Karelian Soundscapes - Reinventing a Sonic Heritage



Why Karelia?

You've probably never heard of Karelia, but I hope to change that for you and many others. Not to be confused with Han Solo's fictional birthplace Corellia, The Republic of Karelia is in the northwest corner of Russia, next to Finland:

The Republic of Karelia is full of contrasting but coexisting sounds that fascinate me as a composer. The noisy bustle of the main city of Petrozavodsk is punctuated by the call of church bells. The natural serenity of the island of Kizhi on lake Onega is interrupted only by intermittent shiploads of eager tourists in the summer. Known as 'the Songlands,' this region on the Finno-Russian border is the source of the poems of the Kalevala, the Finnish national legend. It is also the last place where bylina, East Slavic oral epic poems, are still sung. Endless tracts of taiga and 60,000 lakes host a symphony of birds and wildlife. All together these elements give Karelia a truly exceptional sonic environment or 'soundscape.' Such a diverse and vibrant soundscape is the ideal place to pursue answers to some of the questions at the heart of what excites me about making music: How can a composer make use of the unique soundscape of a locale? How can ancient musical practices be given new relevance and expression through modern composition?

The Project

The Isle of KizhiI plan on visiting Russia for two months from May to June 2013 to conduct a recording expedition. I will work with musicians of the Folkloric Ethnographic Theater on Kizhi and master bell ringer Igor Hutter to study and record two main aspects of local musical traditions - Karelian folk music and northern Russian bell ringing. I will document the more atmospheric elements of the Karelian soundscape (things like natural and city sounds) in field recordings. Using these recordings, I will compose and produce a series of new musical works inspired by and incorporating the soundscape of Karelia. Some of these compositions will be electronic (no live performer involved) others will be electroacoustic (one or more performers involved), possibly including folk instruments such as the kantele played in unusual ways. By the end of summer a full length album will be released, while the body of recordings will continue to be useful compositional source material for years to come. Key soundscape recordings will be shared on a special website to preserve and share this research.

The Path of KizhiMy project has been endorsed by several organizations and individuals in Karelia, including the Ministry of Culture of Karelia, the Glazunov Conservatory in Petrozavodsk, and the Kizhi Musuem Society. Musicians from the Folkloric Ethnographic Theater on Kizhi have agreed to collaborate with me. Master bell ringer Igor Hutter, who has been instrumental in the development of a unique modern style of northern Russian bell ringing, has agreed to work with me and demonstrate local belfries throughout the region around Petrozavodsk. This project is an opportunity for all involved to help preserve and expand the sonic heritage of Karelia. Not only will I be creating a permanent aural snapshot of Karelia 2013, but I will also add my own contribution to Karelia's artistic story. Potentially thousands of people will be affected in this 21st century cross-cultural musical experience - a blend of styles and sounds, technologies and traditions.