The personal path of innovation and reinvention - an interview with Sasu Ripatti aka Vladislav Delay
Sasu Ripatti aka Vladislav Delay is the person who probably needs no introduction. His sonic constructions stand on the verge of innovative structures of dub/minimal/experimental/techno as well as subtle and carefully crafted vocal house, which he creates under his Luomo moniker.
Before his show at Outline Festival in Moscow Sasu answered several questions. In the interview below one of the most prominent figures in experimental music scene shares his critical insights about nowadays music, his relation to audience, technical issues, creativity and constant artistic reinvention.
You will be performing at Outline Festival in Moscow this July. However, as far as we know this isn’t your first visit to Russia. Could you share your experiences/insights about this contrasting country as individual, not musician? Moreover, could you compare Russia’s musical background to for example other Western European scenes? Maybe you have noticed any essential differences?
Russia and Moscow especially are one of the places I've visited most. I must have at least 20 Russian visas on my passports. Having grown up next to Russia, and having had a writer father who was a communist and used to work with Karelia writers and so on gave me quite a strong connection to Russia that I still hold on to. I realize I'm usually the most pro-Russian person in the group wherever it may be and I find the Western propaganda quite annoying. Not that I support everything Russia does but let’s say I understand and relate to Russia and its people quite well. There's a lot I admire and like Russians for (e.g. the ability to withstand adversities and find ways around things and enjoy life for example). Society/life may seem selfish but I think people are not selfish but very generous.There's a lot of beauty in Russia even though it's not obvious or on the surface at all. Maybe that's why I like it.
I don't have an answer for the second part of your question. I've stayed away from scenes or even thinking about scenes for quite some time and really don't have any insight to it.
Could you talk about what awaits people in Outline Festival? What musical programme have you prepared for the curious audience? Does it contain any new sound performing techniques or modulations you have recently invented? We are asking this because we know that you do not believe in any musical manifestos and always try to invent something new in your creations as well as live performances.
Technically I doubt there's going to be anything new, it's becoming so difficult to bring gear along with you. Musically speaking, to be honest I have no idea yet. I have basically stopped playing live shows and I do them very rarely anymore so it gives even more room to do whatever because you don't have a pattern going on or routine to speak about. Also I have been working on a range of stuff and I don't know what of it I want to try out in public.
I guess the main thing still is to try to fit into the situation, whatever it may be, so I anyway tend to leave quite lots of room to just do what I feel like. There's plenty of released material I can rework and also more and more these days. It'd be unreleased material i'd go about and build something up that suits the situation.
You have a great interest and passion for custom-made/selfmade devices and it definitely could be heard in your authentic sound. Could you tell us more about this and how did you get involved into the world of DIY? Did you have a great mentor or did it emerge naturally? Please, tell us more about this.
My passion is for sound itself. I try to find and create new sounds and I don't care how it happens, but I find it takes more and more effort to find something really interesting so that might be pushing my developments. I don't know anything about electronics so I hardly do DIY. I have a great technician nearby who has modded and changed and developed quite a bit of gear for me. It has been a blessing for sure. And since I went through building a house some years ago (not literally doing the hammering but still producing the whole thing) I know something about tools these days and have started doing some "instruments" myself from various materials.
But then again, when I think of myself being 16 and doing the drums and percussion thing, at that time I was already trying to get the most interesting sounding metal percussion stuff which I'm still using to this day.
Your sound is lush, liquid and very dynamic, so we could only predict how much time you put into it. Don’t you think that after the invasion of new digital music technologies in our daily life the overall music quality is going downwards not upwards? Please, could you share your insights about nowadays situation and what is happening in the worldwide music scene regarding sound quality?
