Kimmo Pohjonen: Whatever you do, just don't call it a squeezebox

Louise Gray meets an improvising accordion player a million miles from 'La Vie en Rose'

Nothing can quite prepare the unwary for Kimmo Pohjonen. Detractors might say that the Finnish musician is only making up for all the bad press accordionists have had, and it's tempting – bearing in mind the hordes who have been terrorised by café renditions of "La Vie en Rose" – to hear them out. But Pohjonen is different. Wrestling with a vast five-row chromatic accordion that's hooked up to some effective digital effects, he's a performer whose blend of virtuosity and resolute experimentation is routinely likened to that of Jimi Hendrix or Laurie Anderson.

British audiences will get a chance to experience Pohjonen's sound this month when the Finn returns to Britain – his Kluster show was one of the star attractions of David Bowie's Meltdown festival in London earlier this year – with Kalmuk. Performed alongside electro-percussionists Samuli Kosminen and Abdissa "Mamba" Assefa and 15 members of the Tapiola Sinfonietta, one of Europe's best-known chamber orchestras, Kalmuk is probably Pohjonen's most ambitious project yet. Named after the southern Russian tribe and taking its inspiration from a painting by artist Martii Innanen ("It's naive in style, I suppose, but there's an extraordinary weirdness about it. I love it," Pohjonen says), Kalmuk destroys the careful sonic placement that chamber music traditionally implies, and recreates it in a permanent flux, visually and structurally.

Pohjonen knew that his ideasmight arouse opposition in the Sinfonietta. "I told the manager a year before we began work that I would want the musicians to move around, to improvise, to connect their own instruments to various electronic units," he says. "This way, those who felt that they couldn't work this way wouldn't feel compelled to do so."

In the event, half of the Sinfonietta opted out, but even so, he faced a certain amount of perplexity from the remaining members. "What was difficult for them to understand was that I didn't want to make the piece ready when we started rehearsals. I didn't write down notes for the musicians, so there was no question that we would play this way or that. I wanted to experiment, to play, if necessary, one section over and over, rather like a rock band may do. The process itself is the most interesting aspect of working with people. It was a continual trial and error, and little by little, any problems there were disappeared."

There was something more. "What I got from the Innanen painting – and I've taken into Kalmuk – is this idea that each of us has an animal part that no one else can see," Pohjonen says, moving onto shamanistic tradition, something that he researched while at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy. "That's a big part of Finnish culture, and one that's very much interesting to me. In the 1980s, I used to go to see a shamanistic theatre group in the north of Finland, and found it fascinating – I've read those books about people who eat mushrooms and bang drums to go really far away. I think it's also the same kind of method or situation."

Although Kalmuk may not take the theme of shamanistic transmogrification to the hairy-pelted conclusion that Björk reached in her video for the single "Hunter", Pohjonen was certainly aiming at wearing down the civilised veneer of the orchestra. "I know, it's not easy to be a beast on stage. You're aware of the audience. Sometimes you're ashamed of looking wild, but I've found that when you can go into the music somehow more deeply, when everything becomes intuitive, then you don't care how it looks. I love to watch the musicians in Kalmuk change their style of playing." He mimes the transition between a sedate violinist and a frenzied one. "I think it's good for them. And it's good for the audience to felt that energy coming out."

Manipulation, or transformation, is at the core of Pohjonen's music. (Indeed, he's recently based one five-hour show, Manipulator, on precisely that.) But this shouldn't imply that Kalmuk is one vast free-for-all. Its recordings demonstrate a piece that veers from full-on bombast to surprising delicacy. Carefully wrought arpeggios give way to clouds of electronic noise that dissipate with the same kind of harmonic delicacy of a Ligeti. And at all times, you are aware of a constant movement, rather like an orchestra on the march.

It would be more accurate to describe Kalmuk as a piece in progress. Its unclassifiability suits Pohjonen for it allows a certain freedom. "We've spoken about shamanism, getting access to the primitive, to this power of change. But change also means the same person doing different things. Maybe transformation is a word that says not-me any more. It's just a question of finding it and controlling access to it."

Kimmo Pohjonen and the Tapiola Sinfonietta's 'Kalmuk': RCNM, Manchester (0161 907 5278) Wednesday; Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (024 7652 4524), Thursday; All Saints Church, Newcastle (0191 4434 555), Saturday; Gardner Centre, Brighton (01273 709709), 4 Nov; QEH, London SE1 (020 79604201), 5 Nov. 'Kluster' is out on Rockadillo/BMG. 'Kalmuk' is out on CD (BMG) and DVD (Lilith) on Thursday

Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

'Rebel without a Cause', 'East of Eden' and 'Giant' re-released

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
TV The second episode of the hit HBO featured a surprise for viewers
Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Arts & Entertainment
Gian Sammarco plays Adrian Mole in 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'
books

Sue Townsend's much-loved character will live on
Arts & Entertainment
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show
TV

Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK

Arts & Entertainment
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Favour Asikpa and Thandie Newton in 'Half of a Yellow Sun'
film

Review: Half of A Yellow Sun

Arts & Entertainment
Andrew Motion would send 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
booksLeading writers protest against government restrictions on prisoners receiving books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?