TaikaBox has been lucky to have had multiple fruitful collaborations with Oulu-based musician and DJ Jussi Alaraasakka. Jussi has provided soundtrack mentoring for numerous Oulu Dance Hacks and performed with us for some of our favourite shows, workshops and improvised gigs.
This TaikaTalk took place in Rapumaja – a creative community garden space blooming in one of the most beautiful parks in the very centre of Oulu, Northern Finland. We talked while Jussi Alaraasakka was taking a break from literally helping the Sun to sing – he was finishing a sound installation which works on solar energy reproducing the looped noises that people, creatures and things make in and around Rapumaja.
You said that music plays you rather than you play the music. How did music play you into becoming your profession?
It started in the Finnish town of Ii around 1991. Me and my friend were just 7th-graders who decided to do something in a small town of ours – and that something was starting a DJ group, quite a common story… We were sticking to the plan for about five years, then there was quite a big gap before I actually came back to music and electronic stuff… I remember entering a media studio in Tampere in 2000, with a lot of synthesizers and lights. “What the hell is going on in here?” – I thought, and still keep wondering…
Was there a turning point when you decided that this becomes your career, when you took the challenge of making art a profession (it is a challenge, isn’t it)?
Yes, especially if we take the side of trying to make a living out of creating electronic music in Finland these days (laughs)… In 2009-2016 I was engaged in a small family business in Internet marketing as an individual entrepreneur. It took all my time, and I didn’t get to have any of it left to make music – just some backgrounds and multimedia productions occasionally. Though somebody told me I was quite good in marketing, I realized this was not my thing. It ended up in having a burn out, divorce and all the stuff that comes with it. I stopped working and started living on my own and healing my wounds.
Basically, yes. Music carried me forward and further. I didn’t have a strict plan which would say: now I have to start making music more and more. It came naturally. The music started playing me as soon as it could.
Once we were jamming with my friends – they were so good and talented, and I was just scared. I don’t know any chords or how to play music in a traditional sense, just the basic drum beat. As we were jamming, I kept asking myself: what if I press this or that, and a wrong sound comes out? What will the outcome be and what should I press at all? The friends kept playing, and at some point I just cursed and pressed the buttons. That was the moment of overcoming the fear of doing something wrong in music…
Your music does have a therapy effect, maybe similar to the one it had on you while you were making it. It’s very far away from the relaxational yoga-friendly lo-fi ambient electronic – vice-versa, it creates a special kind of tension, the one you have to deal with and go through in order to feel redemption. Just like in therapy, when you have to go through hard things to let them go and feel harmony in the end. One of the tools you seem to be using for that effect is bringing in nature to techno: one hears birds singing after the sound of a TV with no signal, or waves and forest sounds through robotic beeps and scratches. How did you discover and develop such combinations?
Combining those things seems to have come naturally. Maybe one of the reasons is that I come not just from Ii, but from a small village on the outskirts of Ii – around 400 people were living there while I was growing up. It was all about the nature and hopefully always will be. My childhood was a village childhood, with the sea and forests always by my side. At the same time I was reading a lot of science fiction books – and these were organically interlacing in me all the time.
I remember trying to play some real techno tunes in our DJ set/parties in Ii in early 90’s – and my mates were always saying “turn that shit off, people get scared and run away from the dancefloor..” I always managed to sneak some proper stuff in there anyway….
That organic combo creates an allusion to the harmony of space, where the sound, the light and the distance – everything – become one. Is it why you prefer the word “sonic” to “sound” or “music”, as you often say – because sonic also means ”with the speed of sound”, another cosmic space concept?
It also feels to have emerged naturally – I’ve been thinking about somewhat of the Sun art, voices and sounds of the Universe or at least ones of our solar system. Everything happens in one space, we are here and in the whole universe at the same time… Some people have been telling me that my music sounds like paintings and basically visual stuff rather than a chord progressing (because there isn’t one) (laughs). Yet I do feel like painting through the sound…
Corona has inspired you for an audio diary – you created the Isolation series, the sound monument to the pandemic era. How were they born?
