Body, voice, sound experience

The concert I went to on September 30th gave me a good reason to come back to these pages, after a long silence. I thought of doing it many times, as this year was rich in transcultural experiences, but too often they passed rapidly away without letting me the time to stop and write.

To speak the truth it wasn´t properly a concert, and that was quite a surprise. The second surprise was the space, in the undergrounds of the Helsinki Music Centre, originally the Reharsal Hall. Before entering it, the audience was invited to let their shoes and to wear slippers. Which put us in a relaxed and playful mood. When we stepped in, it was clear why we had to: the hall had a beautiful almost white wooden floor, so smooth that our feet tended to skate. The purpose was to avoid unnecessary noise while moving through the hall, but the place also forced our respect for its silent architecture. A rectangular space, almost empty, with dark high walls, covered with beautiful wooden structures. Inside only a few red sofas and cushions here and there:


Juho Laitinen, who organized the event for his fifth and last doctoral concert, measured the space slowly walking barefoot around the hall. We had been told it was possible to move during the concert, but most of us simply took a sit on the sofas. The concert began. With Pavese´s words, from the poem La voce:

Each day the silence of the lonely room

closes in on the gentle rustle of gestures

like air. Each day the small window

is opened, motionless, to the hushed air. The voice,

hoarse and sweet, won’t break this cool silence.

And with Phill Niblock´s Harm, the cellist being lifted on a platform on one side of the hall, the sound amplified on 8 channels around the audience. At first it seemed too loud, but in no time the whole space began to resonate, as slow variations of the same rich, double-stops sounds unceasingly repeated. It actually took a fairly long time before anyone dared to move. Jukka Tiensuu did it the first, and for cause. A composer with an endlessly curious spirit couldn´t miss the possibility to experiment how the music sounded in this unusual situation. He´s one of those visionary minds always ready to step into something unknown. As Juho himself. Jukka began to walk along the walls, and slowly some of us changed listening position. It was great to seat on the floor and listen to the music with own´s body, hands, feet and legs on the vibrating surface. The hall was a huge resonance box. Everything happened in a dim light. Some people closed their eyes, some layed on the floor, along the walls. These abandoned bodies, in a sleepy position, reminded me of the dead ones in Ghouta. Even though I avoided to look at the photos of the corpses, they were in all the news. And in our nightmares (and bad consciences).

Juho was assisted by an effective team, Pauliina Hulkko (dramaturgy), Timoteus Ruotsalainen (lightning design) and James Andean (sound design).

Actually every piece in the programme was played in a different location, and it was fairly unpredictable where the next one would begin. It was interesting to see how the audience reacted: the more the music had “traditional” content, the more the audience reconstructed a “normal” concert disposition and didn´t move at all. It was the case with Juho´s Three naïve pieces, in which he plays and sings, referring half-ironically half-tenderly to some musical topos.

After the classical contemporary virtuoso piece Trema (by H.Holliger), there was a funny interlude with Juho´s RhythmiCone Jam:


A jam session with James Andean and the rhythmicon, an instrument invented by Henry Cowell in the ´30s, now played through Max/MSP and LogicPro. As the sounds were scattered around, coloured lights at the back of the players turned rhythmically on and off, the sounds becoming more and more blurred.

It was a full contrast with the following works, Kurtág´s three pieces from Socrates Farewell (2000): intimate, concise music. Juho played it sitting on the red sofas side by side with the audience, a courageous and right choice. It underlined both the intimacy of the situation and a real sense of community. Even more as he invited one of us to read aloud the poetic texts from the programme: Neither (by Beckett/Feldman), some phrases from Meister Eckhart´s writings and a beautiful love poem by the Indian classic Vâlmîki. We were invited to read the latter silently, by ourselves, a perfect preparation for the music to come:

O gentle breeze, please blow over my beloved’s face and then return and caress me, while her touch is still warm upon you

With Michael Gordon´s Industry we discovered yet another space and another listening point, as who wished was allowed to climb up to the gallery:


The event closed as it began, with La voce, now within the intense music by Louis Andriessen – one of the very few pieces where the musician reciting a text doesn´t bother but enhances the music. It was played in the dark, just a candle burning in front of the player.

It was a unique event, combining meditative attitude and experimental art. Before leaving the hall, we were given a text, nothing less than… a Manifesto of Sounding! To be fully published in november. It begins as follows:

Reality and music are one and the same thing. We call this Sounding. (…) At the base of music is the original sound: cry, sigh and hum. Sound is organic, physical vibrating and touching matter. It is a bodily fact, to which the spirit is united (Juho Laitinen 2013)


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