in Articles

From sonic environment to psychoanalysis

by Liisamaija Hautsalo

The doctoral dissertations in music submitted in Finland in 2005-2006 are marked by two features: the topics are heterogeneous and the approach is multidisciplinary, ranging from the sonic environment and the music-making software of video games right across to Sibelius.

Finnish music research is increasingly far-reaching

Various paradigms and research trends at present prevail in Finnish musicology. Most of the dissertations submitted do, however, have certain things in common: they cover a broad field within their given discipline, and they are multidisciplinary, applying theories taken not only from musicology. This means they may borrow methods from, say, sociology, psychology, philosophy, gender studies, literary research, anthropology, semiotics or acoustics.

Postgraduate study in music is possible in Finland at the universities of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Jyväskylä, and at the Åbo Akademi University. Some universities also offer musicology under the aegis of other disciplines, such as education or folk tradition. The Sibelius Academy has doctoral programmes with both a research and an artistic orientation.

Music research on the rise

The increase in academic postgraduate education has been a conspicuous element of Finnish educational policy in the past ten years. The results are beginning to show in, for example, the growing number of doctorates. Music has also yielded a wealth of doctoral dissertations in recent years. Eero Tarasti, Professor of Musicology at the University of Helsinki can see many reasons for his subject’s popularity.

‘One practical reason is, of course, that society is nowadays releasing more funds for doctoral dissertations than it used to: almost all applicants receive a grant, at least for a while. On the other hand, the broad spectrum and scope of music research, from ethno to classical, philosophy to studio research and computers, appeal to young people. The strong pulse of musical life is also tempting people to study and ensuring them a job at the end. Music research is definitely on the rise.’ According to Professor Tarasti, a leading world name in music semiotics, the research topics in musicology have varied tremendously at the University of Helsinki.

‘The only stipulation we make for students in choosing a topic is that it must be of profound interest to them, otherwise there is no point in taking up a huge project like post-graduate research. There has been enormous variety in the topics. Whereas some have been traditional composer monographs, others have applied new analytical methods such as set theory or philosophy.’

The independence granted to Finnish researchers is, to Tarasti’s mind, laudable.

‘All academics hope students will embrace their theories and further them,’ says Tarasti. ‘But the Finns are by nature very independent and deliberately choose to study something different! This may be a good thing. There is a lot of research into the performance and reception of music, but I sometimes even wish there was more into music itself!’

Acoustic mirrors and echoes

Susanna Välimäki received a doctorate from the University of Helsinki for a dissertation entitled Subject strategies in music: A psychoanalytic approach to musical signification in autumn 2005. She wrote her dissertation in musicology, having also studied aesthetics, comparative literature, theoretical philosophy and semiotics. In adopting a psychoanalytical approach to musical signification, her work is an excellent example of the multidisciplinary research being carried out at the University of Helsinki, since it draws on methodology not only from psychoanalytic criticism and new hermeneutic analysis but also the fields of semiotics, gender studies and cultural criticism in general.

In her study Välimäki examines musical signification from a psychoanalytical perspective, constructing a theory and model for analysing music as a context for constructing the listener’s subjectivity.

‘I call manifestations of these processes in music “musical subject-strategies”, with the early mechanisms of emerging and forming self at the centre. In other words, music acts as an acoustic mirror of subjectivity, as a sonic self. I examine Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique via Freud’s concept of the uncanny, Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum, Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor op. 48 and Sibelius’s Kyllikki as representations of melancholy, Pehr Henrik Nordgren’s Alex as music of emptiness and alienation and k.d. lang’s “post-country” as a “rhetoric of desire”.’

Välimäki’s study represents postmodern music analysis, according to which the contents of music can be analysed just like any other cultural imagery. Semiotics, feminist theory and postmodern philosophy occupy a major role in this research approach.

‘Unlike many earlier psychoanalytical studies of music, mine is anchored on the listener as the hearer of cultural meanings and not on the producer (composer/performer) of works like the (psycho-) biographical models. One of the motives for my work was to develop a meaningful psychoanalytical approach to the study of music instead of all kinds of pathologisations,’ says Susanna Välimäki.

Pioneering study of the sonic environment

The topic of Heikki Uimonen’s research is the sonic environment and changes within it, and he is the first in Finland to gain a doctorate in this field.

‘I have paid special attention to new uses of music in everyday life,’ he reports, ‘and how they have transformed the sonic environment. The vital point here is that sound can now be digitally stored and reproduced in various ways that were beyond the imagination only a couple of decades ago. I also write about researching sounds now lost to us, by means of interviews and historical sources.’

