Musician and composer Antti Paalanen (b. 1977) has been prominent in the field of Finnish contemporary folk music for many years.
Paalanen is known for his violent, intense and hypnotic solo performances that push his body and his instrument to their limits. Paalanen’s music has been described as a “deep breathing” and “breathtaking” soundscape where Finnish creative madness combines with a primeval shamanist beat.
Antti Paalanen makes his music on the bisonoric (diatonic) accordion, a common instrument in Finnish folk music for the past century. Paalanen has employed an organic performance style, new techniques and new expressive sonorities to expand the potential of the instrument to embrace a variety of genres.
Paalanen comes from South Ostrobothnia, a region rich in the pelimanni (’traditional musician’) tradition of Finnish folk music. Between 1989 and 1996, Paalanen won the Finnish pelimanni championships on the diatonic accordion four times, and he placed second in the diatonic accordion world championships in Austria in 1999. He enrolled at the Department of Folk Music at the Sibelius Academy in 1997 and cmpleted his M.Mus. degree in 2006. In 2015, he completed a D.Mus. degree at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki in 2015.
Paalanen has released three solo albums: Äärelä (2007), Breathbox (2010) and Meluta (2014), which was released in central Europe in 2015 and was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize 2016. Breathbox was a nominee for the national Etno-Emma prize in Finland in 2011, and in the same year Paalanen appeared at the WOMEX world music event in Copenhagen. Following his success at WOMEX, he has performed widely around Europe. Paalanen is active as a musician and a composer in a number of contexts in Finland. He appears on 15 albums by various bands to date, contributing compositions and arrangements. He has written music for the stage and been employed as a stage musician at the Finnish National Theatre and other major Finnish theatres.
Antti Paalanen: Meluta (We Wanna Make Some Noise)
In Paalanen’s music, man and accordion breathe the same air and exude the same energy. He creates a one-man band, simultaneously producing bass, harmony, melody, vocals and percussion. The result is a massive, pulsating wall of sound where at times it is impossible to tell whether it is the musician or the instrument producing the sound.
Paalanen has a vision of bringing the accordion into modern genres of dance music, which means mining the capabilities of the instrument for the sort of sonority and power expected by listeners of contemporary popular music. On the Meluta album, Paalanen’s vision takes flight. The album forms part of his artistically oriented doctorate, besides representing the fruits of years of research. His vision is excellently demonstrated on the opening track, the title track of the album, ‘Meluta’ (We Wanna Make Some Noise). Here, Paalanen combines lovely melodic lines with a modern techno beat and throat singing that resembles the grunting vocal styles of metal music.
The dialogue between musician and instrument gives birth to an alter ego, a volcanic man who screams at his accordion, kicks at the floor and snorts like a raging bull. This alternative personality appears in a number of guises on the album: an accordion rider (Acc Rider), a tired gig musician singing nonsense to his wife (Yeah Mama), a German industrial worker (Kraftsman), a judgement-day judge (Judgement), a ghost in a bakery in the Old Town (The Final Waltz), an angry ruff (Ruff) or a happy bull (Angus), the latter a tribute to Paalanen’s favourite band, AC/DC fronted by Angus Young.
On the Meluta album, the sound of the accordion is augmented with a variety of samples, primitive drums played by Teemu Vuorela and a sound world created by sound technician Samuli Volanto that elegantly supports Paalanen’s vision.
Meluta as part of an artistically oriented doctorate
Meluta was the final component of Antti Paalanen’s artistically oriented doctorate, Bursting bellows – Bisonoric accordion’s bellows rhythmics in composition, which was examined at the Sibelius Academy in May 2015. His doctorate focused on writing new music for the bisonoric accordion from the perspective of instrumentality.
A bisonoric accordion commonly has one, two or three rows of buttons on the right hand keyboard, with each row producing the notes of a single diatonic scale. As the name indicates, the instrument is built so that each key produces one of two pitches depending on whether the bellows are being pushed (closed) or pulled (opened). The bisonoric accordion is also known as the ’melodeon’ or ‘button box’.
An accordion is classified as an aerophone, meaning that it produces a sound by causing a column of air to vibrate. What is interesting about the accordion is that the sound is not actually produced by the free reeds within the instrument; the air pressure created by the bellows causes the reeds to make the air around them vibrate at specific pitches. Paalanen has given his instrument a new name: ‘breathbox’.
Paalanen uses the special properties of his instrument to create music that cannot be performed on any other instrument. He has devised his own keyboard layout for his three row button accordion and developed new techniques based on a rhythmic use of the bellows of the instrument. He has coined the umbrella term ‘bellows rhythmics’ for these techniques. Most of the pieces on the Meluta album are based on bellows rhythmics and other playing techniques developed by Paalanen himself.