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Kimmo Pohjonen: A Very Cool Instrument

By Published: June 4, 2013
That kind of opened up a new world for me. That is the world I've been inhabiting for the last 15 or 20 years, and now I can proudly say that the accordion is a very cool instrument [laughing]. It was in the mid-'90s when I realized I had to find my own way, my own sound, and my own ways of making music. I have done so many things that I never expected to do in my life, and I have had so many great experiences with different projects, different kinds of musical styles.

AAJ: How do people react to your unorthodox approach to the accordion, with all of those alterations?

KP: It all began when I was rehearsing at school, when people began talking about misusing this and misusing that: "He is hiding behind effects and loops." But I didn't care at all. I had one rule: I wanted to please myself and nobody else. Regardless of what people say, I will do what I want even if I have to do only one concert a year—only if it pleases me 110 percent. In a way, there was a lot of frustration during the first concert, as there were a lot of things to be done, but the audience's response was immediate.

To many, that was the best concert at the festival. Quite soon after that I was booked for the WOMAD festival in Berlin, where there were lots of new acts and beginners, and my concert that weekend was most talked about. Suddenly, my international career started and I could leave all the other projects and bands, and I started with my own thing. It was a kind of a fairy tale, in a way. That was the beginning.

AAJ: How do you translate your ideas into compositions?

KP: For me, that process of composition is just going to my working space, where I start to play and improvise. Or I just search for new sounds. Either I play or I search for new sounds and those sounds sometimes give me the impulse for improvisations. And I constantly make recordings of myself, and when you play longer, you play lots of repetitions and you don't think at all. Actually, I'm after a mood where I'm creating something that I didn't know existed. That is a great moment, when you grow something that you didn't even know that you could do. Later, when I'm listening to what I have recorded, and if there is something interesting, I can push and develop that further towards a composition. That is my process.

AAJ: On the other hand, how do you translate your compositions into live performances?

KP: The thing about my compositions is that I always memorize them, which means I have ten different projects going and everything is in my memory. Sometimes you go crazy when you have to remember so many things, but the good side to that is when you memorize it there is no correct or incorrect version. It is like, you have memorized a version that is two days old. Of course, there is the project with Kronos Quartet, which is the most composed project I have ever worked on and I have to memorize very well where we are and how we do it. If I am playing a solo or anything else, I have to be flexible and do today's version. With classical music, you have to memorize longer parts, long notes, Bach or whatever, and you are always afraid of losing control or if your memorization is incorrect. In my music, I don't want to be a prisoner of my own music. The structure and the phrasing are there but they give me freedom to play, regardless if I'm in Skopje or in Finland.

AAJ: What kind of experience do you want to give your audiences during your live shows?

KP: Most people all over the world are really busy and are mostly stressed by their daily lives. They do many things and I do as many things as I can. For me, a concert is a sacred moment—to me that is a some sort of a ritual, from start to finish. And when I do a 60 or 90-minute concert, I concentrate only on the music, and I want the audience to have the same experience as I do. The audience can relax and they don't have to clap or sing. Actually, they can do whatever they want. I enjoy being onstage and having a beautiful experience, and I would like the audiences to have that kind of possibility as well. I hear all kinds of stories after my concerts, often very interesting stories, and it is nice to hear what people go through in their thoughts during the concerts. It's not only music.

AAJ: One of the scenes from the documentary shows you playing while a wrestling match was taking place. How did you get the idea to orchestrate the music to a wrestling match?

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