Reimagine

Backstage at the closing ceremony of FESPACO film festival, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2013). The rhythms and sonic textures these musicians were producing were out of this world, from some kind of deep ancient future. Naturally I was in heaven (and my recorder heavily in overdrive).

Currently I’m working on a truly exciting collaboration that enables me to revisit my experiences in West Africa and imagine possible futures – probably my most favourite creative activity ever. I’ll post more info on this later when it’ll become more actualised. This project has made me realise that we are probably drawn to and occupied by the same ideas and possibilities throughout our lives: my first memory of making music was when I was six years old and I was trying to imagine a possible African landscape after seeing a documentary about “a village somewhere in Africa”; I’d become tantalised by its atmosphere, scenery and soundtrack so much that I’d wanted to recreate that distant, another world with the electronic organ at our home. And here I am, doing exactly the same thing 37 years later.

But what is it about this particular idea that keeps occupying me?

It’s about redesigning our society, our politics, our economy. No more poverty, no more inequality, no more conflicts, no more ideologies (e.g. the outdated and unnecessary left-right politics). Just conscious, intelligent, healthy, long-term outcomes. We could easily live in a world where no one has to struggle for living, where everyone is taken care of, where people can enjoy living instead of having to earn living, where the nature and the humanity continue to flourish in balance, where the world lives in deep freedom (a concept by the economist and philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger – find out more here) – and where the prosperity and growth come from us thriving as conscious and active citizens of the world and not from us struggling as passive consumers tied to the unsustainable, elite-serving capitalist system. We only need to change our outdated political and economic systems – and music and the arts are already way ahead in this act of rethinking, reimagining and redesigning, waiting for the politics and economics to catch up.

This idea is equally about borders, nations, nationalism, tribalism, cultures, ethnicities and origins: inhabiting a possible world beyond and in between all the these arbitrarily maintained divisions; belonging to and being a citizen of Earth instead of any arbitrary nation. Cultures and differences are reasons for celebration and cooperation – harmonious disagreements – not for inharmonious disagreements, conflicts and walls. We humans are all different but equal, cohabiting this tiny planet equally with millions of other species: Earth is the shared home of everyone and everything. When you are making possible musics – multicultural, transcontinental, imaginary and hybrid – you are not actually trying to imagine a possible future, you are simply trying to show the actual reality amid all the ideologically constructed, artificially maintained divisions that we keep wasting our precious resources on.

My new album, meanwhile, will be out in mid June (it keeps evading all the titles and verbal descriptions, that’s why). Please, do stay safe and healthy X

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