Rehearsals, 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.

Flash of the Spirit – new album out now

My new album Flash of the Spirit is out now. This is my sixth album, and it builds on the direction begun on my previous albums Arrival City, Sahara and LOS-HEL: Possible Cities.

The album is inspired by my travels and experiences in West Africa. It’s a reflection on a kind of liminal global space, imaginary and real, that exists in between and beyond cultures, nations, borders, ecosystems, beliefs, social constructs, identities and differences. This space is always in the state of becoming: changing, emerging and suggesting new possibilities.

Similarly, the music defies any clear categorization and well-established aesthetics, existing and moving between Minimalism, Afrobeat, Electronica, Krautrock, Gospel, Ambient and West African traditional musics – as if heard and treated through a slightly futuristic perspective. My idea has been to make an approachable yet artistically uncompromising, melodic, rhythmic, emotive record, one that can grow on repeated listening over time. I always imagine the music that I’m making belonging to a possible future world (“music holds the promise of a different world”).

The title refers to the book of the same name by Robert Farris Thompson, which I’d read during my residency in Benin. It’s also a nod to the album of the same name by Jon Hassell & Farafina. It’s also a reference to those great “flashes of the spirit” that I kept coming across on my travels.

The album is available now on my Bandcamp site, and on all the other digital music stores and streaming services from 2 November onwards.

Flash of the Spirit

My new album Flash of the Spirit is finally reaching completion, ready to be mastered and released soon. Only one piece is still on the cusp of becoming either funky pop electro disco (LCD Soundsystem) or funky avantgarde disco experiment (Kraftwerk), always a tough choice. The album is based on my experiences in West Africa and on the adventures and conversations with my dear friends scattered around the globe, and it incorporates my field recordings from West Africa into the music. I’m immensely happy about this album and its emotional landscape I often ponder why I spend months in the studio joyously perfecting something that has absolutely no practical function in the world (I wish it had but it doesn’t). Am I wasting my passion, skills and dedication? Currently I think that I am since my music has no broader cultural resonance. But I can’t help it: when making music I feel like I’m participating in the whole scientific, social and cultural conversations in levels that go beyond ideologies, mindsets, borders, identities, beliefs…I feel free, inhabiting a culturally diverse, playful, socially and economically equal green world. Art becomes a tool to imagine and pull oneself towards a preferable future.

Yet this possible future keeps remaining just a ‘hope’ for most people on this planet, for totally unnecessary, outdated societal and financial designs. Why? On the planet where there are more resources – food, water, shelter, money – to cater for everybody than what’s needed, then why come there’s scarcity of everything: food, water, shelter, money?

I’m currently working also on new pieces by Emeka Ogboh for his exhibition in Paris, revisiting Lagos soundscapes and our LOS-HEL: Possible Cities, but this time from a whole different angle. It’s a refreshing departure from my album work, and Lagos has never sounded more contemporary and futuristic, thanks to Emeka’s musical vision. More info on this soon too.

Please redesign the world. All the problems in the world are utterly ridiculous, childish.

No one will ever ask you to do the thing you want to do

Update on the lengthy silence: I’m having fun and productive days in the studio.

I’m currently working on a new album (actually three new albums but two of them require more time to mature) which will be out this summer. The music feels exciting though the funny thing is that all the pieces were originally made in the early 2000, 17+ years ago when I was living in London and obsessed with combining my ideas, impressions and passions of everything African, a continent where I’d never been to, with the cutting-edge electronic music at the time. I made probably over 300 tracks but in the subsequent years most of these became lost due to broken, discarded or stolen technology; some survived on old DAT tapes and harddrives. When this Kenyan poet and I initiated a project few years ago, where we were to combine her spoken poems with my electronic compositions – inspired by our collaboration on the Wild At Dusk track from my album Arrival City – I reworked several of those surviving pieces, enlightened by my extensive travels and musical experiences in West Africa by then. Nothing emerged from this collaboration (as is naturally the case with 99% of all the potential ideas out there) and I forgot most of them.

Amid my depression resulting from the release of Pulses / Radiance (for a while I felt that was going to be my last album ever: I had made it with huge enthusiasm, excited about its new musical landscape, rhythmic invention, new kind of feeling and the joy and energy that the tracks seemed to exude…only to be met with utter silence upon its release), I stumbled upon these reworked early London pieces and was amazed how complete they sounded: music from a colourful possible future! (This is a familiar pattern: the initial self-criticism gets lost in time and you hear things fresh). So I began to rework some of those tracks again, to fill the spaces originally intended for the spoken word to inhabit. And I must say, this will be one of the most melodic, emotional and funkiest records that I’ve put out – a sort of hybrid between Shimmer & Bloom, Arrival City and Sahara.

In the music business there’s always so much pressure on you to repeat the same thing over and over until you’ve polished/reduced your work into a marketable sleek product, devoid of any interesting life; to make music that just sounds like more music. I can’t do that, I get bored so quickly. Once I’ve explored something, I want to move onto new things, start experimenting again: to continue making music that feels like life, or a possible world, with all its imperfections, fragility, uncertainty, randomness, beauty, inventiveness and vitality. Yet there’s often so little encouragement and demand from the world for you to do that. To quote the words of the acclaimed artist Laurie Anderson: “No one will ever ask you to do the thing you want to do…do not wait for this to happen, it will never happen…so just think of what you’d like to do, what you dream of doing, and then just start doing it.” Of course the thrilling thing is when you discover that the work you did 17 years ago feels suddenly exciting and fresh again, that you’d been sort of ahead of yourself but not knowing how to harness that potential at the time. There’s a continuity to your ideas and colourful, if uncertain, journey.

The pulse and radiance of the world

My new album Pulses / Radiance is now available for streaming + download on all the major digital services worldwide, incl. Spotify, TIDAL, Amazon, iTunes, Deezer, Google Play, Juno and many others.

I’m really excited about this album. 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, new rhythmic landscapes and music as gradually evolving, constantly living condition where the changes happen more on a micro- than macro-level.

The idea and inspiration for the album is the underlying brilliance and potential of life when not wasted by ideology, belief systems and unnecessary societal designs; the cities, communities and nature, and the energy, vitality and the potential they exude; the concepts of ecology, emergence and complexity; multiculturalism, cooperation, coexistence; the intelligence, emotional depth and overall potential of humanity; and the wonder that is this living, breathing planet amid an endless and lifeless (so far) cosmological “miracle”, the universe.

Humans are one of the most conscious species on this planet, and with this consciousness comes a responsibility. When a consciousness enters the game of evolution, the Darwinian (and often misunderstood and misquoted) idea of “survival of the fittest” goes out of the window: one can always choose to cooperate instead of competing. We are here with a rare chance to assist the life evolve further, not to conquer, exploit and destroy it for our brief economic and consumerist high. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to nurture and evolve life on this planet into something marvellous, sustaining and inspiring – for the future generations, but also for the simple fact that the Earth is the only place where the life exists, although precariously, in the known universe. What is the point of the alternative: to sacrifice everything for the short-term value of shareholders? To fuel the greed of the fossil-fuel industry? To serve an economy which is designed only to increase the wealth of the 0.1% of humanity? To halt the natural progress by uncritically following the imaginary world-views and worshipping imaginary gods that our more primitive ancestors came up with? We have the key to turn this planet into an exciting orb of mutual celebration, enjoyment, cooperation, togetherness, creativity, experimentation, shared wealth, natural wonderment, love, freedom, and fertile playground for the further space exploration instead. And we actually have the intelligence, skills and resources to do this right now.

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.