To celebrate the impending release of his new album Visa, recorded in a burst of creativity following an aborted attempt to tour the USA earlier in the year, Cyclic Defrost had the opportunity to speak with one of the most talented and uncompromising electronic musicians around, Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay). In a wide ranging interview the Finish artist discusses his various projects and inspirations as well as commenting on improvisation in the electronic field and the perils of performing live. In fact it was such an extensive discussion we’ve decided to split it into two parts. In this first part long time fan Malcolm Angelucci discusses collaborations, improvisation, and the links between environment and creativity .
Tracks like ‘Melankolia’ (from Tummaa, 2009) and ‘Santa Teresa’ (from Vladislav Delay Quartet, 2011), and albums like Vantaa (2011) and Kuopio (2012) are amongst the music that I treasure the most. It was great then to have the opportunity to speak directly with Sasu Ripatti, the man behind Vladislav Delay, Sistol, Uusitalo, Luomo (and the list continues…) and some of the best electronic music of the past fifteen years or so.
MA: People say that since the Ripatti label was launched, your sound is becoming more industrial, whatever this actually means. There are sounds in Visa that are nevertheless very raw, ‘noise-like’, that brought me back to when I was younger. Can I ask you, then about your influences, the music you loved when you were young, in the Eighties or so?
SR: Well, I have such a wide range of musical backgrounds. I started with Jazz very early on, but I was also into metal and hardcore. It was weird, in the teenage years I was studying bebop jazz and improvisation, but equally I was playing grindcore and deathmetal as a drummer, and I was truly into the Napalm Death etc, before it all became too melodic and commercial. So really brutal stuff. But I also liked noisy jazz, like Coltrane after the A Love Supreme period. So in a way challenging music has been always a big part of my life, but equally I was into glam rock before I was a teenager, so there was a pop side of things. There is some pop, commercial music I still like, but very little. But yes, the influences are from the challenging side of things. With the Ripatti stuff or releases being industrial, well, I don’t really know what people are saying and I don’t pay any attention to it, but you know, I keep making so much music, and there is so much music I don’t release anymore, and when I do release it there may have been time gaps in between. I don’t really follow a label brand, I just trust my instinct, I do what I feel, and things change as life does. I don’t like focusing on one thing and then repeat it until there is nothing left. I don’t know which part of that is industrial though…
MA: In this sense, you released music under quite a variety of names. Some of these seem to have ‘a life of their own’, so to speak: they play their own genre; one can follow their path, their development, etc.
SR: I don’t think about them, I see them as very natural. There is no schizophrenia, or parallel personalities. I don’t know why music is different from movies, or books, or food; you need variety in your life, so why not in music. When people ask ‘why do you make this, or that kind of music’, I don’t understand the question; it is somehow confusing in the first place. But beyond that, for me it’s the most natural thing, and I don’t want to put everything in the one sack of potatoes and shake it all like it does not make sense anymore. I am looking at it from a producer’s point of view I guess. I like to create things, and not randomly: I have an idea, and I do what I want to do, and then likely I get bored of that and want to do something completely different, just to stay inspired and challenge myself.
MA: These different names also go together with various collaborations. Before, we were chatting about improvisation in the studio and so on. I am curious about your work with Moritz von Oswald, and the Vladislav Delay Quartet and their approach to improvisation. You are also working with artists who seem interested in a dialogue with Jazz (e.g. Max Loderbauer): coming from a jazz background as you are, how is it to improvise in an electronic context and in those settings?
SR: Well, I stopped doing the Moritz von Oswald trio more than a year ago, and I stopped my thing a long time ago. I am not disappointed with the projects, but I felt that I could not give anymore to them, and it would have been unfair to others. But in general, beside those projects, I think that improvisation in electronic music is often overrated, it is far from what improvisation really means. I think that people without a musical background, if they didn’t play instruments and just do electronic stuff, they find it difficult to listen and converse in musical terms. I find very difficult to make improvisations with people without a musical background, because there is no conversation, there is no real support back and forth.
MA: That’s interesting, because people think that this music is in fact the new jazz.
SR: Well, I can’t say that everything is great.
MA: But on this note, I know that you played a set with Giovanni Guidi, a jazz pianist who currently records for ECM; he is young, and in search of his own sound, his own original voice, so to speak: how was it then, to interact and improvise in that context?
