judged by his vigour, he was probably around 18. My bet, however, is that he was simply a timeless person, a childlike sage, a maestro, leaving his footprints on that red soil before continuing his walk from one realm to another. ‘Säkenöivä voima’ indeed (the direct English translation “sparkling force” doesn’t quite capture the depth and grace of this Finnish expression). Walk and rest in peace, you beautiful soul.
The latest album of mine, Sharawadji, will be available on all the major music streaming services on Fri 11 February. The album is currently available on Bandcamp where the release includes additional artwork and high quality download.
Here are a few photos of some of the locations where the album was recorded (I have lost most of my photos to broken harddrives over the years). Had a little nostalgia trip while going through these, and it reinforced my view that a piece of music is indeed a lot more than the end product: it’s the whole process and journey that goes into making it (that’s why AI can never replace music made by humans: it can of course make music based on its own processes and journeys, but never replicate the human experience…).
My new album Sharawadji will be out on Saturday 1 Jan 2022.
I know it’s an unusual release date: new releases are often unveiled on Fridays, and rarely early in the year. But this is an unusual release (at least for me) – and I feel the characteristics of the music fit the idea of “something new”, celebration, breaking habits. It’ll be initially available on Bandcamp only, appearing on all the other streaming services later in January (the exact delivery date is yet to be set).
I’ve been listening to the mastered version of the album for the last couple of weeks now – and I cannot believe how amazing it sounds! Even my mastering engineer was enthusing about how much he enjoyed working on this album (and this is a guy who masters records for a lot of the global music stars, including my inspirations like Brian Eno and the late Jon Hassell, the inventor of Possible Musics). He really did the most amazing job, making this colourful, diverse album sound like one unified experience as if all the tracks were actually created for this album originally*.
Paris was the city where I first got an idea for a kind of global, genreless and borderless, possible music – and here I am, 26 years later, making exactly the kind of music I’d imagined while sitting on the Pont des Arts all those years ago and listening to this wonderful Malian musician perform with a badly distorted amplifier. The fruit ripens slowly indeed (as the Indian saying goes).
Have a wonderful and relaxing holidays!
* One of the tracks was started with a dear friend of mine back in London in 1996, and I still remember the moment he played an updated version of it over the phone while I was standing in a telephone booth in a warm Amsterdam night: I’d never heard anything like it before, and the novelty and energy of his drum patterns pulsating down the line made me so high – well, higher than I already was. It was then, in that booth, that I realised the possibilities of (electronic dance) music were way vaster and way more imaginative than what our (techno) culture at the time promoted and favoured… it made me also realise there was so much more potential in this world if we just try, as my friend had just doubted his abilities as music producer before my departure; alone in our flat and with all the time and space around him, he’d discovered his talent and passion…And now I’m really happy that a new version of this track found its way onto this record: a sonic memory of those youthful experiments back in the day, carried through the decades and infused with (even more) youthful experiments of today.
I regret to inform that the release of my new album Sharawadji is currently postponed due to my mastering engineer having gotten infected with Covid and now needing time to fully recover – wishing him naturally the best recovery and health! We were just about to start mastering when this unfortunate incident occurred.
The new release date is currently uncertain: a Bandcamp release might be possible before the holidays but the album won’t be on other streaming platforms until sometime in January or February next year due to the delivery times. Of course, I could have gone to another mastering engineer instead, but once you trust someone’s expertise, it’s difficult to jump ship suddenly and find someone else who understands your idea and vision in the same way. Besides, I love working with the same trusted people from year to year, as a long-term, evolving commitment: there’s something unquantifiable and irreplaceable about working with the same personnel year after year.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busy moving and setting up my new studio in Paris after the 16-month residency at the Cité des arts. The new home/studio is located in the historic and idyllic, lively Latin Quartier, with its rich history and culture radiating all around. Here, the work continues on finishing the Earth Variations and Interspaces albums (finally!) as well as writing my first non-fiction book which considers a future society through sonic arts (and for which I received a grant from the Association of Finnish Non-fiction Writers earlier this year). More info to follow later.