Interview & translation from Finnish: Erkki Rautio / pHinnWeb
15 March 2002 - Virtalähde a.k.a. Jaakko Viitalähde has given us an interview. His first album Virka- ja väkivalta (rough translation: "Legal Authority and Violence") is out on pHinnMilk.
Here Virtalähde ("power supply"), a real original thinker and the voice of resistance among the clueless electronica muzak dabblers, reveals to us his thought-out insights on his personal philosophy of noise, the current state of pop music and singing beauty queens. And no, he doesn't play a laptop.
- So, you have moved to Tampere from Pohjanmaa [the Ostrobotnia province of Finland]...?
That's right. The reasons behind my move were very traditional: I got to study Sound Design at the Tampere Polytechnic School of Art and Media in 1998. I'm getting out of school soon but I am not going back to Pohjanmaa. Tampere is a pretty good place to live.
- How did you start to make music?
My very first experiments started with the Commodore 64 demo scene. Those sucked, to be honest. At some point I got a home computer and later on a sound card. With this set-up I created some tracker-based music, mostly hardcore, acid and other harder stuff.
Together with my friend UralTEK I started to develop a growing interest in synthesizers and at one point got myself a Roland SH-101. It didn't take long before I realised that computers totally sucked ass. When I got my first drum machine, I destroyed all my samples and music programmes from the hard-drive during one night -- and sold my sound card. All the decisions I make are always very extreme.
- How would you describe your style of music?
Funny, though, I think is that the style of expression I represent is not music -- though it's very easy to use that word. I consider the end result more as just mere sound, which has some elements and structures resembling music. That it's a question of sound "only" doesn't mean that one couldn't listen to it and that it wouldn't be interesting as such! Noise, disturbance... One can use all kinds of terms here but actually it's all the same. If someone wants to think it's music it doesn't actually bother me much.
I often think that my style could well be pop music for modern times: these hectic times we live in just demand faster and stronger impulses and certain fierce relentlessness. Take for example Music Television -- on hit-parade pop one could mention that with female artists it's often a question of sex and objectification taken so much to its extremes that it just creates anxiety in you; with male artists it's a lot noisy bragging, violence and angst. To put that in an extreme way.
In other words: Virtalähde is "jump-up metal", nu-metal. Just like Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park; my wool hat just remains in the store.
- Why have you chosen the noise style?
Finnish State plays a considerable part in this, so there's no way for one to claim that it wouldn't be supportive of subcultures. You see, because of a temporary lapse of reason I spent four months in the service of Finnish Defence Force, until I recovered. A month and a half of this was spent on sick leave because of a broken leg -- a lucky accident -- and during this time I was happily granted my daily fee, with all the other expenses paid. I invested that money in a new instrument: a fucking big modular Roland System-100m synthesizer. Learning to use -- and abuse! -- this device I slowly realised that's there's really something special in noise, randomness and really high-pitched sounds.
At first I used a drum machine and my style was a bit more traditional -- Pan sonic and Mika Vainio's solo works could clearly be heard as influences -- but a certain noisiness was always in there.
My drum machine broke and I didn't get a new one which was another lucky chance, since the 4/4 beat would only have restrained something which was already rearing its ugly head.
The last straw was my -- in a way -- failed live performance at local Club Telex in May '99, when everything got totally fucked up and my equipment broke down -- but the noise was exhilarating and I got some hostile responses from the audience. After the initial disappointment I realised this is exactly what I want to do at the end of the day. So I have found my niche, with enough room to do whatever I want.
- What do you think of being compared to artists such as Merzbow?
Hmm, well. The comparison with Merzbow is so easy... and quite understandable too. The noise genre is just so damn vast and it would be easy to claim that, say, all those noise artists basically derive their style from Merzbow. I don't know if anyone really thinks like that actually, but I deem it possible.
