”The Altitudes” is a multichannel piece commissioned by Ina GRM and Re-imagine Europe. It was premiered at Sonic Acts Academy 2020.
Inspired by descriptions of the layers of Earth’s atmosphere, “The Altitudes” conjures a movement through layers of air, unfolding with a slow intensity, interweaving concrete sounds and closely tuned electronic sonorities. Traversing the altitudes, a landscape of entangled elements, masses and currents emerges. The air around us has weight and it presses against everything it touches. As gravity pulls it to Earth, it is sensed as pressure. The rotation of the planet, the angle of the sun at any new moment sets the elements in motion in a chain reaction.
Shrine (Still Life With Glass Bottle, Flower and Microphone) (from Still Lives, 2021)
“Still Lives” is the third solo full length by the Finnish composer Marja Ahti, following a pair of releases on the Hallow Ground imprint. As a collection, it may be seen as a series of studies on the liminality of the listening act and an investigation into the physicality of sound. Ahti forges vivid electroacoustic environments from field recordings, analog synthesizers, acoustic feedback, magnetic tape and digital processing, resulting in a set of articulate, prickly, and surprising compositions. In the artist’s words, “These pieces could be conceived of as vanitas paintings of a kind – selections of mundane or archetypal objects, sounds that have their own distinct qualities, but exist only by virtue of being temporary events. From another angle, one could think of them as shrines – objects assembled and set in a particular relationship to each other, charging each other in their given constellations.”
Coastal Inversion (from Vegetal Negatives, 2019)
”Let us unfold the animal outward: the bronchia will become a thick foliage, keeping its respiratory function, but in reverse, naturally (CO2 absorption), reversed also concerning color, from the tint of calves’ lungs to its complementary cabbage green. The digestive system will become roots, maintaining its role of drawing in nourishment from the outside environment. […] for each animal form there exists a corresponding vegetal form. The man who would find his vegetal negative and unite with it would restore the integrity of the cosmos.”
Vegetal Negatives is a game of sonic mutations, mimicry, inversions, and association inspired by a text called “On pataphotograms”, by the French writer René Daumal – a quasi-metaphysical essay that toys with breaking the conceived separateness of natural forms through poetic imagination.
The four compositions on the album combine and arrange field recordings, electronic feedback, Buchla and ARP synthesizers, bowl gong and harmonium, textures of detailed acoustic sound, and sustained tones with gentle microtonal beating into a precise musical narrative. Recordings of rooms and empty vessels, natural and artificial climates, spontaneous and staged events are juxtaposed in associative movements between sounds based on their shared characteristics and sonic energy. Ahti’s approach to field recordings is neither diaristic, documentaristic, nor purely acousmatic, but rather it starts out from somewhere in between these notions: the sounds hover between abstraction and the deeply familiar, moving into a realm of poetic metaphor where they are set in relation to each other, fleetingly mirroring or shadow-dancing. Acoustic environments mutate into synthetically derived shadow forms.
The opening track, “Coastal Inversion”, moves from a seemingly familiar seascape into an ocean of wavelike synthetic staccato patterns, turning itself inside-out on the shore, before diving back into a sea of resonance.
Released March 29, 2019 via Hallow Ground
cafeOTO · TR016 – Marja Ahti & Judith Hamann – ‘Portals’ [sample]
“Swedish-Finnish composer/sound artist Marja Ahti and Australian cellist/composer Judith Hamann developed Portals collaboratively from their respective lockdown spaces in Finland, sending recordings back and forth across the eastern most arm of the Baltic sea from Turku to Suomenlinna. Their lines of acoustic & electronic sound pull each other through different composite terrains, revealing imaginary scenery and creating a palimpsest of geographies and time. Akin to film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky’s focus ‘on the pressure of time’, Marja and Judith give weight to each frame of sound’s internal narrative, letting each move slowly from land to island, sea to forest, mundane to remarkable, domestic to public, as if caught in dream motion. As the title suggests, the release offers frames, or windows into Marja and Judith’s combined hearing, into spaces they’ve created together during this time: simultaneously near and distanced.”
Released by Takuroku, May 27, 2020.
Digital download available from Cafe Oto’s portal.
Thousand Times Yes
Experimental chamber opera for soprano, cello, harp, chamber choir and tape.
