Aihio – Outlands

My collaborative album with musician, composer and instrument maker Petteri Mäkiniemi has been finally released.

The album is called ‘Outlands’ and it’s released under the name Aihio, our new musical duo. Aihio is a Finnish word meaning musical motif, sketch, a work in progress – or in my mind now “a space where new ideas can emerge and develop”.

The album consists of 11 instrumental pieces that weave elements and influences from minimalism, experimental electronic music and West African musical styles into an impressionistic and atmospheric sound of their own. The composers and artists whose work has inspired the music include Arvo Pärt, Cluster, Fela Kuti, Jon Hassell and Pan Sonic, to name a few.

The music features Petteri on Ginette (an electronic musical instrument designed and built by him and based on the French electronic instrument ondes Martenot, developed in 1928) and me on Afrorithmics (afrobeat + algorithmic composition). The pieces have been improvised and recorded live in the studio with no overdubs; they have emerged during two rehearsal sessions when we were developing material for the Musica nova 2019 festival’s Tribute to Pan Sonic concert, to which we were invited to present new work with musicians from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Centre, February 2019.

I can only describe the album as a journey through varied terrains while immersed in the landscape, wondering the universe above; or orbiting the Earth and seeing the patterns of geologies and civilizations unfold without borders (no experience of that however); or travelling across galaxies and soaking up some stardust (some previous experience of that); or just watching a deer wander across a nocturnal meadow engulfed by mist and a golden midnight sun.

The French music blog The Black Box has been the first to note the release, calling the album “a musical curiosity”. The review is in French, but here’s the main segment translated by Google:

“A strange mechanical rhythm seems to support the album, like the hum of an engine, or the timing of a machine tool. Yet behind it is well long organic synth tracks that shape the rest of the pieces. This duality is present throughout the album almost, forcing the listener to take his trouble in patience, to listen carefully to the music to detect all that is hidden there, namely a universe. So simple album? Movie soundtrack? Video game? It’s a bit all at once, and more.”

I rather like that description “to listen carefully to the music to detect all that is hidden there, namely a universe”, because that’s what I felt when mixing the pieces in the studio: it felt often as if I was looking at this world from a higher orbit, or gazing up at the stars, or being immersed in rich and varied terrains, outlands. It’s quite rare to have this kind of impressions when working in a more technical and objective mode, but that’s what Petteri’s playing always did to me. It’s also a great compliment when you don’t know exactly how the music was made, what constitutes the elements, which instruments have been used. It takes the music slightly back to that condition of appearing “as strange and mysterious to you as the first music you ever heard” (from Brian Eno).

Peter van Cooten from Ambientblog reviews the album and writes:

“Outlands is a highly original album, in sound as well as in its background concept. Even in the ‘experimental’ electronic genre, many sounds and processes are alike. Aihio manages to step outside the box and create their own unique sound. Literally!”

He wonders about the inclusion of Fela Kuti in our list of inspirations though. It was actually Brian Eno who said that the closest form of popular musics to ambient and generative music was Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat: they all evolve from a loose set of rules and ingredients, proceed organically through the layers of interlocking rhythms and elements, balance discipline and freedom, and create immersive environments – music as places. Naturally we didn’t try to imitate Fela’s Afrobeat but to use some of the textures, sounds and aesthetics, and transform them into new kinds of rhythmic terrains and, well, outlands.

The Bandcamp release includes higher quality audio and additional album artwork. The album will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and all the other digital music platforms from Aug 2 onwards.

I hope you’ll enjoy this journey and landscape as much as Petteri and I have. It’s been an adventure.

Spring Makes Noise

Spring makes noise – and certainly so in the studio! A short update on what’s kept me busy and inspired recently.

I’m currently working on three different albums which will be released this year. The process of finishing them is slower than usual since I’m also researching and writing my Master’s thesis at the same time: it’s a philosophical adventure about generative music, complexity and “new future environments” but let’s not go into that now…

The first, still untitled album is my collaboration with Petteri Mäkiniemi which will be out in June. It combines Petteri’s self-designed and -built instrument Ginette with my “afrorithmic” system, and the result is rather beautiful and human, new kind of electronic music, mostly thanks to Petteri’s playing and the sound of Ginette (I’m just trying to hide in the background as much as possible). Musically it’s inspired by artists like Arvo Pärt, Cluster, Fela Kuti and Pan Sonic, to name a few.

The second one is my follow-up to Flash of the Spirit (2018) which will be out in July. It builds on the discoveries I’d made on that album as well as on Shimmer & Bloom (2011) and Arrival City (2013). 10 melodic and rhythmic ‘electronic contemplations’ of (the complexity of) the world. Somewhere between Seun Kuti’s Afrobeat, Aphex Twin’s electro, Kraftwerk’s pop, Erik Satie’s piano compositions and Grace Jones’ funk…so hard to define. (it’s basically me failing to make pop music that sounds like ‘pop music’ and ending up somewhere different 😉)

The third one is my experimental “World” album, currently titled Earth Variations. It started originally as a more extensive sound art project about migration, conflicts and borders, but since I wasn’t able to secure funding for its realisation, the initial sketches gradually evolved into instrumental compositions of their own. It still carries those themes at its core but in more abstract forms. The music builds on the ideas touched on Pulses / Radiance (2017), and is inspired by Jon Hassell’s Fourth World, Ben Frost’s industrial music and Steve Reich’s ensemble pieces among others. It’ll be released in October.

