Petals

‘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…

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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.

Algerian desert music

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).

Absent River

A video painting/music visualizer for Absent River, a track from the new album Interspaces:

Absent River was originally a spoken word piece for the Radio Continental Drift compilation A Radio-Bridge across the Zambezi (2018), consisting of remixes by artists and radio-makers from around the world in response to audio/radio pieces by local BaTonga women from both sides of the Zambezi river. My piece featured a story and voice by Lucia Munenge about the challenges for women to provide fresh water in Binga, a resettlement area in Zimbabwe for the BaTonga people and a result of the World Bank financed Kariba dam and lake which destroyed the original Zambezi Valley ecosystems and livelihoods.

A Radio​-​Bridge across the Zambezi on Bandcamp

Two years later I was approached by this rather interesting Finnish artist originally from Zambia, who was looking for a new kind of musical direction for her upcoming nationwide project about environmental and social issues: she had been inspired by my previous album Flash of the Spirit and especially the track Terra, and asked if I could send her a couple of more pieces in the similar spirit. Her brief was of “futuristic and uplifting electronic music with an African dimension”. Exalted and thrilled, I made her a total of 42 sketches and half-finished pieces in almost one sitting in two days, of which this version of Absent River was one. And while Lucia Munenge’s story had to go, her voice remains in the ambient texture of the track.

Unfortunately the project of this artist never came to fruition, for reasons I never learned (some venues like the National Museum of Finland had already been confirmed). She went on to release new music with this more commercial dance music producer (a suggestion from her record company perhaps? “We want more of the same”) while I relocated to Paris, my 42 sketches becoming the foundation from which the albums Sharawadji, Interspaces and Earth Variations emerged.

I hesitated retaining the original title, considering the serious reality told in the first version and the seemingly jubilant flow in the new one. But then I recalled some of the liner notes from the compilation: “After 60 years of struggle, the Valley Tonga people have a story to tell about cultural survival, creative resilience and determination for self-help and self-organisation.” The track itself is a continuation, an evolution, a ‘futurality’: the possibility that things could be different.

Interspaces is out now

My new album Interspaces is now available for streaming on all major music platforms.

The album is also available on Bandcamp where the release includes higher quality audio download and extended album artwork. In the end I decided to make two initially planned bonus tracks part of the official album since – thanks to the brilliant mastering once again by Gregor Zemljic – their inclusion felt natural, necessary and uplifting.

Interspaces – my tenth album (including two collaborations) – presents 11 tracks of largely electronic instrumentals with abstracted vocals, drawing from electronic, popular, contemporary and global musics. The initial idea has been to explore a new kind of beauty and sensitivity, spatiality and intricacy in music. The album features contributions from soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko @viktoriiavitrenko, bassist Omar Harb @omarharbmusic, and musician and Ginette player Petteri Mäkiniemi @petterimakiniemi.

Influenced by diverse ecosystems and worlds between vast empty landscapes and pulsating global metropolises, the music is furthermore inspired by the idea of globality and mundialization as well as the city of Paris where the album was produced between 2020 and 2022.”

With every release you try to reimagine the future world. And the feedback I’ve received so far regarding the new album has confirmed that music and sound, even those made by me, indeed have the capability to bring us to the world as it exists without being reduced, represented, distorted and clouded by ideologies – economic, political and religious constructs – and to show the potentiality and possibilities that the life, physical and nonphysical, continue to suggest. A complex, ambiguous, evolving, creative, more invigorating and freer state of existence: “a dawn of the world” as philosopher Deleuze described it. Or as Björk said, “this universe is truly a magnificent spectacle, and needs to be mirrored”. That’s why we have art, music and science.

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I would like to thank you for all your support and feedback so far, it’s been the most inspiring and catalyzing to receive and hear. I feel I’m at the beginning of a new musical discovery and adventure, and I hope many of you will continue to share this future journey with me as well.

Naturally I would also like to extend my heartfelt gratitude once again to Viktoriia, Omar and Petteri for their invaluable contribution to the album, and to Gregor Zemljic for his genius-like/zen-level mastering of the music. I’m delighted that this same group of collaborators and talent will be featuring on my next album Earth Variations as well.

With warmth and care,

Ilpo

Sharawadji out now

The latest album of mine, Sharawadji, will be available on all the major music streaming services on Fri 11 February. The album is currently available on Bandcamp where the release includes additional artwork and high quality download.

