Happy first birthday to the concert series Tulkinnanvaraista ! This strange Finnish word is a juridical term meaning both “Open to interpretation” and “debatable”. A meaningful start for a new music season dedicated to experimentation, improvisation and electronics, born in autumn 2011 on the initiavive of the composers Juho Laitinen (cello & composition) Kimmo Hakola and Juhani Nuorvala, founders of Curious Musicians

Curious musicians

Open to Interpretation holds one concert a month at G18, an elegant hall in one of the Swedish minority clubs of the capital. The atmosphere of the concerts contrasts nicely with the fairly classical location, a building more than a century old.


As Juho Laitinen puts it: “I want people to hear the thrilling and profound   music that wells forth from the springhead of experiment, improvisation and the composer-cum-performer (…) There exist alternatives to the composer-work-performer-audience model, more equal ways of sharing music“. Juho is a manifold performer, committed to research about his instrument and its never ending extensible techniques. He is also the inventor of Kallio New Music Days, independent new music weekend, on January 25th-27th 2013. ” I personally am extremely interested in the performer’s personality, memory, psychophysical make-up and so on, and I want to bring out this subjectivity instead of the more objective interpretation of works. I have a quite concrete interest in the performer’s own voice“.

This was particulary evident in this autumn first concert, featuring the soprano Piia Komsi and the electronic music composer & performer Robert Piotrowicz. Piia is a well-known musician, being in the peculiar position of a singer with a cellist´s background; and sharing her talent and voice with her twin sister Anu: both unforgettable in Kaija Saariaho´s beautiful duo From the Grammar of Dreams, on texts by Sylvia Plath . Both sisters´s personalities are outstanding and enthralling, each in her own way. The concert began in a startling way, with John Cage´s Solos for Voice No. 47 & 13: short imaginative works, in which the composer explores human voice´s possibilities and plays freely with words from a mixture of languages. Piia´s wide coloratura voice and personality was at once displayed.


But in the second piece she gave proof of all her skills, with the first performance of Sky Shopping – Hommage à Brahms, by Jovanka Trbojevic. There she needed her cello too: it was interesting to listen to both her real and her instrumental voices melting together. I often wondered what is the relation between a string instrument´s player voice and his/her sound: I believe there is a close connection, as in playing a string instrument all the person´s motricity, personal way of moving and so on, are deeply involved; everyone has a different one, a peculiar rhythm of the gestures and own way of speaking, pausing and so on. Jovanka´s work was written for Piia and fit her nicely. It was a tasty combination of comic motives and imaginative ideas: all started from a conversation Jovanka had with Anu Komsi, listening to a concert of Brahms´ 2nd Piano Concerto. Not exactly a cultivated one, soon turning to something much funnier, from dresses to Brahms´sentimental life: ” I wrote a kind of nonsense text, with romantic connotations and sarcasm towards contemporary values. I wrote names of clothing items, with exaggerated excitement of shopping, and scientific names of cloud types in Latin, with descriptions of their heights and shapes, and of consistency of different cloud classes.”

The first part of the concert closed in a total different way, with Heinz-Juhani Hofmann´s Two Memory Traces for soprano and cello. The composer is the author of the text as well, but an utterly tragic one: a detailed description of his father´s death, in a German hospital. The voice expressed the unfathomable moment with uncompromising crudeness and anguish.


Following the Tulkinnanvaraista formula, the second part of the evening featured a guest from abroad working with electronics, this time the modular synthesizer composer & player Robert Piotrowicz: as he explained the following day at the Sibelius Academy, his instrument is “something between a pitch shifter, a ringmodulator and a kind of phase modulator”. He played two works from 2011, Formations and Pneuma: in both there was a well-balanced combination between sense of form and improvisation, a gradually enriching soundscape resulting from the superimposition of the transformation techniques the modulator allows. The two large loudspeakers in the front provided a good sound, probably better for people sitting near, a bit too loud for the others (often a tricky thing to find the right balance in new spaces!) As in other soirées of the series, it was nice to listen to analog, a bit rétro electronics, in this all-digital world. And it was interesting to observe the hall change as the music went on (both pieces were fairly long). See the crystal lamps glitter in the dark, while this multilayered music filled in the space more and more.

