Kimmo Pohjonen routinely breaks the sound barrier. This Punk? New Age? World Music? accordionist, who heaves and wrestles onstage, seems to be working out a love-hate relationship with his instrument. Pohjonen’s music can be cacophonic, like a traffic jam or a hurricane; it can also be sustained and otherworldly, recalling the sunrise on a frozen Finnish lake.

Kimmo didn’t start out breaking all the rules. Early footage shows him performing with a bunch of grinning adults in vests, on cheesy Lawrence Welk-type TV shows. Embarrassed for 20 years by playing an instrument with which he couldn’t identify, he kept it up anyway for fear of disappointing his parents. Then, at 32, he found his musical voice and shed his embarrassment along with his folk costumes. The vest he now wears while performing is made of leather and shows off his muscles.

Adamant that there should be no norms in music, especially not for the accordion, Kimmo works hard to avoid trends or outside forces. The main thing, he tells us, is that you identify with your art. Cruising in his antique Mercedes across the Finnish countryside, he absorbs natural influences that can later be detected in his sound. He jumps into the ice in a frozen lake. He tells us about the time in his youth when he helped to midwife a calf. He trudges across farmland collecting ideas for an Earth Machine Music research project, which he will take on tour across rural Britain. Kimmo’s compositions are written during the winter, when his thinking is clear. The sights and sounds of the land, sky and water have an almost mystical significance to him.

When he does go into town, he does that in a big way too. At a concert in Antwerp, he pants and sweats in a sort of Finnish kilt. In Helsinki, he collaborates with the innovative Kronos Quartet. He performs in London and Sydney, where a reviewer praises his “pulverising avalanche of dark, primeval, sonic theatre.” What could possibly be next for the Soundbreaker? How about a performance combining music and wrestling? Director Kimmo Koskela’s innovative camerawork is a perfect accompaniment to his quirkily fascinating subject.

CategoriesIssue 7
Brenda Benthien

Brenda Benthien is a program consultant and the Guest Relations Director of the Cleveland International Film Festival. She works in Guest Management at the Nordic Film Days in Lübeck and serves as a consultant to the Cinetopia International Film Festival in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Brenda was involved with starting up AFI Fest in Los Angeles, and has lived and worked in Munich and Tokyo. When she isn’t busy with festivals, Brenda is a German translator of screenplays and film-related texts. Her translation of Rudolf Arnheim’s Film Essays and Criticism is published by the University of Wisconsin press. Brenda lives in Hamburg and runs the Hamburg Review website, a critical compendium of writings on film and literature.