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

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.