[owner of n&b research digest and oganiser of avanto festival, artist on n&b research digest]
1. i realy dont know much about u and i guess most of readers. so can u tell us more about, yr personal life and yr music background
Let me start from this: anonymous art appeals to me. I like old Muzak, where nothing is known about its makers, I enjoy listening to crude basement demos of beginning musicians, I have always liked The Residents with their endless grotesque parody of Western music, I even often like books where the author is anonymous. I like anonymous-looking parts of cities and anonymous details of everyday design. One formative experience for me was running a cassette label called Valtavat Records when I was very young, together with a friend of mine, who's not making music anymore. The international cassette scene was a direct precursor to many things happening now. Lots of noise music came from that scene, such as Merzbow for example. Our role in the "scene" was absolutely miniscule, but we had some contacts abroad and we even released a cassette album in 1981 by one of the true pioneers of noise, Maurizio Bianchi, called "Mectpyo/Blut". It was the most severe noise I had ever heard, and we sold about 5 copies of the cassette. Cassette culture was loosely connected to the mail art scene, plagiarism and all sorts of anti-art things bordering on outsider art. I'm not sure though if all of that is now becoming part of canonical art history, and I really wouldn't want to sound too nostalgic about it. In 1983 I attended John Cage's summer courses in Finland and his calls to abandon musicianship, all known forms and conventions of music was just the right stuff then. I also listened to all sorts of rock music, but many things connected to it - stardom, careerism, all the conservative musical restrictions - made me feel quite incomfortable for a long time. Our "band" Swissair performed live sometimes in the first part of 80's, but for most of the 80's I was just making quite spontaneous recordings without any plans to release them, much of them awful. In the end I had amassed so many tapes containing also a few gems by me and some friends that when I started our label N&B Research Digest with Alexei Borisov, I realized I could make a curious compilation out of them. It's called "Pilottilasit - Helsinki Underground 1981-1987" and it came out in May 2000.
2. u have 2 releases before this one on research digest. one 7" and one fulllength. can u tell us something more about them and how they sounds
My first real solo release, an EP called "Kytkentätaulun valot" (1992) was actually also material from 80's. In retrospect it was my reaction to what I had heard in Moscow (I worked there briefly as a sound recordist for Finnish TV in mid-80's) during perestroika - "Soviet rock". It's another long story and another interesting period in history… For a couple of years the changes in a totalitarian, almost military country happened at a truly revolutionary pace, when no one knew what was coming next: "a socialism with a human face" or a bloody military coup. Somehow the best rock musicians absorbed that atmosphere (most of them were not particularly interested in being directly political, like rock musicians generally aren't), prophesized and contributed to the changes. For me Soviet rock like AVIA, Notchnoi prospekt, Kino, Grazhdanskaya oborona, Center or Televizor were a strange concoction of Russian avantgarde traditions, social realism and almost cargo-cult-like pieces of information about the forbidden Western rock - Soviet rock was not "real" rock, not really continuing any tradition, without "eternal", lowest common denominator values like groove or funk, and so on. Which meant more room for innovation. This is when my career as a translator started, quite accidentally: I first translated Art Troitsky's seminal history of Russian rock into Finnish (the English translation has an irritating title - "Back in the USSR - The True Story of Rock In the USSR"), and later started translating novels, TV programs and whatnot to feed my kids.
In 1993 I finally dropped out of university (I studied Russian literature and musicology) and begun really developing my sampler-based music. By that time what was then called techno was the only interesting framework for me, though I wasn't interested in any of the subcultural aspects or particular artists - just the sound of some of the stuff that I happened to hear and which hasn't aged too well, like some Polygon Window; Bourbonese Qualk, Jeff Mills... I guess it was simply the shock of the new, "futurism". Though it may sound a bit dubious (after the past ten years when every other contemporary artist or sound artist has leaned on texts by French philosophers), I got some theoretical backing for my own stuff from various ancient non-musical concepts that had fascinated me for a long time - especially the ideas of estrangement or defamiliarization, artificiality and "letting the seams show" coming from Russian Formalism of the 1920's and the writings of Jean-Luc Godard. Building blocks of my montage were sampled ventilators, traffic noise, hums of industrial areas and other anonymous details of urban soundscape as harmonic elements, combined with specific compulsive rhythms. This is what I still basically do, but now I've started to sample Muzak also and use just any noise available and process it further inside the computer to suit my needs. Now this is all brutal simplification, because the building blocks or samples, plug-ins, software etc are not really the point (I'm referring to your later question about gear here). The main kick is to put life into the brown matter, to charge it with poignancy or grace and to "surprise myself every time" in the process, reinvent as much as possible with every track, as funny as that may sound.
