Journeys into the world of voice
                  

I have travelled into the world of voice looking for my own way to express music. The journey has been long and meandering, I'm still traversing. The oldest of instruments - the human voice - is so rich that not even a lifetime is sufficient time for practicing to control it. Sound is within us and within this sound we find ourselves. We reflect ourselves and the world with our voices. Genetics and our own history give our voices personal shape. Sound is a picture of our ego: an attribute delicate and personal. It reveals all emotion states, even small nuances. Listen to sounds issuing from yourself and others. Try what it feels like to communicate in mere sounds. Allow yourself to be carried away by sounds. Let them guide you. And when sounds start to take over, you will find there are no limits.

Background


Experimenting with various vocal techniques and becoming familiar with improvisation aroused a desire in me to go into making music with a human voice. The inclusion of improvisation in the composition process seemed to be the natural way of approaching the beginnings of music. My experience of different music cultures has itself been an inspiration for experimentation. At first glance, traditional music and playing with sounds would appear to be quite
divorced of one another. But as I delve into improvisation, I find not only all of what I have felt and heard but many other things that I am unable to analyze. The minimalism of voice improvisation and composition in my music has a
connection to the old Kalevala-type tradition of minimal tones. And the aesthetics of music-making is similar. It seems that the closer I get to the sources of sound, the closer I get to the origins of music and song.


Familiarizing myself with Finno-Ugrian vocal traditions has had an important influence on my expedition into music. I have been able to experience unity with my linguistic kith and kin by being with them and singing with them without the
need of a mutually comprehensible spoken language. Music has always made the connection.

Journeys into the world of voice
The written part of my artistic doctor’s degree focuses on describing the process which led to creating a concert containing the voices of five individuals. Experimenting with different techniques of sound formation and familiarizing
myself with improvisation enticed me to explore the creation of music via human voices. Including improvisation in the process of composing seemed a natural way of approaching the creation of music.

The written work, Journeys to the World of Sound, includes examination of the creation of sound, planning the shape of the concerts and analyzing the melodic outcome.

 

From sounds to music

As a singer and musician, I have experimented with various forms of expression in music making. I have shouted, cried, hollered, puffed, sighed, panted, laughed, burped and sung. I have tried to find a musical expression of grief, passion, happiness, lightness, sentimentality, peace, amusement, beauty, melody, archaic words and theatrics. The end result has been the creation of various sound compositions and improvisations, based on poems and melodies, the investigation of overtones, tone color and resonance, as well as the manifestation of various emotional states.


How are compositions born, after all? Do I utilize emotion states, images, improvisation or themes with a plan and purpose in my musical composition?


Each stimulus and impulse that breaks the silence is potential material for me to make music with. This alone, however, is not enough; one also needs inspiration or an emotion state that makes the creation of music possible. Resonance born from vibrations of sound and sensations in the body brought about by various stimuli both indicate a direction for formulating music. Improvisation, in turn, provides opportunities for various types of experimentation.


At what point do these experimentations in sound turn into music? How does music begin to form from different stimuli, static or sounds?


The world is full of sounds. You notice the deluge of sounds when it stops as we step into a closed, sound-proof room. Every sound we hear creates mental images. In this way sound becomes a visual tool. When we close our eyes, we begin to see with our ears. Material for sound composition is available all around us. We can recognize today's music in everyday sounds. People communicate with sounds alone more than even they themselves realize. Various growling, puffing, huffing and loud yawning takes place in a family every day.


As I depart on my journey into music, preparation for the first sound is the beginning of adventure. I’m kind of excited, what will I find? Confidence that every sound created is the basis for the next has been one of the greatest insights in my “Journeys into the world of voice” project. Sound produces the emotional states that the interpretations are based on. Muffled sound leads to an oppressive atmosphere where a soft and delicate sigh provides an impetus to a gentle interpretation.


With free improvisation as a base for music-making, the result may be a positive surprise. At times it might lead you down the path of becoming a performer, where you have to wander randomly and stumble. But getting lost is worth it; through trial and error you will find new ideas and insights. The most challenging in the implementation of my project has been learning to maintain control in improvisation and then the smooth integration of this controlled
improvisation into a completed composition. If I wish, I can use images in the conception process of these works, for example, select myself a variety of themes, and ways of formulating sounds or to just let the sounds carry me along.

