Aural Expansion

Erkki Rautio, The Skreem, December 1995

Jouni  Alkio  a.k.a.
 Aural  Expansion

JOUNI ALKIO, a.k.a. the up-and-coming intelligent techno/ambient act AURAL EXPANSION from Helsinki (or Helsinski, as Jouni prefers to put it) talked to our reindeer-biting Arctic agent ERkki via Internet. The following conversation was original ly held in Jouni's native Finnish, but we decided to translate it for your convenience.

SKREEM: How old are you?

JOUNI: 25.

SKREEM: What do you do for living? Apparently in Finland it's hard to earn one's living by composing music. It seems to be a common trait for many artists to end up making music for commercials, or then for TV or films...

JOUNI: Well, I work four hours a day as a PC consultant, but I hope not to do that for the rest of my life. It's more tolerable than working at McDonald's though, but for me it's a kind of "McJob" anyway. Actually I don't wish to make music for any other purposes than art, working on those terms only. I'm scared that making music for commercials would water down my other output too...

I hope one day I'll earn enough money with my music, so I don't have to do any other jobs. Living in Finland shouldn't affect the chances to make a living with your music, when after all they release your records abroad. Though I think I would have more o pportunities to do live PA's, if I lived for example in England.

SKREEM: How come you started making music, and how long have you been doing it? What and when was your first release?

JOUNI: I was maybe about 17 when I got my first synth. Computers were my hobby and through that I got to know some people who were listening to synth pop, Kraftwerk and the like. Then I got acquainted with a guy in Tampere, who had his own studio. I got really enthusiastic and bought myself a cheap synthesizer. I must have made at l east for three hours' worth of material for my "shoebox".

I entered a totally new phase in my music-making, when I heard those first Warp releases: especially the Frequencies album by LFO had so great impression on me that I really got a new kick to create music, the style of which consequently changed in a radical way.

My first release was Exercises in Expansion LP on Kim Rapatti's (a.k.a. Mono Junk) Dum label, partly because some of my friends were pushing me for that. And since I didn't have to invest my own money in it, of course I was enthusiastic. After that it was time for SSR to contact me.

SKREEM: What kind of equipment do you use in composing your music ? Are you fond of the old analogue synths, as many other artists are today? And do you apply many samples in your music?

JOUNI: At the moment the equipment I use consists of -- Atari ST with KCS Omega II sequencer programme and a lousy sampler module; as my synths I use Kurzweil K2000, Korg Wavestation EX and Korg Prophecy. As a mixer I have just a simple line mixer, I do a ll my mixing and final polishing to the synth sounds myself.

I used to have some analogue synths, but I'm not particularly interested in them. It's mainly because you can get very similar sounds with the digital synths that are good enough, and I want to be able to save my tracks on diskette in their entirety. Besi des that, it's important for me to be able to manipulate all the parametres with a sequencer.

I really have a laugh on those people who are hunting for 303s and the like, when they have heard that those are the real "techno gear". I prefer to have more freedom in creating sounds myself. And you can get the sounds reminiscing 303 enough with other equipment too, if you really need to.

I've started to experiment with samples only recently, when I got a sampler module for my Atari. It's pretty painstaking to use though, and the sound quality is not much to write home about. However, I've got some ready-made drum samples, with which I usu ally build new drum sounds with Kurzweil.

SKREEM: Any role models or other people who have influenced you? Especially outside music...?

JOUNI: I can't say I really have any role models, but of course all the music I like myself has an effect on my own output. If we are not talking only about music, I'm just into everything strange, for example the irrational nonsense stories of the Russian writer Daniil Harms. I'm also quite a dream freak.

SKREEM: How did you get the deal with SSR/Crammed? Were you actively searching for a contract, or did they contact you, and why SSR? I think Surreal Sheep would have worked excellently in, say, Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence series... Was releasing Exercises with extra songs, as the Surreal Sheep CD, your own or the record label's idea?

JOUNI: The deal with SSR came into being when they had heard my first album and called me. I didn't actually arrange any kind of demo tape Blitz before that. Well, I admit Warp could have been an interesting option.

Originally SSR wanted in particular to release Exercises in Expansion as a CD, but because 45 minutes is a bit short for a compact disc release, I wrote some more songs and totally remade some of the earlier tracks.

SKREEM: Do you feel that you have any peers or kindred spirits doing similar things at the moment? I was thinking anyhow about Autechre and B12 of the mentioned AI series, maybe also Mixmaster Morris, who seems to be a big fan ofyours... Anyone else?

