BY Merja Hottinen
Signmark, the deaf Finnish rap artist, recently voiced his discontent with the distribution of performing artist royalties for his discs. He complained that he is not being awarded royalties as a performing artist because signlanguage rap produces no sound on the recordings. The sound we hear is produced by another musician who interprets the sign language into audible sounds.
Signmark himself insists that what he is making with sign language is music and not, say, visual performance art. Many people commenting on his situation seem to agree. Indeed, this case highlights an interesting semantic distinction: what do we consider music? Regulations concerning royalties are rooted in a traditional conception of what music is and what a performing musician does, but at the common-sense level we are coming around to accepting that a musical performance does not necessarily have to involve sound. Perhaps we are learning to think outside the box and look into the grey areas between categories and boundaries with an open mind.
It is particularly in the margins between branches of the arts that new artistic solutions are emerging. In many joint projects, the music can no longer be considered a separable element like a film soundtrack. This is apparent for instance in stage poetry, where the musical element is built into the rhythms and use of voice and would not exist outside the context of the poetry performed.
There is also an increasing number of multi-genre artists exploring the in-between dimensions. In part, this trend has been enabled by technology: one no longer has to be a Renaissance polymath in order to create music or visual art at a professional level of excellence, as there are now tools enabling creative artists to embrace any medium that their artistic expression requires.
And while all this is going on, we the listeners can seek to explore the boundaries of our conception of music. Is there rhythm in a drawing or colour in a sound? Are there tunes in our everyday soundscape? Or stories in a melodic line?
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi