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A Quietus Interview

Vladislav Delay: Going Back To His (Jazz) Roots
Paul Sullivan , September 2nd, 2009 14:34

Finnish house music polymath Sasu Ripatti returns under his abstract future jazz guise of Vladislav Delay

Prolific Finnish dubtagonist Sasu Ripatti might be happy churning out gossamer house (as Luomo) and choppy techno (as Uusitalo), but his Vladislav Delay project has tended increasingly towards the abstract. His last missive was 2007’s tumbling, rippling Whistleblower. But on his new record, the dense, miasmic Tuumaa, Ripatti maintains a more organic and improvised ethos alongside Lucio Capece (clarinet, sax) and soundtrack composer Craig Armstrong (piano, Rhodes). In keeping with other projects like The Vladislav Delay Quartet (Ripatti and Capece along with Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio and Derek Shipley) and the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Tuumaa is the sound of Ripatti re-exploring – and re-configuring – his jazz roots.

For the uninitiated, can you give us an overview of what the Vlad Delay project means to you . . . how it differs from your other work?

Sasu Ripatti: The project is my attempt to create a very personal music that I feel I need to hear from time to time. I don't know if I would create such music if it existed already. But I get enormous reward from creating it so it fits well. It's definitely the most direct project I have in a way since it's a very pure representation of how I see this particular music existing. Partly it's because there are not as many existing references here as with jazz, pop music or dance music, and also the instrumentation can be anything and everything. Basically there are no rules, compared to my other projects at least. Some pop or club stuff I make has a few more limitations in a way in the sense that I use vocals or I want people to dance to the music, at least in theory. With the Delay project there are no such needs or aims, only representing my musical wishes and visions.

You’ve described this project in the past as the most "you" – does this still hold true?

SR: I guess so, yes. It's very difficult to talk about this stuff. I’ve never succeeded in explaining it to myself even though I’ve spent lots of time thinking about it. It's like a friend I always knew and could rely on, and trust. Or like I could look in a mirror but hear music instead of seeing a reflection.

But there are still key differences between each Delay album. What are the consistent threads in terms of concepts, sounds, equipment, approaches, textures…

SR: Partially the underlying agenda I have about this music, but also the change. I try to look for new ways to express myself musically so as to not to get bored with what I do and end up repeating myself. It's of course relative but I try to be aware of what I'm doing and especially what I have done and not do it again. I rely a lot on instinct, where I just feel whether the music is "there" or not. If not then I just push it wherever I can as long as it gets "there".

This is the most acoustic Delay album so far…what's the reasoning behind that?

SR: I wanted to create the basis from live and real sources instead of synths and samplers etc. I had this growing in me for quite some time until it felt right to try it out. Also, having begun playing drums and percussion again definitely helped, as well as having formed a quartet where Lucio plays. I also felt temporarily unable to say something really strong and meaningful with an electronic approach and wanted to take a fresh look at things.

You've mentioned in interviews about achieving more "physicality" in your work: this, and your work with the Oswald Trio and as the Vladislav Delay Quartet would seem to be evidence of that...

SR: Absolutely. The physicality came from the drums and the Trio and Quartet and somehow I felt a bit limited with computers and programming after that, which lead to using a live and direct approach for my solo stuff as well.

You recently moved away from Berlin back home to Finland. Is this new musical quest tied in with a return to your roots, some kind of personal re-discovery?

SR: No re-discoveries behind the move but I really wanted to get out of Berlin. I lived there for seven years and didn't ever really feel home there. Also I wanted my daughter to grow up in a more natural surrounding and wanted to build a home base somewhere with a studio. After quite a few years we ended up choosing a large island on the Baltic Sea north of Finland. But I don't think the move has much to do with musical directions. I always keep the creative stuff and my personal life quite separate.

Is the album a return to your roots as a jazz drummer – a way of completing a circle?

SR: Completing a circle, yes. And happily so. I have been missing playing drums a lot since I stopped, but didn't really feel inspired or a need to do that until few years back. But it's also a new round as I try to de-learn and forget what I have learned as a drummer in the past and try to apply a bigger picture and view on making music on drums, not just playing drums.

A decisive move away from the dancefloor?

SR: I'm definitely readjusting and evaluating the whole thing but I won't stay out of that for long, there's still a lot of need for me to express the rhythmic stuff in that way as well, the body aspect and dancefloor themes etc.

Do you feel your time in Berlin shaped your music in any particular way?

