M.A.Numminen


Mauri Antero Numminen was born in Somero on March 12, 1940. At the age of fourteen he became interested in jazz and used to listen to it played on the radio by the Voice of America. Around the same time he also started playing the drums. Viisi Vierasta Miestä ('Five Friendly Fellows') was M.A. Numminen's first own band. He not only listened to jazz, but was also interested in classical music, and later especially in modern concert music. Stockhausen, Arnold Schönberg and Edgar Varese were among his favourites, just to mention a few. Quite an elitist, wasn't he! Just like M.A. Numminen, the famous Finnish tango composer Unto Mononen also lived in Somero. Incidentally, M.A. Numminen was sometimes seen playing drums in Unto Mononen's orchestra. They played not only tango music but also contemporary hits as well as dance music in general.

In 1960 M.A. Numminen moved to Helsinki to study economics and political science at the University of Helsinki. Shortly afterwards he changed majors, and concentrated in sociology, philosophy, and linguistics instead. He also studied Finno-Ugric languages, folk poetry, Inuit and Bantu languages as well as astronomy. Numminen wanted to become a sociolinguist but things turned out differently: after eight years of studies he concluded that he was "nothing but a poor troubadour", after a popular Finnish tune. While at the university, Numminen studied the slang spoken in Helsinki. Slang, however, was not an acceptable subject of academic study at the time, and Numminen's interviews and tapes were left untouched for years. Only as late as in the 1990's Numminen was finally able to hand over his tapes to Prof. Heikki Paunonen, who was then compiling a new, extensive dictionary of slang. In his own thesis Numminen studied the dialect of Somerniemi.


Seeking for Arts


Numminen's endless creativeness sought expression through a number of channels. For example, when visiting his childhood home in Somero for a weekend, he and his friends Tommi Parkko and Pekka Kujanpää recorded a now legendary song Eleitä kolmelle röyhtäilijälle ('Gestures for Three Belchers'), which later ended on a long play as well. It introduced the three young men belching one at a time, accompanied by M.A. Numminen on guitar and drums. The art of writing was also close to Numminen's heart. His first successful literary work was Energiansäästäjä ('Energy-saver'), a short story from 1962 written in the passive form. The story was also translated into Swedish and German. Numminen recorded Energy-saver on his recent CD Kiusankappaleita I ('Pieces of Nuisance No. 1'), released in 2000. Although a student of humanities, Numminen joined the film club founded by technical students and started making short films. Vesilasi ('Water Glass') and Tiiliseinä ('Brickwall'), two three-minute-long films made in 1963 have survived from that time, but a short film depicting how to tie shoe laces has been lost.

Numminen continued making music with tremendous intensity. With his peers Pekka Gronow and Jyrki Parkkinen he founded The Orgiastic Nalle Puh Big Band ('The Orgiastic Winnie The Pooh Big Band'). Pekka Pöyry was the only professional musician in the band. This was also when Numminen started his career as a vocalist. The band needed a singer, and only Numminen accepted the task. Numminen did not want to sing with his "own natural voice", so he invented a completely new style by making a parody out of his own singing. The new idiosyncratic style pleased Numminen, and he adopted the style permanently. The Swedish M.A. Numminen fan club since 1981, Föreningen för M.A. Numminens välbefinnande ('Society for M.A. Numminen's Well-Being'), came up with an encouraging slogan: NUMMINEN, DO IT MORE FALSELY!


The First Compositions


While studying philosophy M.A. Numminen had become acquainted with the famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. This gave Numminen an idea: he wanted to expand his band's repertoire with his own material, so why not combine philosophy and music in order to do that. The World ls and ln Order to Tell are Numminen's first truly own compositions. They were made to the English version of Tractatus in 1966. The World Is employs rhythmic variation: the two opening bars are in 4/4 time, the next eight bars in 3/4 time, and the next four again in 4/4 time. The rhythmic A-part of ln Order to Tell is written in 8/8 time and major key, whereas the B-part is a melancholic waltz written in the minor key. Numminen composed four more songs, creating The Tractatus Suite. The fifth piece is a the keyless The General Form of a Truth-Function written for a soloist and a male choir. The suite had its premiere at the Turku Youth Festival in the fall of 1966. The same year Numminen composed Vihaisuushypoteesi ('The Anger Hypothesis') and Anomia ('Anomie'), two songs written to the texts of Erik Allardt, Numminen's sociology professor. Numminen also wrote a song to his own philosophical paper Jos jäsennämme (What Is?) from 1963.

