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Friday 02nd, November 2007
Miika Kuisma Interview

With the release of his new artist album Sententia on the horizon, Finnish producer Miika Kuisma has a deep and meaningful discussion with trance.nu about the album and his fascinating world view. It's a hefty one but well worth the read...

Hey Miika, how are you and what are you up to?

Hey mate! Right now I feel great! Going to take my dogs out in a minute and take a nice walk because sun is shining and autumn looks amazing.

Let’s talk about your new album, Sententia. You’ve described it as your humble attempt to re-create the trance you fell in love with in the early nineties. What artists in particular inspired you back then and do you think you have managed to capture that vibe on the album?

You almost make me feel old now! Cosmic Baby, Moby, Prodigy, Oliver Lieb, Svan Väth, Westbam, Legend B, Lazonby, Illuminatus and many more were the hottest names back then and big inspiration for me. Some of those records which still inspire me are “Behind The Eye vol 1” and “Thinking About Myself” by Cosmic Baby.

You describe trance as having lost some of its soul. Why do you think that is?

Well, this is a multiple layers issue so lets talk about few things that contribute to it.

At least in my opinion earlier it was perhaps more about musical ideas than production, although technical ideas in EDM music are as important as musical ideas, but still perhaps nobody should do anything just because it’s fashionable? Sometimes it seems that it’s more important to make certain kind of style, sign with respectable label and get famous than making music out of passion to it.

Also even a few years ago there was much less ready-made sounds to choose from. Of course there were sample CDs and presets out there you could buy but still it was more work to get yourself new sounds compared to today. And many were sampling their own things, like you know, microwave ovens etc weird things. And of course, if you’re using more of your own sounds and less presets, then it’s quite easy to sound original. But perhaps the overall situation was that artists just made the best out of what they had and who knows maybe they were using more of their creativity. Now we’ve so many sounds to choose from that it’s overwhelming. But you know I’m absolutely not complaining, I’m feeling like a little boy in toy store! But sometimes I find it too easy to use those damn presets.

So, my approach with Sententia was to use only few synths, make the best of out them and avoid presets. Most of the sounds are my own and I was trying to keep the total amount of instruments used in every song low. This also forced me to think about the roles of each instrument more and because it was so much easier to make a clear mix since I didn’t have 80+ tracks to think about.

Also you probably remember when it wasn’t even called “producing”, it was just “making music”. In my mind a producer is still someone who knows which kind of music performed by certain artist makes a great product, which can be sold with profit. Producer is also someone who knows where to get money for the production. So producing is essentially about making a product.

On the sleeve notes to your album you make the statement “I don’t care what I did in the past, I’m starting from square one again.” What do mean by that? Do you have any regrets?

No regrets mate, I just believe that artists should do things mostly for himself only, not for his fans. I know it can sound a terrible idea from commercial point of view, but it’s really not. Because, if the artist is afraid of losing his fans then their career is basically doomed sooner or later. I mean if you don’t have balls to do whatever you want, then you might end up repeating yourself and get bored of yourself and also your fans might get bored of you. Of course it doesn’t mean you have to do 180 degree turn every year, but I believe it’s important to do what feels good and not to keep making certain kind of music only because your current fan base are liking it in that way.

Another thing you talk about is getting a message across without words. Is that something you try to do in your music or do you think it is up to the listener to interpret their own message in the sounds?

Yea, well… you know it’s easy to tell a story if you’ve got lyrics, right? So I’ve tried to tell stories with sounds, melodies and arrangements while leaving room for imagination, classical music was always like that.

Another question you ask is why don’t we care about the most important thing that makes our life possible? And I don’t mean the sun. What do you mean?

It’s the track note of “One Step Behind The Mankind”. The title of this track is about the fact that we humans are not behaving responsibly towards other forms of life. Sometimes I almost feel like if the garbage wouldn’t be so inconvenient for us humans, we wouldn’t even have waste management. Now of course that is an aggravated example but still, it seems that we as humanity mostly care about nature because have to, for our own sake. We’re only now beginning to understand some of the finest interactions within nature. We’re all connected and we humans are not on the top of everything here. They claim we’re actually the only life form on this planet besides killing everyone else also naturally behaving suicidal. So everything in this track is reflecting our behaviour, like the vocal thing in this track sounds so artificial because everything here is now so artificial you know…

You describe “Till The Dawn” as a tribute for modern day party people. Are you still a bit of a clubber yourself?