Concert and demonstration are available on YouTube @:


After Simon Rogers´ talk, combining equally classical journalism and data expert skills, the day continued with a number of interesting presentations.

Farida Vis talked more about Reading the Riots, a research about the role of rumours during the London riots in 2011: it is also a research about people´s behaviour in social media, a study case about Twitter (which would deserve further investigation, what Farida promised to do in the future). A fundamental contributor to this work was the Italian data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani, working at Il Fatto Quotidiano and The Guardian. Jacopo´s work focuses on sensitive social issues, such as prisoners´conditions of life in both Italy and the UK: the study in Italy shows prisoners´ main causes of death during the last decade, that in UK focuses about the rate of suicides in British prisons. An example of how data journalism may increase social conscience.

Farida Vis at OKFest

The next speaker was Esa Mäkinen, one of Finland´s prominent data journalists, working for the only daily national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (by the way the main one in Scandinavia). It´s interesting to note that HS wants to be a pioneer in data journalism, on the model of The Guardian and other much larger international newspapers. HS has been organizing Data Journalism Hackathons [1] in the last two years, with the idea to find people with technological skills, keen to collaborate for their website: journalists, programmers and designers, meet for a day, working at their own project; the best ones get the possbility to be developed and published on HS website. The next HS hackathon (no.6) will takes place today at the OKFestival!

As it was more times pointed out on Tuesday, data journalism is drawing more and more attention among the readers, who are eventually both attracted by the visualizations and the interactive possibilities (choose freely what to look at, at which country, age group and so on). So it is becoming more commercially appetizing for news agencies, while more traditional reporting forms are rapidly disappearing (see art and music reviews!) Mäkinen said that the HS website has about 1.4 million visitors per day, a remarkable number. Finland is a highly technological country, online apps such as the election machine (helping you to find the candidate more near to your views) have been existing since at least 15 years.

Mäkinen´s team next project is an interactive poll about the brand new building of the Helsinki Music Centre, with questions about its aesthetics and functionality, utility/need for citizens and so on. Looking forward to the results!

The Hungarian Júlia Keserű presented K-monitor, an internet portal aiming to detect corruption levels in the press: she reported about a couple of censorship scandals in her country, where journalists were fired for having revealed links between the finance world and first-row politicians (the Prime Minister or his entourage). The portal aims to detect media ownership control and measure advertiser´ influence.

An inspiring talk was that held by Maya Indira Ganesh and Emma Prest, from the Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO founded in 2003, based in both Germany and India, with regional staff in South Africa, the UK, Jordan and the Philippines. The organization aims to give technological support to rights advocates who work about sensitive social issues, such as sex workers´ conditions in Asia. The research, Sex worker voices, illustrates the acts of violence sex workers endure in West Bengal and Cambodia. In such marginalised communities modern devices as cell-phones are the only means to let others know what happens. The data collected include locations, display of the facts in time (how frequent they are and so on), and especially who are the people involved: in most cases police officers were among the offenders, in first place along with madams, and only in minor percentages customers and landladies. Thanks to this programme sex workers became more aware of the scale and nature of the violence within their communities. They found out that some of the data contradicted their own beliefs. The data also revealed how the stigmatisation of sex workers is reflected in the kinds of violence they face.

OKFestival newsroom

The American researcher Lesley Kadish showed that a dataset may also be composed by historical, archive material, such as diaries, account books, photos from the XIX century (A Christmastime Ledger Book, 1862). The video visualization showed the same landscape (Fort Snelling, Dakota) as it was supposed to look through different historical times.

