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.

 

May 24 2014

Summer perspectives

Before the summer break I’d like to give you a little update on recent happenings as well as highlights of fall 2014.

The Contemporary Collective’s two showcase concerts this spring were very rewarding on various levels.
The quartet version of the band (Hille-Viinikainen-Nikula-Hohti playing mostly improvised music) played its debut performance in the wonderful Temppeliaukio Church. The concert was filmed and recorded.
With this material in hand I raised a lot of interest at the JazzAhead trade fair in Bremen: the quartet has such an original instrumentation, these brilliant musicians creating spontaneously such thrilling textures, and all this while being a compact band to travel with. (Listen to some material on our soundcloud.)

The septet version (which includes a string quartet) on the other hand, playing highly elaborate compositions, gave a smashing performance at the Koko Jazz Club,  challenging the borderline between contemporary music and jazz and proving my understanding that there is no such thing as a borderline: these fantastic musicians shifting effortlessly back and forth between two idioms of expression that seemed to be so incompatible.

Maybe having the same band name (Contemporary Collective) for these two different set-ups is confusing. On one hand I consider the two bands being two sides of the same coin, but maybe for the audience it would be necessary and easier to distinguish the two approaches. I’ll think about it over the summer. Feel free to give me some feedback on the matter. I’d very much appreciate your input! (info<at>satnamusic.fi)

Actually, this is what I just did with the Sid Hille Brotherhood (formerly called Film Collective). It just got too confusing (even for myself) to advertise three different ‘collectives’.

So, the Brotherhood played a memorable show at Helsinki’s Juttutupa :::::::sigh::::::
I’m lacking words to describe this bunch of geniuses, each one of them having such a unique voice, being such unique artists in their own right, yet blending into our incredible chemistry, creating this (again:) unique music.
Well, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but ask the people who were there…..

And so I’m looking forward to the adventures coming up this fall:
- first, there will be a re-union of Infinita, my dear Finnish-Italian quintet, at the Nuoro Jazz Festival in August
- then the first performance of my bandoneon concerto in September with the Lappeenranta sinfonietta (Sep 3rd-5th)
Three performances with soloist Kristina Kuusisto who commissioned the piece, conducted by Tibor Boganyi.
- and then THE TOUR! The Contemporary Collective on tour in Finland!
A lot of effort has gone into the organisation of this concert series, six concerts before Christmas and it will go on in January with dates to be published soon.

So, I’m not going to be bored  ;-)

In the composer’s shed I’ll complete two pieces for the Contemporary Collective, one to first be performed at the Kanneltalo in Helsinki on Oct 29th and another one to first be performed at Iiro Rantala’s prestigious Kansi Auki Festival on Nov 13th.

And not to forget my weekly piano improvisations at the Temppeliaukio Church. The fall schedule has just been confirmed. These concerts always make me happy!

Have a great summer, everybody!
Be happy, listen to music and join us somewhere in fall!

Apr 27 2014

Jazz Ahead 2014

I’ve just spent two days at Jazz Ahead which is a big trade fair in Bremen, Germany where basically everybody in the music business can meet anybody else in the music business: there are musicians, labels and record companies, agents and promoters, press people, radio stations, old friends and colleagues, some already well-known and some maybe not yet.

It was nice to talk to people from Advance Music, one of Europe’s best jazz publishing companies, about my orchestral work, meet an old friend Anne de Jong from Challenge Records in Holland, who had published my first two CD’s in the beginning 1990′s, get some sage advice from people like Ralph Gluch, Iiro Rantala’s agent from Switzerland, or Mathias Winkelmann from ENJA Records in Munich.

The music business is experiencing difficult times. The CD as a music medium seems to be coming to the end of its relatively short history, record shops are closing down, which means record companies don’t know where to sell their records anymore (outside of the net), and therefore the question arises: ‘Is it worthwhile making them anymore in the first place?’

On the other hand, how does the audience find new artists and how do the artists reach an audience that is yet unaware of them?
The promoters say: ‘You need a distribution first’.
The distributor says: ‘You need a strong label first’.
The label manager says: ‘Best to sell your CD’s at concerts. Organize a tour and sell the CD’s there’. For this you need an agent.
The agents say: ‘You need to build up a fan basis first, because the clubs can’t take the risk to feature unknown acts’.

Which brings you back to the audience which is yet unaware of you, the artist.

So, it’s up to you, dear friends and listeners who have found to this website in one or the other mysterious way: communicate your interests!
Tell the organizers of your favourite concert venue, which bands you would like to hear (maybe one of mine?), tell your friends what you’re listening to, invite them to check out or like facebook pages (SatnaMusic for example).
Believe it or not, but some agency people really said to me that 4000 likes on Facebook are a good start to do some promotional work.

It’s a slow process, but sooner or later good things happen.

Anyway, it was fun, if exhausting, to talk to all sorts of different people for two days, basically non-stop from 10am to 7pm and to listen to some of the showcase concerts.
I hope I’ll get to play there next year. I’ll certainly be aware of the deadline to apply for it, next time.

In the meantime there are some nice concerts coming up: my Contemporary Collective playing at the Koko Jazz Club in Helsinki on May 8th and the Sid Hille Brotherhood (previously Film Collective) on May 14th at the Juttutupa, Helsinki as well.

Apr 11 2014

Up in the clouds

I decided to finally give in and join the clouds.
The Soundcloud that is.
It still seems weird to me that so many people don’t like holding a nicely designed cover in their hands anymore while the record turns on the table, spending twenty minutes absorbing and being absorbed by interesting music.

But – so be it.

Here’s five minutes from a live concert of my Contemporary Collective.
Teemu Viinikainen on guitar, Heikki Nikula on bass clarinet, Markus Hohti on cello and myself on piano.

This is towards the end of an improvisation concert that lasted about an hour.
A kind of rocky groove with some weird harmonies.

I hope you enjoy!