JOUNI: I don't buy records very often, so I must have missed many of those possible "kindred spirits", but I think for example Ken Ishii is good, partly also Richard H. Kirk and FSOL. Lately I've gotten into jungle (e.g. T-Power). Besides that, many recor ds in Warp's AI series are very important to me. A lot of it the kind of stuff you can't really classify -- though quite often this sort of music is described as Intelligent Techno.

SKREEM: What kind of impressions you've had from your gigs abroad? Any interesting stories from the road?

JOUNI: Well, I've had just one gig abroad so far, and it was only with a DAT. That was at London ICA at Scanner's Electric Lounge evening. It wasn't actually an ideal place to have a live show at. Lousy PA's and all the crowd noise. However, I'm glad that Paul Thomas played the same tape on his show at Kiss FM ...

SKREEM: How would you comment on the techno scene in Finland, or on the whole world scale at the moment?

JOUNI: I can't really figure out how that possible scene would be like, for the time being. As I said, I buy very few records.

SKREEM: And how about the current trends like gabber, trip hop, "new wave" of electro, minimal...?

JOUNI: I can't stand gabber. Some jungle is really good. Trance is outright awful. Trip hop has many genuine pearls in it. Nevertheless, I think it's really dumb to make any of these artificial distinctions between different styles. I simply like the musi c that's strange and listenable at the same time (and possibly also groovy).

SKREEM: Are you friends with many people in the Finnish scene, and how about the local parties?

JOUNI: Well, I know the most Finnish artists making electronic stuff. Mostly I see these people at parties. It really varies how often I go to the parties; I get on poorly with all these mega-size raves (on the Finnish scale, that is), since they usually play quite uninteresting music. I check out these smaller parties every now and then, and the music doesn't necessarily have to be even electronic...

There's surprisingly lot of "quality" techno coming from Finland, which is very good, I think.

SKREEM: Do you believe that Sähkö's success has any kind of influence in getting Finnish techno around, now that they have made a kind of breakthrough with all the critical acclaim and following they've gained recently? Has there been, for examp le, any effect with what comes to the interest towards your own music?

JOUNI: Of course Sähkö will improve the reputation of Finnish techno, but I think anyone could start making records on any record label in any country whatsoever. I can't really say if Sähkö has influenced my own music, so far myown ou tcrop differs quite a lot from e.g. the early Sähkö releases. On the other hand, my first record could well have been released on Sähkö. Actually I don't feel being a part of any scene.

SKREEM: So, what did you think about the Aural Expansion Remixes? Are you planning any collaborations with other artists in the future?

JOUNI: I liked the Mixmaster Morris, Wagon Christ and µ-Ziq mixes. The remixes from the LFO guys weren't quite to my tastes -- very different style of music compared, for example, to Frequencies. I think their mixes are very suitable for danc efloor, though.

I met Morris, Luke Vibert and Mike Paradinas in London, but I didn't really have much time to socialize. So far I haven't had plans to collaborate with anyone else, but who knows...

SKREEM: How about videos, T-shirts and other merchandise? Or are you deliberately trying to keep a low profile in what comes to marketing?

JOUNI: Well, I would like to make videos. And I would really love an Aural Expansion toothbrush!

SKREEM: And a question usually interesting to the people living outside Finland's borders: are the Finnish climate and local mentality having any effect on your music?

JOUNI: I can't say, because I've never lived anywhere else.

SKREEM: Do you have any kind of philosophical ideas or theories on making music, as someone like Brian Eno does have, or are the more emotional and instinctive approaches closer to you?

JOUNI: I'd say it's the latter. I don't really do any beforehand planning.

SKREEM: But how about your future plans then? More records and gigs coming?

JOUNI: Well, at least I hope there will be more records in 1996. My next album will probably be a bit different to Surreal Sheep. As for the future gigs, it depends on if I can create any "live songs", that are in the confines of being sensibly reproduced on stage, and if I just have enough enthusiasm for that.

SKREEM: You've been frequenting Internet's techno-related mailing lists every now and then -- how about a Web page of your own?

JOUNI: Oh well, at work I did create a page of some kind for my own pleasure. I haven't had the energy to update it, though. But if someone must visit it, the address is

SKREEM: Any further comments?

JOUNI: Well, only that have an interesting year in 1996.

Copyright © 1995 Erkki Rautio/The Skreem