Inkonst in collaboration with IAC, Malmö (October 2021)
Kunsthal Rønnebæksholm, Naestved (May 2022)
Kiasma Theater, Helsinki 2022)
An ancient organism in the Earth’s crust has started to transform and rise towards the surface. Its movements are resonated by the surrounding bodies of Minerals, Bacteria, Fungi, Gasses and the Atmosphere, resulting instability and uncertainty that clusters into a web of unexpected conflicts. Our protagonist is a human called G, who is unwillingly equipped with a skill to connect and communicate with different bodies and beings. She is summoned to mediate between the conflicting parties – and eventually with the ancient underground organism itself. G finally throws herself to the task fully, but the forces of the Universe are unexpected.
Music by Marja Ahti
Libretto, scenography & paintings by Jenny Kalliokulju
Concept, directing & costumes by Essi Kausalainen
Malmö ensemble: G: Johanna Kalliokulju, Bee: Florian Feigl, MA: Marja Ahti, Washing machine / Worm / Stream: Yuko Takeda, Cello: Henning Fredriksson, Harp & stream: Ingrid Larsson, Stream: Edith Glader
Rønnebæksholm ensemble: G: Johanna Kalliokulju, Bee: Florian Feigl, MA: Marja Ahti, Washing machine / Worm / Stream: Yuko Takeda, Cello: Henning Fredriksson, Harp & stream: Ingrid Larsson, Stream: Naestved elementary school class
Helsinki ensemble: G: Johanna Kalliokulju, Bee: Florian Feigl, MA: Marja Ahti, Washing machine / Worm / Stream: Yuko Takeda, Stream: Ahti Leppänen, Villa Ruscica, Etna Ruscica, Cello: Aino Juutilainen, Harp: Saara Olarte
Tulppaaniantenni / Tulpanantenn / Tulip Antenna
Exhibition with Mikko Kuorinki at K17 – Space for Art and Ecology, Sipoo, November 2022
Tulip Antenna (2022) is a collaborative installation of objects and sounds by Mikko Kuorinki and Marja Ahti. The sounds and objects in the installation are physically, energetically and poetically linked to each other as well as the room and surrounding environment. They combine everyday materials – artificial, organic, decrepit, mint, momentary, timeless – in a gesture releasing them from their usual function and giving them another.
Sounds vibrate within the objects and the surfaces of the room. Sculptures speak through their own material, each assigned one voice, singing together in various constellations. Some objects are speaking, some are mute. Some are becoming charged with meaning and value. Sounding events are part of the ongoing vibration of the material world. The world is a flower, all phenomena are flowers. Where tile shards whisper, where dust heaps scream and shout – what does the tulip say?
Oakwood plank, eye rinse cup, found face towel, honing stone, metal bell, foam, tactile transducer speaker, recording of slow variations on piano of Erik Satie’s “Ce que dit la petite princesse des tulipes” (What the Little Princess of Tulips Said), Menus propos enfantins, 1913, flower
Healing bowl (performance)
Healing Bowl is Essi Kausalainen’s collaboration with Marja Ahti and Florian Feigl. It is a performance for three two legged with support structures, sound system, text and modified sound masses. The title of the piece refers to a healing tradition that operates on resonance produced by specific frequencies. It refers to a bowl both as an instrument and as a vessel for combining and mixing different elements.
Healing Bowl is an illogical performance of the cyclic movement of water, mutations and co-vibration – communication on cellular level. It climbs up the mountain hill, trickles down as sweat, words and streams of sounds. It changes its shape like water evaporating, accumulating and crystallizing. The state of co-vibration is reached when an entity is exposed to the frequency of external force. When the vibrating frequency of systems, such as magnetic fields, machines, structures, bodies or singing bowls, is same or almost the same, resonance occurs. The meeting amplifies the vibration into a particularly large movement, which force can be destructive or healing alike.
Human ear recognizes the vibration of the bowl as harmonies, though sound is also touch and movement. It travels through matter in waves, like water or slime, connecting bodies in distance. Sound clusters into vocables, languages and harmonies, into meanings that gather and dissolve like clouds, building up to downpours and floods. The resonating body is a porous container that leaks. Due to its watery consistency it connects to a larger cycle extending in space and time, yet keeping its shape.
Healing Bowl was premiered at Kutomo in Turku as part of the Ehkä-production’s tenth XS festival in November 2018.
Concept and text: Essi Kausalainen
Sound design: Marja Ahti
Performance: Marja Ahti, Florian Feigl and Essi Kausalainen
Assistant: Viljami Nissi
Production: Ehkä-production and Essi Kausalainen
Supported by: Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Eskus – Performance Center, Frame, Goethe Institut, Kone Foundation and TelepART
Photo: Essi Kausalainen