I have given up interest and hope on this issue and just don't care anymore. I try to do my own thing and don't let the surroundings make me give up and do "sounds good enough" and "get bookings, albums" and all that trade-plastic-music-system stuff we have today. I think it sums up quite well what's going on when Apple pays as much as they did for a company that makes shitty sounding over-expensive headphones, which means people pay shitloads of money for shitty sounding headphones they use to listen shitty sounding mp123s on them. Shitty shitty shitty, yes indeed.
Have you ever thought about how your music could sound in for example 5 or 10 years? How much sound innovations are important to you? Could you share your latest discoveries while working with music in your studio? Maybe you have any suggestions for the upcoming artists to what technically they should concentrate the most when they start a new piece?
There are questions to write a book about. I remain quite optimistic for the future of my music, I remain actively curious and I am willing to put quite a lot of effort into developing things further. If anything, I'm not that patient while it does take time. Innovation in general is quite important but then again it's just a cliche. And also something that can become a negative thing as innovation for innovation's sake would not be a good thing. Music should come first. Actually while talking about the innovation and all that, I try to detach myself from the tech and studio gear and so on. It only plays such a small role in the end. But then again I strongly believe that it's the combination of sound and what you do with the sound (I don't mean changing filter cut-off, but rhythms, harmonies, melodies and that stuff). At least in the Western music I think what you can do with 12 tones and "traditional instruments" starts to be done through and it helps to use unexpected sounds. I'm not saying this is happening but still…
Lately what I was trying to do is to look for core sounds, stuff that already sounds great by nature. Acoustic and mechanic stuff that I try to mic up. I find there's much more ways to create interesting sounds that way than by synthesizing and similar means. And it's practically not even cheap, but free stuff you just pick up. I use a lot of my daughter's toys and household items also.
For an up and coming artist, I would say forget everything you have read about music making in the last ten years, forget about the gear and especially all the software made in the last ten years, don't listen to any of the music made in the past ten years, don't read any music blog ever again, go somewhere and isolate yourself from the civilization for a while, study music history, study art history, general history, forget everything you've learnt/read/studied, learn from nature as much as you can. then go make some music you actually yourself relate to and which comes from yourself.
In one of your previous interviews you said that Frank Zappa was one of your greatest musical influences. We thought that it would be amazing to hear your remix of one of his pieces. Could you tell us which track would you choose to remix and maybe why? Moreover, have you ever dedicated any of your tracks to any legendary musician? If so which one and why?
Regarding Zappa, I guess any track would do equally well, but I only would do it privately, play around with the material and then let it be. That's actually how I do with most of my music these days. Anyway, I just realized. I rarely keep a version anymore, but just overwrite and go ahead with something new and I don't really finish most of them anymore and release only a fraction of what I create in the studio. It has become more of a private thing than what it used to be.
I haven't been dedicating tracks, but I guess the first EP I did was something of a something when I called it the same as Miles Davis greatest album. I wouldn't do the same today but that was in 1997...
Is improvisation important to you when you create music in the studio or performing live? Maybe there are some examples when your extreme improvisations/experiments merged into your overall sound? We have noticed that there was a subtle transaction in your production structures in the past 10 years. Feels that your primary sound, which was more fluid and atmospheric became more manoeuvrable, complex and also more threedimensional.
It's kind of a cliche to say improvisation is important to me when every house producer nowadays says the same thing. But yes, it still is very much the key to what I do, whatever I do. I really don't believe in set structures or premeditated music.I guess you can also call it improvisation, when you do problem-solving realtime. Having something sounding too pretty and boring is a problem and it needs solving.Having done music alone for so long I have kind of ended up with a system, where I set up traps and create problems just to have to react onto them and maybe come up with something interesting, be it in the studio or in a live setting. It's just the nature of things. Static stuff sucks and dies away. It's often worth trying, what happens if…
Regarding my own sound and development I don't think about it in these technical or analyzing terms so much and I also hardly ever listen to any of the music I have made. It's much more about the meta stuff and feeling something or not and whether you are getting any closer to the vision, idea, sound you have in mind.
