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STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE BOOK EXCERPT – “Omniverse” from Finnish Polymath Artist, Techno Sax Deviant Jimi Tenor

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Some artists fashion their own world that the rest of us live in to one degree or another. It’s not necessarily a world made out of whole cloth – in fact it quite seldom is – but rather one created from a process of manipulating what’s available in the chosen culture, in the prevailing winds, in what can be gleaned from circumstances immediately at hand. They are, in a word, innovators (if of various levels and stripes) and, in a phrase, fairly fearless explorers of the zeitgeist. And while their skills are pretty much never less than prodigious, it’s the seemingly uncanny ways they integrate them into the Great Flow of Things that sets them slyly but surely apart. It’s an inherent, open secret kind of talent that makes them appear as if they’re simultaneously of, and ahead-of, the culture at large. Call it the conjurers touch, making the simple look complex and, yes, the other way around and sometimes, somehow, both at the same time. Most importantly, their ambition nearly always seems to be one more purely born out of a restless curiosity than material gain (even as the latter is, of course, a nice bonus). Playful yet serious as fuck, they seem to glide through that splendid nether space where the restrictions are nearly nil and the potential pretty much immeasurable. As might be assumed, they are a rare breed, and few hit more rarefied heights than Jimi Tenor.

Like a Finnish-born Quincy Jones of techno/trip-hop/electro-jazz and numerous other hyphenates that has followed his own joy wherever it’s taken him, Tenor has, over the last thirty-four years, traversed more territory than your most astute musical mapmaker might knew existed. Rather than even try to give a cogent overview of the guy’s creative wingspan (one that includes collabs with the likes of Tony Allen, Kabu Kabu, Abdissa Assefa), we’re simply going to point you toward his discography and link your ears to the profoundly well-named compilation Deep Sound Learning: 1993-2000 released by the wonderful Tapete label last year then move on to the subject at hand, Omiverse, an almost omniscient take on Tenor’s evolution through a life dedicated to – and immersed in – music and art that’s meant as a twin compendium of sorts to his new album Multiversum  (released in tandem with the book’s arrival on May 20th, the entire project a joint venture from Tapete and Mainz-based publisher Ventil). Replete with gorgeous, candid, behind-the-shades photographs and told in his own words, it presents in a manner that might be called ‘intimate Cinemascope,’ the candor and offhand flair resulting in an account that’s charming and soul-baring in equal measure. Add to all that Tenor’s similarly relentless drive regarding visual media – his intense love of photography (so much so it almost became his primary muse) is evident in the text offered in this excerpt – and we end up with an adventurous aesthetic spirit for whom the adjective ‘Warholian’ would not be too wide of the mark. It’s little wonder, then, he followed his girlfriend Tiina to New York City in 1992, which is where we begin our tale and what a quintessentially modern-day New York tale it is…

 

Jimi By Thron Ullberg, New York City, 1992

I moved to New York in 1992. My girlfriend Tiina Huckowski had moved there so

I followed suit. I had just been staying in Berlin for 6 months, where I made one

album for the Finnish label Bad Vugum.

I was 27, but still didn’t know what to do with my life. I thought my music

career had failed or at least there was no way to make a living out of it; making

industrial music using scrap metal was fun, but a financial challenge. So I tried

to become a photographer — after all I’d been doing photography all my life, why

couldn’t it work out as a career. I enrolled in this art school in uptown Manhattan

where I took some lighting courses, a fi lm developing course and a nude model

photography course. At the school I met Thron Ullberg (who ended up taking the

cover photo for Intervision) and we went for a little photo safari at the waterfront

in Williamsburg. In those days that area was in ruins. Someone said the mafia

owned it and had big plans for property development. There were some abandoned

buildings there and we took some photos inside. I’d bought a really cool ice cream

cone suit from a legendary second hand warehouse called Domsey’s and I wanted

to pose in that outfit.

For a long time I had been obsessed with the idea of 3-D photography and

especially the green-red aspect about it. I had many pairs of the green-red glasses,

including a special pair I’d fashioned from welder’s safety-goggles, which I used to

wear when I went dancing at the techno clubs in Finland.

