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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:

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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:

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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:

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 @: http://www.youtube.com/tulkinnanvaraista