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.