Uimonen defines himself as an ethnomusicologist and a researcher in acoustic communication. ‘The sounds of everyday life and the changing contexts of music-listening interest me, not to mention the cultural and structural factors influencing the soundscape. My research may, therefore, focus on the phenomena that mould our acoustic community and ask who has the right to make sounds or noises.

‘Above all my study looks at various aspects of listening; this should be the starting point for the study of all sound phenomena. My dissertation is intended as an inspiration and stimulus for anyone interested in not only music but in sonic phenomena in general.’

At the beginning of 2007 Uimonen began investigating the change in Finnish radio music broadcasting over the past twenty years. This ties in with the sonic environment since the music broadcast changes not only private places but public ones as well.

Heikki Uimonen is Chairman of the Finnish Society for Acoustic Ecology that recently received an award for its internationally acclaimed collection and research project entitled One Hundred Finnish Soundscapes. These soundscapes can be heard at


Some examples of Finnish music research in 2005-2006

Church music

Jorma Hannikainen: Suomeksi suomalaisten tähden: Kansankielisen tekstin ja sävelmän suhde Michael Bartholdi Gunnæruksen suomenkielisessä Officia Missæ -introituskokoelmassa. (The relationship between the vernacular text and the melody in the Officia Missæ Finnish introit collection of Michael Bartholdi Gunnærus, Sibelius Academy 2006).


Kaisu Nikula: The Incorporation of German Poetry into Finnish Music, with Reference to Rainer Maria Rilke and Einojuhani Rautavaara (University of Jyväskylä 2005).


Taina Riikonen: Jälkiä itsessä. Narratiivisia huilisti-identiteettejä Kaija Saariahon säveltämässä huilumusiikissa (Narrative flautist identities in the flute music composed by Kaija Saariaho, University of Turku 2005). Markus Mantere: Glenn Gould: Viisi näkökulmaa pianistin muusikkouteen ja kulttuuriseen reseptioon (Five perspectives on the pianist’s musicianship and on cultural reception, University of Tampere 2006).

Film music

Antti-Ville Kärjä: “Varmuuden vuoksi omana sovituksena”. Kansallisen identiteetin rakentuminen 1950- ja 1960-luvun taitteen suomalaisten elokuvien populaarimusiikillisissa esityksissäElokuvamusiikki murroksessa. Suomalainen elokuvamusiikki 1950- ja 1960-luvun vaihteessa (Film music at a turning point. Finnish film music of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Åbo Akademi 2005). (The construction of national identity in the performances of popular music in Finnish films of the late 1950s and early 1960s, University of Helsinki 2005). 

Folk tradition

Anna-Liisa Tenhunen: Itkuvirren kolme elämää (The three lives of the lament, University of Joensuu 2006).


Pentti Kuula: The Orchestra of Viipurin musiikin ystävät furthering Finnish Music and National Identity in 1894-1918 (Sibelius Academy 2006).

Music psychology

Kari Kallinen: Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Musical Emotions: A Multidimensional Research Approach and Some Empirical Findings (University of Jyväskylä 2006).

Music technology

Juha Arrasvuori: Playing and Making Music: Exploring the Similarities between Video Games and Music-Making Software (Tampere University 2006).

Juha Korvenpää: Paavot kehiin. Musiikkiteknologia suomalaisessa iskelmämusiikkituotannossa 1960-80-luvuilla (Music technology in popular music production in the 1960s-80s, University of Tampere 2005).

Music theory

Rita Hontti: Principles of Pitch Organization in Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (University of Helsinki 2006).

Music therapy

Ulla Hairo-Lax: Significant moments and significant factors of music therapy in the process of supporting an intoxicant-free way of life (Sibelius Academy 2005).

Kari Syvänen: Vastatunteiden dynamiikka musiikkiterapiassa (The dynamics of counter-emotions in music therapy, University of Jyväskylä 2005).

Popular music

Jouni Koskimäki:Happiness Is … a Good Transcription – Reconsidering the Beatles’ Sheet Music Publications (University of Jyväskylä 2006).


Susanna Välimäki: Subject strategies in music: A psychoanalytic approach to musical signification (University of Helsinki 2005).


Timo Virtanen: Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 3: Manuscript study and analysis (Sibelius Academy 2005).

Satoru Kambe: Jean Sibelius’s Kullervo and Lemminkäinen. Form, Image and Musical Narrative (University of Helsinki 2005).

Sonic environment

Heikki Uimonen: Towards the sound: Listening, change and the meaning in the sonic environment (University of Tampere 2005).


Translation: Susan Sinisalo