In fact, 1966 can be regarded as the official starting point for M.A. Numminen's career as a performing artist. That is when he first recorded songs of his own making. Numminen and Pekka Gronow founded a recording company Eteenpäin! (Vorwärts! / Forward! / Antaúen! Recording Corporation). Besides publishing Numminen, the company published a variety of other artists and composers as well. For example, when Numminen wrote his poem Naiseni kanssa eduskuntatalon puistossa ('With My Woman in the Parliament Park'), the music was ordered from Unto Mononen, who made it a wonderful tango. This particular tango has been recorded in Swedish, English, German, and Esperanto.

Numminen's first recordings raised immediate attention, and he was invited to perform at the Jyväskylä Summer Festival during the summer of 1966. For this festival he composed a set of songs to the texts from the contemporary sex guide Sukupuolielämän tietokirja. The song Nuoren aviomiehen on syytä muistaa ('What the Young Husband Must Remember'), co-written with Pekka Gronow, is a beautiful blues melody but the most buoyant and colourful was probably the schottische Ulkosynnytinjenkka ('External female genitalia schottische'). In Jyväskylä Numminen was on stage with his Five Friendly Fellows. The band featured yet another vocalist, the 18-year-old Rauli "Badding" Somerjoki. The police arrived to the scene in the middle of the performance, cutting the performance in short. The incident received a lot of publicity adding to Numminen's notoriety.

M.A. Numminen was intrigued by the voice of Rauli 'Badding' Somerjoki, also from Somero, and this marked the beginning of their cooperation. The following year Numminen invited Somerjoki to record a song he had written to philosopher David Hume's text from the book An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Thus, Somerjoki recorded the song Ne tieteet jotka käsittelevät yleisiä tosiseikkoja ('Sciences dealing with general truth-facts') and later he appeared on Numminen's record Taisteluni ('My Battle').

In 1967 Numminen published his first long play album M.A. Numminen ln Memoriam. It is a collection of a number of different singers and a variety of styles ranging from rock to tango. The following year styles changed again: the Forward! recording company published four Franz Schubert's lieds which Numminen sang in German. He was accompanied by Ilpo Saunio. When one of the lieds titled Serenadi ('Serenade') was broadcast in television, the viewers called the TV-station in outrage, blocking the phone lines. People also expressed their strong disapproval of Numminen in the newspapers.


Electronic Music in the '60s


In the 1960's Numminen formed yet one more eccentric group called Sähkökvartetti ('The Electric Quartet'). Following Numminen's concept Erkki Kurenniemi built an electronic synthesiser for four musicians which could produce sounds incomparable to anything heard before. It was their second project together. They had built their first synthesiser already in 1964, and Numminen had used it to accompany his solo performance at the Cultural Competition for the Academics. He was awarded the second prize in the category "Martians", which was specifically designed for him. With the new synthesiser Numminen was able to distort his voice more dramatically than ever before. These were the very first experiments in what later became known as "techno music". Only one of the performances of The Electric Quartet has survived through the times: Kaukana väijyy ystäviä ('Far Away Lurk Some Friends') was recorded on November 25, 1968, during the takeover of the Old Student Union House of Helsinki.

The Electric Quartet made its now legendary entourage of Bulgaria in the summer of 1968, attending the Bulgarian Youth Music Festival. The grand ballroom was crowded with some 4000 listeners. When the combination of earsplitting electronic sounds and Numminen's idiosyncratic voice filled the ballroom, the performance was intercepted abruptly and the band was removed from stage. Numminen regards the incident as one of his top achievements in the art of provocation.

