Pub­lic ex­am­i­na­tion of the ar­tis­tic doc­toral de­gree of Pia Siirala

The title of the Doctoral degree: Aspects of hearing the music of the indigenous peoples in north-eastern Siberia.

The title of the Thesis: Aspects of hearing the Chukchi Personal Song – Hearing through composing as an artistic research method

  • The board which assessed the artistic demonstrations: Dr. Anna-Kaisa Liedes (Chair), Professor Mieko Kanno, Professor Kristiina Ilmonen, Professor emerita Lea Kantonen, Dr. Antti Paalanen 
  • Examiners of the Thesis: Docent Kati Kallio and Dr. Arja Kastinen
  • Thesis supervisors: Docent Jarkko Niemi, Docent Saijaleena Rantanen and Professor Kristiina Ilmonen
  • Custos: Docent Saijaleena Rantanen


The opening of the Public Defence
Lectio praecursoria

Performances during Lectio: Excerpts from Pia Siirala’s compositions

  • Asikongaun – 11 Moments (2017) – “How to pull the fish out of water”, “Song without words”
  • Sound answers Voice (2018) – Excerpt from the movement “Tevlyantonau”
  • The Flow of Music (2022) –   Excerpts from “Kuang” and “Tingaan” (video)
  • Polar Voices (2020) – “Omryl’kot – Roaming” (recording)


Final statements

Questions from the audience

Conclusion of the public examination 

Artistic components of the doctoral degree

My artistic research method is hearing through composing, through which I have tried to comprehend how Chukchi music behaves. The artistic components have been the testing ground for my research method – they are the interaction between listening and composing. The artistic ensemble consists of five components, including three concerts, Ulita’s Walk (2017), Sound answers Voice (2018), Polar Voices (2022, 2023) and the Multimedia exhibition The Flow of Music (2022) and a CD Seeking the Personal Song (2022). The compositions are based on the Personal Songs of the Chukchi people, as well as the music of other Paleosiberian indigenous peoples, such as the Koryaks, Yupiks and Nivkhs, that I heard on my field trips. They were all a source of inspiration for my compositions.


  • Ulita’s Walk (2009): Ulita’s walk for violin solo. The main theme of the composition is Ulita’s song, a “walking theme”, which appears through the whole work. The structure imitates the world view of the Nivkhs, where life is divided into three parts: life on earth, life in the underworld (where everything is the opposite). From the depths of the earth a living creature eventually ascends to the third and upper world amongst the spirits and birds, and from there returns back to earth. Ulita’s Walk (2022) for string orchestra is a larger version of the composition for solo violin.
  • Asikongaun – 11 moments for violin and kantele (2017). This work is based on the Yupik Elder, Asikongaun’s 11 short songs. They are miniatures, almost invisible single-celled beings, in which no sound exists without the sound next to it. The entire song is the motif, whereby everything is said only once, without repetition.
  • The Nivkh Themes (2004) for violin, viola, cello and double bass was my first composition based on indigenous Nivkh songs from Sakhalin.
  • Sound answers Voice (2019) This work is based on the so-called Personal Song tradition of the indigenous Tundra Chukchi in North-East Siberia. In this composition the singing of the nomadic reindeer herders from the field recordings and live music enters into a dialogue. The throat singing and drumming create a soundscape that bind the different parts together. The work ends with the cacophony of ensemble playing.
  • The Flow of Music (2020) A Multimedia exhibition that documents my exploratory journeys to north-eastern Siberia, from Kamchatka to Chukotka between 2008–2017. The exhibition contains four videos, as well as 24 photographs and is a musical journey into the lives of four Chukchi Elders, Etilyan, Kuang, Kulyumich and Tingaan. It reveals the presence of music, which constantly flows in our subconscious. Songs have neither a beginning nor an end, but always give the impression of being in the middle.
  • Seeking the Personal Song (2021) The Koryak Elder, Mulingaut and the Chukchi Elder, Vukvunga each gave me a personal song as a gift, which is the inspiration of this composition. 
  • Polar Voices (2022) This 4-part compositionfor string orchestra is based on the songs of the Chukchi and Koryak Elders. It explores the concept of time and the different paces of time that are not directly related to each other. These elements create a space in the same way that unrelated sounds create a space of silence in nature. Time is not linear, but cyclic. Nothing is new, but rather everything rotates.

