Hello Aki and Aleksi,
thank you for your time do this interview.
Can you please introduce yourself /the project to our readers?
We are Aki Himanen (trumpet and electronics) and Aleksi Kinnunen (drums and electronics), Helsinki-based musicians, and we both have a strong background in jazz and electronic music. For years we’ve been exploring the boundaries where machines and organic sounds can create a real dialogue. Improvisation, spontaneity and musical communication always form the core of our work whether the music is experimental or more dance-oriented as our brand new Dawn Drops EP.
What ́s the musical background of you individually?
Aki: I’m a music producer, trumpet player, and audio engineer. I have been involved professionally with different styles of music and have been working with several bands, films, theatre and dozens of records.
I found electronic music about the mid 90’s, as a teenager, and I also started producing (or learning to produce) electronic music after that. Quite after my discovery of electronic music, I found jazz also, and both music styles, jazz and electronic music have been my driving force during my music studies and later in my professional career. Whatever project I have been doing, I always try to put some elements of those styles in my music!
Aleksi: I’m a drummer and music producer. I’ve been working broadly with different styles of music from jazz to pop and techno. I started my professional career by playing jazz music, but after I went to Berlin for the first time, it changed my life haha. The club scene of Berlin totally opened my mind and heart for electronic music and there’s no coming back!
In terms of combining jazz and electronic music, my earlier works contain, for example, a collaboration record with Iiro Rantala and Verneri Pohjola. We released an album called Otava with our techno band Serot in 2017. At the moment I’m also producing and working with indie-pop band feelswithcaps and playing drums with Egyptian rock star and human rights activist Ramy Essam.
Music production has also led me to sound designing as well. In recent years I’ve been working with theatre, contemporary dance, circus and performance art with acknowledged Finnish art institutes such as Helsinki City Theatre, Cirko – Center for New Circus, Zodiak – Center for New Dance, Race Horse Company, Theatre Takomo and Recover Laboratory.
How did you meet?
Aki: Back in the days, we actually studied music in the same school. But we got to know each other better just after we ended up working in the same company Pohjois-Helsingin Bändikoulu (music school) by chance. We both started teaching music and electronic production there in 2017 and that’s when our mutual journey began. Since then we’ve done plenty of different projects together.
What was the initial point to start working together?
Aleksi: At first our collaboration started with remixing and featuring in each other’s projects. At that time, my main electronic music project was Serot and Aki remixed our track You Know with his former solo project Dten. After that, I played drums on some of Aki’s tracks and we also performed live together already then. I think Aki’s track Next World was some kind of turning point when we actually started to find our common sound.
At the same time, we were working together on a very creative project which was funded by the city of Helsinki. To put it briefly, we recorded sounds from local people and nature and made some music out of those recordings. The music was minimal, cinematic, ambient kind of stuff with the focus on improvisation. The cool thing with that particular project was that we performed in very special and intimate locations. We played shows in swimming halls, local people’s living rooms and libraries and because of that, there were always very special vibes.
A great Finnish visual artist Sofi Häkkinen was also involved in that project by doing her magnificent live visuals during the shows. Still, whenever it’s possible we like to have Sofi on board doing her magic in our live shows. I think our music is always somehow visual or even cinematic in a way. I see our tracks like musical landscapes and that’s why Sofi’s live visuals are working so well in this context.
Aki: Yeah, we did many projects together, and when we played and improvised together, I got a strong feeling that a very unique connection was growing between us musically. I was starting out to release some music with my real name (after many years of playing with bands or producing music under aliases), and Aleksi was involved that very beginning.
At some point, we invented the idea of an album (Scapes I) where we just improvised together with machines. We recorded that album in one weekend and everything just fell into place so easily. After that recording session, we planned to shoot a promotional live video for my solo project, but after all, it turned out to be a video as a duo. So different projects get us together and with Scapes I existing duo was born.
How did this EP come along with Jazz-O-Tech?
Aleksi: Jazz-O-Tech contacted us after seeing the live video we filmed during the Scapes I -sessions. Scapes I was more experimental stuff and Jazz-O-Tech suggested us to make an EP with more dance-oriented/techno music just like we did in our live video. After this experimental album, it felt very natural and inspiring for us to release more straightforward and danceable music. We also have one track, Dystopian Morning Jam, from Scapes I sessions that ended up Jazz-O-Tech compilation album This Is Techno Jazz Vol 1.
Aki: Also we must say that we both had very good vibes about Jazz-O-Tech right from the start and we felt that we kind of found the place our music belongs at this point.
You fuse Jazz and Electronica.
