A hot museum ready to welcome interfaces
Nordic Music Days occupies the brand-new Amos Rex museum.
Text: Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen
The trend in the arts today is to think outside the box. Sound, light and video are materials now habitually shaped even by artists who identify themselves as composers or visual artists. Contemporary music is reaching out and merging with other branches of contemporary art not only through cross-discipline projects but also through the increasing presence of electronics and the emergence of sound art.
Amos Rex is a new museum in Helsinki that only just opened this August. It is an excellent venue for the Nordic Music Days to proclaim the powerful diversity of contemporary classical music. The Bio Rex cinema in the venerable Lasipalatsi [Glass palace] building is now integrated into the museum as a multi-purpose performance space, and the festival is hosting two events there.
Kaj Martin, programme director of Amos Rex, is excited about the collaboration – not least because exploring the Nordic context is an integral part of the museum’s operations, as was the case with the museum’s predecessor, the Amos Anderson Art Museum.
“The events at Bio Rex augment the content of the museum and actually form part of our exhibitions,” says Kaj Martin, noting that the cinema, now fitted with a stage and stage technology, can accommodate any manner of performances from dance to film screenings with live music.
“We were never meant to be a traditional art museum. We aim to be everything but,” says Martin. This is yet another reason why collaboration with a wide range of operators will be part and parcel of what the museum does.
Experimental contemporary art, digitalisation and new media are key elements in the policy of Amos Rex. The inaugural exhibition of the museum encompasses all of these in the form of the immersive media works of the giant Japanese collective teamLab, and experimental multimedia is also very much to the fore at the Nordic Music Days concert at Bio Rex. The interactive teamLab installations invite visitors to step into alternate realities. Music, by definition, requires just such an immersion.
At the extremes of sound
The electroacoustic works featured at the Bio Rex concert break the box of traditional compositions with their use of light and moving images. Lost Boys (2016) by Perttu Haapanen could be seen as physical theatre in another context, its ‘actors’ being a violin, electronics, a video, old office equipment and squeaky toys.
The works by Kaj Duncan David and Maija Hynninen link lights to music in a sculptural way. In Duncan David’s solo performance Relay (2015–2016), the play of light and shadow created by three light bulbs blends with sounds of machine music: the musical material consists of the snaps and pops of the relay switches governing the lights. In Hynninen’s Freedom from Fear (2017), an oboe surrounded by electronics communicates with quotes from the speeches of freedom activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and the lights attached to the loudspeakers surrounding the player react to the sound of the oboe.
Live electronics has a way of detaching music from being purely compositional and migrating it towards spatial, improvisational and material dimensions. The technology is often akin to a non-identical twin of the musician, bringing out new aspects of his or her instrument. Vox Terminus (2015) by Fredrik Gran establishes electronics as a member of a quartet, one instrument among others. The work incorporates features of both music and visual art, as the musicians are called upon to perform using a video projection of an animated score. The audience is able to see and hear how the visual chart transforms into audible sounds.
Performances created here and now by musicians that are different from one concert to the next underline that which is particular for music as an art form: it is created in the moment. Sound art, meanwhile, fluctuates between performance and static object, and works fitting under this banner may be found both in museums and on concert programmes. Indeed, Helsinki is also home to the Akusmata Gallery, which is dedicated to sound art and hosts both exhibitions and gigs. Sound art is also an important part of this Nordic Music Days festival, as a selection of sound installations picked by artistic director Osmo Tapio Räihälä is displayed at the Kiasma Theatre at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Sound art emphasises the material nature of sound. One of the most powerful sound sources is the human voice. The unlimited potential of the human voice is probed in the festival performance of the Helsinki Chamber Choir in the impressive Functionalist foyer of the Bio Rex cinema. The composers featured on this programme explore fresh dimensions of the human voice yet also build bridges to tradition, drawing on Japanese poetry and ancient Greek rituals, among other things. When I Close My Eyes I Dream of Peace (2015) by Karin Rehnqvist repeats the same sentence in twelve languages, each reflecting the musical roots of its home region, whether in the Middle East, Africa or the Nordic countries.