For this picture I had a special idea. What if we put a red filter in front of the

camera lens and then we put a green filter in front of a powerful flash. Hopefully

in the foreground the flash filter and the camera filter would sort of cancel each

other out so that the lighting would be fairly neutral in colour. But everything

in the background would be red, since the power of the flash wouldn’t reach so far.

I think it turned out quite well! The glasses are racquetball glasses I had bought in

a dime store.

 

 

Washington Heights  Rooftop Portrait, New York City, 1992

When I first arrived in New York we stayed

at our friend Lada Ferrari’s house on 176th

Street, near Broadway. I’ve always liked to

explore the areas where I live for photo-shoots

and in Washington Heights there were a lot

of interesting places. I like wastelands,

overgrown parks and abandoned buildings.

Bridges are beautiful and normally there are

no other people there, just cars passing by,

but since they can’t stop everyone remains

totally anonymous. One day Tiina and I went

on a photo safari to Washington Bridge and

found loads of small hubcaps on the way.

I made necklaces out of them — the Jaguar

one was especially pretty. New York is

a great place for good junk. It also has a great

rooftop culture and I loved to go up there for

photos. This photo was taken on the roof of

the building on 176th Street and you can see

Washington Bridge in the background.

I fell in love with New York. It was

a fun place to be. I loved all the Latin music

and culture, the bars and food. A couple of

times I walked up to Washington Heights

from downtown in the evening. It’s a long

walk. I loved the area between 110th street

and 165th street, strolling past people playing

dominos or drinking beer. In New York you

can experience the city in myriad of different

ways, and if you get into trouble you’re in at

the deep end. I got mugged a couple of times

and it’s not fun! And then there are the super

rich people … well I didn’t have any contact

with them really. At least knowingly that is.

Perhaps I brushed shoulders with them at the

art openings, which I did go to quite a bit.

Free drinks you know!

 

 

Opening At Orensanz Foundation, New York City, 1993

The first couple of years in New York we moved around every few months, heading

from Washington Heights to Red Hook and then Williamsburg. I’ve always been

a suburb guy and have practically never lived in the centre of any city. Life’s much

more interesting in the outskirts of town. The people there are more real in a way,

there are no tourists and it’s way cheaper to live.

The first place we settled properly was in an apartment in Williamsburg.

At the time it was a fairly rough place. We lived on the corner of South 2nd Street

and Bedford Ave. South 2nd was a party street for people from DR and Puerto Rico

and the noise from the cars and different PA systems was overwhelming. On top of

that we lived next to the fi re department and without exception there were sirens

going off  every night. Needless to say that in NY the sirens are loud! The good

thing about this was that we could make as much noise as we wanted in our home

recording studio, which was especially handy as my friend Can (Khan of Finland)

had moved in with us.

But at that point I thought my future would be in photography. I had been

doing Jimi Tenor and his Shamans for years and although we had a lot of fun it

seemed like a dead end. I felt that for my personality industrial noise in the long

term was a bit much. Also I wanted to experience the world and keeping a group

together at the same time seemed like an impossible task.

I tried to get assistant work in professional photo studios. Scandinavian

assistants have a good reputation in New York. Again, with my personality it

wasn’t easy to get any of those jobs. I’m too quiet and I think social skills are the

most important ones when you’re an assistant.

I kept taking art photos though and started to print huge images on car

bonnets and any scrap metal I could find. I discovered a special liquid emulsion

that you could spread on any surface. I could paint the emulsion on car hoods

and then sponge on the developer and fixer. Naturally all this would have to be

done in darkness or in red light so I used to transform our bedroom into a dark-

room. After a while our apartment was full of my car hoods and all kinds of large

pictures. I had crazy energy back then, I just wanted to do stuff  and New York is

a perfect place for that. My only problem was the lack of money, and that was

a major problem.

Our landlord was the brother of Angel Orensanz, the famous Spanish

sculptor. I think he was happy to have us as lodgers because we were artsy types,

but we were behind on the rent for most of the year we lived there. Mr. Orensanz

would often call round for a coffee and even showed us the best Caribbean snack bar

in Brooklyn at the M-train stop. It sold alcapurrias and crispy pork skin. I love that

kind of food! He was a good landlord and wanted to help with our money troubles.

He suggested that we could clean this old synagogue they had bought at Norfolk

St. in East Village in exchange for one month’s rent. When Mr. Orensanz came to

collect the next month’s rent he noticed my photos in the living room and offered

to host an exhibition at their synagogue as they had plans to convert it into an

art gallery.

