Serene noise

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

On new albums, music industry and post-music

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!

A breeze from a possible world

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.

Warmth and care, dear world.

In memory of Adja

Adja in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

RIP Adjanohun Loetamini.

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!

At the Fespaco 2013 film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

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.

Sharawadji out now

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…).

New album out on 1 Jan 2022

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.

Sharawadji postponed / New studio in Paris

*** UPDATE ***

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.

Picture: a view from my studio window.

Our Last Night at the Cité

Viktoriia Vitrenko and me, on our last night at the Cité. Viktoriia is a soprano, conductor and artistic director from Ukraine. We recorded and performed together during this residency which itself was a journey, a discovery and a transformation. More info on her work here.

The albums we worked on, Earth Variations and Interspaces, will both be out early next year (meanwhile, my album Sharawadji is scheduled to come out this month, permitting that my fantastic mastering engineer will recover from his unfortunate Covid infection – wishing him the best recovery and health!). Earth Variations will also include an edited segment of our 20-minute live performance here at the Cité: our ‘Soirée d’ambient finlandais’ concert last week was largely improvised, and it produced some rather novel musical atmospheres and landscapes, all happily captured for future purposes. A segment of the performance will also be broadcast in the forthcoming episode of the LOVI ambient radio show (more info closer to the airing).

Now, toward new adventures and worlds, with our paths hopefully meeting soon again. À bientôt !

Sharawadji: a new release coming soon

// A new curiosity release coming soon //

Next month I’ll be releasing an album of curiosities titled Sharawadji. The album presents a fusion of Somadelia, Juju Space Jazz, Sahelian Generative, Nordic Throb and Post-Tribal Bliss (yes, existing genres have become rather inadequate to describe current musics 😉 ). Recorded and crafted in various locations over the years, the music paints an impression of the rhythms, melodies and sonic textures of its geographies: Lagos, Cotonou, Ouagadougou, Dakar, Fez, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Helsinki and Paris.

The release – which has also gone through titles like ‘Migrant’, ‘The Itinerant’, ‘Border Eraser’ and ‘Invisible Geographies’ – consists of outtakes from my forthcoming Interspaces and Earth Variations albums as well as from the previous Flash of the Spirit, Pulses/Radiance and Sahara albums – featuring also Noel Saizonou of Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble on vocals and percussion. It’ll also include a previously unreleased track from LOS-HEL: Possible Cities, with a Lagos Soundscape by Emeka Ogboh.

As Interspaces and Earth Variations continue falling into place (or into space) slowly, delayed by me continuing to encounter new exciting musicians and possible collaborators here in Paris, I came to notice these outtakes together formed already a rather coherent and interesting whole: like a more colourful sibling or ancestor to the two albums-in-progress. More info to follow soon.

An Unexpected Voice (from Ukraine)

This week I’ve been recording vocals with this Ukrainian soprano, Viktoriia Vitrenko, for the Earth Variations and Interspaces albums. We met accidentally and serendipitously two weeks ago at the Cité des arts in Paris, an encounter which I documented from word to word on an Instagram post of mine since it was the most unexpected as well as the swiftest start of a collaboration I’ve experienced so far.

“I met her in a hallway, by the door. I was returning from a break when I noticed that a woman walking ahead of me stopped by the open door of the studio I was working in and peeked inside.

‘Are you possibly looking for something?’ I asked her politely.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘There’s supposed to be a hiphop dance rehearsal somewhere here tonight.’
‘Well, I do occasionally breakdance when I’m working, but I’m sure that’s not the workshop you’re looking for,’ I said, joking only partially. ‘The hiphop rehearsals are usually over there, in Studio 5.’
‘What are you working on in here?’ Her curiosity surprised me. People here weren’t usually interested in what others were up to.
‘Oh, just on my music. You know, composing, recording, mixing…’ I fumbled.
‘What kind of music do you make?’
‘Erm, it’s electronic based but with lots of influences from different styles and from around the world…so hard to describe.’ I felt the usual ship of words sinking into the thought of an ocean of sounds.
‘That’s very interesting as I’m also a–,’ But before she could continue, we were interrupted by a pianist next door looking for a bathroom.
‘So, what do you do?’ I resumed when the pianist was on her way and we had both returned ashore.
‘I’m a singer.’
‘Oh…I’m actually looking for a singer at the moment.’ I hesitated for a second. ‘But it’s quite experimental…no lyrics or clear structures or anything like that…a sort of new ways to play with voice in music…’ I was sure that by now, in her ocean view, my ship had actually sunk. But her eyes lit up even further.
‘That’s exactly what I do!’ she exclaimed, becoming visibly excited. ‘I’m a soprano, singing mostly contemporary music, but I also work with electronics and experiment with my voice and singing a lot.’
‘Wow…that’s really interesting. Er…I don’t suppose you’d be–.’
‘Yes, I’d be happy to sing on your tracks!’

And that’s how every collaboration should start. No ego, attitude, negotiation, hesitation or hassle: simply openness, enthusiasm, resolution and curiosity to play and experiment.”

It really is astonishing to watch and listen to a world-class singer, two metres away, building layers of vocals on your tracks, elevating them instantly into something resembling a proper, serious music. She comes up with similar ideas I’d written in my notebook earlier but am yet to share with her, and then expands them much further, exactly the way I’d do it but could never have imagined. The voice transports you: our small studio space turns into a concert hall, then into an Afromontane forest between a desert and an ocean, before returning, via the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Jonquet district of Cotonou, to a wooden cabin by a lake, with the stars just appearing in the late summer sky and the moonlight traversing the water’s still surface.

Afterwards we spend a couple of hours discussing philosophy, art, Detroit techno, Mediterranean cities, migration, and the possibilities of voice and sound as agents for social and political change. It turns out that she, like me, loves to deepen and expand her work through thinking and writing, reading and discussion. This happens so rarely with musicians – and understandably since music, at its best, evades all the words and thinking – that I want to freeze the moment for the eternity; I simply love this level and scope of commitment, curiosity, drive and professionalism. Through our conversation, I realise that my forthcoming book has begun to find its territory and form. Yet I can’t help wondering how random and unexpected, serendipitous it was that we met: in that hallway outside, by the door, just one night by chance.

Images: recent visualisations of some of the sonic atmospheres on the aforementioned albums.