In fact, I hadn't heard Merzbow before winter '99, I think, and my first reaction was that of a disappointment: I thought I had created something new and special but got to realise that also this thing, among many others, had already been invented in Japan. These days, though, I would consider my style quite different to Merzbow, even though the guy has had his influence on Virtalähde too. More so as far as the general sound and the sound mass go -- not so much as particular sounds or structures.
- Merzbow has said once that his music is considered noise, but if "noise" means uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to him. How would you comment on that?
This is quite a decent statement, I think, and also refers in its own way to my personal definition of my style. For me pop music is not noise as such: well, a large portion of it is totally uncomprehensible crap -- but on the other hand, there's no way a couple of million people can be wrong.
Music only has so many different meanings to people -- Jussi Jaakonaho's (the producer of Finnish pop singer Jonna Tervomaa) idea was that for some people music is something on the radio you cheerfully sing along with while you are washing up dishes.
Everything has its place, I'd say, and not everyone has to be a serious music connoisseur -- nor can anyone be judged by the fact that they are not actively searching for some alternative music to listen to. These are such damn subjective things and are pointless to argue about.
- What kind of equipment you create your music with?
My set-up has been alive and under constant changes; I've obtained all sorts of stuff and later on sold them away. At the moment my gear consists of the Roland System-100m synthesizer I mentioned earlier on; a big and ugly 16/4/2 mixer, the manufacturer of which I can't even recall (and which utilises terribly vast TL072 operating amplifiers), Boss echo, Drawmer compressor, and a Yamaha tape deck which also includes echo.
Additionally, I also use whatever is at hand: for the track 'Raudan Pakotus' ['The Forcing of Iron'] on Virka- ja väkivalta album I put mikes inside a broken washing machine on the balcony of my previous apartment, then recorded the session of me kicking and beating this machine up while throwing some scrap metal in the tub. This tape was then used the basis of a track.
I'm very fond of scrap metal and all sorts of acoustic abuse -- I've got some really bad microphones one gets very cheaply from junkyard sales. But that authentic Virtalähde sound is achieved only through two specific approaches: electronic feedback and digital distortion!
- Are there any idols or influential artists for you?
In fact, no. As tape engineer I'm perhaps mostly influenced by all sorts of general sounds, like if they were on a record or on the street. So my influences could be probably defined as everything I've ever heard.
- And what current artists you are most into?
I'm very lazy, and don't consume music too much -- not searching for it actively, either. I buy records very rarely and for someone presenting this sort of style I'm probably quite unusual. I listen to whatever happens. Increasingly also some Finnish rock, for example CMX or Maija Vilkkumaa.
I don't keep up with modern electronic music at all, I'm kind of stuck with techno and acid of the early 90s. There are so many new and old artists whose records I'd like to buy but can't because of the lack of money and I don't approve of home-burned CD-Rs. I also respect domestic artists -- I wouldn't bootleg their music at all.
- How have your live performances been? It seems the audience responses have been quite interesting...
Oh yes! I do gigs very, very rarely and even then I'm only going to have my own fun and not so much to please the crowd. My intention is always to clean up the venue, but unfortunately part of the listeners are of very persistent sort. Even so, very rarely is anyone going to slag me off personally, which is a pity.
Bit by bit have I also realised that it's not worth planning beforehand what you're going to play, because in fact it's always quite the same. Whatever I play, part of the audience is going to leave anyway and the most persistent art freaks are going to pat me on the shoulder. Actually, these days I only prepare some sounds beforehand for the gig and then just move on from those.
- Is your intention to provoke people with your music?
On the gigs, yes; not so much on record, because unfortunately you can always stop the record. During a gig, as said, I try to empty the venue at least, but hostile comments are always welcomed, and people can also jump on me if they dare.
- Well, as for me, I've noticed with your gigs that your music paradoxically has a soothing effect on me. In other words, similar to that of which so called ambient or chill-out music has on some other people. First, one feels totally crushed, overwhelmed and scared but gradually one gets used to it. When one listens to your gig to the end and does not flee to the bar, afterwards one feels strangely cleansed and euphoric, both mentally and physically. How do you explain that?