Here are a few photos of some of the locations where the album was recorded (I have lost most of my photos to broken harddrives over the years). Had a little nostalgia trip while going through these, and it reinforced my view that a piece of music is indeed a lot more than the end product: it’s the whole process and journey that goes into making it (that’s why AI can never replace music made by humans: it can of course make music based on its own processes and journeys, but never replicate the human experience…).

New album out on 1 Jan 2022

My new album Sharawadji will be out on Saturday 1 Jan 2022.

I know it’s an unusual release date: new releases are often unveiled on Fridays, and rarely early in the year. But this is an unusual release (at least for me) – and I feel the characteristics of the music fit the idea of “something new”, celebration, breaking habits. 🙂 It’ll be initially available on Bandcamp only, appearing on all the other streaming services later in January (the exact delivery date is yet to be set).

I’ve been listening to the mastered version of the album for the last couple of weeks now – and I cannot believe how amazing it sounds! Even my mastering engineer was enthusing about how much he enjoyed working on this album (and this is a guy who masters records for a lot of the global music stars, including my inspirations like Brian Eno and the late Jon Hassell, the inventor of Possible Musics). He really did the most amazing job, making this colourful, diverse album sound like one unified experience as if all the tracks were actually created for this album originally*.

Paris was the city where I first got an idea for a kind of global, genreless and borderless, possible music – and here I am, 26 years later, making exactly the kind of music I’d imagined while sitting on the Pont des Arts all those years ago and listening to this wonderful Malian musician perform with a badly distorted amplifier. The fruit ripens slowly indeed (as the Indian saying goes).

Have a wonderful and relaxing holidays!

* One of the tracks was started with a dear friend of mine back in London in 1996, and I still remember the moment he played an updated version of it over the phone while I was standing in a telephone booth in a warm Amsterdam night: I’d never heard anything like it before, and the novelty and energy of his drum patterns pulsating down the line made me so high – well, higher than I already was. It was then, in that booth, that I realised the possibilities of (electronic dance) music were way vaster and way more imaginative than what our (techno) culture at the time promoted and favoured… it made me also realise there was so much more potential in this world if we just try, as my friend had just doubted his abilities as music producer before my departure; alone in our flat and with all the time and space around him, he’d discovered his talent and passion…And now I’m really happy that a new version of this track found its way onto this record: a sonic memory of those youthful experiments back in the day, carried through the decades and infused with (even more) youthful experiments of today.

Our Last Night at the Cité

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 !

Becoming World

An update on my forthcoming album, followed by a longer reflection on the present and the future.

Since I’ve been busy writing and finishing my thesis lately, it seems I have to postpone the release of my new “electro/Tokyo-meets-Dakar-meets-Arctic-meets-Sahel” album until early next year. The album would be ready for release in early December, but I always feel that the end of the year isn’t the most ideal time to put out new music, especially the kind that has more spring/summer vibe to it; and soon the release will be a thing of the last year and decade (at least in the eyes of the media), even though the music won’t become mainstream until perhaps 2040. 😉 And since some of the tracks were already started nearly 20 years ago but still manage to sound new, I think the record will sound fresh next year also. Or, I might be put out the (higher quality) Bandcamp version before Christmas, but the Spotify et al. release will have to wait till next year due to the delivery times.

This might be my last album (at least for a while) in terms of “traditional” electronic music with beats, basslines, chords, melodies, song structures…I feel I’ve been there and done that – unless some great collaborative project e.g. with some truly interesting singer emerges, which would bring a whole new purpose and dimension to producing music. But as far as my solo work with instrumental electronic “pop” goes, I’m done (and I couldn’t be happier to be exiting with this new album, because I think it’s the best I’ve done). Instead, I want to start going deeper into and continue exploring further the new musical landscapes and possibilities like those suggested by my another album-in-progress, Earth Variations, which moves somewhere between (the ever-blurring categories of) world music, possible music, contemporary composition and sonic art. It’ll be more experimental and, unfortunately, even less popular than my current output, despite (or perhaps because of) it retaining the human and emotive warmth, soul, at its core. Some of that exploration will probably find its natural platform also in Aihio, my duo with Petteri Mäkiniemi.

Besides the natural curiosity, another catalyst for this wanting to go musically and sonically somewhere new and exciting has been the process of writing my thesis, which explores generative music, site-specific sound and interdisciplinary art through the philosophy of becoming: to my surprise, the last six months of writing it became the most exhilarating mental journey I’ve ever taken! Especially the reading and pondering of the philosophy (Deleuze), and having the opportunity to apply it creatively to the ideas about music and sound, took me to places that I probably would have never reached otherwise; it also reconnected me with my passion for writing (I’ve been trying to get back to it for decades but music has always won – until now). After finishing the process, music-making suddenly seemed…ordinary, routine, creatively and conceptually rather one-dimensional.   