Warmth of instruments and coldness of machines. How does that go together?
Aleksi: We both have a strong background in playing jazz and producing electronic music so combining acoustic instruments and machines is very natural for us. We’ve been exploring these things for so long and it’s always interesting to find a pleasant balance between those two worlds.
Aki: The leading thought behind our concept is an attempt to bring those two worlds as close together as possible so that neither acoustic instruments nor machines don’t feel like separable elements. Soundwise, we have noticed that warming up the machines and making the acoustic instruments a bit colder often works for us and helps to achieve a coherent overall sound. There’s plenty of ways to do these things of course, but often for us, warming up means for example using tape saturation or analog synths, and making acoustic instruments colder often requires some heavy use of effects such as reverbs, delays, strong compression and so on.
How do you record?
Aleksi: Playing music live together is always the key point for us because that’s when the magic starts to happen through musical communication. In general, the interaction between the musicians is always the most important thing in jazz music.
Before the recording sessions, we both compose some loose material and ideas using synths, samplers or whatever happens to inspire. We always keep that pre-production material as open as possible because there should be enough room for the trumpet, acoustic drums and also for interaction and spontaneity. When we go to the studio sessions together, we just set up our live gear and start to play around and improvise together with those pre-produced ideas. At this point we record everything. We might jam just one track for sooo long and afterward search those magical moments by editing the final version.
Aki: I’d like to add that Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (1970) was a big reference for us when we first started to work together. Long jam sessions and the final result is made by looking for the most interesting moments afterward by editing the tape.
Which machines and equipment do you use to create your very special sound (if you want to share this info with the public)?
Aki: The center of our electronic equipment is definitely Ableton, but for sound design and pre-production we use all types of techniques: hardware analog synths, software synths, sampling, whatever is suitable for the moment. In our studios, we have analog synths such as Roland Juno 106 and 60, Moog Minitaur, Korg Prologue, Minilogue and ARP. We also love Arturia software synths and all the possibilities of Ableton and Max For Live.
Of course, lots of our sound comes from trumpet, drums and percussion. My trumpet signal processing is quite complex and nowadays I use Gig Performer with different plugins, Universal Audio Twin and Ableton for that chain. In the mixing stage, our tools are products from Izotope, Slate Digital, Universal Audio, Eventide and “a must-have” Oeksound plugins!
Aleksi: That’s right, we don’t have any specific gear we use all the time (except trumpet and drums of course) because we are always trying to find something new and interesting. In our live set, we are both using Ableton Live. With my drums, I’m in love with Sensory Percussion which are great tools for “synthesizing” the acoustic drum set. There are so many possibilities with them and I’m exploring new ways to utilize that sensor technology creatively all the time.
What’s the challenge here for you as artists when you record together and /or perform live?
Aki: Maybe the biggest challenge is to find the best setup for our live set. Our routings could be very complex and finding a perfect workflow at the stage takes quite a lot of time. We constantly develop our technical ways of working and learning all the new things is challenging but in a positive way!
Is your live performance different from your recording setup and procedure? If yes, in which way?
Aleksi: In the studio, we have all the hardware equipment in our hands and we can use them whenever needed. Our live setup is more compact and those different main synth sounds are imported to Ableton. But the same spontaneous and improvisation is important for our live sets, and we use the possibilities of Ableton, Gig Performer and Sensory Percussion in very creative ways at the stage also.
Would you confirm the thesis that the Techno/electronic scene opened up more and more to crossover /fusing sounds and experiments over the last years? How are your impression and experience here?
Aleksi: Maybe. I think the nature of electronic music has always been experimental in a way, although of course there are always purists as in every genre.
Aki: That’s right. Fusing and mixing things from different styles of music is always needed when trying to create something new and exciting. And I think electronic music is a great platform for that because of its experimental nature. Sure there are still lots of hidden musical territories which no one hasn’t found yet.
How about the Jazz scene?
Aleksi: In a way, jazz music is pretty close to electronic music if we think about the philosophy of searching for new sounds. If you look at history, Miles Davis is of course one perfect example. He always looked for new sounds and oftentimes it happened through genre crossovers. Nowadays there are so many interesting things happening in jazz music. It’s very nice to see how J Dilla’s hip-hop heritage has affected the jazz scene of the US when you listen to those modern musicians like Chris Dave, Robert Glasper or Thundercat for example.
Aki: And it is always interesting to hear what artists such as Christan Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire etc. are doing.
In Europe, we have also great artists that have made electronic music to be a bigger part of jazz, and there are lots of great pioneers of doing that fusion, like Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Wesseltoft, Tapani Rinne with RinneRadio and many more.
