The artist has discovered and collected the items in the exhibition over decades from various places such as flea markets around the world. The abundance of unusual and strange items inspires one to think about their stories, consumption and our own relationship to objects.
The sound landscape is adapted to the acoustics of the space and the composition was inspired by the exhibition’s objects, installations and images; the listener will find different connections between the exhibition objects and the source sounds of my soundscape. In keeping with the idea of the exhibition, the soundscape is composed as if of “abandoned and discovered” sounds – the rubbish of one can become a treasure of another.
My starting point for composing the soundscape was the classic background idea of electroacoustic musique concrète that any sound event can be utilized in music via the discovery of sound technology and the invention of the concept of sound composition. The world is full of fascinating sound events and sensitizing to them opens up a vastly rich world of experience.
Hence collecting these ‘concrete sounds’ and making music with them can be a viable method for a composer. The quadraphonic sound gestures thus composed by me, moving in the exhibition space, form their small independent musical-spatial entities.
The script with no dialogue is based on an old Finnish folk tale about an encounter at night between a forest spirit and a stonemason in a forest. The stonemason shoots the forest spirit, which falls and creates a large clearing. People take advantage of this as they begin to divide up the land. The story describes the birth of modern society and the alienation of humankind from nature.
The musical motifs were divided into four categories: 1) main music 2) solos with accompaniment 3) spectral and more dissonant chord materials, which take the form of both harmonic progression, musical ambience, polyrhythmic textures and declarative chord accents 4) speech choir segments (wind imitations, spoken asemantic syllabic and consonant textures), which create an interface toward sound design.
I composed the finished music from these motifs on a digital audio workstation, utilizing a modular composition technique, i.e. by arranging the motifs sequentially, overlapping, stacking, etc. At some points six singers are realistically heard, at others a multiple.
The music is quite extensive in duration, inevitably progressing, rugged, sculptural and mostly gloomy. In the beginning there are long episodes that invite the listener to step into the work to experience the space, and to feel the false spectral melodies produced by slowly sung diphthongs, which each listener will experience individually; the overlapping vocal slides create an aurora borealis -like flickering spectral veil over the sung pitches.
There is no given semantic text in the music, as requested by IC-98. My solution was to have the choir sing with asemantic vowels and slow diphthongs which I composed into the music. The formant slides serve both rhythmic, coloring and mentioned false melody function.
Also, as a byproduct, at certain moments in the music, where I have superimposed the polyrhythmic chord texture sung with different vowels and the consonant utterance speech choir texture, one might imagine listening to a language that may have been, will be, or exists in some other reality.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format and the loudspeaker system is installed accordingly. Indeed, the music takes advantage of the placement of its many different elements around the listener and their movement around the listener. For me as a composer, the immersion of sound in this case has been one equal means of expression alongside melody, vocal expression, harmony, rhythm and tone of voice. Many thanks to sound designer Toni Ilo (Finnvox Cinepost), who not only made all the other sounds in the soundtrack and was responsible for the whole, but also realized the spatial dimension of the music in the studio according to my wishes!
In 2018 the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra kindly wanted to commission an orchestral piece from me, to be premiered at the new Kupittaa Ball Game Hall in a free admission mega-concert Symphony for the Ball Game Hall! organized by the orchestra with Nick Davies as conductor. They threw in a suggestion that I would adopt ball sports (such as basketball, volleyball or badminton) as a theme for the new piece. I came up with the idea that the artistic theme for the piece would be ball sports as a cultural phenomenon in general and especially the thrilling basketball slam dunk. Hence the title Slam Dunk for Symphony Orchestra and two Basketball Players.
I integrated into Slam Dunk an interactive sports culmination; by the end of the piece two basketball players perform a Slam Dunk Battle, guided by the Master of Ceremonies (MC), in interaction with the orchestra (through the conductor). In front of the orchestra there has to be reserved some extra space and a professional basketball hoop with a backboard, with top of the hoop 305 cm above the floor, is to be installed.
Slam is an adaptation of the essential music of Slam Dunk into an orchestral piece, suitable to be performed for example as the first piece of an ordinary symphony concert. All extramusical elements and requirements have been stripped off so that the music, which was very warmly received by the 2600-member audience in the premiere, could have a life as an independent orchestral piece of its own right.
My 2-hour science fiction chamber opera entitled Posthuman (in Finnish Ihmisen jälkeen) was composed during 2020 and 2021 with the kind support of the Kone Foundation. The style of the new work be described as poetic dystopian drama.
The performers include a conductor, four soloists, an AI soloist, 4-member choir, four dancers and a 10-member instrumental ensemble. Both singers and instrumentalists will be amplified and manipulated by live electronics and spatialization.
The libretto is written, by my request, by the multitalented Finnish visual artist, director, poet, writer and Doctor of Fine Arts Teemu Mäki , who will also direct and visualize the premiere, which will be given on March 4th, 6th and 7th 2023 in Helsinki. The premiere will be in Finnish language with Finnish and English subtitles.
