As the end of the year approaches we had a little extra fun with the Contemporary Collective when making a promo video last weekend.
The talented young cinematographer Pietu Peltola, who has done the camera work in the recent Art house film and critical success ‘They have escaped / He ovat paenneet’, filmed us in a factory hall in eastern Helsinki.

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The film is being edited right now and next week I will add some voice-over in German, as the video is part of a campaign by the ‘Music Finland’ organization to promote Finnish music in the German speaking countries.

The GAS countries, Germany, Austria & Switzerland, as they are called here.

The beautiful black & white photography however should be fun enough to watch, even if you don’t understand the German language. It’ll be a GAS, GAS, GAS!

The film should be out by Christmas.
It’ll be on YouTube, where else, and I will put a link to it on the Videos page.

All the best to all of you for the Holiday Season!
Keep on eye on the gig calender and join us next year in one (or more) of our concerts.

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Toys

The concerts are over, the bills are paid, almost all paper work is done.
There are just a few more reports to be filed in order to get the support that has been granted.

It looks like we broke even this time, which is better than earlier tours that had been artistically just as successful, but economically needed to be considered as ‘investments’ into a better future.
It’s not an easy task to get six people to six concerts in various parts of the country.
But I still think it’s worth the trouble, particularly as it is my own music that I’m making the effort for.

So: Thank You, everybody!
All you people who came to listen, all you people who helped in organizing, all you people who decided to support this band by bestowing us grants!

We got some great feedback after the concerts.
One of the most memorable ones may have been that of an elderly lady who came up after the concert to say that ‘it wasn’t aggressive at all – very well balanced!’

Also some reviews were outright raving like the one in RondoClassic (in Finnish), where I got described as the ‘wizard behind the piano’. Not bad!

What became clear again, is that the artistic chemistry in this band works brilliantly. I am so grateful to my fellow musicians for pouring their soul into my music, for all the spontaneous interaction, for their enormous musicality.

Take an improvisation like the one we played in Tornio, only agreeing on two keys, creating fifteen minutes of sheer magic!
Listening to these improvisations afterwards, I often feel like it wasn’t me who did this.
I don’t even know where these ideas come from, I  didn’t even know I could play such stuff, I just happened to be there looking at my fingers moving, listening to the other musicians, listening to the textures that evolved right there in front of my ears and eyes.

It’s a strange profession we have.
One night we drove home by car after a gig, having played to about as many people in the audience as there were in the band. Still it seemed worth the while. I got a little worried about the finances and all, but what great listeners these guys had been!
And you never know what comes of it! Maybe these few guys will spread the word of an intense band who played fantastically!

So, exhausted but happy, slightly relieved, too, I’m back in the composer’s shed, preparing next year’s tour, writing new material, experimenting with some new effect pedals, practicing the Theremin. There’s always something to do.

Now the final preparations for the Contemporary Collective’s tour in October/November are keeping me busy.
Flights, car rentals, hotels, stage maps, rehearsal booking, the actual rehearsals, maybe still writing a new piece, if I get around to it.

Once we’re on the way, we will start in Lapland, where we play in two very beautiful halls, the Korundi hall in Rovaniemi on October 23rd and the Music house in Tornio on October 24th.

Both concerts are featuring the string quartet / guitar / piano – version of the band.
Beautiful music (even, if I say so myself) in various settings:
guitar and string quartet (from our recording ‘The Zen Connection’),
piano and string quartet (from my piano concerto ‘Motion’),
the string quartet alone performing my ‘Quatuor no. 2 – In Farben’, which we will record later on this year, and some new pieces for the whole band.

A week later on Wednesday, October 29th, bass clarinetist Heikki Nikula will join us at the Kanneltalo in Helsinki.
Here is a link to the Kanneltalo’s brochure:

Then in November the quartet version of the band will get on the road: Kajaani, Loviisa and finally the Kansi Auki Festival in Helsinki on November 13th.
Bass clarinetist Heikki Nikula, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen, me on piano and cellist Markus Hohti will introduce the Collective’s new recording ‘Outer Space’.

‘There is no borderline between jazz and contemporary classical music.
There is only a small gap between mindsets, a tiny little opening of space for the NOW – a universe for the improvising musician. This is where the Sid Hille Contemporary Collective operates.’
These are the liner notes on the CD cover and that’s exactly how it is!

Here is a first draft of the cover which I made myself. Trusted designer Maarit Kytöharju is currently working on the final version, the record will be available by mid-October.