SR: That was great. That’s what we are talking about, that was improvised stuff. There was nothing planned. Sometimes we would glance at each other, but mostly it is just about keeping your ears open and traveling together, supporting each other and challenging each other – the bread and butter of improvisation. And he is able to improvise and not just play his pre-conceived idea; not afraid of falling, and making mistakes. It was very nice.
MA: There is something like thirty seconds of that on Youtube, nothing else. Are you planning to do some more with him, or other jazz musicians?
SR: Yes, we’ve been talking with Giovanni about doing something, and eventually we will probably do something, but I would like to do it in my studio, and it is hard to get a good grand piano here, and in the end it is all about funds. But musically it would be very interesting. I am also in touch with another bass player, and I am thinking of putting together another quartet. That’s something I would really like to do. Musically speaking, I would really love to do it, but unfortunately nowadays it is very difficult. But there is going to be more of that kind of stuff in the long run.
MA: You were making some remarks about the industry, and we also chatted about spaces and places in which to perform, etc. I was curious to ask you about your move to, and away from Berlin. I think your music changed once you went back to Finland. It took a very interesting turn.
SR: I moved to Berlin because my wife (Antye Greir-Ripatti, aka AGF) was living in Germany and back then, when we hooked up, we wanted to move together; the choice was to stay here in Finland or move, and then a flat became available in Berlin so we just moved there. I did not go there for the industry, and basically started having problems with the city quite early. It was at the beginning of the hype, with everybody moving there and, you know I think it killed my creativity a lot, and I had somewhat of a hard time. Also because where I lived it was full of labels and producers. I would like to be challenged and inspired by people, and share something; basically there was a lot of activity and a bunch of people, but nothing that I could relate to, so it started being counterproductive. But somehow I was stuck. But then our daughter was born, and I could not accept living there anymore, and wanted to go back to Finland. I lived in Berlin for seven years and I kind of lost my native language, and I wanted to be able to teach it to my daughter. But I also missed the nature so much, and freedom, and I cannot really separate what I feel from what I produce. It all comes from the same source and since I’ve been here and could set up the studio it has been amazing difference how creativity flows, whereas in Berlin it was stuck. It is just me, but I need my space, where I feel comfortable and inspired, and for me it is space, nature, and clean air and no ads. Simple stuff I guess.
MA: And Antye did a great album, Source Voice (2013) which is all about engaging with the Finnish landscape, human and natural…
SR: We share a lot. She is inspired by the surroundings, the freedom, the lack of advertising and ‘western ideals.’ We live on an island where there’s about one thousand inhabitants. It is a rural, agricultural place, artists have always been living here but there is quite little bullshit here. Nobody cares if you are known abroad or if you make music. If you are a creative person this really gives you the chance to find what you really want to do instead of trying to follow some patterns and fulfil someone’s expectations.
MA: One last question, then, before leaving you to the beauty of your surroundings. VISA comes out for your Ripatti label. This started as a sort of ‘boutique’ project, with 12 inch vinyl, not downloadable, and printed in very few copies. VISA, however seems to be bigger than that. It is double, and it will be downloadable. From our discussion, it seems clear that you are not trying to take over the music industry, however is VISA a one off? Or is this a change in the label strategy?
SR: Well, this year I invested quite a bit in the label, avoiding digital and so on. I thought I could recoup the costs of each vinyl and press the next one, but it is quite hard to make it work, so I will have to start with digital at some point. I don’t personally prefer vinyl, actually; it is super difficult to make them sound good, and I know what people are listening with, with what gear etc. It is not like what I hear here in the studio. But I wanted people to have something to hold on to and have something valuable, but in the end I keep making music and I want to make more music so probably sometime next year I will start doing digital. I don’t release everything I produce, but some things I want to have out as part of the catalogue, so that I don’t keep changing them forever, and can look back at them. I am not particularly into digital either. I mean, VISA becomes downloadable via torrents and what not even before I have a copy myself but I can’t help it, I cannot change people, and I still want to make music.
Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Sasu, where he and Malcolm discuss Visa.
Sasu Ripatti’s live dates for 2014:
17.10 Amsterdam @ ADE / V. Delay 4D sound system performance 18.10. Cracow @ Unsound Festival, Ripatti live 25.10. Helsinki @ Super-Massive festival, V. Delay live 12.12. Rio de Janeiro @ Novas Frequências festival, V. Delay live 13.12. Rio de Janeiro @ Novas Frequências festival, Ripatti live