‘A Garden, Faraway (for Katri Vala)’

My newest sound installation ‘A Garden, Faraway (for Katri Vala)’ is now running in Vapaan Taiteen Tila, Helsinki. There’s an exhibition party tomorrow Thu at 5 pm, showing sound works by six different artists, so come by if you’re in town (address Vilhovuorenkuja 15, Sörnäinen). /// ‘A Garden, Faraway (for Katri Vala)’ is a generative 3-D composition, created with the architecture and the sound of the ventilation system of Vapaan Taiteen Tila in mind. It’s a modest homage to Katri Vala, who was forward-thinking Finnish writer in the early 20th century and who is buried in the park above the exhibition space. It’s inspired by her poem Kukkiva Maa (Flowering Earth) which elevated me greatly as an adolescent growing up in a small town, to seek life beyond those offered by then cultural, economic and political realities.

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Music holds the promise of a different world

‘Music holds the promise of a different world.’ It’s a sentence I came across a while ago and haven’t been able to get out of my mind since. Of course you can replace ‘music’ with anything a person is passionate about and/or deeply moved by. The different world is already here, and it’ll remain. But it has to be made visible, audible, sensible, habitable.

This blog keeps updating slowly because I’m being super-busy and often needing separate time to contemplate things before expressing them in writing. Things currently keeping me busy: moving between countries, finding a way in the old yet new place, developing two — no, three new sound art projects, and finishing my new album.

The latter, I’m happy to say, is now done. We (my mastering engineer and I) finished the album tonight. I’d actually finished the album in my previous studio in Germany back in September, but to my shock then realized the acoustics and technical setup of the space had mislead my ears, so the mixing had to be done partially again here in Finland. And it’s taken some intense time and focus. But now I’m sighing and celebrating in relief and abandon: it’s finally done.

I’m really excited about the music on this album, titled Pulses/Radiance. It’s the first time I’m going musically somewhere that feels my ‘own’ (in the most unselfish sense), as if I’d discovered a hidden lush valley or an unexplored forest. While the music has traces of some of my dearest musical influences, like those of Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Touré, Björk, Steve Reich, Brian Eno and Jon Hassell, it’s no longer concerned about trying to emulate any of those, fit into any established genre or aim for any popular sound: it’s free, exploring its own musical direction with abandon and commitment.

The album explores immersion, repetition, texture, rhythm and sculpturality; music as gradually evolving condition or space. It springs from my earlier, playfully conceived idea of ‘afrorithm’ – Afrobeat + algorithmic composition – where the idea was to combine aesthetics of various West African musics with those of Western algorithmic and generative composition. While I made only one piece strictly in this fashion (Monday Morning in Lagos – to be released later as a special EP), the idea resurfaced when I was asked to do a series of live performances during my recent residency in Germany: it seemed like a fruitful and fun approach to present my then new album Sahara live on stage, and so I came up with an instrumental setup which allowed me to play this algorithmic system live, and generate new music using various pieces from Sahara as the source material. Thus, through improvisation, physical act of playing and serendipity, the music on this album began to emerge.

The music suggests to me a thriving, pulsating, multicultural world without borders and beliefs. To borrow the words of philosopher and Harvard law professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger: “individual and collective human empowerment through revised social and political structures – designs that enable life of creativity, risk, experiment, cooperation and meaningful personal connection”. It’s strange that this is so hard to realize through politics and economics.

Nocturnal rain

It’s difficult to work on music while the sound of nocturnal rain drifts through an open window: to me, the rain at night always sounds better and more interesting than any music ever made.

A guideline for music-making: “Does it sound better than evening rain?”

Against the subdued soundscape of the night, I’m currently finishing my new album (titled ‘Pulses/Radiance’), developing an accompanying piece to Monday Morning in Lagos (the idea of exploring street voices as musical source), and making a recording of Future Forest Space, the generative installation music that I made for Radio Forest in Klankenbos, Neerpelt (the recording will become part of their permanent soundscape collection).

