A few months ago we went to see what was happening on the Kukemuru Stage of the ERMi ÖÖ Festival that took place inside the impressive Estonian National Museum in Tartu. Kukemuru Ambient is an annual event that takes place every summer in Estonia, and gathers many artistic expressions from around the more soothing side of music. It was here that we witnessed Verde, the project of Mika Rintala, a synth legend hailing from Finland.
Besides recording and touring with his band Verde, Mika also has quite an impressive CV on sound engineering and runs the VerdeAudio brand, manufacturing synthezisers, valve amplifiers, and all sorts of high quality studio devices. Having built more than 100 instruments himself, and written over 300 songs, he remains as a hidden gem inside a country that definitely needs to be explored more. After experiencing his performance we had to know more.
Cyclic Defrost: Hi, please tell us where you are now, and how is everything over there.
Mika Rintala: Now I’m at my studio in Nokia (a town in Finland). Otherwise I’m preparing my wooden sailing boat for the summer. The spring has been cold and still remains that way. I’ve been quite busy working during the winter, a bit less now.
Cyclic Defrost: The concert at Tartu was just wonderful. Who was playing as Verde then?
Mika Rintala: Tartu’s gig was excellent. The players were: Jarmo Saarti (drums), Seppo Istukaissaari (French horn and piano), Karri Jutila (sampled natural voices) and me.
The actual band and it’s members are good and flexible players. Of course it varies a bit because the boys are living all over the country. The basic formation is me, Jarmo, Rauno, Seppo, Karri and most recently Juhani. We have a lot of instruments to be played and it varies also based on where we play. Drums, percussion, a lot of wind instruments and traditional Finnish instruments, for example bowed lyre and kantele. Also sampled nature voices. Electric bass and other string instruments. Pianet and/or clavinet, a lot of analog synths, and theremin made by me.
The players vary a bit from gig to gig. We live all around Finland, and it depends on who has time to rehearse and come to each concert. Several of the players have other bands and activities, and sometimes the timetables just don’t match.
Cyclic Defrost: How was your first approach to avant garde, or experimental music?
Mika Rintala: During my study time I listened to Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, world music scene and jazz. I started with heavy rock, and Jimi Henrix is still one of my favorites. But during the years this foreseeable popular music has lost its interest for me. Maybe because I have quite a vivid imagination and I want to learn new things all the time.
Cyclic Defrost: If you had to choose just one piece of equipment from your studio, from the ones that you made, which one would it be, and why?
Mika Rintala: This one is really difficult, I have made about 100 different musical instruments. Maybe it would be my huge modular synth, its called Ugly (Ruma in Finnish). Maybe because it’s so unpredictable, you never know what comes out of it.
Cyclic Defrost: And if you had to choose a piece of equipment that you bought?
Mika Rintala: 5 string fretless bass that is made by Finnish luthier Matti Nevalainen. You can play different scales and notes and I appreciate Finnish handcraft. And it’s always nice to play with an instrument that you know the maker of.
Cyclic Defrost: Some time ago you had a theremin built inside an electric guitar. How did you do that?
Mika Rintala: This one was made already in the 1990’s, the truss rod acts as the antenna. Theremin works fine, but the guitar I used was a bad strato copy. I sold it a couple of years ago. I’ve made theremins in different things, like in a trombone or a Finnish Ufox air humidifier.
Cyclic Defrost: Would you say the reception to this kind of music changed throughout time?
Mika Rintala: Well, I could speak about my own music, it’s been quite similar in the past few years, with more gigs nowadays. I have not marketed my doings, so I’m mainly in alternative music festivals. Pretty marginal in commercial wise, there is only one radioshow in Finland that plays this kind of music (couple of hours per week). It’s a really small genre. I’ve made a couple of videos on the Internet but not so many people saw those. The general opinion seems to be that this is complicated and not easily understandable music. The people have quite a lot of prejudices.
Cyclic Defrost: How would you describe the experimental music scene in Finland?
Mika Rintala: Some strong marginal rock bands are active in Finland, and also some ambient music makers. Then some jazz groups and classical composers that compose for large orchestras. Quite many-sided but not that many makers in total. The world music scene is also interesting and active.
Cyclic Defrost: What were your most memorable experiences performing live?
Mika Rintala: The Tartu show was very nice and last summer’s Kukemuru Ambient Festival gig was good too. It’s nice to go outside of Finland with good players. Typical Verde gigs are quite different depending a lot on the place and who the players are. The live show at Seinäjoki in Finland was special, but there were not many people there.
Cyclic Defrost: Do you feel there is an empty space between acoustic and digital sounds? Have you seen yourself as trying to fill that void?
Mika Rintala: This is a really interesting topic. Personally I am very strict about the quality of the voice and how it’s recorded. Verde sound is analog but it’s recorded digitally with a minimal digital editing. If you use only a couple of digital editing phases, you can already hear it in the sound. I’ve done a lot of work with a good quality sound, and also help and teach others. My philosophy is that signal route should be as short as possible, and with as little components as possible. This is why I usually use tubes and no rerouting, and the result is that there is very little components where the signal is advancing. We use digital sounds only occasionally, most of the noises and voices are created with real instruments or analogue synths.
Cyclic Defrost: Could you choose only 1 or 2 releases to define your sound?
Mika Rintala: This is a difficult one, I’ve made about 300 songs. Here are a couple of links to some of them (We’ve placed them throughout the piece)
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the latest great music that you discovered? Any artists/albums/songs to recommend?
Mika Rintala: Recently I’ve been listening to duo Rauno Nieminen and Timo Väänänen. Miriam Makeba is the best singer in the world. Lars Werner from Sweden is interesting. And of course Miles Davis and In a Silent Way
Cyclic Defrost: Plans for the rest of the year?
Mika Rintala: Karkkia Mistica club gigs 25.8 at Pori, Finland. Maybe new Verde releases at the end of this year. And keeping the studio sessions, my studios and my sailboat. A document film project with Petri Hagner too.
You can find out more here.