It’s 10am in Helsinki and Tuomo Prattala has just woken up. The sun has only been up for an hour and it will set at 3:30pm. Outside the snow has melted into grey sludge. It’s the time of year when the singer/pianist prefers to be holed up in his studio making music.
“In summer I go to festivals and listen to music or socialise with friends in the park,” he says. “But in winter I like to curl up and make music; it is time for creative thinking.”
Prattala is interrupting his winter hibernation to bring his soulful grooves to the Perth Festival where he will be appearing with beatbox artist Felix Zenger. The Finnish duo will collaborate with classical musicians at the Fremantle Arts Centre in an unusual fusion as part of the Soft Soft Loud new music series.
A selection of Prattala’s songs will be arranged into a through composed 70 minute work by Australian composer Tilman Robinson, who will also incorporate works from other Scandinavian composers. Playing with a chamber orchestra will be an artistic plunge in the deep end for Prattala whose home territory is RnB, jazz and electronics.
“This is a very interesting new concept for me but I think it will work. It is basically a reimagining of my songs using a mix of synthesiser, electronics and classical musicians.”
Prattala began learning classical and jazz piano as a child and studied music at a technical college in Helsinki. At the age of 21 the bands he was playing in (Ilmiliekki Quartet, Quintessence and Q-Continuum) started to find success so he quit formal studies and spent four years in an intense musical apprenticeship recording 10 albums with seven different groups. In 2007 he released his debut solo album My Thing which won an Emma Award (Finnish Grammy) for RnB & Hip Hop album of the year. His fourth album The New Mystique was released last year and heralded a move to a more modern sound.
“For my first albums I was songwriting in a classic 70s retro style. Then I wanted something that sounded more like this era so I listened to a lot of new stuff and started getting more into the synthesiser. I discovered that electronic music often has great sound production but empty lyrics. I want to create RnB music that has really touching lyrics as well as interesting sounds from drum machines and computer software.”
The most remarkable aspect to Prattala’s sound production is his human drum machine Felix Zenger. The beatboxer accompanies Prattala using vocal sounds to mimic drum and electronic effects. Zenger’s skills have made him a YouTube sensation with his ‘Beatbox’ clip attracting more than 30 million viewers. The quirky performer studied at the Helsinki Pop and Jazz Conservatory where he completed his final thesis in beatboxing.
Here is Zenger in a super cute beatbox and vibes duet under a bridge in Helsinki.
The diverse musical history shared by Zenger and Prattala made them ideal choices for Matthew Hoy, artistic director of the Fremantle Art Centre’s Soft Soft Loud series. Hoy was was looking for ways to create a through-composed piece that would reflect the diversity of 21st century composition when he stumbled over Prattala’s music on internet radio.
“(Tuomo’s tunes were) the package deal: infectious melodic lines, compelling lyrics, great harmonic colours and crafty orchestration,” explains Hoy. “His reputation and experience as a jazz side-man and solo artist in his own right clearly illustrated that he and beat-boxing extraordinaire Felix Zenger would be ideal choices as highly adept collaborative artists.”
With the help of mutual friends Hoy made contact and without even meeting each other the collaboration was initiated. The first time the Finnish and Australian artists meet will be in the week before the concert and Hoy says the creative spark will be palpable.
“There are challenges in this approach - distance, limited time or being less well-known on a personal level - but these are quickly surpassed by the inherent dynamism emanating from the intensity from when all performers finally meet in the one room! It will create a unique experience for listeners.”
Fremantle Arts Centre
Friday 27th Feb 7:30pm