Lauri Supponen – Composer as a deep listener

Lauri Supponen’s works include installations, DIY electronics and performance art. To him, being a composer means constantly reconsidering the premises of his work. It is a never-ending process.

Many Finnish composers struggle with how to gain visibility abroad, but for Lauri Supponen, the situation has been quite the opposite: How does one create networks in Finland after growing up in Brussels and studying in Berlin and London? Supponen has been living in Finland for ten years now. In that time, he has not only established himself in the Finnish music and art scene, but he has also changed a lot as a composer.

“Ten years ago, I was doing my bachelor’s studies in London and still relied on systematic composition: structures and maps. These days, I work more intuitively and engage in more mental work”, Supponen summarises.

The mental work often includes experimental exploration. It can also involve questioning and justifying one’s own work, which Supponen says is typical for him.

“Nowadays, I don’t allow myself to compose until I have asked myself why I’m planning to compose for this particular ensemble or in this form. Maybe I should spend more time composing than thinking about composing, but this is an essential part of my composition process”, he says with a smile.

Towards conceptual music

Supponen’s works use the traditional tools of a composer, music paper and staves, but the end result is something very different from classical concert pieces. They might involve building wind instruments from garden hoses (Ave Maris Stella, 2019) or utilising methods of contemporary dance (Mouthpiece, 2020). Installation, performance art and collective cooperation are characteristic for his composition.

“For me, a collective approach has value in itself, and it still doesn’t rule out independent work. It’s beautiful when six people come together and bring forth a single idea, instead of everyone delivering a different one. There is also something ecological about it.”

Supponen has collaborated with choreographers and dramaturges, for example, and he engages in close dialogue with the musicians performing his works. For example, the open-minded saxophone ensemble Saxtronauts has been an inspiring partner for him to work with.

“I consider myself an artisan. The means, not the concepts, have been of primary importance for me."

The collaboration with the visual artist Jonna Kina since 2017 has also been pivotal for Supponen’s work. He has several joint works with her that have been on display in galleries, most recently at KUMU in Tallinn in August 2022. In the dance piece Mouthpiece, Supponen saw himself as a facilitator and concept creator rather than as a composer.

“I consider myself an artisan. The means, not the concepts, have been of primary importance for me. However, I'm now constantly moving in a more conceptual direction, and Jonna has been very important in that”, Supponen reflects.

Realised with the Saxtronauts ensemble, Ave Maris Stella was a strongly conceptual piece in which Supponen worked not only on the level of sound, but also with the visual and performative aspects, all the way to staging. In the piece, a vision of an old-time mathematician’s study with its calculating machines crossed paths with feelings evoked by the Marian tradition and Renaissance music.

Watch a video recording of Ave Maris Stella.

The art of listening

For a long time now, Lauri Supponen has been reflecting the social significance of a composer’s work. His works have already included social dimensions, but last autumn, he found a way to frame his social goal in a way that felt good.

“Instead of thinking about the social significance of a composer, we should think about the social significance of imagination and listening”, he says. “Those are things I can respond to hands-on, by composing.”

This realisation eased the pain of combining his ideology with art making. By developing one's imagination, it is possible to imagine alternative ways of organising society. Supponen considers this the key task of art. Developing listening, on the other hand, is something that a composer specifically can tackle.

“Instead of thinking about the social significance of a composer, we should think about the social significance of imagination and listening.”

“Listening is undervalued in our society. There can be no Marvel superhero whose superpower is listening. It’s seen as passive, even though it’s not”, says Supponen with excitement. “‘Can you stop war by listening?’ is perhaps the most naive phrase possible, but it has some truth to it. I believe that a renaissance of soft values and listening is coming.”

Listening not only means being mindful of others and striving for understanding, but also avoiding noise and maintaining focus. In his work Circulating mouthpiece, Supponen transcribed sounds made by the pressurised ventilation system in his home into the work. In a piece he has been working on lately, Supponen is fostering the idea of a composition that can help the listener with listening itself.

“I want to develop expression that creates a space that allows the listener to become aware of their listening process. It’s also about psychoacoustics, or sounds that don’t actually exist: for example, chorales in the ventilation noises.”

Building networks for life

This year, Supponen’s works will be performed at Norway’s Ultima festival and in Denmark, for example. In March, he was featured at one of Finland’s most important contemporary music events, the Musica nova Helsinki festival. Aaltoliike, a piece created with composer Riikka Talvitie and first performed at the 2021 Our Festival, returns on stage in May at a seminar organised by the activist music research association Suoni. The Baltic Sea-themed work fuses together a string quartet, video, audiotape and comments from the test audience, and its concept was created together with musicologist Juha Torvinen.

“I’ve travelled a lot for residencies and at festivals. If it’s possible to travel, you should not just wait for impulses in your home country. I have extensive international networks, but for me they mean living my life and having friends rather than advancing my career”, he describes.

"Rather few composers manage to build an international career without first making a name in their home country – but especially those composers with international acclaim are acknowledged in Finland."

Music Finland played an important role in Supponen’s settling into the Finnish music scene. After graduating from the Sibelius Academy with a master’s degree, he worked for a year at Music Finland, gaining meaningful contacts and a family-like community. Currently he is also part of Music Finland’s Lentoon and Northern Connection mentoring programmes.

“I find Finns’ relationship with internationalisation a bit paradoxical”, Supponen ponders.

“On the one hand, rather few manage to build an international career without first making a name for themselves in their home country. On the other hand, especially those composers with international acclaim are acknowledged in Finland.”

Upcoming releases and performances:

1st June
Solsirépifpan album release – Harri Kuusijärvi, accordion etc. More info.

8th and 10th June
Solsirépifpan album release concerts
with Harri Kuusijärvi, Kittilä FIN / Hiljaisuus-festivaali

19th and 22nd September
Oraakkeli (working title), Irene Suosalo, Kalle Hakosalo, DR Vokalensemblet, DKDM & DR Studie 2, Copenhagen DK

23rd September
north, Ensemble Temporum, Kulturkirken Jakob, Oslo NO / Ultima-festivalen

Lauri Supponen's website.
Browse Lauri Supponen's works at Music Finland core