World / Interspaces

‘World’, featuring soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko on additional vocals, from the album Interspaces. The main vocal is by Taina Grohmann, quite heavily timestretched here, and it’s an outtake from my debut album Shimmer & Bloom (2011). The video consists of photographs taken by me in Tokyo, Marrakesh, Fes, Cotonou, Agouegan and Helsinki.

What makes this track really special to me is that it became, unintentionally, a condensation of my most cherished musical awakenings: from Can to Fela Kuti, Bernard Parmegiani to Steve Reich, Brian Eno to Björk, Jon Hassell to Pan Sonic, etc. to etc., it seems to have distilled ingredients from all these influences into its own kind of worldly essence. Especially four pivotal discoveries come to mind: ‘Boat-Woman-Song’ by Holger Czukay and Rolf Dammers (from their 1969 album Canaxis), ‘Come Out’ by Steve Reich (1966; it was preceded by a similar tape piece It’s Gonna Rain but Come Out was my first encounter with Reich), ‘Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics’ by Jon Hassell / Brian Eno (1980), and ‘Kokoku’ by Laurie Anderson (from her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak).

It’s also fascinating to notice that we indeed seem to be occupied by the same few ideas throughout our lives, exploring and cultivating them as we go along: when visiting Finland this summer and listening through my old tape archive (what’s left of it anyway: I have foolishly discarded most of my early demo cassettes), I was amused to realise that several of the tracks I’d made 30 years ago bore a distant similarity to pieces like World. While obviously exuding more naivety and my attempt to follow the musical trends of the time (like Balearic and ambient house), their shortcomings hinted at a desire to break free and create stylistically something more diverse and global; I was a teenager dreaming of a better world as well as exploring more of this world. And a couple of those pieces actually got played on the Finnish national radio (Radiomafia) where the presenters described them as “very interesting and original” at the time: the memory of having such an experimental mainstream radio culture now feels like a dream from a fictitious world, with any differing colour and sparkle (and any sign of a more complex and potential world) having been quashed decades ago by the monotonous industry playlists of hyper-consumerism.

But despite late capitalism’s best efforts, life continues to flourish and diversify – like in the basement rehearsal space of the Cité international artist residency, where I was fortunate to encounter the Ukrainian soprano, conductor and artistic director Viktoriia Vitrenko. When we were later recording her vocals and I sat there listening to her experiment (“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”), I felt a new musical awakening, a possible music waiting to be unearthed beyond the albums of mine we were working on – except this time, instead of records and radio waves I was in the same room where the music was coming into being. To experience such an unguarded moment of openness and play, when things break free and your preconceived ideas fail and become receptive to the environment – a molar world becoming molecular, a difference in the atmosphere becoming sensible yet still indeterminable – is what philosopher Gilles Deleuze might have described as being “present at the dawn of the world”.

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.