Outer Space

Aug 10 2014

Diversity

It’s not getting boring, that’s for sure!

Infinita Live

August 22nd in Italy with Infinita
August 28th with Mikko Pellinen and more young talent in Kokkola
August 30th my 300. solo concert in Helsinki’s Temppeliaukio Church
September 3rd the premiere of my bandoneon concerto in Lappeenranta

Within two weeks four completely different settings, four different job descriptions, even though all four of them feature my own music and at three of them I’ll be playing the piano.

Longer concert tours with the same band and the same repertoire, as they are typical for a rock show, are a rare pleasure for jazz musicians and with the Contemporary Collective I will have that pleasure later in fall and especially during spring next year  when we embark on a jazz federation tour.

But the diversity of these next two weeks very much reflects my work nowadays. Several different projects are up in the air, needing to be juggled at the same time. The allotted amount of working time gets segmentized into composing, performing, office, research and practicing – pretty much in that order.

Some of you may have been wondering what these job descriptions actually mean. Like: composing? Ahm, ok….but, like, how do you do that, what do you DO? Or: office? I thought you’re a musician…

Well, here, I’d like to give you a little account as to how I go about these processes, how I feel while doing ‘the job’, what’s challenging about it and why I love it.

Composing
I often tell my students that a composer is the guy who does it, the one who puts those notes onto paper, into a computer or some other recording device. You can have great ideas, but unless you mediate them, nobody will ever know you had those ideas in the first place and therefore they might as well never have been there.
This expression, ‘the guy who does it’, also describes another feature of this process: persistence.
Especially when writing for larger ensembles, I find that composing demands an enormous amount of patience and consistency.
Putting little dots on a piece of paper can be very tedious work, it’s a slow process – a single bar may sometimes take you hours – and sitting there for hours on end can really get on your nerves.
I get up in between, walk around the room or do some stretching, play drums or flute or even theremin. Mostly physical things.
I find that my ears and my imagination are refreshed after taking some distance and to hear with ‘fresh ears’ what you just wrote can inspire new ideas of how the piece could go on from there.
In the end,  a composer is the guy who fills in all the blank spots in the score until he reaches the last bar.
It’s some kind of marathon discipline.
Obviously there is also a lot of joy involved, while improvising looking for new ideas, shaping phrases until they seem ‘just right’, seeing it grow; there is joy in the anticipation of the performance, imagining how it will sound with the orchestra.

Performing
In jazz music, at least in the type of jazz I play, there is a lot of spontaneity involved.
It would seem like the opposite of the slow process of composing, but I experience it more as ‘the other side of the same coin’.
Jazz improvisation is like composing with a pressure cooker on. As you can’t go back and change what you just did, you can only move forward accepting as a basis what’s happened so far.
I don’t make mistakes anymore, because there are no such things as mistakes. If something comes out another way than I had imagined it beforehand, I call it a ‘surprising twist’, which forces me to move on from there.
This will at times open up completely new angles and bring about very interesting and fresh results.
The presence of the audience increases and strengthens this effect. With people having paid to sit there and listen, you can’t say: Hey, hang on, wipe that, I’ll try that again! No: this is it and you better make the best of it!
I love that feeling of concentration. Being all ear! Listening to the ideas in your mind and to the sounds on the outside in a constantly evolving dialogue.

Office
This is the part of my job I can get exasperated with very easily. Being on the phone, organizing concerts, writing flyers and marketing material (or a blog as this one for that matter), applying for grants, looking for copies of parts or scores in my various shelves, sales reports, organizing rehearsals, tour transport and lodging, paying salaries.
They’re all jobs that are sort of ok to do by themselves and give me a kind of grown-up feeling about myself, but especially when tour dates don’t seem to want to fall into place (be it on account of the venues or the musicians involved) it can drive me crazy.
Mostly for the reason, that it’s such a puzzle work. It costs so much time which I’d rather spend practicing.
But somebody’s got to do it, and when you actually do get some concerts organized (or even a tour) it gives you quite a kick to move on, write new material, dream up new projects.

Research
Now, this is an interesting one. It’s a mixture between office and practicing. Reading instruction manuals, trying out new equipment, listening to recordings or watching films (I know: how can anybody call that work? – But it has to be done. I can’t just say, I don’t feel like it, I won’t do it.) Recently I’ve spent a lot of time with effect pedals, delays, boosters and the likes, experimenting with the sound of my Rhodes piano and my theremin. A nice different sound may inspire me to use the instrument in a different way than I used to. I’m doing this just now for the Contemporary Collective tours coming up.
I should spend more time with notation programs (which I hardly use at all – I write my scores still by hand, old-fashioned that I guess I am) or recording technology, but I find these topics really hard to spend time on. I rather watch a Japanese film with music by Takemitsu. I have to admit that after that I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve done good work – but I tell myself that most likely I learned something on an intuitive level.

