Artistic Vision: Outi Tarkiainen between two worlds

Interviewing composer Outi Tarkiainen at Helsinki Airport seems natural. For her, the airport is a regular gateway between north and south.

Descriptions of Tarkiainen’s compositions usually refer to her hometown of Rovaniemi in the Arctic region, and the fells of Finnish Lapland with their rugged landscapes and wild nature.

“In Lapland, my thoughts flow freely,” she says. “In the fells, you can see and walk far. It’s the realm of the free winds. I use a wide range of registers, which perhaps symbolises the spaciousness of the North.”

Light is also important. Up north, it’s different from day to night, and at different times of the year.

North is only one of Tarkiainen’s dimensions, though. There is also much that is urban in her.

“At the end of the day, I’m more of a city person than a nature person. I’ve spent long periods of time in places like Paris and Berlin.” 

Contemporary circus brings an element of absurdity

Outi Tarkiainen serves as artistic director of the Silence Festival along with circus artist Henna Kaikula. The festival takes place in June in Kaukonen, a small village about 20 km south of Kittilä, Lapland. Locals call it “a village of 160 smokes”.

Examining the boundaries of music and other performing arts is part of the Silence Festival concept.

“Kaikula and I collaborate, and we also curate our own entities. It’s interesting to watch as creators and genres of art encounter each other. We put artists together to collaborate, regardless of whether they have even met before the festival,” she says.

When professionals from different fields communicate, their contact may produce surprises.

“Contemporary circus can bring an element of the absurd, for instance – that goes with the music or against it.”

Tarkiainen cites an example from the 2017 festival, when a work entitled KWALK by the Uusinta Ensemble and the Kallo Collective brought together contemporary music and clownery.

“I’ve never heard a concert audience laugh so much,” she says.

Unfolding on the spot

The key work during the 2018 Silence Festival, says Tarkiainen, is Light and Shadows, an ensemble of works taking place in and around the buildings of the Särestöniemi Museum, the home and studio of the late painter Reidar Särestöniemi. Performers include the Swedish contemporary music group the Curious Chamber Players, soprano Tuuli Lindeberg and aerial acrobats Viivi Roiha and Salla Hakanpää – the latter of whom could also be called a water acrobat. Light and Shadows launches Seasons of Silence, a series of five multi-genre concerts to be held at the site at different times of the year. 

Tarkiainen invites broadminded artists to the Silence Festival, ones who are prepared to adapt to new circumstances. The concerts are experimental, with many aspects unfolding on the spot.

When commissioning compositions, Tarkiainen seeks to give as much of a free hand as possible.

 “Then you get works that the composers really want to do for that framework,” she observes. 

Festival work and composition do not have much in common, as Tarkiainen sees it.

“They are actually opposite things. They both include coming up with ideas, but as a composer your work has more to do with creative resources. Working as an artistic direction involves bringing elements together, diplomacy and tracking things down.”

Towards a synthetic style

The combination of two different worlds, modal jazz and modern art music, makes Tarkiainen’s compositional output exciting. In her earliest work, these traditions appeared separately, but since then Tarkiainen has aimed for a synthetic style. She sees her work Into the Woodland Silence, premiered by the UMO Jazz Orchestra in 2010, as a turning point. 

“After a jazz period and a purist modernist phase, I have found ways to combine different traditions at a deep level,” says Tarkiainen.

Tarkiainen’s concert music features strong rhythmic structures, which she describes as “organic polyrhythm”.

“Polyrhythm and metric modulations are natural for me,” she says. “Jazz has also given me a way to approach modality and tonalities. Combining modes with dodecaphony is typical for me.”

Timbres are also important. Tarkiainen often uses quarter-tones for timbral effects.

“The human voice is important, and in a certain sense it is also part of my instrumental music, which can be quite song-like.”

As evening approaches, Tarkiainen gathers her luggage and heads toward her departure gate. The evening flight to Rovaniemi, some 800 km away, awaits. For Tarkiainen, wandering between two worlds takes place both compositionally and geographically.

“I come to the south regularly, but on the other hand I may spend months at a time in Lapland while composing. For instance, I have composed in Skibotn, Norway, on the Arctic Ocean.”

Best of all, says Tarkiainen, is spending time in big cities and then heading up north to digest all that one has experienced in peace and quiet.

Silence Festival, 6-10 June 2018 in Kittilä, Finnish Lapland.

View Outi Tarkiainen's profile and works on Music Finland's Composers & Repertoire site.

Outi Tarkiainen

  • Born 1985 in Rovaniemi, Lapland. Lives in Rovaniemi.
  • Studied composition at the Sibelius Academy, first in the jazz department and later in the art music department.
  • Composer of orchestral, vocal and chamber music as well as works for solo instruments. Influences include modal jazz.
  • Tarkiainen’s works have been performed by the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, the Arctic Philharmonic (Norway), Norrbottens Kammarorkester (Sweden), the Metropole Orchestra (the Netherlands), the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra and others.
  • Artistic director of the Silence Festival since 2014.