The Great White Bird


Helicotrema: Petri Kuljuntausta Interview

For Helicotrema, you will present a new work, The Great White Bird. Can you talk about the genesis of the piece, as well as its title?

I started the composition work by arranging a recording trip to West Coast of Finland on 18-19th of May, 2012. The recording place was a tower build for birdwatchers at the conservation area by the sea (60°63’N, 21°85’E). There were many birds singing in the area, but when I was watching and listening this mythic and gallant bird, I made the decision that the swan will be the sound subject for my composition.

During the recording there were dozens of swans in the Bay. The swans were singing, making sound signals, splashing water with their strong wings and fighting with the competitors. I have never seen so many swans, so the place and timing was perfect for my recording. After the trip I listened and tested the recorded material at my studio, selected the sound segments that I wanted to use and started the composition work.

You use field recordings but then, in the composition work, you break and twist them into abstract sound forms. Can you talk about this aspect of your work?
I have composed naturalistic Soundscape compositions, or arranged Sound Walk trips and created a piece from the recordings that were made in move. These pieces have a really close connection to the environment from where the sounds are taken from. Thus these work tells us something truthful from the environment. My pure soundscape compositions are aesthetically very close to documentary, but the difference is that there is that artistic dimension in the working process and I have intention to make something ‘different’ with the material, instead of presenting unedited field recordings. My soundscape works are not unedited lengthy field recordings, instead, I cut the material and create form with the soundscape segments. I might select an interesting sound fragment and use it several times, at different situations, inside the work. With this method, among others that I use, I can give a birth to the work and create identity for it. Because of this method, it is possible to find ‘themes’, repeating soundscape fragments, from my soundscape works.

Sometimes I have wanted to use electronic sounds in the context of Soundscape work, like in the pieces Vroom!! (2000), In the Beginning (2001), and April Fool (1997). These works are still soundscape works, but they also contains electronically created sound dimensions.

With The Great White Bird, I decided to go step further. This time I wanted to broke the bird song to pieces and make complex sound processing. The swan sounds are alienated and distorted. Straight connection to the original environment and its acoustic characteristics is broken. During the composition process I worked with the sound colors of swan song, instead of real singing lines. The sound processing method is based on granular synthesis. Despite of the broken material and abstract feel of the work, the whole work is still connected to the swan, and the concentrated listener might recognize very short fragments of the swan singing here and there.

We (Blauer Hase) are working on Paesaggio, a series of publications with artists’ writings on landscape. What is the role landscape plays in your research?
The subject is very important to me. I have studied the sounds of the landscapes (and environments) many years and created many compositions from field recordings during my career. Landscape and public environment with its sounds and soundscapes (urban or natural) is something that never bores me. The environment always offer something new to listen to. In the landscape or environment the sounds are never still, they change all the time. The process never stops.

I am connected quite well to this field and I think this is important to my own progress as an artist. I have often worked with scientists and through them have learned so much on the environment, its acoustic characters and acoustic balance. I have also learned that there is no one way to look into the matter; biodiversity — or multiplicity of opinions — is important for art and science as well. I am active in Acoustic Ecology, and I am a founding member of local Acoustic Ecology association. I am also vice-president of the recently founded Urban Unknown City association, which is focused on the site-specific art projects.