So on May 28th 1993 I had an opening there.

I managed to get Finlandia vodka from the

Finnish consulate and it ended up being quite

a happening! Tiina and I performed at the dais

of the temple. I was playing a modified vacuum

cleaner, which I turned into a sort of strange

trombone. Instead of sucking I converted the

cleaner to blow instead. I connected a rubber

glove finger in the airflow to act like the »lips« of

the trombone and I placed an aluminium light

reflector as the bell for a loud sound. Tiina had

been doing dance performances at the El Senso-

rium underground club events and her style was

a modified Butoh. The performance went down

very well, perhaps better than the photos! I guess

deep down I knew I was more of a performer

than a photographer, but at that point I had

nothing going on in music and it looked like

a permanent state of affairs. I didn’t even have

a saxophone mouthpiece any more.

 

Empire State Building Reflexion, New York City, 1993

Though Mr. Orensanz was a pleasant and patient landlord, the apartment

on South 2nd did have its drawbacks. It was a top floor apartment with

 broken heating and a leaking roof and it was getting a bit too wild because

of crack, violence and noise. So for multiple reasons we wanted to find

a better apartment, and luckily I managed to find a job to pay for it.

My friend Hitoshi Toyoda was working at the photo booth on the 86th

floor of the Empire State Building and told me about a job vacancy. One

of the staff  called Amy had quit and they were desperate to find someone

new. I went up there to the observation level and gave a very unconvincing

performance in the job interview. It required good selling skills, and that’s

never been my forte. The photography in the booth was high quality but the

settings were always the same so it didn’t really require any photographic

skills. I only got the job because I was ready to start the same day.

The job was taking photos of tourists in front of three different

backdrops: The Statue of Liberty, King Kong and the Empire State Building.

People would sit in front of the backdrop and we would take a photo with

this huge 8 × 10″ camera — the same size that Avedon used in his famous

shots. The photo quality was exceptional, but the tourists didn’t care, for

them it was just a silly picture with King Kong.

We had to sell the idea of the picture to the tourists. Sometimes we

would ask the first customers to pose for free so that others would notice

how much fun it actually was. Then most of the time after the first shots

people would queue non-stop to have their picture taken. It was a bit of fun

and a good photo to show the folks back home. There’s a picture by Hitoshi

Toyoda in which I try to “hypnotise” a customer to take the photo. I think

I’m waving a pendulum in front of her.

This job was very good for me. I could pay my rent easily, save the

deposit to move apartments and also buy some music equipment. This

equipment was crucial in making Sähkömies. I bought an Oberheim DX drum

machine, which at that time was almost the cheapest drum machine you

could get. I loved it! A Japanese guy in a Soho music store used to work for

Roland and he burned me a couple of extra chips for the DX. They were kick,

snare and hi-hat sounds from a Roland 909. They sounded great, a funny

combination of 909 and DX. I used those drum sounds on »Take Me Baby« for

example. I still use the DX now and it’s always on my studio desk hooked up

and ready to go. But if you’re doing anything that is dreamy or romantic …

that is not your drum machine!

The job at the Empire State Building was nice in many other ways too.

I was normally on the night shift and in the evenings it was beautiful up

there. When we had breaks it was fun to go and look at the views. I worked

there on New Year’s Eve and I was looking forward to the fireworks. I thought

I would be immersed in multi-coloured light but it turned out that the fi re-

works were 300 meters below us and I barely saw them at all! But at midnight

the city looked like it was bathing in a blue haze. At first I was wondering

what it was, and then I realised it was people taking flash photos. From that

sort of distance the flash looks blue and at midnight everybody was taking a picture!

The blue haze only lasted for about one or two minutes.

I was taking photography lessons in a photo school uptown around that time

as well. They suggested buying a couple of photo stands, a good tripod, a light meter

and some flashes. I still have every one of these pieces of equipment and I use them

weekly. Whenever I need extra microphone stands I use these photo stands. They

have the same thread as microphones so it’s very convenient. This is my advice to

anybody who wants to be in music and is also interested in video and photography:

get a photo stand! You won’t regret it.

