Four decades of provocation

You were born in a small countryside town, Somero. How was it to grow up there?
During my first ten years I was often sick, and because of that my mother and I used to visit Helsinki very often. So I got a taste of the big city quite early. About my Somero years, I appreciate mostly my school time. Our headmaster was an exceptional person. He commanded fifteen languages, even though he claimed he could only speak Esperanto and Finnish. And that’s why Esperanto was compulsory in our school. Five years after the headmaster retired, the teaching Esperanto disappeared from Somero schools. It’s a pity because if Somero could have boasted of something, it would have been schoolboys speaking Esperanto. I have even written some songs in Esperanto, but I’m not an Esperantist: they’re so keen on their hobby, and that disturbs me a little bit.
 

At least two other very famous musicians have also come from Somero.

Right. Unto Mononen, the tango composer. I played in his orchestra. I got to know him when I was a student in Helsinki. I started to be interested in Finnish tango and in tangos by Mononen and he was so popular at the time. And the other one is Rauli “Badding” Somerjoki. We started collaborating and he sang on some of my albums. Then he asked me to produce his own rock single, which I did, and a rock album. Two weeks after releasing ‘Fiilaten ja höyläten’, it went to no.1 in the Finnish chart, where it stayed almost a year.

A year of turning point

It seems that 1966 was a very important year; a sort of turning point.
It was the important year of my provocations! At last I succeeded in provoking the whole of Finland by singing those sexual manuals at the Jyväskylä Summer Cultural Festival. This actually helped very much later when I wanted to do something else, and I started to sing classical music. I sang a song by Franz Schubert live on the Finnish TV: a shock. And it was exactly what I meant it to be.
Then I met the poet Markku Into and we started the Suomen Talvisota project. And in October that same year I was at the Turku Youth Festival, singing Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus”. The sixties are quite easy to remember but already the seventies are much more difficult: I was doing so many different things at the same time. Films, music, writing…

What was the common denominator?
The wish to provoke, of course.

So are you still into provoking the audience?
Of course. I provoke in a totally different way than earlier. I provoke my own friends and people my age. In the 60s I provoked old people and in the 21st century I still provoke old people. These are the same people who grew up with my provocations, and are themselves often quite good at provoking too. But then most of them are nowadays quite old fashioned and they think in an old fashioned, conservative way. I can provoke in many ways.

{mosimage}Stories of detectives and drunkards

You wrote two books whose titles sound quite curious: Etsivätoimisto Andrejev & Milton (Detective Agency Andreyev & Milton) and Baarien Mies (The Beer Bar Man).
The first is a detective story. I wrote it with Markku Into and it was ‘built’ in a very strange way: in the epistolary style. We were making fun of detective novels, and our own is very odd indeed. Suffice it to say that there’s no ending whatsoever.
Baarien mies has an interesting origin. In 1984 it was still forbidden to perform pop music during Easter time. I was in Sotkamo and could not perform. I stayed there some days and visited a bar several times. I became interested in this bar and the ‘way of life’ connected to it. I thought I would suggest the subject to a real sociologist. Then I thought he or she would never get enough money to travel around Finland and no scholarship would be available for such a drinking subject, so I chose myself to be the writer. My wife was with me: she was my driver but also my ‘memory’, as from time to time she had to remind me about the place and what had happened the evening before as I had drunk so much.

How are you planning to shock your audiences at the moment?
The first album in collaboration with DJ Sane will be released in May. It took three years as the material is so uncommercial: no dance, no pop, no rock. But it has very strong and heavy rhythms and sounds like it is from the rock and ambient world but not precisely from that. But I’ve other plans: the Swedish novel. And I’m composing a chamber music work about the Swedish domination that finished in 1909. It’s been commissioned for next year, 2008, so that it anticipates the centennial.

For a detailed biography of M.A. Numminen visit www.ma-numminen.net

M.A. Numminen will perform in Helsinki on 22 May at the Design Museum, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, Helsinki