Names: Aki Himanen, Aleksi Kinnunen
Occupations: Producer, trumpet player, audio engineer, educator (Aki Himanen), producer, drummer (Aleksi Kinnunen)
Recent release: Aki Himanen and Aleksi Kinnunen's A Thing With Feathers is out via Jazz-o-tech.
Recommendation: Album: Miles Davis: Bitches Brew; Book: Jia Tolentino: A Trick Mirror
If you enjoyed this interview with Aki Himanen and Aleksi Kinnunen and would like to find out more about their work, visit Aki Himanen's homepage and Aleksi Kinnunen's Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Aleksi: I got my first drum set when I was something like 8 years old, but I really got into music as a teenager. Nu metal and rap music were the biggest things back then but when I heard Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew I was totally astounded. It was something I had never heard in my life before. That was the jazz moment for me.
Electronic music came into the picture when I went clubbing in Berlin for the first time. After learning and playing jazz for so many years, there was something magical in the simplicity of techno music. I started to produce electronic music right after that.
Aki: I have been playing instruments my whole life. My dad was a professional musician, so music and playing have been around always. I started with drums at age 6, and trumpet came along a couple years later.
I found electronic music in about the mid 90s, as a young teenager, and I also started learning to produce electronic music then. Quite soon after I discovered electronic music, I also found jazz. In fact, for me, too, it was Miles Davis's 70's music that got me.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Aleksi: For me it depends on the music. Usually it’s just pure emotion / feeling but many times when I’m listening to minimal instrumental music for example, I see it visually. Sometimes it’s colors, sometimes landscapes, sometimes movement of shapes. Some nostalgic songs can even remind me of the smells of my childhood neighborhoods or something like that.
Dance music and deep grooves feel like they are floating through my whole body.
Aki: To me, music is a very emotional thing, so feelings are what I primarily perceive. And of course, music is something very physical as well. I have mental images as well, but they're more subconscious.
As a musician and composer, I put my feelings into my music / playing, and hopefully listeners can get emotions from it as well.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Aleksi: Actually I haven’t ever stressed about finding my own voice, because I truly believe that it happens automatically when you just explore and study about the things you are interested in. I have always been interested in history and where things are coming from. I think that’s really important if you want to master anything. Study the roots and learn from the masters. For me learning music is a never ending journey.
Aki: Yes, learning things from history and the present will develop a personal voice eventually.
For me, my personal voice as a musician is actually the amount of all my influences. On the other Hand, I've always tried to do things my way, so I've definitely thought about finding my personal voice.
I've always been looking for new ways to express myself, so learning new things has a constant impact on my music.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
We both are very curious people so I think that’s why we are searching for new music all the time. We are always trying to expand our musical taste by listening to different styles. Same goes with creativity - we produce and play music on a very wide scale from pop music to jazz, techno and sound design.
We are also on the continuous lookout for new musical technologies, so curiosity and reformism is strongly tied to our identities. Trying to find those hidden territories from music keeps creativity flowing.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Emotion and feeling are the main ingredients in any art form of course but I guess you want something more specific … For us the spontaneity, improvisation and musical interaction usually form the core of our works. Trying to find the perfect connection and dialogue with other musicians and / or machines.
Also we are very interested in combining machines and organic sounds / grooves. This is interesting to us because we are living in a world where nature and technology are almost melting together. So the same goes for music as well.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
We think that in order to create something new you have to know the roots as well.
Maybe our music is more on that “music of the future” side, but we both feel that it is very important to value tradition. So we would say history and the future go hand in hand.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Aleksi: My Finnish handmade Kumu drum set and Roland Juno-60 synthesizer. I like to explore new sounds and change instruments at times but those are the ones I’ll never sell.
I like instruments which make me want to play and those are definitely the ones.
Aki: I have to say that my trumpet and laptop with Ableton Live are my most important tools. Of course, there is lots more equipment and tools that I use, but those are my centerpieces.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Aleksi: I’m a freelancer so days are always a bit different, depending on what I’m working on at the moment.
Currently I’m working at the Helsinki City Theater as a musician and sound designer. So usually I wake up at 7, take my 2-year old daughter to kindergarten and either go to the theater or my studio. If I’m not doing theater, I’m working on some new music or practicing drums or having band rehearsals.
Exercising is also an important part of my daily habits so either I play football, badminton, jog or do some physical exercising. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for the live gigs and Sundays for the family.
Aki: Every day at work is a bit different, it can be making music and records in my studio, teaching or performing at concerts.
Usually in the morning I play the trumpet for a couple of hours and listen to some music that I'm working on right now. Gym or another exercise also occurs in the morning.Gigs are usually on the weekends. Most of my spare time where I don't work, I do stuff with my family.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Aki: I really enjoyed the process of our upcoming album A Thing With Feathers.
We started by composing small loops and ideas which worked as a basis for our further improvised recording sessions. We recorded long improvised takes together with drums, trumpet and electronics. After the recording sessions we started to shape the structures by editing the takes. We searched for theme melodies, interesting rhythmic grooves and magical moments which could form the core of each song.
In the final stage we recorded more synthesizers to enhance the structure. I feel like we managed to make use of the spontaneity of jazz music and production techniques of electronic music. I’m really proud of the results of how those styles are melting together so smoothly.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Aleksi: I have always enjoyed more of the collaborative work. Maybe it’s because my background is based in band environments. Finding those magical musical connections with other musicians and having fun with different people has always been one of the main things which I love in music. Together we are stronger!
Relating to each other's ideas often creates something which is impossible to do alone.
Aki: I really love both sides: collaborating with other musicians and artists, and also alone in the studio with my trumpet and machines. I write a lot of material, so it could be a very private process before the material is sent out for the projects.
But I will say that it is easier and more refreshing to do things with others rather than simply on your own. But I really need my private studio to get results, too.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Aleksi: Speaking of electronic dance music, some kind of escapism is present oftentimes. The dance floor is a space where you can be free for a while and spend some unforgettable moments and share the positive energy with people around you. It should be a safe space for all kind of people and I see that as a one of the most important message of dance music in general.
But of course music is always influenced by the surrounding world. The theme of our upcoming album is hope, and during these crazy times we would really like to spread some hope for all the people through our music.
We can make the world a better place as long as there’s hope.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Aki: For me music is usually more emotion and feeling and something abstract rather than concrete. The interesting thing in music is that when composing, you can channel your feelings, thoughts and big topics through the songs, but listeners might find there something totally different, something that you haven’t even thought of.
Music helps to get through difficult times, it can bring you overflowing joyness or you can calm down after a long day. For me that’s the power of it!
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
At least technology and AI are inseparable parts of our lives so of course all those things have an effect on music, too.
We believe that there are lots of interesting possibilities in combining science and music. Especially generative music techniques together with AI could give us absorbing creative music making tools.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more “mundane” tasks?
Aleksi: Through music I could express myself in a different way. I can’t explain or get those things out of my system without music.
For me music is communication but you can express more abstract things which are impossible to explain by words. It’s a global language that everyone understands on some level. And that’s the beauty of it.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our eardrums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Aki: I think it has something to do with communication. People use sound to interact and that's what makes our ears so delicate.
Music is also good exercise for our brain. So we can enjoy it and at the same time our brain and body get healthier.