 

 

Tiina Medusa,  New York City, 1993

Tiina had a crazy amount of special clothes and it

was very convenient for me to use them in PR photos.

She was kind of my stylist at the time and I knew

we were doing good stuff . Tiina wasn’t that  familiar

with cameras, but we would set up the camera

together and she actually took really good pictures.

I have a similar attitude to photo shoots as recording

sessions. Studio surroundings don’t excite me that

much. I prefer to record music at home and also to

take pictures where I live. I like to work fast and enjoy

sketch-like results.

I used to go to Coney Island a lot in the early

90s. I like beaches during winter and I love aban-

doned amusement parks. Another reason to go to

Coney Island was the flea markets. You could get

some really cool stuff . I bought a BMX there once and

rode it all the way back to Williamsburg.

One day at the flea market I saw a beautiful

Land Polaroid camera. It wasn’t automatic like

the new cameras but had manual exposure and

a flash shoe so you could use it with studio flash.

You couldn’t get film for that camera anymore so

I converted it into a 9 × 12 cm sheet film camera.

I had dreamed about a 9 × 12 cm camera and this was

it! It was very professional and had a great lens and

a distance meter.

This photo of Tiina as Medusa was taken with

that Polaroid. Tiina had a lot of hair, so it looked

nice. These are the customised welding glasses I wore

to the raves in Finland. I’d put Lee filters on the

lenses — one eye was red and the other was green.

I used the glasses to read 3-D comics as well, but in

the clubs it was totally amazing. The green and red

made everything look a bit more 3-D than real life.

It was uncanny, and when you took them off  after

the party your left eye would see everything in green

and your right eye in red for quite some time — the

opposite colours to the goggles.

Unfortunately I am terrible with nice things

and have a habit of losing stuff . So in 1994 when we

moved to Finland I lost the Land Polaroid camera.

I also lost the Ricoh camera that I used for most of the

Z Factor shots.

Wrestlers Grand St. Gym, Williamsburg, New York City, 1993

There was a group of Argentinian artists who ran an underground club in Williamsburg called El Sensorium

and after a while I became a regular performer at their events. Can Oral and I played an electronic music

set in an inflatable balloon. These balloons were a regular piece by one of the artists at El Sensorium. Once

I  organised a photo shoot there with the “fat lady” I had made friends with at the Coney Island sideshow.

These events were great happenings. Gradually the group became more and more well known and expanded

their events to clubs in Manhattan as well. I guess I fell out with the main guy Mariano at this point, which

was too bad because these events were fantastic.

Outside of El Sensorium there were no club events in Williamsburg because everybody said it was too

dangerous. Crack cocaine had become really popular in ’93 and our corner was a distribution point. The side-

walks were covered with the tiny plastic tubes with different coloured tops. The last flight of stairs from our

fl at to the roof was full of kids taking crack in the evenings. It wasn’t too pleasant but we left them alone and

they did the same. Still, this was one of the reasons we eventually moved out of the South 2nd apartment.

Once we were invited to a one off  club night in Williamsburg. I was on the guest list and was on my way

there when I heard the event was stopped because there was a shoot out. I think some people died there and

feel very fortunate that I didn’t arrive sooner. It must sound strange that Williamsburg was like this in the

early 90s but it was very rough in those days. Then quite soon after I left it became seriously gentrified. I get

it because it’s just one stop from Manhattan on the L train. I met a fi lm cameraman called Alejandro Serrano

at the El Sensorium events and became good friends with him. He would later shoot my documentary film

“Sähkö-The Movie”. He told me about this catch wrestling gym at Grand St. in Williamsburg. Catch wrestling

is not a big thing in NYC. I think at that point there were only two gyms in the whole city that had a scene.

So we went to see the show at Grand St. and took our cameras along. I think we had a Polaroid or something.

The evening was great! I loved

everything about it, I’m a circus fan

and this reminded me a lot of the circus.

In Mexican wrestling all the

performers have their own special

character. They dress up like some sort

of super heroes with a lot of masks

and make up. El Expectro had a quite

classic luchador outfit with his mask,

cape and high wrestling boots. His

speciality was to throw his opponent

out into the audience and then jump

over the ropes swan style and land on

them. But none of the wrestlers were

professional; it was a community

event really. We went backstage after

the show and suggested taking some

photos of them in my studio.