The Accordionist Who Sank the “Titanic”

The Arctic Sea - source of inspiration. © Charles Thibo
The Arctic Sea – source of inspiration. © Charles Thibo

I was at the Polar Circle yesterday night. I heard the winds blowing, chasing ice particles over the floes. I heard the whales moaning and I heard the seagulls. I heard the sea as it crashed against rocks and I heard gentle waves rippling over stone pebbles on the beach. I heard Kimmo Pohjonen, Samuli Kosminen and the Proton String Quartet.

I heard snippets of Baroque dances and Arab songs. I heard segments of Nordic folks songs, tunes for an Irish fiddle and riffs from rock music. I heard the “Titanic” sinking: wooden panels and poles breaking, metal screeching, water gurgling, a thunderous inferno preceding a saddening calm. I heard “Uniko”, a piece in seven sections commissioned by the Kronos Quartet in 2002 and first performed in 2004 in Helsinki.

Stomping and wrestling

I heard Kimmo Pohjonen singing, praying, invoking Nordic gods to have mercy. I heard a man torn between pain and joy, between crying and laughing. I saw the man standing up, stomping over the stage, wrestling with the accordion, losing himself in trance. I saw an artist.

I heard an accordion, two violins, a viola, a cello and many, many electronics. I heard a strange and yet familiar sound, I heard frightening and charming melodies. I heard “Neue Musik” from Finland, and it was frenetic, it was cool, and it was inviting us to have fun, to be scared, to dance, to freak out.

Classic goes sampling

“Uniko” has been released in 2011 at the label Ondine. Kimmo Pohjonen, born in 1964, has been playing music since he was te, and his label describes him as a “Finnish accordion adventurist”. He and Samuli Kosminen wrote “Uniko” within 18 months. Programmatically, dark, cold, arctic winter dreams are the basic concept of the piece. Technically, the idea was to  see how far you can go with the accordion. The duo combined the music they had written for classic instruments with amplifiers, loops and voice and instrument sampling techniques.

When I drove back home from the Philharmonie de Luxembourg, I had to listen to that crazy-wonderful piece once more, no two more times. I will listen to it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. There is so much I haven’t heard the first time. Let’s rock that boat, Finland!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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