In 1996-97 I took a course in mixing and producing at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy and had to find something for a "graduation work", so I started to think seriously about a cd release. I had then started to make music with Alexei Borisov (from Notchnoi prospekt, one of those great perestroika-era rock groups - now he was making experimental electronic music) and after listening to several cassettes of my solo recordings he persuaded the Moscow label Exotica to release my debut cd, "Formalist" in 1998. I still kind of like maybe a half of it now - there are some nice deranged rhythms and beautiful atmospheres - but there's also a couple of "estranged" (but not enough) jungle-ish tracks, which were actually done as student projects and which now seem much too obvious.
In 2000 we set up N&B Research Digest and released the first three discs, "Studio Recordings 1992-1993" by F.R.U.I.T.S. (that is, Pavel Jagun and Alexei Borisov) and two compilations, aforementioned "Pilottilasit - Helsinki Underground 1981-1987" and "Geologists And Professional Tourists", which consisted of new experiments by different projects from Moscow and by our duo Alexei Borisov & Anton Nikkilä. The next releases came out only this year, Alexei's "Before the Evroremont" and my "White Nights". This year we also had two live discs released in Russia, "Live@Cafe9" by Borisov&Nikkilä on Planktone, and another "Serguei Letov - Alexei Borisov - Anton Nikkilä" on Hor Records.
3. when i first time listened yr album -white nights- i had the same feeling as when i first time listend fennesz. maybe it has something in common but sound is totaly diferent. maybe that fresh touch that glows out of white nights was determinating to gave me that feeling. what do u think about that.
It's a great compliment. And yes, now that I think, the first track on "White Nights" called "You Needed Me" may not just have something in common, but actually sound a bit like him - it has a sampled country&western-type of Muzak guitar plus some abrasive noise, maybe even similar type of plug-ins used. On the other hand the rest of the disc is entirely different. When my "Formalist" cd came out and I had a track called "Geographic Samples" on Ash International's "Decay" compilation, they were constantly compared to Pan sonic, who were almost as "hot" as Fennesz now. I didn't like it at the time, because I didn't feel too connected to Pan sonic's music, though I had admittedly been quite fascinated by their first few releases. But with Fennesz it's different: I have been more and more in awe of him as both a composer and improvisor since 1999, when I first happened to see him playing in Stockholm on a festival where I played also.
4. u said that u r inspired by ''classic Muzak'. what do u understand under that term
I mean Muzak (variously called by its manufacturers like USA's Muzak Corporation, UK's Rediffusion or by Holland's Philips also "background music" or "environmental music", and "elevator music" by the "respectable" pop business) of the 1970's and early 1980's. That's when I think Muzak was developed to the full and it sounded quite different from any other music.
My first acquaintance with this music was the promo LP series "Stimulus Progression" produced by Muzak Corporation in the early 1970's. You can still see them floating around in second-hand shops - even the "hip" easy listening fans think real Muzak is boring! In the early 90's I really got onto it and started to listen to Muzak played on the background of Mosaic Channel (you know, the split-screen cable tv intermission signal, where you can see what other channels are broadcasting). I also realized that Muzak had been one of the obsessions of early Industrial Culture, especially for Throbbing Gristle. There was even a really crazy Muzak-based West German fiction film called "Decoder" with FM Einheit in one of the main roles. In 1993 Mika Taanila and I started to make a documentary film about Muzak (I only did research and co-wrote the script, Mika was the director), which was was finally completed in 1997 - just when the unexpected easy listening boom was at its hottest. During the research period we got to see Philips Background Music Service's facilities in Eindhoven, which were a bit of a disappointment, because it turned out that they had been using already for many years a truly boring fusion jazz group making pretty much "regular" music instead of the psychedelic stuff produced by the company in the 1970's. But the Finnish importer of Muzak Corporation and Rediffusion gave us access to their vaults, which meant hours and hours of truly incredible listening experiences.
