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.

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.