Once you said: “I’m quite egoistic when it comes to music and I actually don't think much at all about the audience when I make my own music”. But don’t you think that this is a cliche statement? Have you ever thought that you are a hostage of your own sound you are developing all these years? You have been influenced by diverse music genres/styles and one of them is metal. Have you ever had any idea to go this direction nowadays leaving Vladislav Delay alterego behind? Generally speaking, what do you think about such radical turns in artist’s career? Is it possible these days?
Again, lots of questions. For one thing, I think this world is full of cliches. But if anything I think of the audience even less. It actually doesn't exist much anymore, things have just developed as they have. I release less and less compared to how much I create, I have less and less interest to play live, I could care less about podcasts or DJ mixes, and overall you could say that the audience is not really listening anymore. I remember having seen a sticker that said so and I kind of agree. People are just numbed by the amount of systematically produced stuff they consume in huge amounts 24/7/365. And you might be a hostage to your own sound but that's just a technical description. And then again what would be an alternative? Being a hostage to Pitchfork or Sonar audience? That's an easy choice at least.
I'm not an entertainer. So I don't know why should I be thinking about my listener so much? I don't deliver some specific expected functional music, I already hate just the idea of it. I have set out to do my own thing and I have to live with it. But I have also learnt that it works best if i just don't think too much, or actually not at all, what people might think about it, what they talk about it, how it might work. Because you just can't control any of that, and most of it is irrelevant trade-plastic-system stuff that's just there to feed the system and has absolutely nothing to do with music itself.
But speaking of music styles, I don't think in terms of this or that alter ego or name. If I did a metal album, which I could easily imagine doing and enjoying, I don't think I'd leave this or that behind because of that. It's all one thing for me. And I really don't consider myself electronic music producer. I make music. It mostly happens to be electronic for now, but it's more of a coincidence than anything else. There might be names and titles for whatever practical reason or just for the sake of it, but it's all connected before and beyond that. I would not do something I don't relate to or believe in etc., but there's very little musically speaking that I wouldn't actually do besides boring music be it any genre. I connect with music on quite a wide range.
I have just recently produced an album for a singer-songwriter and the only thing on the album besides a young woman singing is her playing acoustic guitar at the same time. No overdubs or sequences or anything. I recorded the album in my studio with one or two mics, produced and mixed it. And i totally enjoyed it, related to it, felt that it was a very important challenge and fresh take on what i do. And it was great not to have a single electronic thing around. But what is radical turn? I would not start doing straight electronic music at this point, or become a standard DJ. That would be a radical turn.
Do you have your favourite art movement or painter/s? Could you share some of your last discoveries that did a great impression to you? We are not asking you to reveal how you perceive them, but just humanly talk about art and what it means to you or your music.
I'm not so greatly influenced by "great art". I'm much more influenced by "small art" or remote art of any kind. I find the museum setting and the whole "art" setting quite difficult to deal with. It's all just too serious, so much weight on everyone's shoulders. And again, lots of external stuff having nothing to do with the content itself. Nature creates beautiful art, that greatly influences me. I also find individuals and outcasts who actually do create art for themselves or for the surrounding or community and who do not exhibit and are not sucked into the system. They are infinitely more interesting than anything hanging on the wall of MoMA or Jay-Z's.
To conflict and contradict myself I still find Andy Warhol as the most inspiring "known" artist. And since something like him it's kind of hard to make a dent as far as I see it when it comes to "commercial art".
As far as we know you are still buying physical albums to fully absorb their dynamics, composition structures and ideas. What was the last three records you have purchased? Did you found them worth your money/time? Why they drew your attention?
I can't remember anymore the last three albums I bought as it's been a while. And they all were disappointing. I have most of the old stuff I really like and listen to, and I have stopped listening to new releases altogether so I'm really not buying music anymore. I think the level of integrity in most produced, recorded and released music today is shameful, technically and/or musically speaking.
Any last word for our readers?