There were also a couple of open geodata presentations, by the Finnish team Ali Kaapro and Tiia Palvimo, and by the Dutch team of Juha van ‘t Zelfde and Maurits de Bruijn: the latter project, Shippr, was started a few months ago and regards the tracking of ships all over the world. A kind of FourSquare for ships, the idea may have economic, social, environmental implications – as 90% of the world trade happens on the seas. Through dynamic data and locations the application may help to understand better the tangible global economy, in its real time changes. Shippr is now looking for partners, e.g. telecommunication companies such as Sonera. Shipspotting may also be important as a form of citizen journalism, a chance to report facts on a free, voluntary basis. As it came out from the numerous questions, the world of ship traffic is anyway not always a transparent one: if on one hand ship are registered and it´s not so easy to change their names, containers may transport anything, their content does not need to be specified, which gives space to illicit trafficking. One question was also: could you track military ships?

Last but not least, Victor Miclovich from Uganda, talked about the use of technology in developing countries: in extreme situations nets of mobile phones are fundamental to detect the most violent, dangerous areas; or help in case of epidemies such as the Ebola fever, which recently killed many people in Africa in a short lapse of time. Applications such as u report – voice matters or rapidFTR, are useful to find children lost in war areas. Miclovich collaborates with various NGOs, UNICEF and so on.

Miclovich conducted also another project of social relevance in Uganda, to encourage girls and young women to use technology and programming. Girl Geek Series is a series of workshops where girls learn to code and design open-source software: in a male-dominated area, they learn also to work in teams, gain self-confidence and hopefully start a business on their own later on. In spite of their families´ opinions, often not so positive, as in many other areas of the world.

[1] Term combining the words hack and marathon

The great day has come, after nine months of intensive sketching and organizing, the Open Knowledge Festival opened today in Helsinki, at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Since the very first moment one could sense the warm and open atmosphere, a bunch of young enthusiasts welcoming the visitors with a smile (not such a common event at these latitudes!)

Everything was OK, from the design of the scenography to the original badges, cut out in wood or coloured plastic, a creation of the Helsinki Fablab of Aalto Media Factory and Massimo Menichinelli.

The first Plenary Session was attended with tangible emotion by a varied international audience, which naturally melt with Aalto University population, already multicultural at the origin: young and less young experts and open data enthusiasts from Europe, U.S.A. and every corner of the world.

Before the opening

A multilayered hi-tech experience: not only the presentations are reproduced in live streaming, but it is possible to comment what is said onstage in an open instant chat (active during morning sessions): both people physically and virtually present can interact with the event. A few subjects and questions are selected and proposed to the speakers. And many of us reacted on Twitter at the same time: a fun experience, which nevertheless makes one wonder about what it means nowadays to listen and to communicate, in an era where we can´t anymore simply talk to each other, but need screens both for illustrating our ideas and receiving them. Anyway the atmosphere was relaxed and elated, and technology undoubtedly allowed us to express the emotion to be part of an uncommon event.

Internationally well known speakers inspired the audience with a few words about open data: “the challenge is how to use open information to solve the issues we have in front of us: the challenge is not in data availability, but in the use we do of it” (Rufus Pollock)

“Technology is a tool: policy wonks meet tech geeks”; “reach citizens directly, prioritise the needs of the users”, “give people access, select what is relevant to them”; technology enables “to collect essential medicines via SMS in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia” (Martin Tisné)

“Collecting useful data, as allotment data” means to investigate “what people care about, such as growing their own vegetables”. Possibility put in discussion “in spring 2011, with the threat to the UK Allotment Act (1908!), followed by an overwhelming popular response” (Farida Vis)

The following day was dedicated mainly to cook, in a truely professional large kitchen, Aromi. We anyway divided ourselves between our computers, to check out the last data, and the kitchen. Shortly after it was time for presentations, carefully documented in photos and videos. A fast, almost immediate passage between reality and its virtual duplicate!

In the process some aspects had to be abandoned, for both lack of time and need to reasonably limit the research and make communication and visualization possible: I had to drop the hypothesis about the decrease of energy consumption, as a complex element which would need further investigations (in some cases no clear decrease is registered, even though the industrial production diminishes). Also the idea of saunas lay on the ground, with the puzzling question of how many they actually are in Finland (waiting to be answered in the next project!) The two aspects were eventually linked, in the case that sauna were used for both cooking fish and personal hygiene, with a reduction of energy consumption.