I used to dance a lot but then one day I just stopped, now I just stand there looking cool with a drink, stupid hah? I still go out very much with my wife and friends. What can I say… I like all kinds of parties and this track is dedicated for those hardcore clubbers. Originally I planned this track to be my set opener. It has very long intro and then when it goes off from the break Cristal Snow says “Let’s, not, go, home, till the dawn”. So it’s like an opening statement.

There almost seems to be a story running through the album, is there a concept or meaning you have tried to get across in the music?

The whole project started from the concept and then story was written around it and finally I did the music. I just don’t tell you the concept or the story but it’s quite simple thing to figure out. Track titles give a hint about the theme and so on.

While trying to get back to the basics of trance, what equipment did you use?

I used only few synths making the album and it was all software. Some of that software is experimental and not commercial or even public. Even though I respect the old ways of making music I was never one of those analogue guys. I don’t have intimate feelings towards old analogue synths or vinyl records, maybe because of my nerdy background (I like to click on things). Or maybe I’m just lazy and prefer to open one file and continue working without setting up lot of gears and gizmos, wishing it will sound somewhat like yesterday. So I trust my dear Mac, Logic Pro and some 3rd party plug ins.

You also worked with the vocalists Cristal Snow and Karen Ires – how do you approach writing a vocal track compared to an instrumental?

Actually I didn’t have much approach in this case. So far I haven’t done even a single vocal track like it should be done, which is basically sitting down with the singer/writer and start working from the scratch. Everything I did with the vocals was already written and recorded before I got them. Except for “One Step Behind the Mankind” where I created an experimental sampler instrument using entire range of female vowels. That gave me new dimension for the melody because in addition to notes I also had the vowels, still not actual words. I’m still not sure how good it sounds but I just had to give it a try once I got the idea.

Also there were some really weird coincidences, if you like, in the process. Like Heikki L had been working on a track with Cristal Snow some time before and for some reason I got the vocal part… and guess what? It just happened to fit in perfectly with a track I was just working on. I mean the actual lyrics, the rhythm, the key and the tempo in the vocal was already matching everything in my track when I got it.

Then, I had been listening to “ATB: Desperate Religion” and really loved the vocal wondering where I can get such a singer for my track. So one day Alexander Perls send me bunch of vocals (30+) he had been working on and one of those really jumped out. So later after “Break Away” was already done I asked who is the vocalist and it turns out to be Karen Ires, who is on the very ATB track I’d been loving so much.

But now I would really like to do some vocal tracks especially written and composed together with the singer.

Tell us how you started out in music, you admit to being a ‘terrible nerd’ back then – is that still the case?

I really don’t remember why I even started making music in the first place. I really was a terrible nerd, that’s no joke. My first computer was 4 MHz PC running on Intel 8086 (modern TV-remote probably has more CPU power!), with two floppy drives and monochrome display. My friends had Amigas and many of them were making music with trackers, but honestly I wasn’t even interested. I was playing games, created some graphics and wrote code. Then I bought my first sound card (Adlib), which I wanted mostly for a better gaming experience. Some time later I started experimenting with the bundled sequencer software, which was quite basic. One of my schoolmates was a DJ at the youth center and I was trying to convince him to help me out doing something that he could play in the disco. But since my sound card at the time didn’t support samples (only very simple FM synthesis) he wasn’t even interested and even suggested I should buy Amiga (I think he was right) but at the time I took it as an insult!

So then later on came Sound Blaster and Scream Tracker (Finnish made software btw) and I began to do something just out of curiosity. Then later I visited a house club I really got an idea what I wanted to do and then it slowly started. You know I wasn’t even musical at all and I tortured my friends and family for many, many years. But just happen to believe that if you’ve a vision and you maintain the focus, that’s all you need. You can learn anything and you can become anything you want, if you just hold the image in your mind, believe it’s coming to you and act on it. Many scientists are now convinced this is how the universe operates.

But anyway, I refuse to call myself a terrible nerd anymore. Maybe moderate, but not terrible. I do sit by the computer most of the time but I’m trying to cut down my computer hours. Also ever since I switched to Mac (I used to be passionate Mac hater!) I haven’t had to bang my head against a wall so much and it just doesn’t feel like the same anymore.

Some of your biggest records were the AR52 productions with DJ Tab and Luke Chen. Can you ever see you guys hooking up again?

I don’t have answer to this. Me and Tab are still sharing a studio and sometimes we talk about making an AR52 track again, but we’re both kind of busy with our own things. So it’s mostly matter of us two getting our lazy asses into that room at the same time.

