Artistic Vision: Sami Klemola's thematic big picture leads Tampere Biennale festival

Composing in relation to designing the program for a festival. Like day to night or the two sides of a coin? Depends on who you ask, really. If the one answering is Sami Klemola, the outcome is clear. Common denominators are the name of the game for this composer doubling as the artistic director of the Tampere Biennale.

”For me, planning a concert is actually very close to the act of composing. A festival director’s main task is to see how various bits and pieces fit together and form interesting wholes and entities. A composer is faced with questions that are exactly similar.”

However, there are some important differences too. Klemola sees festival organizing as something exceptionally entertaining and fun. This is not usually the case with composing which can be very distressing at times.

Sat at the ”Think Corner” Café of the Helsinki University whilst conducting this interview, Klemola began to ponder on the possibilities of the space in musical use. What kind of an event would work in this modern space of wooden panels and vast vaults of glass? Such behaviour is quite descriptive for Klemola, because architecture generally is a source of inspiration for him.

As verified by his works that often occupy the zone in between acoustic concert music and electronic soundscapes, Klemola has always been fascinated with interdicplinary arts. Sound art is a term often used in visual arts as well. Influenced by minimalism, Klemola’s music contains energy that shifts between being hidden away amongst the tonal tapestries to bursting out with violent, brutal force.

Another area of interest is counterpoint. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Klemola admits to relaxing best by listening to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Nevertheless, he sees counterpoint as a tool in a more philosophical than practical sense.

”When creating musical tension, my square one is not always a clear harmonic structure. Among other things, I am interested in blocked chord situations, the shapes and characters of separate tones and the transparency of the sonic fabric.”


Inspired by basements, layers and interfaces 

The tenure of the artistic director at the Tampere Biennale is two festivals. Klemola describes his inaugural event, the Biennale of 2016, as carnivalistic in concept.  For the theme of 2018, Free Radicals, he wanted to introduce performance art and sound theater into the program. One of the attractions concentrates on how kinetic, i.e. movement-based, art relates to music.

”I view the festival theme as an umbrella of sorts under which I have collected interesting phenomena that in my opinion also function as a thematic whole.”

By choosing the title Free Radicals Klemola wanted to highlight not only the importance and necessity of art as a mental asset, but also the autonomous state which is required for making any kind of art. In addition, the concept is naturally familiar from cellular biology. Free radicals are vital atoms and molecules which maintain the balance of the human body and thus keep it in sound health.

Klemola prefers to underline content rather than people when designing events.

”Hit composers as such don’t actually impress me much. I’m more interested in what lurks in the basements and the grey areas between genres.”

This year’s program at the Tampere Biennale boasts of no less than fifteen premieres. Among them are commissions by the festival, such as the sound installation Lintukoto by Max Savikangas and Taz by Veli Kujala, and an orchestral piece commisioned from Kimmo Kuokkala for the Tampere Philharmonia.

Klemola makes it clear that he has given the composers no orders or directions, just a little wishful input.

”I instructed Savikangas that his installion should rotate freely in the gallery space. To Kuokkala I think I said that the theme of the event is connected to movement and that he can introduce this idea into his piece if he wishes to.”

The artistic director gives a separate mention to the events and happenings in the clubs of Tampere at night. He says that Dxxxa D & Nukkehallitus and Draama-Helmi are among the most interesting rappers in Finland at the moment.

”Actually, I’m not quite sure if even such a vast and varied genre as hip hop is the all-encompassing header here, but they come from the tradition of experimentalism and share a very stimulating relationship to sound.”

No boundaries set by electronics

Sami Klemola’s path to becoming a composer and the artistic director of the Tampere Biennale has been all but straightforward.

”I have no music college background and I've only learned to read and write music in my twenties. My teenage years were spent with heavy metal.”

After studying classical guitar in Jyväskylä for a few years, Klemola enrolled at the composing class of the Sibelius Academy and went on to further hone his skills in Amsterdam and Paris.

Klemola is a teacher of music technology and the founder of defunensemble, a team specializing in electro-acoustic music. This means that he accepts and embraces raw material both from the ”plugged” and the ”unplugged” world. However, he somewhat unorthodoxically confesses to finding more opportunities for expression in the electronic realm.

”With electronics, the possibilities for orchestration are practically unlimited. But generally speaking, I’m interested in all tones. From a compositional viewpoint I really don’t care whether a sound originates from a classical instrument or an electronic device.” 

The Tampere Biennale runs until the 15th of April 2018. 

Browse Sami Klemola's works on Music Finland's Composers & Repertoire site.

fact file

Sami Klemola

A composer and guitarist born in 1973, resides currently in Helsinki | Known for his versatile output in which music technology plays a vital role. His oeuvre includes sound art, installations and traditional compositions | Founder and co-ordinator of the electro-acoustic group defunensemble | Artistic director of the Tampere Biennale in 2016 and 2018 | Producer of the soundscape at the Finnish Pavilion during the Shanghai Expo 2010
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