Tutkielman tiivistelmä

Getting to know the music of the indigenous people of north-eastern Siberia has been a turning point in my perception of music. It has not only influenced my hearing but has also made me question my understanding of what music is. The change in my thought process began with the fieldtrips that I carried out in north-eastern Siberia, specifically between 2004–2019, when I became acquainted with the musical traditions of so-called Paleo-Siberian indigenous people in Sakhalin, Kamchatka and Chukotka. Never before had I encountered music like this, yet despite its strangeness it enchanted me. My interest was particularly awakened by the Chukchi Personal Song, which belongs to the cultural traditions of the indigenous people of the Arctic. Music is not just an outcome of human activity but is part of their identity.

My Doctoral degree, Aspects of hearing the music of the indigenous peoples in north-eastern Siberia consists of five artistic components as well as a thesis. The thesis, Aspects of hearing the Chukchi Personal Song – Hearing through composing as an artistic research method is a musical expedition into the Chukchi Personal Song. The question at the root of my artistic research is: What in this music touches me so strongly that I cannot pass it by? The title of my research – Aspects of hearing – does not only mean listening, but rather the understanding created by the interaction of ambiguous and often contradictory hearing and music making. Aspects of hearing is a research process in which composing is used as a research method. Through composing I have tried to understand how the music of the Chukchi behaves. I would compare my artistic research to a fishing trip. The theoretical framework is my fishing net, which has been woven from the thread of the tacit knowledge and experience of a musician. From this fibre the knots of the fishing net have been created. These are my experiences from field trips when I lived with the Chukchi and from earlier ethnomusicological research, phenomenology, the philosophy of the essence of music and the soundscape of nature.

The thesis is divided into three parts. Part one introduces the Chukchi and their culture, as they speak themselves in recorded conversations and through the notes in my travel diaries. The second part concentrates on the characteristics of the Chukchi singing tradition that have revealed themselves through my listening, notation and composing. These have been presented by notations and their attached recordings. The third part concentrates on the process of hearing as I composed the artistic components: Ulita’s Walk, Sound answers Voice, The Flow of Music, Seeking the Personal Song and Polar Voices. In the words of the song of the Yupik Elder, Asikongaun, I have often wondered “how to pull the fish out of water”. I have caught a lot of the same species of fish as many fishermen before me. However, there are also new fish that have been have caught in my net, such as horizontal harmony, music that one hears randomly or in silence, or indeed when a human being is alone with music. These have opened new aspects of hearing which reveal what music is.

Pia Siirala

Pia Siirala began her studies at the Sibelius Academy and continued them at the Liszt Ferenc

Academy in Budapest. After her Diploma at the Sibelius Academy, she continued her studies at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory in the class of Professor Zoria Shikhmurzaeva. In 1989 Siirala co-founded Ensemble XXI with the conductor Lygia O’Riordan and of which is Concertmaster. She has performed throughout Russia, Europe, Australasia and the Americas.

Siirala’s Doctoral artistic research concentrates on the music of the indigenous people in north-eastern Siberia. Between 2004 and 2019 Siirala made seven field trips to north-eastern Siberia, to Sakhalin Kamchatka and Chukotka, where the ancient musical traditions are still alive. She recorded over 1400 songs. Inspired by them, she has composed several works such as Seeking the Personal Song for solo violin, which she has performed on a CD produced by SibaRecords in 2022.

With the project – Polar Voices – Musical Encounters with the Singing Tradition of the Indigenous Peoples of Northeast Siberia – funded by the Kone Foundation, the songs and singers from far away from Siberia, together with the new music created in the project, will raise awareness of this unique musical tradition to new audiences. The project’s goal is to return all recorded material back to its origins. 

More information

Pia Siirala 


7.6.2024 at 12:00 – 15:00