In spring 2020, I composed a song titled ‘A Theory of Love’. Now, three years later, it’s become more popular than I anticipated, reaching over 2.5 million streams on Spotify and bringing my monthly listeners from under one thousand to 250,000.
The creation process of this song (as well as the album it appears on) was a unique experience. When I was writing it, initially the melody felt too sweet, but it was hard to resist its natural course. Sometimes writing a song is a slow process, where it emerges bit by bit from the dark, but this one made its entrance suddenly and pretty much in its final form.
The song is about the process of love — a narrative that’s both simple and intricate, where small details play a significant role. In essence, the melody tells a story: “love is wonderful, sometimes painful, surprising, overwhelming, but in the end it lifts you up.”
The main theme is in 4/4 with an upbeat rhythm, with the climax of the song introducing polyrhythms (5:8 and 6:8) to create a more complicated pattern.
The cello part was recorded with Iida Sinivalo in my studio’s basement during the same sessions as the album opener ‘Everywhere’. Iida has an incredible sense of arrangement; she quickly came up with interesting alternatives for the key melodic lines, that I sang for her. (When I work with other musicians, I don’t often write down my musical ideas, because I want to keep room for improvisation.)
The upright bass, recorded by Ilkka Heinonen in his own studio, brought a new dimension to the song. Before Ilkka’s contribution, I’d considered the song within a neo-classical context, but his basslines revealed a hidden jazz ballad aspect in the composition. This change made the song feel lighter and more dynamic.
The title ‘A Theory of Love’ was in part inspired by books by the philosopher Simon May. I recommend them to anyone interested in understanding how the concept of love has evolved culturally and historically.
Recently, I’ve worked with Sarah Palu to re-arrange the composition for cupola and kantele. The new arrangement retains the original composition but highlights new aspects, allowing for a more nuanced story of love.
Interestingly, the upsurge in my Spotify streams paralleled a major personal event in my life. To hear more about this synchronicity, tune into my chat with Dan Mulqueen and David Charrier on The Handpan Show, where I ended up talking more than intended, thinking we were off-record… We delve into various topics, including ‘Future Rust’, ‘Handpan Day’, and ‘Contra Spem Spero’, the Ukrainian handpan music compilation we released in 2022. The full story below.