When visiting Turku in 1966, M.A. Numminen met poet Markku Into who in turn introduced him to author Jarkko Laine. These three started making underground art together. Underground was a flexible and challenging form of art, and it offered Numminen an abundance of tools for self-expression. Alas, provocation had a certain appealing ring to it, so Numminen set to work right away. He came up with the name Suomen Talvisota 1939-40 ('The Finnish Winter War 1939-40') for a colourful group consisting of writers of provocative texts, composers, rock musicians and other performance artists. During 1968 and 1969 Numminen managed to have the group's three Finnish and two Swedish shows Maanalaista menoa / Underjorden - finns det? ('Underground happens') broadcast in the radio before the national broadcasting company banned the programs. The group also published an underground magazine Aamurusko ('The Dawn') and arranged "happenings" (i.e. performances) around the country. These "happenings" included surreal performances, such as acting "society in the state of paralysis", reading poetry and texts, playing rock music and showing short films, all of provocative nature. One of the short films featured a young man masturbating; in Oulu two women fainted while watching the film. Consequently, the local Head Chief of Police banned the group from entering Oulu ever again.

The greatest contribution of the Finnish Winter War Group was its music. A set of sixteen songs, composed by the group in 1968 and 1969, was recorded and published on January 2, 1970, on an album titled Underground Rock. Lyrics were mainly written by M.A. Numminen and Jarkko Laine. Numminen used pseudonyms Shoe Factory of Orivesi, P. Servative and King of Sweden, and Laine used the pseudonym Clark Kent. All songs were composed by Rauli Somerjoki, M.A. Numminen and Rauli "Pole" Ojanen. Somerjoki used the pseudonym C. Ceptive and Rauli "Pole" Ojanen was Erik af Venusberg. Without a question Rauli "Badding" Somerjoki was just the right person so interpret the songs. Numminen's and Somerjoki's cooperation went far beyond this project. Numminen invited Somerjoki to sing on many on his records and they also made children's music together. When Numminen started producing music for Love Records in 1970, it was only natural that Rauli "Badding" Somerjoki was to make records for the same label.


The Neorustic Jazz Is Born


By 1970 M.A. Numminen found no more challenge in underground music. In fact, in November 1969 Numminen and pianist Jani Uhlenius had already founded a new band, Uusrahvaanomainen Jatsiorkesteri, The Neorustic Jazz Orchestra. Numminen came up with the name quite accidentally during a television interview. The new style and the new band kept Numminen busy throughout the 1970's. Immediately after the release of its first tune Kissa vieköön! (Jeepers Creepers) in 1970, the orchestra was invited to play at the Pori Jazz Festival. During the fall of 1970 the orchestra published its first long play album, Swingin kutzu ('Swing Is A-Calling'). The Neorustic Jazz Orchestra is still alive and kicking well. Jani Uhlenius still conducts and plays the piano but the original accordionist Aaro Kurkela was replaced by Pedro Hietanen (a rock musician from the Wigwam band; with the group since 1977). After the violinist and altosaxophonist Kalevi Viitamäki retired, violinist Jari Lappalainen joined the group. The guitar was also replaced by the bass player Heikki "Häkä" Virtanen. The band has recorded several albums and visited numerous jazz festivals abroad. In addition, Numminen has always made duo performances. He plays the guitar-banjo himself and is accompanied by a pianist or an accordion player. First he was accompanied by Jani Uhlenius, then by Seppo Hovi and Pedro Hietanen. Lately he ha also been accompanied by pianist Mika Siekkinen.

During the 1970's M.A. Numminen enjoyed tremendous success in Sweden. He was then regarded as a member of Swedish pop music's elite. This is manifested by references made to him in the contemporary encyclopaedias of music, such as Bengt Eriksson's Från Rock-Ragge till Hoolabandoola, published in 1975. In fact, Numminen recorded most of his songs in Swedish as well. Gummiboll or Rubberball, which was recorded in 1977, became his trademark in Sweden. Numminen was in such a demand that he practically lived in Sweden at the time, and even had to get an apartment in Stockholm.


Literature and Provocation


At the beginning of the 1970's M.A. Numminen published his first literary works Kauneimmat runot ('The Most Beautiful Poems') and Lastuja ('Written Whittlings'). In 1970 he composed his first children's songs, writing also their lyrics. The very idea of making children's music came from a well-known Finnish radio personality, Mrs. Tytti Paavolainen.

