‘Dancers’ from the album Interspaces (2022). This visualizer is made entirely of footage filmed in the Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, October 2020.
This will be the last video painting/visual contemplation for the Interspaces album – unless some visual artist wants to make a proper video artwork to accompany the music. I will now quieten for my writing residency in Finland for the next six months, focusing on my upcoming book on the future society through sonic arts while also finalising the album Earth Variations, to be released in the autumn (depending on the funding).
‘Dancers’ was originally made for the Hay Festival of Literature & Arts in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in 2010, to be used in the background for the reading of Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s book The Tightrope Walker. In the reading, five voice actors read passages from the book in five different languages: the minimalist ambient/background drone on the track itself is made entirely from the voice of one of these actors – a Ghanaian man reading in Twi – modeled acoustically through a sustained note of a string instrument. The rest of the music was completed at the Cité des arts residency in Paris in 2021, with everything recorded in one improvised take after another during one particularly tender yet elated late night studio session. All subsequent attempts to “improve” these initial takes simply failed to capture the fullness of life in that moment in time, so eventually I left everything as it had first come into being: earnest, imperfect and pristine.
One strong influence on the music – apart from O Superman by Laurie Anderson – was the painting Dance (La Danse) by Henri Matisse, made in 1910. While recording, I suddenly started picturing the painting and the rhythm and movement of its figures and colours. In fact, all my music has been rather strongly influenced by the painting style in question: Fauvism!
‘Petals’ from the new album Interspaces, featuring Petteri Mäkiniemi on Ginette. A proper music video/short film for the track is currently being developed with this internationally acclaimed media artist, and it will be released sometime next Spring (due to time and budget constraints). I wanted to try some visual experiment for the piece now, however, while the album is still fresh…
Petals has been 24 years in the making. The ambient background was created during a summer night in 1998 in Suonenjoki, Finland: I had my studio and rehearsal space in this wooden cabin by a pond, surrounded by forests and fields on an organic farm where I spent that summer working, and while I was recording, I could see through my window nocturnal mist hovering above the still surface of the water, interrupted only by two swans gliding quietly together. The landscape was illuminated by a full moon and the reflection of a midnight sun. A couple of years later in London a friend of mine wanted to use the track as background music for his painting exhibition, and for the purposes of the show I added a voice of this Finnish girl reading a poem of mine (in Finnish), timestretched into a more abstract and ethereal layer.
For the next 20 years the piece remained unchanged – and unreleased, despite my efforts to find a suitable context and form for it – until one Spring morning in Paris I finally realised how to continue with the music. Petals was finally finished during a summer night in 2021 at my Cité des arts studio in Paris: going through a heartbreak caused by this artist (coincidentally from Finland), I felt the piece was still missing something until I stumbled upon a lone Ginette recording Petteri had made and sent me the year before; Ginette’s expressive power and harmonic progression matched both the existing composition and, with some added raw distortion, my emotive state perfectly, as if recorded specifically for this piece, and brought the composition and my broken heart finally to a close. There were no swans gliding on a moonlit pond outside my window that night but a soft hum of the Parisian traffic, a couple of nocturnal birds singing, and a sense of a new dawn.
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).
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 !
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.
I’m currently doing an artist residency at the Cité internationale des arts for a year: working on various musics (Earth Variations and a tentatively titled album Sharawadji), developing the Future Forest Space II generative composition, and researching and writing (gravitating towards philosophy, judging by my recent haul from my local bookshop, Shakespeare & Company).
Paris has always felt like home to me, ever since my first visit here in 1995, so it feels wonderful to be able to immerse myself in this microcosm with greater time. While the city feels lovingly timeless and is always recognisable, it’s constantly permutating, evolving and progressing; it’s a multiplicity upon multiplicity upon multiplicity which never ceases to pique and inspire me.
Below some photos of the residence and its surroundings, with my crappy (apologies) phone camera.