Hailing the return of Ukkonen
Ukkonen is back. He’s promising a track of ambient techno goodness a month.
After more than a year’s silence Ukkonen is back. He’s got a new way of releasing tracks – Patreon. How I’ve missed the ambient techno pleasures that Ukkonen provides. But why the silence? Thought I’d ask the man himself
1. You released Terophase and the Change Time EP in Autumn 2014 and then nothing. How the devil are you and what happened?
I’m good now, but I was not so good then. It was just circumstances really – health problems including tinnitus made it hard to create. Some personal and family issues also sapped my energy. I’d been working on Ukkonen and not a lot else for a few years and I was a bit burnt out. I had a bad year or so like many people do. Things are ok now.
Terophase was the last track to be made chronologically and it was kinda of a laid back affair that subtly showed how far I’d come from something like the Erriapo ep. Ideas and experiments had become techniques and methods.
Change Time in particular was very much a mission statement from my point of view. It came about immediately after the Tonalities album and Aika ep – I didn’t stop working between them. It was like mining a seam. I’d found this combination of techniques that worked – and I could just keep digging and digging. All this gold was coming out.
Change Time was resolutely non conformist, very technical…a lot of research and and experiments behind the tracks to find ideas that worked. Probably more than 100 hours of doing that before a note of what was on the ep was written.
First Lunation was based on many experiments using multiple moving tempos. Things get very ugly very fast when you try making a track that way. I made loads of them until I found a method for working with that much complexity and chaos.
Part of the Ukkonen project was an ideal of making music that no one else would…and no one else could…and make it likeable.
Of course the “no one else could” part of that is bit egotistical and obviously absurd.
But I still think it’s a good way to challenge yourself as musician to go very far outside the norm but still make your music a playful and fun thing for the listener.
My confidence was very high at that point and I was throwing quite lofty ideas into the arena.
But the most unexpected thing happened. It worked. It got good reviews. People liked the music. I had lots of labels emailing me asking me to do eps with them. And I started to wonder what the point was of doing more of the same – and then various life “issues” started to appear and I just needed to take a break.
2. All of a sudden you’ve returned on Patreon. Why return and what attracted you to Patreon?
It wasn’t meant to be a big return…I started to have some ideas for new tracks, but I didn’t want to start doing full releases on labels as that’s a much bigger deal in terms of time and work – I just wanted to put a few things out with no great fuss.
Everything about Patreon appeals to me. It’s like an ongoing Kickstarter project. People who like what you do can pledge a small amount per “thing that you do”.
It harks back to the old idea of patronage. Ye olde composers relied on patronage. And Patreon has updated the idea for the modern consumer as well as the modern creator. At the moment it seems to be a win-win situation.
Plus the thing that sold me on it was that Jack Conte, the founder of Patreon, does not take a salary for his position in the company. He earns his living using the site like all the other creators do. Making stuff and have a large audience pledge small amounts.
3. You say you’re going to focus on longer pieces. Why is that?
I like to take my time to develop ideas in a way that’s not possible in 4 minutes. I noticed some reviews saying they thought some long tracks were really a few separate ones stitched together – but that’s not the case. There is always a common thread of material – even if it’s been transformed enough to be almost unrecognisable. The Aika ep tracks are good example – enormous tracks created out of very small, simple ideas that evolve, mutate and expand!
Plus it’s a challenge. It’s hard to do good 15min+ tracks – they have very different dynamics to 4-5min tracks. I find them interesting to make.
Some of the reviews of Erriapo mentioned how strange it was to have a 17min track that barely changes, yet when it finishes you want to play it again. That was because of some things I did intentionally in that music. I love playing with the psychology of listener reaction. But not in a sinister manipulative way…I just like to give pleasant musical experiences that are unusual and maybe leave the more curious listener thinking ” hmmm there’s something else going on here!”. You can take my stuff at face value and just enjoy the tunes…or you can see them as something almost like puzzles…and dig a bit deeper!
4. Your albums, especially The Ancient Tonalities of… Had a lot of music theory and exploration of different classical sound arrangements. Should we expect that slightly cerebral approach to continue?
Yes. That cerebral approach is woven into the fabric of what I do… it’s the driving force.
Sometimes I talk about the ideas behind the music, sometimes I don’t – but it’s all based on experimental music theory. New ways of working with pitch, harmony and timbre… especially from the point of view of listener psychology. In my case we’re not talking slightly cerebral. It’s 100% cerebral. But you know… it’s your brain that gives you your musical experiences… even the trashiest party tune is cerebral music!
I’ve sort of settled on a mix of orchestral sounds and classic 90’s electronica sounds. I like that mix although there is no intention for the music to be “classical” or crossover or anything. I’ve got some kind of genre-blindness where I just can’t really even comprehend just working in one style. Each track for me is like a new beginning…I get to reinvent my music every time. That’s fun.
5. Why give away mp3s for free? Doesn’t that devalue music? Do you think you’ll ever release on vinyl again?
The value of music is variable according to the individual. If one of my kids starts learning an instrument then the first time they play a tune and it sounds good will be a valuable and memorable musical experience for me. The same music will have basically no value to you or 99.9999% of the rest of the world. That doesn’t diminish what it means to me…and there is no reason for anyone else to strive to appreciate it.
Most music will have no value to most people in the world. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think you can only devalue music for yourself…I’m not sure how you could devalue it for others.
I think listening to 6 hours of new music a day devalues it for yourself. I’ve been fortunate enough to blast my ears enough to end up with tinnitus – and I have to ration how much listening I do down to almost nothing. And no headphone listening! And you wouldn’t believe how much I value the stuff I do listen to!
I’ll release on vinyl again if a worthwhile opportunity comes up. I’ve been happy with every label I’ve worked with…but at the moment I just want to make some music and put it out the day it’s done. Putting stuff out on vinyl often means a long wait between finishing the music and anyone getting to hear it. That’s fine sometimes but right now I just want to have fun and share stuff fast.
I don’t have any romantic or nostalgic attachment to vinyl (or any medium for that matter). It doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to me what medium I’m listening to or releasing on.
6. I think you have appeared live. How was that and would you do it again?
Oh yeah I did do one live performance at Ginglik in London.
It was good but my music doesn’t really lend itself to gigging. It was very stressful – lots of live loops..which is ok if they all need to stay in time…but mine needed to drift out of time just right. Hard to do live from a technical/hardware point of view…and in a live setting impossible to recover from if it goes wrong as a solo act – which behind the scenes it does 99% of the time.
I’ve played live as an instrumentalist (guitar and bass mostly) hundreds of times – but as a one man band doing this kind of stuff…no I wouldn’t do that again!
Would never rule at my music being performed by other people though – now that is something I WOULD be up for!
And for musical accompaniment, here’s something old and something new.
Old is Detroit Alternate Reality (reviewed here in 2012) and the new is a Preview of February’s release. The latter is a seemingly simple piano based piece of a lovely soothing nature. Can’t wait for the full pieces to start arriving. Go sign up https://www.patreon.com/ukkonen?ty=h