I got my first grant from Oulu for making a sound workshop and bought some equipment for sound-making. Then the lockdown came, and there were just a few of those workshops actually happening. I was left with nothing to do and a lot of gear, so I went to the city – it felt so unusual with all the overwhelming quietness. I wanted so much to capture it, and I tried, that’s how the Isolation series started. That was the spark.
Meanwhile a German soundartist Hainbach launched his Isolation Loops. He then released a combination of tracks inspired by isolation. The idea was that I make something every day, then it all is pressed into one track… Sounds got a little bit out of hand, but they turned themselves into music in the end.
How did you capture the sound of silence?
Just had a good recorder (all laugh). Sometimes I thought of it remaining as a pure recording with no processes added to the soundtrack, then it started turning into a variation – I was tweaking the field recording, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that…
One of the things you shared in your blog – Corona has intensified international collaboration. You played live from your home studio surrounded by the forest, yet your listeners were based in different countries from Italy to USA and Finland. How do you feel the distant art-making and online collaboration are evolving? Is the technology to secure them evolving as quickly as the artistic methods?
Coming from a small village, working here in Oulu and then realizing that the whole world can be the audience and you can be working internationally – it feels great! Feeling that way is one of the best things about technology.
The speed of change could actually be explained another way around: many artists are using technology so organically, like Tanja and John, that they are pushing it forward to evolve through their artwork. They are sort of artistic inventors: they predict a thing to be nice before it’s even close to becoming mainstream, and they create first prototypes, or their friends and partners do that for them…
Do you have a dream technology?
I’ve been thinking of a brain-wave sampler. Some of this technology is already in use, translating brain waves into sound. Making a sampler or an instrument with that – which you could use with the phone, for example, – is something I believe is possible to get in the near future.
Stephen Hawking might have blessed us with some amazing ambient techno, not just a couple of gorgeous books and scientific breakthroughs then…
Absolutely! (all laugh). And think about all those musicians who lost their ability to play – they could have continued playing with their brain waves…
How do you feel about Oulu’s arts’ scene evolution? The city has won the status of the European capital of culture – 2026, with the core idea of technology and art combined, celebrating and producing innovation. What are the main challenges and hopes in this context?
The first thing that comes to my mind is nature and technology being so close to each other. It has always seemed to be an organic flow. Another thing is that I didn’t have any ambitions, I just did what I wanted here – and the cultural soil truly pays off when you put your time, mind and everything into it here in Oulu. New good things start happening and your kind of people come to your life. It feels great to be working here thus – you get to know like-minded people, and more of marginal, underground and experimental stuff is happening. Oulu is not that big to notice that the underground community is growing.
I think more and more artists in Oulu are switching to community-based art-making here, the one where the community is your audience and you don’t have to travel far and expensive to perform. The creators and the audiences are merging, and new people seem to have easier access to performing, contributing and comprehending.
My friends, colleagues and I have been playing in parks, forests and many other places – a rowing boat, for example. It seems to be becoming a mainstream thing in Oulu: you can have a stage everywhere and you can ride a bike with the gear to basically whatever and have a gig or a jam. The technology is becoming more and more affordable, the batteries especially, so basically you can stream from the middle of the forest to the whole world.
What’s your favourite place you’ve experienced site-specific performance in so far?
The rowing boat has been quite an interesting experience. And of course the Nallikari beach with the lighthouse – it’s a beautiful place to play in. You can have so many amazing encounters and new people coming, saying: ”Wow, what’s going on?”
Last summer we were playing there in Nallikari with Petri (Petri Miettinen – Oulu-based musician and regular collaborator; every fourth Friday Jussi and Petri play the WTFM radioshow on Kulttuuri Radio Oulu experimenting with sounds they call marginal – They also perform and record together as the Andruids -TaikaTalk) and suddenly we were approached by a couple from Switzerland with a kid around 6 years old. They were just walking by, but the little guy reached out to us, eager to try the gear. The parents seemed confused by seeing something one doesn’t expect to see on the beach. And the child seemed so happy…
You have been doing workshops and sharing behind-the-scenes, rather than hiding the methods of yours. How did you come to the policy of sharing and what is your dream workshop?