Luke has been more active with music making again after years of break. He is now doing tech house and minimal things and who know I might participate in some point, if he likes. But other than that we’ve no plans, except I desperately want to visit Singapore soon again. One of my favourite cities.

How involved are you in DJing – will you be touring the album and where can we see you playing?

I’ve been DJing for few years now and it’s been really, really awesome. Originally I decided to start spinning mostly because there wasn’t many live gigs and I wanted to get around. But ever since I started playing I’ve enjoyed it so much. I really like to plan my sets, especially for radio and I’m lucky to have lot of fresh tracks from my good mates. I’ve been playing mostly in Finland but it’s changing now. What comes to an album tour, we’re looking for destinations around the world right now.

Then I’ve monthly show called “Intelligent Design” which airs on XM/The System, Frisky Radio and Eilo (also podcasted) and I’m trying to cook something special for 2 hours each time. Unlike some people still think I play mostly progressive house now and some progressive trance, sometimes electro house, minimal and techno. I gave up on ‘regular’ trance long ago, naturally because it didn’t turn me on anymore. Of course there are some exceptions like Martin Roth, Super8 & Tab, Natlife and Boom Jinx and so on, but average trance record is usually quite boring to me. Of course it all depends on the situation at hand but my radio sets are often quite different from what I play in clubs. I’ve co-residency along with my partners Mr.A and Heikki L (Dallas Superstars) in the best club in Helsinki, it’s called Danceteria and its just damn amazing even magical night! Worth visiting Helsinki for, I promise.

I’m also involved with a company who is developing new DJ products. I’m doing user-interface design and consulting (something I used to do professionally in the past) and I believe that over next couple of years we will see lot of interesting things that might change the way of DJing as we know it. I know it might sound stupid but I really mean it! At least it’s for sure that these time code systems and CD platforms are not the future, but just a middle step towards something else.

I asked this question to DJ Tab, why do Finnish people have such an affinity to trance? He thinks it is due to your melancholic nature.

Not just trance! Besides, try living in the dark for 3/4 of your life and see if you will begin to sound melancholic! Seriously, we’re just expressing our traumas, this damn cold climate and the darkness. When it’s summer everyone’s smiling and behaving so different from winter.

Gotta tell you something. Once we were watching a news channel and they were interviewing some people who had lost their house for hurricane for the third time. Everyone was mostly smiling and saying things like “why don’t they move” and then it hit me. Winter comes every year, I hate it, my wife hates it, and we’re still here. So we’re now at least in a stage of planning to move but we’re still here and we’re expecting the first snow any day now…

You are clearly a very philosophical and intelligent man and this comes across in your music. What issues do you hold closest to your heart?

Well anyone who knows me knows I like to think. Honestly maybe I think too much. But anyway I’ve decided to make noise about certain issues, because I believe it is very important. So, I would love to see us going towards something where we would; watch less TV, work less hours, consume less, be less dependant on technology, spend more time with our families and friends, care more about the world we live in, dare to say no and stand up for our rights and freedoms. And so on… got the picture?

All those greedy bankers out there are trying to fool us taking more credit and making us brainless consumers living in constant feeling of not being accepted or not having enough stuff. But it’s all about how you look at things. Everything doesn’t have to become bigger, better, cooler, more efficient, more profitable and so on. And look at the regular newspaper now, the content is mostly about; a) Celeb b) Stories about something you should worry about or be afraid of c) One sided, corporate influenced political opinions or reports not worthy of reading d) Sports e) Advertisements ... People really need to wake up and start asking questions about many things, we gotta make things back right.

I could talk about this for hours and hours but maybe some other time! Watch some eye opening documentaries, like the Zeitgeist Movie for example. Peace!

Finally, after this album, have you planned the next step for Miika Kuisma?

Honestly right now I’m mostly focusing on promoting the album and playing DJ gigs. There are some remixes coming out soon etc (Darude and Alex Kunnari) but I never plan too much, let’s see what happens. I like techno more and more so who knows!

Also I just deleted most of the sounds I used for Sententia so I’m starting from clean desk again. I did that after Inwardgaze and it was really refreshing. Also I just upgraded to new Logic from version 6 (skipped v7) so it’s all new and exciting. But anyway the next album is going to be something different again... perhaps straight forward pop album or full on dance floor mix, it’s just too soon to tell!

Many thanks for your time Miika, you have truly made a wonderful album that is going to be keeping my CD drive very warm through the winter! Best of luck in everything you do.

Thank you. Lot of interesting questions, I really enjoyed this one.

Read the album review here and hear clips at www.miikakuisma.com

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