Have you ever tried making music out of a A4 sized piece of paper? Probably not, but sound artist and composer Tytti Arola has – and that's just one example of Arola's fearless and open minded approach to contemporary music, others include her collaborations with jazz ensembles, choral groups and visual artists.
”I define sound art simply as art making through sound. I identify myself as a sound artist, even though I am also a composer, musician and music teacher” says Tytti Arola, a Finnish artist working with sound in various domains from solo pieces via ensemble works to installations.
Arola’s most recent work has seen her collaborate with jazz big band Sointi Jazz Orchestra, visual artist Tuula Närhinen and Turku Conservatory Chamber Choir. Reading her extensive CV, one instantly forms an image of an open-minded artist readily nurturing her own ideas in the fertile ground of collaboration.
”In my career so far, I have been very open towards making all kinds of projects. I’m interested in working with other people and whenever someone suggests collaboration, I’m always flattered and excited” Arola confirms.
”In general, I’m pretty fearless of saying yes to things and I think saying yes has been one of the most important decisions I have taken.”
”This year I have been working a lot with composition commissions and collaborations. When working on a commission, the process usually starts in dialogue with the performer or collaborator, and then I have an open-minded thinking session by myself about how to make these preconditions to resonate with my own artistic ideas. Usually I like to work on the material hands-on.”
Sateentekijät (2020) is a composition for hands and gloves. The piece contains three movements: Vettä, Räntää and Lunta. Each of the movements gives an interpretation of weather conditions by mimicking the sounds of rain, sleet and snow through simple and relatable hand gestures. The actions create soundscapes which are emphasized and varied by using gloves made of different materials. The project is a collaboration between sound artist Tytti Arola and visual artist Tuula Närhinen. Performance by: Tytti Arola
Blank papers and forest scents
Arola mentions a recent example of her concrete process of finding new meanings and resonances within the familiar.
”During the composition process of Paperi (Finnish for ’Paper’), I was trying to make a A4-sized paper sound and look interesting, and then find a way to combine that with a choral work, for example how can I make paper to vibrate from voice?”
It feels natural that Arola’s multidisciplinary work involves also rethinking not only sounds we
thought we knew, but also the very act of sharing music and all that comes with it. She mentions the collaborative exchange and the development of the roles of the composer and the performer as being important, but also extends the desire to blur traditional roles into the audience.
I’m interested in working with other people and whenever someone suggests collaboration, I’m always flattered and excited.
”One beautiful moment happened in London in 2017 during Nordic Music Days-festival, where my piece Metsä (Finnish for ’Forest’) for solo violin, electronics and forest scent was played. In the rehearsals the violinist of Distractfold Ensemble, Linda Jankowska, suggested that the smell element of the piece, glass jars filled with tree leaves, would be passed around in the audience during the piece in order to try out the different scent combinations found in the jars. In the concert I witnessed something that I found absolutely beautiful: strangers sitting next to each other sharing a small moment while passing the glass jars from one to other. That was an eye-opening moment which made me realize that even a simple action like that could enhance the feeling of togetherness in a concert.”
Metsä (2016) is a piece for violin, electronics and scent of forest.
The audience can smell the scent of forest by opening glass jars that are filled with tree leaves, plants and soil.
Performance by: Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Kimmo Antikainen (electronics) at Meidän festivaali 2018 in Ainola, the home of Jean Sibelius.
Multisensory phenomena within music
The example is testament to Arola’s approach of looking at the context of the performance at large as something with the potential to create experiences far deeper than the standard act of performing and receiving. This might involve innovative approaches to sound, but also to other sensory elements such as smell.
”For me, music is a multisensory phenomenon that we can perceive with many senses, even though often the auditory information gets most of the attention” she says.
”Lately, I’ve been drawn towards performance art and I’ve been thinking a lot about what the body does and feels while performing, which has made the sensory focus to concentrate on the visual, the proprioceptive and postural aspects. I’ve found it liberating to kind of reverse the idea of how music is made, to think of movement as the starting point and the sounds as the desired outcome.”
For me, music is a multisensory phenomenon that we can perceive with many senses, even though often the auditory information gets most of the attention.
It’s fascinating to follow Tytti Arola’s work, full of surprising connections made natural through her vision and to see how these collaborations shape perspectives on broader themes, as well. It all adds up to the profile of the contemporary sound artist as someone whose art lives from the challenge of the unmapped, no matter what practical challenges the ever-changing concepts might present. This requires a constant re-evaluation of the very position of the artist herself.
”I’ve been labeling myself as sound artist for last couple of years, because calling myself composer seems too narrow to me” Arola says.
”I find comfort in that title, I think I can be first and foremost an artist, who explores sound in many ways – by experimenting both with performing and composing.”
Robottikuoro (2019) is an interactive sound and light installation consisting of 20 speakers and led light tubes. The project is a collaboration between sound artist Tytti Arola and creative studio Counterpoint.