“This universe is truly a magnificent spectacle, and needs to be mirrored.” -Björk

Recently I came across this comment by Björk, in an interview in which she was reflecting her passion for music and future dreams (you can read the interview here), and I felt suddenly greatly elevated – experiencing that feeling of Idiot Glee or “sheer mad joy at the world” as painter Peter Schmidt put it. Now, I think this would make a good guideline for economics and politics too, to mirror the magnificent spectacle of the universe instead of the tiresome waste of intelligence and life’s potential in the form of power struggles, ideologies and profits.

Listening to the nocturnal rain, most of the problems in the world appear so unnecessary, just pure waste of that intelligence and potential. And all of this waste while we’re living inside this wonder that is the universe.

With the rain comes a scent, a fresh smell of trees, plants and concrete. How extraordinary is that, one might wonder, in a universe so infinitely empty and lifeless?

 

Generative composition for a forest

The space for a forthcoming installation of mine: the inside and outside of an information/workshop/radio station hub in a forest in Belgium (Klankenbos, Neerpelt). This will be a 3-dimensional generative composition made specifically for and of the forest. After years of working with city sounds and focusing on the condition of urban spaces, it feels reinvigorating to explore the forest and the idea of ‘nature’ again (coming from Finland, the forest has always been a part of what I am). It’s also challenging because finally I’ve got an opportunity to incorporate all of my interests in one piece: those of ecology, chaos, complexity, nature/technology, long-term thinking, humans/nature, the future.

The piece, along with seven other works around the forest by my fellow artists, will be running from July 21st onward when there’ll be an unofficial opening; the official opening party will be on September 23rd, with live performances from us on a very ‘special’ stage. More info soon.

 

Here, now

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A quick sketch, done while immersed in one of the most memorable moments in my life. A kind of a souvenir. This is from Saint-Louis, a town close to the Mauritanian border in northern Senegal. Having spent a day discovering both new and more ancient art in the old town, getting to know local people, exploring streets and talking with various inspired artists as well as having just said bye to a dear friend of mine (until we meet again), I feel rather elevated and tender. I’m standing here by the ocean-front, just sensing the atmosphere – a vivid yet serene evening / the sun setting behind the Atlantic Ocean / kids running around and chasing goats and laughing / women in their elaborate dresses strolling by / a boy dumping the contents of his trash can straight into the ocean / the usual smell of garbage mixed with more exotic smells floating in the warm air / distant sounds of fishermen and mosques carried over the water / blended with evening birds and cicadas – and it is now that I finally realize I am here on a new continent, and it is exactly the right place to be in this moment. I feel deep joy, a revived sense of purpose settling in.

Waking up over the Sahara

I wake up somewhere over the Sahara. Everything is dark and quiet, only a sound from the airplane engines is audible. We’ve left Madrid several hours ago, one hour late, and it must be few hours past midnight now on our flight to Dakar. Everyone around me is asleep but I’m unable to close my eyes anymore: tired of traveling all day, I just want to touch down on the continent, see how it might look down there with my own eyes, and travel to meet my friends. I lean forward and look out the window expecting to see nothing at this point: and there, somewhere in a vast darkness that is the Sahara Desert, a moon with a neon orange shine is climbing above the horizon. A neon orange moon, in the middle of this darkness! I look further up, and gradually the whole sky appears like an ocean of stars, shimmering in a fullness that moves this country boy grown under northern stars to few tears. Far below them, scattered lights on the ground – towns and villages one can only imagine about – in a sea of complex twinkling as if a reflection of the nature above. Here I am above West Africa, under the stars, somewhere in the infinite universe, with an orange moon as my companion.

Few realizations during the trip:

– I care and am passionate about music more than ever
– I couldn’t care less about current music industry/business/media
– I’m passionate about social development, humanity and contemporary art more than ever
– I want to combine my music/sound art practice with the world instead of music business or the art world. How?
– Human cooperation is the greatest wisdom/truth/ideology/act/theory/social media app there is – if there ever has to be one