HELSINKI JUNK ORCHESTRA: Cityscapes
HELSINKI JUNK ORCHESTRA: CITYSCAPES
WHS Theatre, Helsinki, 11.12.2018
video & editing: Kasia Miron
The members of Helsinki Junk Orchestra are: Michiel Dondeyne, Atte Kantonen, Ignacio Lopez, Zane Perkone, Pavel Rotts & Teo Tornberg
Advisors: Petri Kuljuntausta & Tero Vänttinen
The date is December 11, 2018 and we are at the WHS Theatre in Hakaniemi. The sound check is done, self-made instruments and gadgets are spread all over the floor and stage in front of the screen, cables are running everywhere. All six students, and two teachers are anxiously waiting for the doors to open, not exactly knowing what to expect. We have had two full run-throughs of the forthcoming performance, but since the whole soundscape is based on improvisation, one can never tell what is going to happen. Also, we have no clue what size the audience will be. Finally, the doors open, and people start pouring in. It is almost a full house when we begin, it is a success so far. The show starts and the soundscape starts to flow together with the imagery.
All six students, the Helsinki Junk Orchestra, Atte, Zane, Michiel, Ignacio, Pavel and Teo perform excellently, listening to each other, taking sonic responsibility when needed, but also staying silent when needed. Sounds and picture overlap smoothly and fluently. The film footage, old film material taken from Finnish National Broadcast Company YLE's archives, picturing Helsinki in the old days, becomes alive in a dream-like way. After an hour's performance and the final sonic climax, the performance is over. The audience bursts into applause. They are interested in the instruments and soundscapes and start asking questions, which leads into discussion. Everyone, both the audience and the performers, seem to be a bit surprised of the successful outcome, which leaves a sweet aftertaste of the course.
I was pleased to be asked by Ava Grayson to teach an autumn-long course for SAMA. The topic was something I enjoy a lot, making music and sound for moving images. In this course the emphasis was on improvising, which didn't sound too bad either. I was also happy to hear that this course would be held together with Petri Kuljuntausta, who has years of experience in experimental soundscapes, music, installations, and other interesting sound things. My own background is in Aalto University Media Lab, and the programme of Sound in New Media, from which I graduated in 2013. I have also had a lot to do with making music with self-made instruments, having been a member of DIY band Cleaning Women since 1999. With these tools I stepped in, a bit nervous I must admit, since this was so far clearly the biggest teaching work I had ever done.
We had our first meeting with the participants in the middle of September, about three months before the final performance. From that moment on we would be getting together more or less regularly building towards the final performance at the WHS Theater. This course was not so much about theory rather than diving into DIY sounds hands-on. After a few meetings, the idea of Helsinki Junk Orchestra started to emerge. The name came from the idea of using materials used for the instruments were mostly found objects or salvaged from trash cans and basements of Helsinki. This led to the idea of using archive film picturing old Helsinki. We started to dig into sounds and materials, experimenting with them and trying to find ways to give color to sounds, either using effects or acoustically. Everyone chose their own materials and took their instruments further by adding or taking away stuff and shaping the sounds they wanted. We tested different sets of micings, to see how the wanted sound could be achieved. New ideas arose in every session and things came together little by little.
After a while we started to practice in the VÄS music studio. Until then we had just been building and testing prototypes of the instruments. The first time we played together in the studio was when things started to click, proving us that the soundscapes are going to work well. The roles of the performers started to emerge, in a way that someone will build on rhythmic stuff and some other will go towards melodic stuff. The different instruments started to blend in nicely, but there was still a lot to do before it was possible to cover one hour's worth of material by improvising. But a good thing was, that everyone seemed to be eager to start improvising with the picture.
Finally, we got to rehearse together with moving picture in the VÄS lighting studio. We made small experiments playing for short clips and talking a lot about the content of the performance. How do we manage to convey and color all the visual footage but not competing with it? How do we make sure that the soundscape is not a total mess of everyone making overlapping sounds all the time? We divided the film footage into segments that we would have cue points for the performers. An unwritten script started to emerge. The segments started to build towards certain kind of moods almost automatically, so we agreed to keep certain instruments and certain soundscapes in certain segments. Among talking, finding the right cables and adapters, and soldering the broken piezos the structure of the performance started to come together.