Ecological themes and the anatomy of sound – Ville Raasakka’s immersive music
Ville Raasakka composes music that brings a variety of places and spaces to the listener. Ecological themes, site-specific and situation-specific recordings, and a hyper-realistic examination of ordinary sounds are common denominators of his compositions. During the pandemic, Raasakka's compositions have been played extensively around the world.
“The music surrounds the listener.”
The saying has been used before, but it seems to fit in regard to Ville Raasakka's compositions. When listening to Raasakka’s works, the impression of being surrounded is amazingly powerful: the compositions seem to bring a place and space to the listener in the concert hall.
Some of the spaces and places created by music feel so familiar that the senses are confused. For example, when listening to Everyday Etudes No.3: Fireplace, I clearly sensed the smell of sulphur from scratching a match.
“I’ve often received that kind of feedback, that the place [the subject of each composition] seems to be coming into the concert hall. It's a bit like single-channel immersion, through sound,” says Raasakka.
Raasakka has always been interested in everyday sounds as building blocks for music. In that sense, his production is related to the musique concrète tradition, but also to hyperrealism, a visual art trend that emerged in the 1970s. In addition to instruments, works often contain objects and recordings, both site-specific and situation-specific.
Raasakka has processed the recordings by slowing down, “enlarging” certain details, processing them with sound analysis and processing programmes developed at the Ircam institute in Paris, and notating them for acoustic instruments. He has been working in this way since his master’s degree studies, for about 15 years, but the outcomes vary greatly depending on the methods and configurations.
Freer expression in the pandemic era
Ville Raasakka feels that he has developed significantly as a composer over the last couple of years.
“My expression has been freed up, which is really a paradox since the pandemic has been so oppressive for musicians and others.
The music industry has been depressed, and of course that has affected me, too,” says Raasakka.
"Working has been a lifeline for me, and maybe therefore my expression has become more musical, more positive and warm in its tone."
Raasakka has also had a surprising number of performances during the pandemic. His works have been performed in about 50 concerts in Finland and elsewhere in 2020-21. Some of the performances have been streamed or postponed indefinitely, but there have also been live concerts.
Working has been a lifeline for me, and maybe therefore my expression has become more musical, more positive and warm in its tone.
For example, in late October, Janne Valkeajoki and the group der/gelbe/Klang premiered his accordion concerto Weary Insects in the Wind (2020) at the Tage der Neuen Musik Bamberg festival in Germany. The following month, a composition concert for Raasakka's artistic doctoral degree was held at the Helsinki Music Centre (see the video embedded below).
In March 2022, the chamber orchestral work The Harvest (2020), written for the Klangforum Wien & NYKY Ensemble, will premiere at the Konzerthaus Wien. In April, an extensive song cycle entitled Steam Engine (2021), written for soprano Olga Heikkilä and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, will premiere at the House of Nobility in Helsinki.
There are also plans for a full-length opera based on the themes of Emmi Itäranta’s eco-feminist novel The City of Woven Streets, created in collaboration with the author.
"Emmi's text itself is full of sounds, images and tactile feeling, and music adds even more immersion to it," he says.
Production negotiations are underway, aiming at a premiere in 2024.
Coal, Wood, Oil
Almost all of Raasakka’s compositions have an ecological theme. Some take on issues related to consumption, for instance. Recently, Raasakka has focused on materials that are relevant to the climate crisis, such as coal, wood and oil.
In addition to climate-related challenges, he is also interested in these materials in terms of the sounds they can create.
“Coal, wood and oil are sonically diverse and rich. They contain liquid, porous and solid materials that can be used and handled in many ways,” he notes.
The works include the extraction of materials, the use of energy and products, and their decomposition back into the environment.
Raasakka also chose Coal, Wood, Oil as the theme of his doctoral work. The work includes a portfolio and a monograph analysing his working process as well as the doctoral concert. The whole includes 12 compositions related to these three materials.
In Raasakka’s view, they form a systematic, coherent entity:
“The works include the extraction of materials, the use of energy and products, and their decomposition back into the environment,” he explains.
Raising key issues through art
Raasakka has been asked whether his music takes a stand or simply describes the world. As he sees it, the question is misguided, because good art involves not only its internal impact but also its unforeseen consequences.
“A good work of art always affects its audience, even if the creator wants their work to remain in the world of art,” he says.
“The effect may be something else – perhaps more universal than the author intended.”
With his own work, Raasakka does not aim to preach, but rather to spur the audience to consider the themes behind the compositions. ‘
We live in such a society of constant communication that perhaps there should be a conversation and connection between creators, performers and audiences.
“I may be naive, but I think these environmental themes are already clear to the public today,” he says.
“It’s no longer necessary to explain everything from scratch, but instead to activate the listeners toward communal action. For me, performances are opportunities to raise important issues. ”
Raasakka is interested in the changing relationship between audience, creator and performer, both as an enabler and a phenomenon of new types of joint works.
“I think the field of art music, and more broadly the whole field of art, should reflect on its activities in this era. For instance: why are concerts held, what are they like and why people attend them? Why are pieces composed and for whom? Who commissions them, and from whom? We live in such a society of constant communication that perhaps there should be a conversation and connection between creators, performers and audiences.”
Browse Ville Raasakka's works at Music Finland's Composers & Repertoire site.