Horizon of Possibility: An interview with Forces
Constantly mutating rhythms and sharp digital textures shape the sound of Forces, the electronic music project of Finnish interdisciplinary artist Joonas Siren. Various SuperCollider live-coding and processing techniques are used to make dense atomised swirls, electronic and sometimes chaotic abstract oceans of sound. Forces’ music has been released on Infinite Machine, Gin & Platonic, Genot Centre, Conditional and Bio Future Laboratory, and has also been played in mixes by experimental producers such as Aphex Twin, Daniel Ruane and ZULI. The newest gabber-influenced algorithmic/spectral drum machine record “Inertia” was released on Mexico City-based Infinite Machine in July 2022.
In your bio it says that you work with multidisciplinary methods, often using sound as artistic material, but not in a musical sense. Can you elaborate?
Yes, sure. Besides music, I’m pretty active as an exhibiting artist here in Helsinki. I actually don’t have any formal music training, just my MFA degree from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. In my art works, which are pretty often installations, I use sound often, but more in a conceptual way. In this regard, I make conceptual links between sound and different subject matter, and then it doesn’t matter how they sound i.e., how musically interesting they are per se. An example of this usage could be my 2013 installation “Can You Hear the Grasshoppers Sing?” in Quebec City, which was a multichannel sound installation, where different grasshopper recordings I made in Quebec City constantly pitch-shifted up and down. The basis of this project wasn’t the actual sound quality of the grasshoppers, but rather ageing. I find it interesting that grasshopper “singing” is among the only sound phenomena you can lose the ability to hear (as my father has) so in the installation, I made the hoppers sound hearable to every hearing person (even people who had otherwise lost them from their hearing ) and then again, unhearable to hearing persons, beyond 20 0000 Hz.
The concept of ephemerality is central to your work. How do you work with this concept in your audiovisual work (since you are also active in the visual sphere)?
Yes, it is central, but for me it is maybe more a concrete concept than a theoretical one. I have never really done that many physical art works as I’m not sure if I want to produce any new objects in this world. I rather work in the digital realm (lately game design/-programming besides sound), and use my own equipment (computers, speakers, even just my normal TV) over and over again in different installations. I also like the fact that my art works are installations in a fleeting moment and after the exhibition they are dismantled and returned to use as regular household objects.
Another point of interest, or reference, is singularity and virtuality (Baudrillard’s simulacrum). How can these be applied in the realm of digital music?
Interesting question! The Baudrillard reference I have previously talked about was more specifically for one installation in 2014. I still feel that many of his concepts are relevant today (maybe even more so e.g., the rise of IG, TikTok – visual platforms where you perform yourself). For music, one example comes to mind. I was recently on a residency at EMS Stockholm and what was actually more interesting than the modular synths that EMS is mostly famous for was a synth rack affectionately called “the 90s wagon”. In this rack there are about nine different synth modules from the 90s, including some classics like Waldorf Microwave XT and Yamaha TX81Z – a frequency modulation synthesis module (FM). In most of the FM modules, the engineers were keen on programming presets that imitated real life instruments (shakuhachi, brass instruments, harpsichord etc) and for me, more interesting than how real they sound is how unreal they sound. Frequency modulation is a fascinating synthesis model and there is something akin to sonic uncanniness when using these presets that imitate real-life instruments. It’s interesting that the engineers were so focused on making “real” sounding sounds, instead of going straight into alien worlds, which FM, I would argue, is more capable of. In digital music and DSP techniques, you can easily approach different. let’s say Baudrillardian, concepts, where you twist the so-called “real” nature of any sonic object and make it into something else.
Your latest album on Infinite Machine, Inertia, is inspired by theorist Franco Berardi. The album strives to be a soundtrack to the general sense of dystopia and powerlessness caused by economic, ecological, political and social inequalities and structural issues. Is there an issue that you care about especially which you would like to also highlight with the album?
My album titles and topics tend to always reflect the book I was reading while making it, and in this case, it was Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s “Futurability, The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility”. It’s pretty hard for me to pinpoint a specific topic that I tried to approach with the album. It’s more like an amalgam of different themes, and maybe the theme of breaking down and restructuring after a break. Time signatures and drum patterns are in a constant state of fluidity, tipping towards chaos. Berardi writes a lot about the philosophical concept of “becoming” and the restructuring nature of some of the tracks mirror this. After the chaotic state, there is the possibility of a new kind of reality.
The album starts with a track called “Algorithmic Governance”, also alluding to Berardi’s view of social media and the inherent control of algorithms. At the same time, you are also interested in live coding, where you are the one in control of the algorithm, so to speak. What is your view of algorithmic governance as such?
Yes, this is a topic I care about deeply. I guess being a kid of the late 80s, early 90s, the internet back in around 96-97, when I first encountered it, was a vastly different place than it is nowadays. For me, it was a place for weird and open self-expression as I and many of my friends made their own websites and communicated through those, and it was barely capitalised by any firm (well, except, I guess, Geocities and other such web space providers). Now it can feel pretty bleak as we have lost some of the anarchic dimensions of the early internet and are subjectable to the whims of massive corporations, which allow us the spaces to exist in the hyperspace. I guess using the tools provided by the sound programming environment SuperCollider, which is my main music-making program/language, is a kind of continuation of that freedom as it provides so many avenues of experimentation that would be pretty impossible with a commercial DAW like Ableton Live. With SuperCollider, there aren’t really any constraints as you can imagine all kinds of different musical possibilities (weird time signatures, cutting-edge synthesis, DSP audio manipulation); it just takes time to learn it. I also like the fact that it’s an open source code project, and I have been pretty active in the communal aspects of it, like taking part in international SC Zoom meetups and arranging workshops for learning it locally (Algorave Helsinki).
The last track on the album is a beautiful outro with soothing, droney textures and a hopeful title “Horizon of Possibility”. Do you see a way out of the doom and gloom we are all encircled by?
Yes of course! Although my music might seem chaotic and the topics very pessimistic, I’m actually a hopeful person. In the track you mentioned, there is someone talking in the background, which is actually a lecture by David Graeber, who we sadly lost a few years ago. In my opinion, Graeber was a perfect example of a leftist academic, who never lost hope on how things could turn out in the future. Even though the political and ecological obstacles seem totally insurmountable, I believe in grassroots activism and small increments. Even having hope and the vision of a better future is a start. Sometimes I feel that the leftist discourse is so pessimistic that it leads to a kind of paralysis – a permanent inaction – where you are just waiting for the worst to happen. I know that having hope isn’t anything all that radical with the current crisis going on, but I just feel that without it, we would be completely lost.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova