Kimmo Pohjonen and sampling master Samuli Kosminen joined forces with Kronos Quartet on the project Uniko featuring music composed by the duo. Kosminen samples Pohjonen’s accordion and Kronos’ strings and reproduces them into the mix via his electronic drum pads and devices. The result is a unique sound never before accomplished. The Uniko World Premiere performances at Helsinki Festival in September 2004 were followed by Moscow, Molde Jazz Festival in Norway and three shows at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Subsequent concerts have taken place at Palace of the Arts Budapest, Colours of Ostrava Czech Republic, Katowice Jazz Art Festival Poland and Barbican London. The Helsinki concerts were filmed by Finnish digital TV, YLE Teema, in cooperation with Austrian company Moving Images for broadcasts in five countries. A DVD of the film was released in 2011 by CMajor of Germany and includes a bonus “Making of Uniko” program. The Uniko music was recorded with Pohjonen / Kosminen / Kronos Quartet at Avatar, NYC and in Helsinki from 2007-2010 with Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurdsson and released by Ondine, Finland in 2011.
UNIKO (by Fiona Talkington)
The string quartet, that most sophisticated of chamber ensembles, meets the accordion, earthy and irreverent. In this case it’s the Kronos Quartet, the most famous string quartet in the world, and the accordionist is Kimmo Pohjonen who has previously brought us accordion wrestling and music with farm machinery.
Their project, Uniko, in which they’re joined by Kimmo’s long-term musical sparring partner, sampling guru and percussionist Samuli Kosminen, is, as the name suggests, unique, and one which has grown since its conception over 10 years ago.
These are all musicians who are known not so much for breaking boundaries, they just don’t see them in the first place. They are excited about challenges, exploring new possibilities. They are passionate about music making.
Hearing his music for the first time in 2000 the Kronos Quartet had recognised in Kimmo a kindred spirit who loved to challenge his instrument, making great music in the process. He’d just been working on a chamber orchestra project (Kalmuk) and had ideas for working with string quartet. Meanwhile the Quartet had already built up a huge library of their own samples of different playing styles just crying out for a project. The timing was perfect.
It’s a good story. But what matters even more is the music. As listeners, Uniko takes us on a journey, an exciting and emotional roller-coaster. Its strength is that it immediately becomes our journey; it’s a compelling and addictive listen. Kimmo says it’s about dreams and about life. He talks often about the idea of diving into the music, closing his eyes and going somewhere very deep, about losing himself in it, imagining the string quartet there all the time he was writing. As he composed he recorded himself improvising and, listening back, discovered parts “that sound like the Finnish weather” he told me, “sometimes so beautiful that you can’t imagine, and sometimes really ugly and nasty, and the nasty can be nice too because I like nasty weather. While composing Uniko I felt this is going into an ice hole, going into warm water, going into the sun, the darkness. It’s very powerful.”
Uniko has grown and changed since its premiere in 2004. The quartet parts are written but have room for solos and improvisation while Kimmo and Samuli are more open and reactive, the whole ensemble embracing the feel of each venue and audience, whether festivals, concert halls, rock venues or jazz clubs. And while, like Kimmo you might want to dive deep into the musical experience and lose yourself in his dream-world, these are musicians who are fascinating to watch too: Kimmo’s wild-child yet genial charisma, the renowned brilliance of this Quartet, and the meticulous work done by Samuli who seems to be drilling down into the very vibrato of the strings.
“You know when you’re dreaming, and you’re unconscious, yet you know where you are” Kimmo tells me “and then you wake up but you’re still in your dream? Well this is Uniko”.
(Fiona Talkington – June 2013)
The music is sheer physicality… Uniko is like an ocean tide coming in. Big waves of sound build in complexity, animation and sometimes sheer frenzy, then abruptly retreat into small lyrical moments, amplified pizzicatos or buzzings by some huge and imaginary insect. Mr. Pohjonen, a virtuoso on an accordion wired for sound, guided things along and became so excited at the end that one worried about his well-being. (Bernard Holland, Concert Review, The New York Times, 5.10.2007)
»The album was inspired by Finnish winter and a winter dream that can instantly turn into a nightmare, according to Pohjonen. We can feel this in the music which is charmingly dreamy but suddenly turns into a cacophonic chaos. Like walking in a winter wonderland and being swept away by a snowstorm.« (Zdenko Matoz, Delo, 14. 10. 2015)