Concerts


Journeys into the world of voice May 1999

Looking back on my series of concerts, my attention is drawn to an interesting
instance: my first solo concert Matkoja äänen maailmaan (‘Journeys into the world of voice’) was daring in its own minimalistic way. As it developed, I let the sounds carry me along, taking note of where they left me. The first concert was
also the most frightening of all and the training process was difficult. The loneliness of preparation was oppressing. Thoughts on how to achieve interesting music worth listening to by making sounds were cause for contemplation, but the concert was a success.

The world is a sound – Maailma on ääni 2002

concert served not only as a venue for sounds, but as a place for different musicians to meet too. It developed into the confrontation of ego and musicianhood.


I wanted to combine work with three different musicians, developing duos with each separately. Musicians was Ape Anttila (bass), Leena Joutsenlahti (wooden flute) and Juha Valkeapää (voice). I soon realized that I could have done entire
concerts with each of them. The good idea, however, resulted in a slightly fragmented outcome. This concert was also the first one where I incorporated traditional folk poetry. Once again, I began approaching song.

Äänikuvia-Soundimages
My fourth Äänikuvia (or Pictures in Sound) concert was held in November 2003 in Helsinki. As a kantele musician and singer, I have been fascinated by the sound of the kantele and the human voice, and the synthesis of these two
resonant instruments. I wanted to seek out a variety of tones and overtone opportunities offered by both instruments.


Music eventually became a journey from (antiquity) arcaic world to the future. There were reminiscences of minimalist kantele and folk-poetry singing traditions, as well as experimental sound improvisation. Other members of the
working group were Timo Väänänen, electric kantele, percussionist Abdissa Assefa, and Teemu Korpipää, who designed the surround sound system for the concert hall.

The concert was also theatrical: the visual was one of the important elements in addition to music. As part of the stage-set I made use of archive photographs of the folk singers, lamenters and Valamo Monastery Church bell ringers (players),
available from the Finnish Literature Society (SKS) and the National Board of Antiquities in Finland. There were also elements of a silent movie “Häiden vietto Kalevalan runomailla” (‘Weddings in the land of the Kalevala’) produced by the
Kalevala Society in 1927.


Listen the whole concert:                     
 

ÄÄNEEN! Out loud!

The thought of incorporating music into the picture began to attract me more and more. In 2004, I began working on my last concert, in which videos made by Kati Åberg of five emotional states danced by Jyrki Karttunen played an essential
role. Earlier the same year I had made music for the interactive dance DVD “Emotions in Man” directed by Åberg. The videos were produced by re-editing the footage for the DVD. The episodes on feeling were developed into longer
entities to replace the short clips.

Emotions in man is a light-hearted dvd, which explores ways of expressing emotions in motion – through contemporary dance and interaction. Emotions in man creates a unique and tantalising visual world in which the
dancer meets love, anger, fear, joy or sorrow at the viewer’s whim. The viewer decides during the piece, which of the five emotions to give to the dancer and in so doing creates a different choreography every time.
Should one give the dancer more and more sorrow, or suddenly plunge him into the throes of love? You decide!


I was able to make more long-term entities for the video than I had previously for the DVD. The concert consisted of a hidden theme of feelings that are not highlighted in the names of the compositions. I wanted to offer listeners an
experience where states of emotion can freely mingle, inspired by music and dance.


First, I outlined the entire dramaturgical arc of the concert before getting involved in detail. The concert begins with the voice of one person, which is gradually surrounded by other elements, such as, Timo Väänänen's electric
kantele and pre-recorded background sound tracks. The light feeling at the beginning of the concert gradually gives way to strong elements of anger. After the aggressive outbursts of anger, room is made for a serene state of love. In the latter half, reminiscing of trips to visit kindred nations guides the listeners toward sorrow. When the vocal group, MeNaiset, joins the concert, they foster a crescendo in its world of sound. The traditional Mordvin melody sung in women's voices encapsulates the creation of song. And the full circle in the series of concerts closes finally in a solitary lament.

©J-P PIIRAINEN