The task of the day was much more visual-oriented than I expected, as someone used to express mainly in sound and words. It was nevertheless extremely interesting to try to change perspective, to consider a totally different approach. Finally the composition of the dish was a pleasantly silent moment, voiding the mind from the strict data comparisons.

In this respect the idea of the workshop was really good: cooking food is putting one´s hands back into the real world and one´s feet on the ground, after all the hypothesis and speculations arisen from the data. And the task, using data (as any other abstract material) to generate something utterly concrete and physically enjoyable, was a meaningful one. As it often happens, more ideas came after everything was over, such as visualizing in the dish the dimensions of the three factories considered (from Western Finland, Ostrobothnia and Lapland), the relations between number of employed/unemployed people, the impact of the loss of the factories on the regions (more dramatic in less industrialized areas, as in Kemijärvi, Lapland), and so on.

The tasting was another nice social moment, in certain cases a challenge – not always amazingly visually presented food tastes as one would expect. The most éclatant case was Rossana´s cocktails, a study about suicide rates in Finland, Germany and Italy, where the proportions of alcoholic drinks depended on the most consumed ones in the three countries. In general the dishes were really tasty and colourfully multicultural, and finally even the cocktails found their estimators! Check out here for the final results.

The moment implied the rapid destruction of the works, in a merry mixture of creativity and destruction – a mark of the transiency of life. In this I feel much less pessimistic than Bauman[1], who complains that nowadays works of art are not thought any more to last, but to be rapidly consumed, as everything else. If this may be partly true, on the other hand using perishable or recycled materials goes on the contrary in a more natural direction, dropping the Romantic idea of art as eternal. As the ancients said, panta rhei (everything flows). A wiseness also Oriental philosophies teach us again. Without necessarily attaching to this natural phenomenon a negative sense.

[1] Z.Bauman, op.cit., p. 186

The OKFestival, which is bound to be a success, with its 800 tickets per day sold out, opened last weekend with a tasty “satellite event”, the Open Data Cooking Workshop. An idea of Pixelache and Berlin Prozessagenten, the workshop has drawn together a varied bunch of people: we were asked to bring a favourite, meaningful ingredient, with some cultural or affective importance.

Ingredients Table

And to choose a field of open data interest, among the many options collected by our open data magician, Miska Knapek: from environmental data, such as the levels of radioactivity still present in Finland after Chernobyl (1986), to energy consumption; crime statistics, social housing, elections and so on, from the 15 topics of the Statistical Yearbook of Helsinki 2011, and many more. Mostly local data, from Helsinki and its region, but also from Finland at large, with wide possibilities to put them in comparison and/or in contrast with similar/different situations in the world. Something Moritz Stefaner (one of our hosts, with Susanne Jaschko) considers the main point: find out something unexpected from the initial hypothesis. Something which makes us reflect about aspects of reality we didn´t know or considered much less crucial.

What does this all to do with food culture? The local approach is one of the keys. What is the relation between what we eat and our habitat, food and society? Here some reference projects.

All this was yet even more about visualizing data with food: exploiting the coulours, textures, temperatures and so on to refer to sets of data, ranging from suicide rates in Finland to the quantity of city rabbits populating green areas in the centre of Helsinki.

The brainstorming continued during the lunch pause, which saw us sit around an old wooden table, with a countryside touch: making concrete the ideas of togetherness and “open collaborative society in a global village” of which spoke Miska during the introduction. The global village was well represented, with people from Russia, U.S.A., Hungary, Italy, France, Greek, Denmark, Finland… hope not to forget anybody!

After lunch we continued in a playful way, we were asked to draw lots from a bunch of subjects and ingredients and put them in connection to get more ideas about the project to realize.

Brainstorming Table

Here we got fundamental help from Antti Nurkka, our culinary expert, and Miska and Moritz, in quality of data wranglers. It was fun to learn something about both subjects, cuisine and data! Quite a surprise to discover, beyond the classical four basic tastes (sweet, sour, acid and salt), a fifth one, umami, the new magic word of nowadays cuisine (actually about one century old but coming known at large much more recently).