I've heard the same thing from other people, too. I think it's partly a question of some sort of submission and letting go: that one just takes everything as it is. The noise, the one strict characteristic of which I define as continuous change and unpredictability, does not leave any room to one's thoughts, neither does it lead one's thoughts to some certain direction in the same way as the music that's actually meant for relaxation. I'd say it's a question of submission.
- Your Top Ten for the moment/all-time?
Just a musical one? Well, something like this... Something is probably omitted, too.
1. All the old techno tapes I own together with my friend UralTEK.
2. Brad Fiedel - The Terminator Soundtrack
3. Model 500 - Ocean to Ocean
4. Robert Owens - Living in a Land
5. Euromasters - Alles Naar De Kloote
6. Black Sabbath - NIB
7. Klaus Schultze - Voices of Syn
8. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92
9. CMX - Nainen Tanssii Tangoa
10. Mescalinium United - Mescalinium United
- Is Virtalähde a political artist?
Fuck that. You can't get far with politics in the end and my worldview is that everyone here has to find their own thing and a way to live. No one else should have anything to say about what you want to do. At this time I have probably formed my own life philosophy, which involves something that might be called leftist -- maybe.
In the end I'm just an autonomic production unit, who thinks and therefore exists. I don't want to preach anything to anyone, and my image is purely merchandising!
- Your message to the vegans?
There's nothing wrong with vegetarianism. Personally I think meat tastes good but a human being definitely has to eat vegetables too. You don't need so much meat in the end. So, folks, eat healthy and do your physical exercises, for fuck's sake!
- What would be your dream venue to have a live gig at?
Once I had an idea to have a gig at a roundabout; it would also be fun play on the street somewhere. I might do that one day. Some great concert hall would be fun, if one could get some precious people in their suits and furs in there. Then I could watch them escape the building!
- How about your future plans?
The complete marketing of Virtalähde, establishing a company in some field of musical production; buying a wooden cottage, renovating it and moving in, somewhere near enough the town but not too far in the wilderness; and, if only granted by the Great Pumpkin, going on with one important relationship until the far future.
I'm a peculiar mutation of a middle-class shit: I'm not going to get a beer gut, but there will be a flagpole with pirate flag on my front lawn!
- How would you comment on Finnish music scene?
Well, generally taken the musical activities are exuberant in our country, but I think the purveyors of electronic music create a lot of crap. You buy some gear, worship it and then chuck out a recording of some terrible yodeling. MP3 compression was an ingenious invention because with that you can get shit to a more condensed form.
There is a lot good stuff, though, not the sort I would listen to myself, but which works well in its own category, being innovative too. Unfortunately, shocking people and similar activities are not too easy these days: one Virtalähde will never be able to compete with singing beauty queens.
As a hobby, creating music is quite a happy one, but many artists -- exactly meaning electronic music -- should give more thought to their own thing. The most incomprehensible thing of all is the worship of gear, which I can't get at all. Invent, develop, improve.
- Do you have any sort idea about the future direction of electronic music and scene?
What little I've been keeping up with indicates quite clearly that the musical genres will melt into each other, which is a good thing, of course -- as is the more unprejudiced use of electronics and more traditional instruments, which works in both directions. It's only that the current musical range is getting really wide, with an abundance of creators. Most of them are doing nothing but imitating, really.
In our current era of "techno inferno" I've also detected a certain tendency of unfeeling. Music is getting to be taken so much to its extremes that one can't get any authentic feelings out of it any more -- or something like that. With this I mean the majority of pop music, which is getting faux-sentimental and clinical -- being as much at home on the dance floor of a trendy disco, as well as acting as background sound for the psychopath, who ties himself to the chair and saws off his leg while masturbating.
- Your favourite question they never ask in interviews?
What are the things you think you'll be able to have a positive influence on during your year as Miss Finland?
Thanks for the translation assistance: John Fanning
Virtalähde photographs by Päivi Hotokka
Copyright © (for the text) pHinnWeb 2002.