By Vincent PollardTo say that Tin Man's latest release is something of a departure immediately begs the question: "What is it exactly that Tin Man does?" Starting out producing acid house twelve-inches on the Finnish-based Keys of Life label, Californian-born Johannes Auvinen's subsequent work exists in a world between brooding singer-songwriter and strange, off-kilter dance music. Although far from dance floor material, it's informed by minimal techno and house. With Vienna Blue (a homage to his adopted home in the Austrian capital), Auvinen augments his electronics with a heavy dose of classical instrumentation, employing cello, violin and clarinet. Like all Tin Man albums, Vienna Blue takes a while to seep under your skin, slowly revealing more of itself upon each listen. Consisting of 22 short pieces, alternately instrumental and vocal-led numbers, ranging from less than a minute in length to almost seven minutes, it revisits the isolating and eerily off-key vocal style that dominated Scared in 2010. Never content to stay in one place and always eager to push his music, and the listener, into new and uncomfortable areas, Auvinen demonstrates a delicious disregard for current trends. This is outsider music that manages to remain accessible yet endlessly provoking.
Vienna Blue is a bit different from your previous work, being that it's heavily classical-based. How did this come about? It was a few things coming together. I've now been in Vienna for five years, so it's a bit of a reflection on the time here, and the classical aspect really happened because I was working with some classical musicians. I was working at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and we had to play music there for three months. I played together with a trio, so I was making some electronic textures, beats and things like that. We played a lot of cheesy Mozart and Strauss and sort of touristic advertising for Austria there, including Sound of Music medleys and Falco, but it also had some nice moments of improvisation, some weirder ambient things. I also enjoyed finding interpretations of Austrian Lieder, which is very sweet music from old Austria. It was me on the computer, basically, dubbing things out and, just like the record, cello, violin and clarinet.
What was the process working with this classical trio for the record like? Were they recorded as completed tracks or did you sample individual elements and piece them together later? Most of the stuff was already planned out before. I had already composed all the electronic parts and spent a lot of time arranging them for the trio, so they just played it exactly how I had written it. I wrote everything on my computer with MIDI and having no idea how to do it, I figured out a way to make sheet music. I asked some people about how I should split things up and arrange things, but it was just an amateur version ― just print out some sheet music and hope they can play it! But it was easy; the musicians looked at the stuff and then one hour later we were recording everything. We recorded the whole album in one day in the studio. There are a few parts where there's improvisation, like in the track "Ok, Improvise," I just have the chords going underneath and they improvised over the top. Then in "Crow," there's some improvisation in that. Some of them are pieces that we would improvise at the Expo and based on those improvisations, I wrote some songs around ideas that came up there.
There are several notable musicians, like Jacaszek or Murcof, who also blend electronics or minimal techno with classical. Were any of these inspirations for this project? Actually, Christian Fennesz was somehow a strange influence for a lot of the record, as the synthesis was all physical modelling, like Fennesz, but a totally different treatment. It's all percussive sounds and not blurred-out in the same way that the Fennesz tracks are, but synthesized in the same way and also maybe similar, in that it's using Lydian mode and Hungarian minor mode and stuff like that. Church modes, more romantic-sounding modes, melancholic, classically romantic sounding stuff ― Debussy uses those modes a lot. Basically, all the electronic sounds on the record are made with physical modelling synthesis ― all the stuff that sounds like harps or glassy plucked instruments. I use analog stuff all the time, so it was a departure to make something with a different kind of sound. Logic has a physical modelling synth built into it and I used that exclusively; it's called Sculpture.