As always – naturally, and it is also a marketing thing: the more workshop gigs you do – the more you can get. Sound art is not a new thing, yet for many people in Oulu it is. That’s one of my motives as well – to tell that this art form is possible: it exists and is welcoming you.
What’s your favourite sound and the sound that you hate?
The sound that I hate is a small buzz in my right ear (laughs). The best sound is something between no sound and something soft.
What sound do you expect from the Sun here in Rapumaja where you’re making a solar sound installation?
Waves (laughs). It’s going to be communital. I take sounds from Rapumaja’s environment. When people come here, they have around three hours of time when they can bring in some sounds – with instruments or without – and then I compose a loop out of that material. The cassette recorder just plays the loop then…
So you’re using some high-tech with a recorder which is craving for being a part of a museum exhibition.
Exactly! (all laugh) In a sense it is a small sound art workshop. And I like the idea of a community-based sound.
What’s your dream project?
The one with the Sun seems very inspiring – almost like all the projects in my head, inspired by Oulu winning the European Capital of Culture – 2026 status. Oulu Sound Hack is one of the dreams – the sound art workshop which would later become the soundtrack for TaikaBox’ Oulu Dance Hack.
How much did you miss the live audience during the Corona lockdowns and how did you struggle to restore the emotional connection with people while performing online?
Indeed, me and other musicians have been missing this connection and excitement that comes out of it. At the same time I don’t feel it’s that bad. The first stream gig festival I did was curious. I was just alone in my home in the middle of the forest, not knowing how many people are there listening online – or if they’re still there. I was playing into the void of the Internet. After the gig I went to have a cigarette outside, it was absolutely quiet and I could hear my brain rewiring: what just happened? This was something new. Maybe the Corona was good in a sense that it forces you to think more – and to accept how things have changed.
You have to deal with the void.
Yes, another angle of my fears (laughs).
Your tracks also give a vibe of travelling through time – often when the sound like a clock tickling is heard together with ambient cosmic loops… What is your and humanity’s relationship with time – are things getting better with time in terms of justice, arts, opportunities, etc?
Time is in there (laughs). Of course, music and sound are bound in time. You look at the painting with your own time, and previously it took the artist’s time… Music makes you share the time. You have to listen to it from the beginning to the end – and it does have the beginning and the end, and there is space for something to happen between those bonds.
I think musical experiments – especially the ones emerging in the Corona reality – somehow change people’s perception of time and experience. Without many things happening in the era of lockdowns one is turned to being more with oneself. For some people it’s good, others can’t manage it – they were so programmed to go everywhere and do everything…
In terms of arts, new ideas of connecting through time zones and distance are born. I’ve been working with Jorge Lizalde – an artist from Wales, he’s actually participated in Oulu Dance Hack. I made the sound and improvisation for him through Zoom and he took the sound and reacted to it online with his visual improvisation. It’s interesting to make a visual jamming thing on distance. This is the kind of thing I would like to be experimenting more if I get funds so that there are more musicians: for example, there are five of them all around the world, streaming the sound to my computer, and then I stream that stream to a visual artist so combines those and reflects on them with a visual improvisation. The synchronisation might be crazy, yet I think it’s worth a try.
One of your tracks – ”Stalker in Jäppinen” – is an allusion to the ”Stalker” movie by a Soviet director Andrey Tarkovsky. Stalker is an adaptation of the book by Strugatsky brothers called ”Roadside Picnic” – the one that actually suggests that our whole world is just the leftover of somebody’s picnic on the sideway. Would you relate to that assumption?
It’s one of my favourite movies. I love the slow pauses, the whole style of making visual poetry. And the soundtrack involved using light-based synthesizers which, among other things, provide an illusion of playing on someone else’s picnic and offer us to feel like bacteria or microbes… The track wasn’t planned, it was a result of one night jamming. Jäppinen is a bar in Ii, full of old dudes who play the lottery and have a beer. It would be so nice to perform for them there.
Jussi Alaraasakka was talking with Lölä Vlasenko
Jäppinen will host only the most prestigious performers and bar dwellers. It’s so hard to find that spot there.