Looking for a sense through the hazardous, sometimes pretty absurd combinations we got, was quite a compositional game (not far from an artist´s path during the realization of a project): this mostly drew us to consider totally different subjects from what we initially were interested in. From the nuclear pollution start idea, I began to work about deindustrialization in certain areas of Finland, where the closure of traditional factories, such as the paper productions, has caused large unemployment, with subsequent empoverishment and possible rise of crime rates and sense of insecurity. And it didn´t end here: I was asked to consider also the number of saunas! Quite impredictable data, I bet they are countless and most of the owners wouldn´t be keen to reveal their locations (a quite private and “sacred” affair for a Finn).

This made me think about the possible diminution in energy consumption in these areas: while having dramatic consequences when it happens, deindustrialization may also be an opportunity to reconsider the virtually endless productivity growth we live in. Making us remember that limits exist, enhance us to take more individual responsability on our environmental impact (from having less learning to need less, consume less and so on).


Though, as Zygmunt Bauman writes, “there are on the web already 50 millions blogs (listed in 2006) and other 175.000 are created every day”[1], here there is one more: just for the need to translate, in the broadest sense possible, what happens in this part of Europe, to build bridges between this local reality and other regions of this continent, that I feel as my country.

After more than 10 years in Helsinki, I experienced that many kind of translations are needed to make different cultures communicate and mutually enrich each other: languages, gestures, attitudes, sensitivities, point of views, we need to put in action countless kinds of translations to undertake this fascinating and risky journey which is to face the other one.

And, if something is needed, it is openness.The autumnlookspromisingin this respect: the Open Knowledge Festival will take place in Helsinki from 17th to 22nd of September. A week of conferences, workshops, meetings, peer-to-peer learning, people from all over the world gathering at the Aalto University and hereabouts. With the enthusiasm to put technology and innovation at the service of the society. Re-create a sense of community, so often lost in our hectic lives, connect local and global communities, enhance collaboration (“do it with others”), in a word give oneself a chance to make this world more inhabitable and human than what we know.

Without forgetting that “technology would not advance ´democracy and human rights´ for (and instead of) you”. Persons need to be there, individuals who let themselves be personally involved in the process of change.

Gettare ponti

Sebbene, come scrive Zygmunt Bauman, siano stati contati sul web nel solo 2006 “50 milioni di blog”, e ne spuntino mediamente “175.000 al giorno”, eccomi qua: quello che mi spinge a scrivere è il desiderio di tradurre, nel più largo senso possibile, quello che vedo accadere in questa parte del Nord Europa, di creare ponti tra questa realtà locale e altre regioni di questo continente, che sento come il mio vero paese.

Dopo più di 10 anni a Helsinki, mi rendo conto che sono necessari molti tipi di traduzione per rendere realmente possibili e fertili la comunicazione e l´interscambio tra culture diverse: lingue, gesti, atteggiamenti, sensibilità, punti di vista, sono molti gli aspetti della vita che necessitano di una traduzione, per poter intraprendere quel viaggio affascinante e rischioso che è l´incontro con l´altro.

E la prima cosa di cui c´è bisogno è essere aperti, in molti sensi. Quest´autunno promette bene: dal 17 al 22 settembre si terrà all´ Università Aalto e dintorni l´ Open Knowledge Festival. Una settimana di conferenze, workshops, incontri, apprendimento peer-to-peer, con invitati da tutto il mondo. Esperti e/o semplici entusiasti, con la passione di mettere la tecnologia e l´innovazione al servizio della società. Per ricreare quel senso di comunità così spesso perduto nella fretta quotidiana, mettere in contatto comunità globali e locali, rivalutare la collaborazione (do it with others), in una parola darsi una chance di rendere questo mondo più abitabile e umano di come lo conosciamo.

Senza dimenticare che “la tecnologia non promuoverà ´la democrazia e i diritti umani´ al nostro posto”. Per questo servono le persone in carne e ossa, individui che si lascino coinvolgere nel cambiamento in prima persona.

[1] Z.Bauman, L´etica in un mondo di consumatori (Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?), p. 102, Laterza, Bari, 2011, Harvard University Press, Cambridge-London, 2008.