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Äänen Lumo Festival: Gut instinct and dreams

img  Tobias Fischer

Why did the time seem right for organising your first festival?
Since Äänen Lumo is a non-profit organization with a voluntary workforce, we wanted to concentrate on one bigger event. This has to do with funding as well: a festival is, conceptually, probably easier on the eyes than a fuzzy combination of small events. A big generational shift has taken place in our ranks, and after that I wanted to took a break with Äänen Lumo. Soon after, I started to put this festival together as a way to see where we are and what we can do. This was in 2008. The festival is planned to be a bi-annual event, so we’ll have time to pick the good ideas from the rest.
Secondly, I felt like there was a need for a festival in Finland that would bring together artists working with sound, especially since the legendary Avanto festival had ceased to exist. I’ve received considerable help from some of those people, so a warm thank you is surely in order!
Thirdly, the festival allows us to do a bunch of things at the same time: installations, concerts, workshops, commissioned pieces and more. But I’m not sure if this is something we will repeat as such. I hope we can re-create this with the spirit that everything can be changed if necessary.

What kind of events had you been organizing previously?
Our history has consisted most of all of concerts, with the idea being to present experimental and daring music in Finland, mostly of the electronic and electro-acoustic kind. Artists have included Phill Niblock, Kaffe Matthews, Pekka Airaksinen, Islaja, Morton Subotnik, Erkki Kurenniemi, Pain Jerk, Dror Feiler, Keith Rowe, Kuupuu, Florian Hecker and others. Additionally, we’ve worked with galleries and other institutions in some collaborative projects, like workshops.

What makes Sound Art, as the organisation's name implies, so „charming“?

I hope that in the future, our festival will turn into a laboratory for artists who want to experiment and push forward our understanding of what it means to experience sound, to be in it. So the charm of sound for me that it filters you. You listen through, not to it. This is something I (probably incorrectly) have picked up from Tim Ingold’s excellent “Against soundscape” article. Sound art as a term, on the other hand, seems to describe a period, like classical minimalism. All theses terms like media art, video art etc. are always sort of under the gun and under scrutiny of whether they are needed or not.

Sound Art has certainly gained a lot of interest over the past years, mainly by aggregating local scenes spread out across the globe. On a local level,   meanwhile, most concerts are still visited by a handful of initiated listeners. How are you trying to avoid this dilemma and present the music to a wider audience?
Next year, we're organizing a series of concerts. Our aim is find new places for new music: What's the most stimulating or the most fitting space for experimental new music? Hopefully, this will lead new audiences to new music. But in the end, not everything is for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with things being marginal. It really is an enigma, though: How to reach people without compromising? I guess every producer/curator/promoter dreams of everyone getting it, be it an event, an artist or an artwork. To have people dancing like maniacs to a noisy static, or whatever.

You've mentioned that „sound as art is something very new in Finland“. Does this situation – next to some problematic aspects – not also present unique chances in terms of a clean slate?
For clarity's sake, I understand sound art to differ from music. But I don't wanna go too deep into definitions... So yes, it is a very good opportunity to present works that deal with sound without going down all the usual routes. This goes together with what we talked about with regards to reaching out vs. staying under. With a clean slate, you can pretty much choose the best way to present things, or at least try to do so. Of course there's always preconceptions and people want categories and analogies. Our aim is to present our festival as an art festival first and foremost, which happens to deal with sound. How this will work is anybody's guess. I think we'll know better after 5 of these things have past. Check back in 2018! (laughs)

How did you avoid the danger of the program  being entirely random?
Maybe we didn't, hah. It is quite messy, And it could be much more of a mess and I still wouldn't mind. I do enjoy to see how things start to make sense. Like how all the works presented in Kiasmas' Mediatheque deal with repetition and, in some ways, with signal to noise ratio. And the duets: Schmickler & Lehn and Tony Buck & Magda Mayas, or the rhythm of DJ Sniff with the rhythm of David Toop. For me, Mr. Toop is the best possible guest for our festival, since his work celebrates the endless richness and unpredictability of sound.
The programme for Sat 13 Nov show is telling, too: composer Shinji Kanki making an army of art students to play out Sun Tzu’s Art of War in response to the situation with immigrant artists in Finland, followed by Hertta Lussu Ässä’s (Kuupuu, Islaja, Lau Nau) operatic tapestry and, lastly, a tape piece by Heidi Lind & Masi Tiitta depicting the bizarre world of flying.

What were considerations with regards to the line-up, then?

Gut instinct and dreams. And, much later, all the practical factors jump in. This may cause problems... But I don’t think things should always start with economics. That may freeze things before they’re even born.

What kind of spaces are you using for this year's festival?

The installations in Kiasma’s Mediatheque room profit from the intimacy of that small, dry room. Myllysali hall in Suomenlinna island is a beautiful, reverberant old stone building, and I can’t wait to hear Marcus Schmickler & Thomas Lehn performance and Tommi Keränen’s new work there on! Later that day, Sunday 14 Nov, the sunstroked pop of Tenniscoats will bounce from those same walls. Bob Levene is doing an outdoors piece on the island for Sunday, too. When we were rehearsing, it made a lot of sense to have it in there. Then there’s the darkened Orion movie theater. Let’s just say the concert on Monday 8 Nov will grow from darkness into light...
But as I mentioned earlier, we really like to find the most suitable places for the artists & works we present. I’m very happy that two of Florian Hecker’s pieces are placed in the first floor of Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, where people can easily access the works and try them out.

Experimental music, just as any explorative art, benefits from increased exposure and a deeper understanding. Are you under the impression that 15  years of work have actually had an effect?
I asked the pioneer of the scene, Petri Kuljuntausta about this. He is one of the founders of Äänen Lumo and recognized internationally for his releases and articles. From my talk with him, I gathered that organizations like this one have undoubtedly pumped some fresh air in the discourse around sound as art. Nobody finds laptops strange as they did still 10 years ago in Finland. Bigger agents, like IHME days, have focused in sound recently. So things have evolved, or spread. But this is a global phenomenon for sure.
One thing that has changed is Äänen Lumo’s position in the arts scene here in Helsinki. When Äänen Lumo started, there were a lot more connections to classical music and, well, music institutions in general. Nowadays most of our collaborators come, or are coming, from media or performance art like MUU.
I guess it’s natural, since for me, it’s not about sound, but experience, perception and energy. And I hope we can work with those who share this view no matter what the medium. In the end it’s about ideas. So maybe sound has gained more momentum because the people working with it have plausible and interesting ideas!

Image by Jani Keronen.

Homepage: Äänen Lumo

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