Practising
Oh, I’m at the butt end of my list. I wish I could get around spending more time practicing. Obviously, repertoire for up-coming concerts or recordings gets practiced properly, but I mean the kind of practicing I did during my studies: finger training, exercises, scales, sight-reading through some Debussy or Prokofiev. Hours on end.
Well, you can’t have those anymore. Now it’s more like warming-up for fifteen, maybe thirty minutes and the job itself will keep you in the necessary shape.
Practicing repertoire for a solo performance, a trio gig or a bigger band certainly demands different techniques, so that will provide enough of a challenge for hands and mind.
But I can’t help dreaming of those Scarlatti sonatas and those scales in perfectly synchronized thirds that can always use a little work on the micro level. But as Scarlatti isn’t something I need on a day-to-day basis right now, this type of practicing is a luxury I get to spend time on very rarely.

But I’m not complaining. When I was a kid I used to dream of touring with a rock band around the world.
Now, playing the same repertoire in exactly the same way (‘as on the record’) every evening for a whole year or so, would seem like going to the office. I very much appreciate the challenges that the diversity of my job offers.
And as for the Contemporary Collective tours, there is no danger of our music getting stale even on a longer tour, as the four of us are improvising about 85 per cent of what’s happening, referring to only the slightest of cues my ‘Parameter chart’ demands.
Check it out on our Soundcloud.

Jun 10 2014

The 300. solo concert

This summer, on Saturday August 30th, I will play my solo piano improvisations at the Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki for the 300th time.
In a time when things are moving faster and faster, appearing and disappearing, here today – gone tomorrow, such a consistency seems like quite an achievement.

I started playing at the church on a sporadic basis in 2001, first only about once a month, but soon the concert schedule leveled on some 30 concerts a year: always on Wednesday mornings at 10.30.

The Temppeliaukio Church being one of the main tourist attractions of Helsinki, thousands of people from all over the world have heard and seen me play. Many a tourist has taken pictures. Already five years ago the biggest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat mentioned me as the ‘most photographed Finnish musician in Asia’.

Often a busload of visitors would just storm in, take some of the obligatory pictures and storm out to make it to the North Cape in time for dinner.
But often hundreds would settle, slow down their pace, close their eyes and just breathe in the beauty of these lovely acoustics, listen to the sounds that are invented right there in front of them, each time differently, each time new – each time NOW.

Temppeliaukio Church

I remember the old upright piano of the first years, a HELLAS, whose tuning had suffered many a temperature change.
Sometimes I wondered whether some of my CD’s had been bought out of compassion for the poor sod persisting on such an instrument.
But then the Church acquired a brand new Steinway grand piano, brought over from the factory in Hamburg, chosen by one of the leading Finnish classical pianists, Juhani Lagerspetz. Was it 2005 or 2006?
Oh, what a joy, what a glory! One of the loveliest instruments I ever laid my hands on.
My weekly ritual became a meditation, a service of some sort.

From the beginning I had made it a point to start every concert in a different way, never decide on any songs beforehand, allow the spontaneous whim to take me wherever it wants to, even if a familiar melody would come to my mind (or: to my imagination’s ‘inner ear’, as I call it), it would always present itself in a new way, in a new tempo, in a different rythm, with different harmonies.
Sometimes there may appear themes from my own recordings, sometimes there would be a folk melody, in recent years some church hymns have established their place in my vocabulary.
But what will happen, what will sound, is always a surprise to me, myself.

During the first years I used to record every single concert in order to catch the ‘jewels’, some little motives or musical ideas that could be used in compositions and might otherwise be lost in the ongoing flow of spontaneous outpour.
If ever anybody will take the trouble to trace back origins of my orchestral compositions, this is the place to look for them.

In recent years I’ve developed an ability to recognize these ‘jewels’ faster, while they occur, and I may also have a better memory now to store them temporarily, until I make it to the composer’s shed the next time to write them down.

Often, people come and thank me for the intense experience of ‘HERE & NOW’, for the serenity and peacefulness.
I am as grateful as they are!
I often wonder where this music comes from.