5. in same piece r u talking about the cult of technology that is part of the secular State ideology in Soviet Union in 1920s, 30 and even 60s. what did u find so inspirating in that period, as u r saying a time of techno-optimism
I wouldn't say the 30's (or 20's or 60's) are exactly inspiring: they were mostly extremely harsh times in many places like Soviet Union. But when I've been working with certain tracks like "How the Steel Was Tempered", "Cobol" or "100 Years of Soviet Cybernetics" the logic of building them lead me at points to try and create some kind of a "parallel world" or even anti-utopia with samples from technological and semi-religious frenzies of Soviet Union and the belief in "scientific" musical mass manipulation propagated by Muzak Corporation in the 1970's. And I think contemporary culture gives this stuff some additional political resonance. I mean the near-messianic Californian Wired-related cyberculture with its techno-dreams and the situation in Russia under Putin, when the country is sliding back under KGB rule. Also these samples can often be quite funny in a slightly eerie way. But the final results are clearly not political reportage. I just unearth some fragments - which may have a humorous effect on some people or perhaps they can see their socio-political subtext - and incorporate them in my own expression.
My interest in the Soviet cult of technology has to do with an anthology-type CD-ROM I started editing on an arts grant 9 years ago (CD-ROM's were then in vogue) but never got published, though as a partial compensation got my article about current Russian noise and industrial music that I wrote for the CD-ROM published last year in The Wire and on the net at Tamizdat's site. The CD-ROM's' scope was much larger, including everyday life, social psychology, various arts, music of the 1920's and so on. It would now need major updating and reprogramming for some other carrier probably. Interested publishers may contact me immediately.
6. what r your other influences, like music influences for example. is there any particular project or style that influce yr music
I try to analyze, learn and get ideas from almost everything I hear. Mostly it's something heard accidentally, on the radio etc. Unfortunately I don't have time to follow experimental music as closely as I'd like to, but some recent things that must have influenced my music are seeing Curd Duca live at Sonar last year, Pink Twins live in Kappeli, Helsinki last year, Fennesz live and on cd, and "Structural Adjustments" by Ultra-red.
7. how will you caracterize your music. can u put it in one term that wont be term - experimental
There's several: Elevator Noir, Transcendental Gabber, Imaginary Post-Digital Music of the Soviet Union etc.
8. what can u tell about finland as a place for creating and consuming music
It's good in the sense that we still have, as The Wire magazine put it, "a functioning social-democracy" and real prosperity. The experimental scene is small, but it's the same almost everywhere, I suppose. I'm from Helsinki and here the mentality is quite different from other parts of the country - more cosmopolitan, or snobbish, as the rest of Finland thinks. But I actually like Helsinki's atmosphere, which is quite laidback nowadays. Interesting detail: most of the things you may know Finland of - films by Aki Kaurismäki, music by Jimi Tenor, Pan sonic, Vladislav Delay or Op:l Bastards - are made by people who are not from Helsinki.
9. what is avanto festival
It's an international festival of experimental music and film, organized for the first time in 2000 and again in 2001. Avanto's websites have been quite good (edited by yours truly - in 2002 I'm not involved because of other work), and there you can find out everything else by clicking www.avantofestival.com
10. r u playing live and can u describe yr live act. like what do u use. gear, live instruments...
Usually I perform together with Alexei Borisov, who does improvised vocals and low tech noises.
I use a laptop pc connected to a midi keyboard so I can play live on top of the "backing tape" or without it altogether, according to the reactions from the audience. I performed "solo" (for the first time since 2000) in June in Moscow, and I think this was the first time I was satisfied with a solo setup also.
11. and at the end u can put yr best albums ever list
Schneider TM: "Moist" (quite beautiful), Radian's first cd (really innovative at least when listened to in a record shop), PiL: "Flowers of Romance" (great rhythms), Gang of Four: "Solid Gold" (great way to handle politics and rock music), Vivenza: "Aerobruitisme Dynamique" (minimalism with an edge), Roman Lebedev: "Idioritmik" (excellent minimal techno from Moscow), Pekka Airaksinen: "Jewel Comet" (Finland's unsung genius in his prime circa 1983).
12. and for this year forthcomig releases on label...
Coming very soon is a new compilation with contributions from Leif Elggren, K.K.Null, Government Alpha, Anton Aeki, Benzo, Pink Twins, T.A. Lab, Theodor Bastard, Bromptone's Cocktail, Membranoids and Alexei Borisov & Anton Nikkilä.
n&b research digest discography:
anton nikkila: white nights" (cd, NBRD-05, july 2002)
alexei borisov: before the evroremont" (cd, NBRD-04, joint release with avanto festival, 2002)
F.R.U.I.T.S.: studio recordings vol.1" (cd-r, NBRD-03, 2000)
various artists: pilottilasit – samples from helsinki underground 1981-1987" (NBRD-02, cd-r, 2000)
various artists: geologists and professional ourists" (NBRD-01, cd-r, 2000)