Tuulikki Bartosik is a Swedish-Estonian accordionist, songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist. Incorporating vocals, effects, and music software into her virtuosic playing, her work has become increasingly daring, stretching out from its roots to explore the possibilities. Bartosik’s restless creativity has taken her around the world, where she has found inspiration in a calm woodland or the chaos of Tokyo. Her solo albums have garnered international praise; with each release, her imagination has expanded and she has taken greater risks to realize the global musical vision in her head. Her music has been linked to the neoclassical compositions of Eric Satie and the hypnotic minimalism of the 1970s by composers such as Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Tuulikkis’ new electroacoustic album Playscapes was released on her own label Efni Records on January 21, 2023.
The life of a musician becomes a patchwork of places and transient relationships. Playscapes is a representation of the artist’s inner voyage from Estonia to Sweden, Finland, England, and Japan. Establishing new territory for the accordion and reinventing herself as an inventive composer, it is a one-of-a-kind CD with free-bass accordion, kantele, voice, and electronics, and she is one of the very few female accordionists in the world composing and producing her own music and pursuing a career on a global scale. Her new album, Playscapes, may be described as a combination of Olafur Arnalds’ electronic compositions and Patrick Wolf becoming electronic. Check out the album and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: There was a reel-to-reel tape recorder at home as my dad is also a musician and we had a lot of instruments and other musical stuff at home. One of my earliest memories go back to 80ies when a little me was listening to Boney M from this very tape recorder and singing along with Bobby Farrell “Bahama, bahama mama”. I have always loved to sing, dance, play music, so that kind of is my call, I guess. And my main instrument free-bass accordion is such a versatile and multifaceted instrument that it has still not stopped being interesting. I was born in Estonia but left for Finland and later for Sweden as a young adult. I divide my life between my two homelands Sweden and Estonia.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: I enrolled myself to a local music school in the age of 8 to learn the accordion, after that I took a degree in classical accordion in the conservatory in Tallinn and changed my path to improvisational and traditional music and composition, took degrees both from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and The Royal College of Music in Stockholm. I have always played different instruments and used my voice in my music, but my main instrument is still the big free-bass accordion.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘TUULIKKI BARTOSIK’?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: There’s a lot of them! From Roxette, Queen, Metallica and Estonian death metal band Forgotten Sunrise to older Swedish traditional music, contemporary Finnish folk music and artists like Hania Rani, Nils Frahm, Four Tet. Probably also a bit of Bach and Rachmaninov, some techno. As I have an eclectic background with classical and traditional music degrees, I let it inspire me in all the possible ways while creating. Tuulikki Bartosik is my real name as I identify myself with the music, I am making but never say never, maybe I will start to use a new artist name in the future.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: I used to be more rooted in acoustic music in my previous work, but my new album “Playscapes” is a work of experimental electronica driven by free-bass accordion, vocals, kantele, and a slew of electronic instruments. Hints of Estonia, Sweden, Finland, England, and Japan run through the record, as each song builds a sonic atmosphere fitting the specific location and my memories and experiences connected with that place. There is a total of 12 songs on “Playscapes” and the whole journey takes roughly 39 minutes. In search of creating sounds not usually attributed to accordion for the new record, I was inspired by beats and the low bass present in death metal. ”Playscapes” offers something for everyone: you can listen to it when you’re in a sad or happy mood, when you want to wander somewhere on new paths of thought or to clarify something old and familiar within yourself. This music can be listened to as a background to other activities, or attentively and focused just for the sake of listening, some of the tunes are quite dancable too, depending on your mood. This is literally my playscape in music with all the different instruments and my voice used together and through with electronics. A Nordic innovative electroacoustic breeze.
5. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
I love to sit in the studio with other creative people or to improvise and play with my analog gear in my own little container studio. That is exciting, especially when I can create and test stuff without any deadlines. But after a while of doing that, I usually feel the urge to share my thoughts with the audience and start to miss the live interaction. So, I would say 50-50, both are equally important to me, one thing cannot exist without other.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
I think that every musician should listen to their own hearts about those issues. Sometimes some other actions are needed, sometimes pure music is enough. For me music is a uniting force without depending on age, race, gender, etc…I suppose that as my roots are in the indigenous South-Estonian region called Võrumaa, where ancient songs and melodies have been transferred from generation to generation and where culture is woven seamlessly into everyday life, I feel that force even more. I am also a child of the Singing Revolution – a revolution started by Estonians using only the singing as a weapon which resulted in gaining the independence and the end of the Soviet regime in Estonia without using any military weapons at all. That history has formed me as a person but also as a musician. Even Swedish people love to sing in bigger groups, not to mention the Finns who share the Finno- Ugric runic song tradition with Estonians. The magical way of letting music to connect people is something which has nothing to do with playing or singing traditional music, it is printed in our DNA, it is always there. When I play solo, I enjoy the feeling of slowly merging with the audience, creating something together. And the same goes for playing together with others, I let music do the talking and make us to breathe as one.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Music itself is surely giving me back a huge amount of enjoyment and fulfillment. It is the administrative work and digital work which takes a lot of energy and needs to be balanced with the creative work. I feel that even more strongly now during the post pandemic time. In a way it is cool that the digital world is growing but it is seldom in balance with analog creative work. That would be amazing to work more meaningfully towards that balance and to focus on how to merge those sides in a creative way.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: I record all kind of sounds I hear around me. For example, on my new album “Playscapes” I use the sound of sand dropping slowly through a burning wooden stick. There are also other sounds present – birds chirping and people walking in Stockholm, trains taking off in Japan and the tube pulsing in London under the thick layers of Earth. Those kinds of sounds can be utterly interesting and inspiring to create some melodies and different metric layers on top of them. Sometimes I start with a melody, sometimes it all comes at the same time. Sometimes I use my free-bass custom made Pigini accordion in this process, sometimes I record a short vocal clip into my phone, sometimes I use the piano or my little OP-1 Teenage Engineering synth. I have also composed together with other musicians and love to produce in a duo in the studio environment. My new album “Playscapes” has probably all those elements of making music in it. There are no certain rules, making music is a free and happy process to me.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: To combine family life and a freelance musician life has been quite challenging and it still is.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
TUULIKKI BARTOSIK: All those happy moments when something I have worked for really hard has turned out well. All my tours in the UK and Japan and in other countries. I especially remember one concert in Milan in 40 degrees Celsius and basically no air to breathe but it went well, and that memory still makes me happy. Or recording in the cave in Brecon Beacons nature park in Wales or improvising my own music with a whole symphony orchestra in live TV broadcast. I am thankful for all the possibilities and collaborations, tours which have taken me to most wonderful places.
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Photo credits: Alice Whitby, Ingrid-Liisa Kerson