SR: I moved and lived there for personal reasons though as my partner was living there when we met, so the music was always the secondary issue for living there. In a way I guess it doesn't matter where I lived for those seven years, I would have been gotten similar input. Overall I try to shut down the receptors where I live and work, and instead collect input from travels etc. I'm also a bit allergic to hype and mass stuff so the whole Berlin thing annoyed me at least as much as it inspired. I thought the city really changed a lot even during the years I lived there. Then again, what I got from living there is by no means a minor thing, I went through quite a bit of growing up there both musically and personally.

How and why did you hook up with Capece and Armstrong for Tuumaa?

SR: I wanted to have acoustic sources for Tummaa and couldn't do it all myself so I had to look for musicians I could relate to and who could bring in something suitable for the project. I’ve know Craig for quite a long time already. I got to know him through my partner who had worked with him on several occasions. The three of us made an album (as Dolls) and worked on and off on few things so I had a good idea of what Craig could do. Lucio I got to know only quite recently when I put together the Quartet. Instrumentation mattered a lot. I like piano and Rhodes, especially when Craig plays them. And bass clarinet is one of my most favorite instruments.

How were the pieces created and recorded?

SR: I sent Craig some recordings and he played and recorded on top of those in Glasgow at his own studio. Lucio came to my studio in Berlin to record his parts, and I was processing him in real time while he was playing, which kind of created another layer or interaction if you will.

So Armstrong wasn't involved in the improv side – was this a musical decision or more to do with his schedules?

SR: I would have loved him to be around but his schedules are painful.

But you obviously treated his piano…

SR: As much as I could! As it was a big part of the music I really did try to expand on Craig's playing as much as possible. Analog FX, Digital FX, software, hardware, whatever… anything.

Any new recording techniques or instruments/hardware that you hadn't used before?

SR: I actually tried to not use the stuff I usually do. I came up with few little effect processors that I hadn't used before but I think they all sound the same in the bigger picture. I was looking for lots of new sounds to record with a microphone, from my daughter’s extensive toy collection to my percussion instruments, which I modified heavily. Lots of every day items were used as well. In terms of recording techniques, I don't mean to sound bored and hopeless but no matter how much I push the bar, and I do, it's very hard to come up with something unique and new. Mainly I end up just messing things up as long as there's something meaningful to keep. So it's somehow new techniques but then again something I couldn't really describe as new.

You created this album in quite idyllic-sounding circumstances. Are you a believer in the relationship between place and sound?

SR: To a certain extent, yes. It was one big reason to move away from Berlin. I'm somewhat sensitive when I create and write and especially lately have begun noticing the connection between good surroundings and positive results.

Did you set out to achieve anything specific rhythmically, or just get into a certain mindset?

SR: More a mindset. Basically what would work in the context. That also would change a lot during the process. I try not to restrict myself with predetermined ideas or plans too much. It’s not necessarily freestyle or random, but there's lots of room to make necessary changes in rhythms. If I recall correctly, some tracks originally had lots of beats and now on the album have none -- and the other way around. At least one track now has a beat that began as a kind of soundscape. Rhythms are a super-sensitive issue with this kind of music and more often than not they just don't serve any real purpose and I end up getting rid of them bit by bit until there's no beat at all! That can also circulate several times, trying out different beats for one song, but still ending up with none.

How is this approach different to your work with the von Oswald Trio?

SR: The Trio is not my solo thing, that's the fundamental difference. Trio is Moritz's thing in the way that he has stuff in mind he wants to do with us and of course we contribute a lot but within his vision. With the Trio material, the rhythmic side is much more pronounced and straightforward than on my solo stuff.

“Kaamos” is an interesting Finnish word that cropped up in the press release. Does it mean “winter” or something else? And can its meanings or connotations be applied to the music on Tuumaa?

SR: “Kaamos” means the darkness that happens around the Arctic Circle during winter months from December to February or so. During that time the sun is barely visible and days are mainly dark, but there's usually snow and skies are often clear so you get lots of moonshine. Add to that the relatively cold temperatures (down to -25 celsius) and you have something really special. Nature is more or less sleeping with hardly any noise from animals, and the snow quietens everything anyway. I don't think I could apply that feeling to music directly but it certainly gave something to Tummaa’s songs. I celebrated a bit as it was my first time for almost ten years that I could experience “kaamos” – you don't get it in Helsinki, which is where I used to live before I moved to Berlin.

And finally, you’re no doubt working on a multitude of other projects – what can we expect soon?

SR: I'm still building my studio on the island so that's my project right now, but as soon as it's done I will begin writing material for the Vladislav Delay Quartet. We'll do a few shows in the autumn then go to a studio in Belgrade to record an album.