Children's culture was a source of excitement for Numminen: his imagination, ingenuity and peculiar sense of humour could fly freely. Thereafter Numminen has written numerous songs for children, as well as music for the theatre and the cinema; he has written stories, poems and scripts for TV series, and also acted in children's films in the roles of Mr. Huu (pronounced "who"), a figure created by Hannu Mäkelä, and the Gigantic Rabbit, which is Numminen's own creation.

By the early 1980's M.A. Numminen was tired of having to stay in Sweden for long periods of time. He then returned to Finland making his presence felt. Numminen had met Esa Saarinen, a young Doctor of Philosophy, and the enthusiasm was mutual. The two men concluded that it was time to put some stir in the society. In 1981 they co-published Terässinfonia ('Steel Symphony'), a book they wrote together. Esa Saarinen, who was famous for his radical punk attitude, lived in the United States at the time so he commented on the current American events and phenomena, whereas Numminen concentrated on commenting life in Finland, Scandinavia and Estonia. Around the same time Numminen met playwright Juha Siltanen. Since 1984 they have co-hosted a late-night radio show Yömyöhä. The show is broadcast only a few times a year on Radio Suomi. It features Siltanen and Numminen playing eccentric and extraordinary pieces of music, and more importantly, having their extraordinary, humour-filled and spontaneous conversations. Both Siltanen and Numminen are personalities with an avid interest in the Finnish language, its purity and its possibilities for wordplay.

As a composer M.A. Numminen is absolutely and incredibly versatile. For the 1982 Joensuu Song Festivals, Numminen composed The Kanteletar Suite to the texts of Kanteletar, a collection of Finnish folk poetry. The suite is written for a male choir and strings and set in the world of classical music. Orchestration was by composer Henrik Otto Donner. Probably the most eccentric pieces in Numminen's musical production are the two compositions commissioned from Sweden. For the 1993 Dialogseminariet, an international conference of philosophers held in Stockholm, Numminen composed a mini-opera Rameaus brorson ('Rameau's Nephew'). The libretto was written by Leif Janzon following philosopher Denis Diderot's book. The 30-minute-long miniopera was arranged by Henrik Otto Donner. The following year Stockholm's Vasa Museum ordered the music for the historical farewell speech Gustaf II Adolfs afskedstal, given by King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden to the estates before leaving for war. Numminen wrote the piece for a male choir. It was arranged by Mika Siekkinen.


Folksy Pubs and Philosophy


In 1986 M.A. Numminen published his book Baarien mies ('The Beer Bar Man'). The book stemmed out of Numminen's interest as a sociologist in the subject of folksy beer bars. They are small bars serving medium strength beer (Alc. 4,5% Vol.) and an interesting evolution of the somewhat peculiar Finnish alcohol policy. While touring Numminen has learned to know Finland, including its best cafés and restaurants. But because these folksy beer bars were unknown to the majority of Finns, Numminen felt that their story needed to be written down. This proved a very ambitious project. In order to complete the book Numminen travelled extensively, visiting 185 municipalities and 350 different beer bars around Finland. He wanted to expand on the theme, and decided to make a movie. He went bar-hopping in Turku with his friend Markku Into, and director Matti Hartikainen with his team filmed the two men drinking beer and chatting in Turku folksy beer bars and pubs in 1992.

M.A. Numminen has not belonged to any specific label after Love Records was dissolved in 1979 following a bankruptcy. His own Forward! label only publishes records when Numminen can afford it; after all, he both owns and finances the company. Nevertheless, in 1989 Numminen accomplished a valuable cultural act by recording and publishing anew his Tractacus Suite to commemorate the centennial of Ludwig Wittgenstein's birth. However, the last piece in the suite, a spunky march Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann ('What we cannot speak about we must consign to silence'), was not re-recorded. Instead, Numminen used its original version, recorded in 1967 with the Sohon Torwet brass band at Turku University student café. Routledge, the British publishing house which has published several Wittgenstein's works, became interested in Numminen's new product. As a consequence, the new Tractatus Suite was sold and promoted by Routledge in London as well as in its 1990 catalogue. The introduction to the suite goes like this: "... While majoring in sociolinguistics, Mr. Numminen in his student days also delved into philosophy under the tutorship of Prof. Eric Stenius, an authority on Wittgenstein..." The General Form of a Truth-Function, one of the Tractatus Suite songs, was accompanied by a self-made low-budget music video. The video has been reviewed in various short film festivals both in Finland and Germany. M.A. Numminen and Pedro Hietanen have also created a duo version of The Tractatus Suite. In the duo version the fifth song is replaced by the music video. The duo version has been performed several times around Europe, for example during the Vienna Festival in Vienna, Austria.