Thanks for reading!

Ginette & Afrorithm – Musica nova 2019 Q&A

As Petteri Mäkiniemi and I are preparing to perform in the Pan Sonic Tribute concert at the Helsinki Music Centre next Friday 1.2, as part of the Musica nova 2019 festival, we did a brief interview for the festival about the upcoming performance. The original posts are in Finnish, recreated here in English. Topic: Petteri’s Ginette and my “afrorithmic” system.
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In the Tribute to Pan Sonic concert the composer, music producer and sound artist Ilpo Jauhiainen and the musician, composer and instrument maker Petteri Mäkiniemi will present a partially improvised new work in which electroacoustic composition, minimalism and experimental electronic music meet West African musical influences, in a form inspired by Pan Sonic’s abstract, subdued and uncompromising aesthetic.

The concert will be realized together with musicians from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Centre on Fri 1 February.

Ginette

Petteri, what is Ginette?

Ginette is an electronic musical instrument designed and built by me, based on the French ondes Martenot electronic instrument developed in 1928. Ginette is played so that the right hand controls the pitch by moving a ring along a wire, while the left hand controls the loudness of the note with a stepless key. The design of the instrument enables expressive gestures such as vibrato, glissando and a wide dynamic range similar to bowed string instruments. All this happens through the fingertips of the player, not by turning knobs. In the musical performance I’m fascinated by the naked presence of human condition – how for example a gentle touch of the hand or an intimate blow from the mouth is audible in the characteristic sound of an instrument. This is also possible in electronic music. Currently I’m developing a new, more versatile version of Ginette.

Petteri Mäkiniemi (l) and Ilpo Jauhiainen (r). Photo: Heta Kaisto

Ilpo, in your performance you intend to use elements of field recordings made in West Africa that can be set to progress autonomously during the gig with the help of generative algorithms. What does this self-evolution of algorithms mean in terms of the live performance?

Generative i.e. self-evolving and -organizing elements bring a degree of surprise and added liveliness to the performance, both for the audience and performers alike. In this scenario, a computer sort of improvises how it transforms and reproduces the source material with the rules and processes that we’ve provided, and operates thus as one of the “human” performers. Algorithms can be designed to produce almost any kind of behaviour, but we’re fascinated mostly by certain consistency where the music evolves in a slightly random, probabilistic manner while retaining a recognizable character – like a river that flows. In our performance one of the field recordings progresses and changes quite freely on its own whereas with the others the program introduces tiny variations around the gestures made by the performer.

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Recently we also had our first rehearsal with the full ensemble for the concert. The ensemble consists of Jaani Helander (cello), Heikki Nikula (bass clarinet), Petteri Mäkiniemi (Ginette) and me (“afrorithmic generator”).

From the clockwise: Jaani, Heikki, Ilpo, Petteri (taking the photo)

This was my first time of playing together with members of a philharmonic orchestra, and it felt and sounded exhilarating!

Serendipity, surrender and the return of Afrorithm

Afrorithm in the house. I’m currently preparing for this special concert with a good friend of mine (and very talented musician) Petteri Mäkiniemi, at the Helsinki Music Centre next February. The concert will be a tribute to the pioneering Finnish electronic music duo Pan Sonic, and it’ll form part of the Musica Nova Helsinki contemporary music festival 2019.

Our idea is to create a new kind of music in which the aesthetics of Arvo Pärt and Olivier Messiaen meet those of West African musics, through the minimalist and sometimes brutalist aesthetics of Pan Sonic (we are also inspired by Jon Hassell’s musical concept known as Fourth World). Petteri plays his self-built instrument Ginette, which is based on the ondes martenot (and which appears on my album Pulses / Radiance), while I play my generative system called Afrorithm (Afrobeat + algorithmic composition). We’ll be joined on stage by a cellist and a bass clarinettist from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. 

So far we’ve had two rehearsals. While these began as innocent jam sessions for the concert only, we soon realized that we’d created an album’s worth of beautiful, new kind of music – less polished and produced, more spontaneous, candid and human; pastoral, orchestral, African and futuristic (the word ‘evergreen’ keeps also coming to mind). After six extensively crafted studio albums it feels invigorating to arrive somewhere fresh and fully formed so effortlessly, as if we had simply channelled this music onto the tape. Our plan now is to bring this serendipitous album out into the daylight early next year, possibly around the time of the concert…

The film composer Hans Zimmer said that music is at its best when it’s about people playing together in a room. I agree with him. As a music producer you mostly release your long crafted labours of love as digital downloads and streams only, and the work then drifts in isolation in an obscure world of internet clouds and distant servers. It’s all fine as a distribution model (barring the energy consumption of those servers) but you rarely get to hear and feel how the listeners react when they listen to your music; the function and purpose of your music, if any, remains mystery. But when it’s just even two people playing together in the same room, immersed in the moment and moved by each other’s sound and playing, you remember why you love music, and why it has become such an important tool for you to explore and understand this complex world pulsing with new possibilities.