The composer John Cage said that making music is a form of philosophy, a way to think about, understand and be in this world. I have always felt that way too. For example, songs like Prince’s When Doves Cry, Donna Summer’s State of Independence, David Bowie’s Heroes, Talking Heads’ Born Under Punches, Velvet Underground’s Run Run Run, Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, Fela Kuti’s Alu Jon Jonki Jon, Björk’s Jóga, Brian Eno’s By This River, and so on, are not just great pieces of pop music/art, they are (to me) entire cosmologies, studies of the fundamental aspects of existence – not in any lyrical but more dynamic, spatial and sonic sense, in the relations and spaces between the sounds they contain. And I’ve approached my own music-making similarly, it has always been more concerned with the world than the capitalist demand for fresh product.

And this has led to my growing discontent with having to operate within the music industry in general. Whereas my favourite field, architecture, considers the whole world – politics, economy, society and culture – and operates simultaneously as a creative, intellectual, practical and academic practice, the field of music is mostly concerned with hype, ego, instagrammability, showmanship, the amount of social media “likes” and Spotify listeners – all so very unimportant, uninteresting and ephemeral things, in my view. There’s no room or need for discussions, ideas, thinking. Perhaps in the 1970s and 80s it was more common that an artist’s album release was accompanied by a broader cultural and philosophical discussion among the press and audiences about the work’s function and ideas (or maybe I’ve read too many interviews of Brian Eno from that time), but now it seems like music is treated as a mere supplementary and forgettable decoration, a by-product of a larger entertainment manufacturing, an indifferent stream of background data which you skim for few seconds before skipping to the next stream. The dichotomy between the (inner) world that surrounds and goes into the making of a piece of music and the (outer) world that receives it is often enormous – it’s almost like someone solved the theory of everything which would then be used to advertise a can of baked beans at the local supermarket only.

Well, I don’t actually blame audiences for wanting to use music as an escapist entertainment only, in the current world of global problems and political balderdash – and there’s simply too much music out there for any of it to receive proper attention – although I’ve always maintained that instead of escape, music actually takes us even more towards and within the reality, closer to the dynamic nature of existence and its inexhaustible potential (that philosophical function of music again). Perhaps music and art are moments of reality amid our ideological aberrations of political power games and free market religiosity?

Having had my senses arisen by the philosophical adventure and yet made even more unquiet by the dichotomy between my interests and the overall function of music, I’ll continue exploring this new musical (’possible musical’?) direction with great curiosity. I’ve always found myself occupying the spaces between things – be they research fields, art forms, cultures, continents, accepted musical genres – and it’s time I fully embrace this liminal condition and start cultivating its seemingly less crowded and less saturated terrain.    

Thank you for reading, I really appreciate that!

Warmth X


Cover image: “Between architecture, music and environment – composing Future Forest Space in Neerpelt, Belgium, 2017”. Photo by Rachel Mrosek

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!

Stop Making Music

Ah I love you DJ Meredith from NYC ❤️ She’s played my whole album Flash of the Spirit in the last 12 episodes of her Afrobeat Show on the BTR Radio! I’m amazed at how she’s managed to find suitable spots even for the most delicate pieces like Dreamer and Hopeful Stars (well usually towards the end of the set to bring her vivacious global journey to a calmer end). I’m taken by the length at which she’s introduced the album in most episodes, it’s been hugely flattering to be featured alongside such icons of mine like Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, Rokia Traoré and Tony Allen.

https://www.btrtoday.com/artist/ilpo/2019/

It’s always interesting to hear your pieces on the radio or playlists surrounded by a lot of different music, because then you realize how different your music often sounds. I was never aware of this until some friends mentioned years ago that I had my own sound and that I should explore it. For a while I considered it a failure, then the words of Samuel Beckett appeared: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” For me, the idea of making music has always been to “produce things that are as strange and mysterious to you as the first music you ever heard”, to quote Brian Eno. Music holds the promise of a different world, and I’ve never understood the point of making music that just sounds like more of the same. Remember the first music you ever heard, what did it make you feel, imagine? Music is art and research like anything else, responding to the evolving world. “Stop making music, start making something that excites you right now.” (my personal note).