And we have brought up the importance of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno for this kind of music.
I can speak only for German: here the traditional Jazz scene is still difficult to „crack“ with electronic crossover.
How is it in Finland?
Aki: Jazz musicians are more and more interested in the possibilities of electronic music and technical equipments, but actual electronic crossover is still marginal music here I think. Electronic and effect processing is more like spice what most musicians are doing, than an equal counterpart of their music.
Wich effects has the pandemic on your creativity and life as musicians – and life in general?
Aleksi: At the moment there are no gigs at all. It’s quite devastating, I must admit. For me performing live and getting that energy feedback from the audience is the most important thing in music. But I’m trying to find some positive things out of this situation. For example, now there’s more time to compose some new music, play around with instruments and search for new sounds and ideas.
Aki: Yeah, we all suffer those devastating effects of a pandemic, but I also have found some new interesting ways to work with music, and when the pandemic is over we have lots of new energy and creativity to put in use.
Besides making music, is there anything else you do to express yourself?
Aleksi: For me, it’s very important to do things which are not related to music or art at all. For creativity, it’s necessary to clear the head from all those music and art-related thoughts once in a while. And for me, sports and physical exercise is one great way to do it. Especially I love playing football because it’s a very social game and at the same time it’s impossible to think of anything else while playing it hah.
Aki: It is important to keep myself healthy physically and mentally, or at least try to do so. My sports are skateboarding and snowboarding, which are perfect ways to think about something else than music and work. Artwise music is the biggest part of my life, but I like to do some visual stuff like video art as a hobby too.
Which releases do you plan in the future as Aki Himanen & Aleksi Kinnunen?
Aleksi: We both have plenty of ideas and composed material waiting for us to go to the studio and record the stuff soon. Is it going to be a full-length album or EP, we don’t know yet. But we promise to keep you updated and release new music as soon as possible. Of course we are also looking forward to those live shows whenever it’s possible to do those. Can’t wait to play these Dawn Drops EP tracks live someday!
Thank you so much guys!
Our Thursday selection:
Aki Himanen & Aleksi Kinnunen – Dawn Drops (Jazz-O-Tech, JOT015)
This EP is a collaboration between Finnish artists Aki Himanen (trumpet, electronics) and Aleksi Kinnunen (drums) with remixes from PEG and Polygonia, and again fuses both jazz and techno sensibilities to come up with superbly forward-looking and sleek new sounds.
Aki Himanen and Aleksi Kinnunen are jazz musicians and techno producers who combine jazz‘s spontaneity and electronic music‘s dark soundscapes. Using generative techniques and interacting machines, they have been working together since 2019 and released debut album Scapes earlier in 2020. Now they are back with more of their cinematic sound and dystopian landscapes on this fine new EP.
Opener ‚Dawn Drops ‚is a lush piece that sweeps you off your feet with suspensory synths and floating sax lines rising out into one sky. Rubbery drums roll below to keep you tethered to a grover and the whole thing is a luxuriant and soothing piece. The beautifully dark ‚Plastic Rain‘ builds on live drums and pulsing bass, with sombre trumpets bringing a forlorn mood as hits and rim shots are scattered through the air.
A club-ready remix of this one comes from Spanish techno artist PEG, an associate of the Dynamic Reflection label who fuses techno, ambient, dark beats and techno old and new into his music. He flips the track into a much more driving and deep techno tune that is designed to get you into a state of hypnosis as it races late into the night on spooky synths and powerful kicks.
Last of all, Munich-based artist and musician Lindsey Wang aka Polygonia steps up. She is a master of rhythm and composition and brings this to a haunting and serene techno track laced with ambient mysticism and subtle pads that melt your mind.
This is another high class coming together from the worlds of jazz and techno to form something utterly new and exciting.
Jazz-o-Tech is a label that draws on the rich heritage of two of the most visionary and experimental genes in music: jazz and techno. Taking inspiration from the freeform creative nature of those two musical worlds, artists on the label mix tradition with modernity, improvisation with experimentation, and create a new sound known as techno-jazz. Modern music needs to be ambitious. It must aim to deliver a musical message which is one step beyond what has already been heard. It must take you on a new musical journey into unknown dimensions and emotions. That is the Jazz- o-Tech mission.
Tracklist: Aki Himanen & Aleksi Kinnunen – Dawn Drops (Jazz-O-Tech, JOT015)
01. Dawn Drops
02. Plastic Rain
03. Dawn Drops (Polygonia Remix)
04. Plastic Rain (PEG Remix)