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Guest column: A look out of the box

by Paola Livorsi

"Here in Finland there are places for innovative thinking, and it’s maybe not by accident that they are also multiculturally oriented. The music scene in Helsinki is changing,"writes composer Paola Livorsi in her column for FMQ.
In a rapidly changing world, we often hear about identities that need to be reshaped. Composers are no exception: instead of the Romantic hero model, it would be healthier to come to see him/her as an artist among others, with music as one of many means of expression.

How much is our thought connected with our bodies? How can we use new media in connection with other arts? Is there a gap between what has been done in visual arts and media and what is going on in contemporary music? Innovation is interesting as it helps to create more awareness in citizens, offers new models and invites us to share our experiences and researches.

As Pasolini said in Corsair Writings: “I don’t have any authority, except for the one which paradoxically comes from not having it or not having wanted it; from putting myself in the condition of having nothing to lose, not to be faithful to any pact except the one with the reader, whom I consider worthy of the most scandalous research.”

Do we consider the listener worthy of research today? During recent decades many voices have arisen against this attitude, seeking more to please the listener than to make him/her experience something new. The same happens on a large scale in our societies: we are more often invited to forget what is unpleasant than to become more aware.

But if “Beauty is an experience of self-intoxication or awakening, the question is whether, and to what degree, human beings are willing and able to look squarely at their own contradictions and to remain vigilant in full consciousness of this contradiction with respect to what they do,” as Lachenmann put it.

Space has become a central issue in contemporary art; in music as well. Since the pioneering age of composers such as Nono, digital technology has seen a huge development. But, as in other domains of life, the question arises: how much has our thought advanced, in comparison with our technology?


Here in Finland there are places for innovative thinking, and it’s maybe not by accident that they are also multiculturally oriented.

The Aalto University Media Lab is a good example. Students and teachers come from mixed backgrounds, and interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged. Media art is one of the growing fields, with its interactive technologies.

The recent union between the Academy of Fine Arts, the Sibelius Academy and Aalto University will hopefully foster innovative practices in numerous fields, including music. One of the ideas of makers’ culture is to produce in an independent and targeted way – for example with 3D printers or promoting open-source practices – which can change the way we look at and shape our societies.

The Centre for Music & Technology at the Sibelius Academy is now being led by a media and sound artist, Marianne Decoster-Taivalkoski. When she undertook the task in autumn 2013, she had two main ideas in mind: to be interdisciplinary – that is, enabling artists to share what they do and their experiences (and international backgrounds) – and to open the doors to young women: she is the first woman to lead the department, which currently counts only three girls out of about sixty students.

Marianne Decoster-Taivalkoski says: “Often girls are interested in sound in relation to society. We listen through our whole body; our memory and experiences influence the way we listen.”

In Marianne’s art, too, the body and multisensoriality come into play. In her performances she can make sound out of her hair, as in the MuTeFest 2013 (a festival that has been organised for 15 years by the Centre for Music & Technology), or with her hands, for example playing glass vases, as she did in her own house in Helsinki in February 2014.

It was the second of a new series of home concerts, an idea born of her interest in space and its interactions with art and sound. An apartment with many communicating rooms and a wooden floor is the right place to give birth to unexpected resonances. And, as Juho Laitinen, invited to participate both as a performer and curator, says, “a place where musicians and audience can share the experience of making music together” – unlike the usual concert situation, where we are separated and often far from each other. (Juho completed his doctorate on this subject, the Manifesto of Sounding)


The music scene in Helsinki is changing. Juho Laitinen has founded two festivals of alternative music, Kallio New Music Days and the concert series Tulkinnanvaraista (Open to Interpretation). In this way he has created a platform to listen to other music, such as Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room, in which space becomes a resonator, and music by Feldman, Cage, Tiensuu, Niblock and Wolff, to mention just a few.

Tulkinnanvaraista opens the music scene to artists from abroad such as the Berlin experimental milieu among others – a considerable aesthetic change, compared to the usual musical offering in Helsinki. And while young ensembles like Defunensemble and Uusinta are also animating the Finnish scene, it’s becoming more international, with an increasing number of foreign artists.

Last year saw the founding of Catalysti, a new group of transcultural artists. The idea is to give voice to and make more visible professionals in all fields of art, who have been active in Finland for years but who don’t always integrate easily because of linguistic barriers and cultural differences.

Catalysti promotes diversity in all its forms. On 20 March it participated in the EU Week Against Racism with “Including…”, a multimedia event at the Dubrovnik Lounge, Helsinki.


Composer Paola Livorsi, born in 1967 in Italy, has lived and worked in Helsinki since 2001. Her music has been performed in Finland, France, Germany and Italy. Paola Livorsi is interested in multidisciplinary projects and collaborates with the Aalto University Media Lab and the Sibelius Academy.

On 3 May 2014 Paola Livorsi’s music was performed at the Circolo dei lettori, Turin (Italy), in The Job Experience theatre event, based on the book by Giorgio Tricarico and Giuseppe M. Vadalà. Giorgio Tricarico is a Jungian analyst who has lived and worked in Helsinki since 2009. Job Experience is a dialogue about the problem of evil, seen from a psychoanalytical and philosophical point of view.

Paola Livorsi’s future commissions include a cycle of pieces on poems by Eihei Dogen and Emily Dickinson (for soprano Tuuli Lindeberg and guitarist Petri Kumela), a new dance piece, Riemu (Joy), with choreographer Gabriela Aldana Kekoni, and a setting of Psalm 126 for the Kaamos Chamber Choir.

Photo: Saara Vuorjoki/Fimic