Jarmo Saari: Portrait Of A Guitarist As A Young Man
AAJ: What’s the most important part of music-making for you?
JS: I love the moment in music when something is changing and you don’t know what’s coming – but it’s already there - like a little idea, or a solo, or something. It’s something that creates an intensity or tension for the listener: something is happening, but I don’t want to present it immediately. I like to disguise the moment of change. At the moment I use the idea of surprise – not to change everything at once. But I am mainly from that camp where change is slower, where the listener doesn’t know it has changed! It’s something I have learned from symphony and chamber music – something people don’t do so well in rock music. But in films and soundtracks you hear this very clearly.
It’s the most exciting moment in music. But I don’t know how to describe it – it’s so many things! It’s not just the moment of, say, the verse changing into chorus, and it’s definitely not trying to give lots of details, making it very intellectual. It can be a very short moment, or it can be a 10-minute thing. And I think it’s easier to use it in repetitive or hypnotic surroundings, which is where my present music is. It’s so nice to slip in something that no one notices, but that will become very important later on. It’s like composing - you can concentrate on the process in a very ambitious way, looking at moments and stretching it out. Really composing is slowing the improvising process down.
AAJ: I was at a concert in the summer with your old colleague Pekka Lehti and his new band Outo Voima, and it struck me that you are both of a very similar aesthetic, and approach to music – combining a lightness, pureness of sound with melodic humour. I wondered if your two visions are actually too similar, compared with Arto Takalo and XL
JS: There is a certain aesthetic that we share, even if I am more ‘opposite’ to Arto, but on the level of life experiences and of skills we have a lot of differences. I have studied electronics, while Pekka has a lot of experience just where I am lacking. His composition is very intuitive compared to mine, even though I try not to be so intellectual! But I wouldn’t be being honest if I said I wasn’t disturbed about how Pekka took Markko and Anne-Marie to work on his own projects, because we need some independence and separation. But it still seems to be very inspiring, and we are not sick of each other at all. We are planning to work together in the near future.
Zetaboo has been such a reason for so many things. Even if it doesn’t have a life of its own at the moment, you can see its value when you look at the things that have developed from it - and this is a reason for us to come back together again maybe. We would be all so much richer from being apart. It may not be for 15 years or so - but I don’t see any hurry, because people have to feel this need.
I think what Zetaboo was able to create was a kind of world music that didn’t have a homeland. It’s not so clear on the records – they are interpreted in one way, and mixed in another certain way. But knowing the tunes myself, and how they changed when played live, or over time - it felt very nice to have a nationality of nowhere. We had these African rhythms, Scandinavian lightness, some Slavic chord changes, some Gamelan hypnotic chord changes and motifs. It was the same thing I was trying to achieve on Neanderthal Grooves – music from some place that doesn’t exist, but it certainly is a place!
AAJ: At the last XL concert I saw you playing you didn’t have Bunuel with you. But he’s very much part of the band nowadays isn’t he?
JS: Yeah; he is some kind of focus for the band. He’s definitely a storyteller. For some people who would like just instrumental music they don’t like it. But I think it’s a good idea to have someone who is in contact with words and the audience. He’s good at it – very spontaneous. But even playing without Bunuel lately the audience have received us very well.
AAJ: Your concert in Tapiola last month (Solu) was really something different...
JS: Well it really is very abstract in a way, and it’s something personal – putting together everything that has happened in my life regarding music. The only instrument that I didn’t include with me then was the cello – it would have been wonderful, but I just don’t have one just now! You know some of those instruments were built by my grandfather, and he died when I was seven, so I never had any real discussion with him. But I feel he has a very strong influence on me: what he was aiming for. He devoted his life to the Salvation Army – he was never an artist, appearing before an audience. In the Salvation Army he was even considered as some kind of freak. But when I ask my father and his sisters about him, they really can’t say much. They never questioned him or anything – he was just their Dad. So I don’t know where he got his ideas from, for example for building this glass harp. I don’t know whether I look like him, or sound like him. But it’s lovely to see the instruments not gathering dust in some attic.
I decided to have these three different ‘work-stations’ on the stage: in the centre my main ‘kiosk’ has the things I am most familiar with: the electric guitar and the world around it, as well as the trumbone and my voice. Then there was the acoustic desk at one side with the glass harp, and the air-kantele, which can be played while waving it around in the air. Also an omnichord or chromaharp, which I use for chords. Then there was the third table with the toys. There could have been something else there. Also there was the tube radio to give some sort of pulse, or tube effect. I wanted to use this noise which some people would consider annoying, but which treated in a rich and tender way can be the most beautiful sound – like the sea. I was trying to create something organic with these different things – some are very old and fragile. It’s important to have this ‘x-factor’ too – sometimes I couldn’t get the same sounds – you know, because of the weather!
For every piece I tried to have a different approach or angle: the acoustic, fragile beginning, for example, and then the organic noise. That was something I hadn’t done before. Usually I work with melodic or time structures making a composition. But here I’m working with pieces or fragments. I had done something earlier with a theatre group. Although I was just a part of the production, to me I was still music. Not everyone sees music in traffic noise – but I see music in any place where the sound can be organised. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a barking dog, or like in the show the toys, or an electric razor, and typewriter. I know it’s been done before, but why not?