In the early 1990's cinematographer Claes Olsson started making short films on M.A. Numminen's music. So far their production includes the following: M.A. Numminen Sings Wittgenstein ('Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann') 1993, M.A. Numminen Goes Tech-No (Yes Sir, ich kann Boogie) 1995, M.A. Numminen Meets Schubert (Ständchen) 1997, and M.A. Numminen Turns Rabbit (The Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Rabbits) 2000. In 1999 Olsson and Numminen also collaborated in filming a documentary on the famous Finnish tango composer Unto Mononen.


Tango & Opera & Novel on Student Life and Fine Arts


In 1997, the Helsinki Festivals commissioned from Numminen a composition titled Pohjoinen Tango-oratorio ('Nordic Tango Oratorio'). The whole piece, including the libretto, was composed and written by Numminen. It is written for two opera singers, two tango singers, a choir and a symphony orchestra, and arranged mainly by Henrik Otto Donner. Just as so many times before, Numminen wanted to combine a variety of musical styles into one complete piece, ranging from tango to operatic notes. It should probably be mentioned that Numminen has composed several tangos since the 1960's, including such creations as Vesioikeustango ('Water Rights Tango'), Ruma rakastaja ('Ugly Lover') and Laulu suomalaisesta maalaiskunnasta ('A Tune of a Finnish Rural Commune'). He has also written a six-minute-long tango for Eila Kaarresalo's short film Ampumarata ('The Pick-Up Dance').

Numminen continued to explore the different aspects of tango, and he wrote the novel Tango on intohimoni ('Tango Is My Passion') in 1998. The novel is an interplay of two different themes. The main character Mr. Virtanen is an eager tango-lover. Knowing tango, collecting tango music and dancing the tango make the very soul of his life, connected with serious intention of not losing his boyhood before the ripe age of 36. When suddenly he falls in love, his life is turned upside down. The second theme is the history of Finnish tango in a nutshell. The novel has been translated into Swedish and German.

In 1999 M.A. Numminen published a partly autobiographical work Helsinkiin - Opiskelija Juho Niityn sivistyshankkeet 1960-64 ('To Helsinki - Student Juho Niitty's cultural projects 1960-1964'). Part of the work is dedicated to the cultural revolution of the early 1960's, and the upsurge of young blood in the arts. This particular time in history has received very little attention compared with the end of the 1960's, which was the prime time of political radicalism. Yet lots of exciting things happened before that within Finnish cultural and artistic circles and the society in general. The work describes a young student who learns to know his sciences and arts, and at the same time gets to experience a life full of "wine, women and song."

More recently Numminen has written poems both in Finnish and in German. He has chosen to write his poems in the heksametre, as difficult it may be. He has already recited his new poems in many cities around Finland as well as at the international Spoken Word Poetry Festival in Stockholm in 2000. This year Numminen will be reciting his new poetry at the Down by the Laituri Festival in Turku on June 7, 2001, as well as at the Espoo City Theatre on September 13 and 14, 2001. Numminen will be accompanied stereophonically by guitarist Antero Jakoila.

Currently Numminen is working on a new composition titled Aenigma Aeternum ('The Eternal Riddle'). Once again he will be exploring one of his favourite subjects by combining philosophy and music. Aenigma Aeternum is a two-hour oratorio, written for six vocalists, a choir and a symphony orchestra. The libretto, which Numminen has written himself, explores the changes in human understanding of the world and God during the past thousand years as explained by twelve different philosophers. This piece has some female roles, such as the role for Queen Kristina of Sweden.