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.

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