I have made 15 sound installations so far. An installation is a site-specific art work, built for example into an art gallery or a public space, which takes into account the unique circumstances of that certain space. An installation can consist of items, structures and media elements such as videos, sound and light.
Sound installations are often innovative works from the borderline between music, sound art and the visual arts, thus belonging to the diverse field of experimental art and music. Sound installations can often involve elements from the other arts, most typically perhaps from the visual arts. But they can also present just sound in a space.
Wy am I interested in making sound installations? Perhaps I could take the easy road and say: “Well, because I’ve been commissioned to!”, but the more essential answers are that I’ve been for a long time intrigued by the concept of a sound installation and that my mind tends to produce ideas for different sound installations.
What is then the basic concept of a sound installation? For me it’s the virtual acoustic space created by loudspeakers. It’s somehow immensely exciting and fascinating when loudspeakers are put into a space to emit sound which has been designed, compiled or composed for that specific space. The reality changes!
The sound work coming out from the loudspeakers creates its own artificial acoustic space, within and in between the real acoustics of that space; these blend together in an unique way, which can be enjoyed only by actually going there, by being there. The experience of the uniqueness and momentariness of existence is densified.
More coming up!
List of my 15 sound installations
Rope Variations/ Theses on the Body Politic (Bind)2020. Artists group IC-98 (dir. Patrik Söderlund) invited me to compose music for their new media installation entitled Theses on the Body Politic (Bind). I decided to entitle the music Rope Variations, which was actually the working title for the installation. Commissioned for the art collection of the Saastamoinen Foundation, the installation was premiered between 4 August and 27 September 2020 in EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art at their Touch exhibition, which displays the foundation’s art collection.
Okeanos (2014), collaboration with the IC-98 -artists group for the Turku Vartiovuori Historical Observatory, Finland
Janne (2006) at the Järvenpää city center promenade 70-meter canope sound system, Finland
Råtta (The Rat) 2006, co-composed with Kalev Tiits, sound landscape for sculpture made of cane, designed by architect Mia Bungers and built by the Sokeva artisans at the Helsinki Design Week -event at the Cable Factory, Helsinki, Finland
Katoamisia (Disappearances) 2006, 8-speaker sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Hyvinkää City Art Museum, Finland
Vasara, alasin, jalustin (Hammer, anvil, stirrup) 2005 at Iiris, centre for the visually impaired, Helsinki
Nostalgia March for alto saxophone and piano was written for saxophonist Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo and it is my first instrumental work that was performed in public. I started to compose the piece in 1993 as a student at the Sibelius Academy under the guidance of the Swedish quest professor of composition Anders Eliasson, who was extremely professional and supportive as a teacher.
Having during that time just met a super talented young saxophonist Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, “OP” as he calls himself, who was also eagerly starting his studies at the Sibelius-Academy, I felt inspired to write for him and the saxophone.
Nostalgia March divides into two sections, or movements if you like, but to be performed attacca, without much pause between them. The first movement is chromatically sour and capricious by atmosphere and looking toward the future, whereas the second movement is diatonically sweet with a minor 7th chord flavor, openly melodic and bows – sideways – to the master composers of the past. I finished the second movement in 1995, but the first movement found its shape only after few years in 1999.
I’m still satisfied with Nostalgia March; especially the first movement presents certain stylistic elements which I would still like to develop further in my future compositions. I have since then written more music for the vivid and engaging saxophone family and will certainly continue to do so, due to the the inspiring sounds and capabilities of instrument. My collaboration with OP has continued to date.
OP writes on Nostalgia March:
“Nostalgia March holds a very special place among the compositions written for me. I have performed it almost 20 times and also recorded it twice. It is one of the first pieces I have worked on with pianist Risto-Matti Marin, it was in the program of our first tour in the United States and it was very warmly received in every concert.
Nostalgia March is written instrumentally very skillfully and it is a rewarding piece to play – showily virtuosic, presenting some modern playing techniques to a suitable extent, but also audience-friendly in a good manner. The duration is excellent for a concert program and both instruments play an equally important role.
In the continuum of the saxophone repertoire, I feel that Nostalgia March takes with its fluently diverse musical language a beautifully warm attitude toward the past – toward Nostalgia – and at the same time it looks toward the future of music with a positive and open mind. A future classic.“
Premiere of the first version (finished 1995): May 6th 1995, Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto Lappalainen, piano, Ears Open Society’s Concert, Sibelius Academy Chamber Music Hall, Helsinki, Finland.
Premiere of the final version (finished 1999): May 11th 1999, Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto-Matti Marin, piano, Spring Concert of the Finnish Saxophone Society, Malmitalo Cultural Centre, Helsinki.
First recording of the first version: 1997 Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Jaana Ikkala, piano, published on Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo’s Elokuisessa Helsingissä / August in Helsinki -cd (OPTCD-97001).
First recording of the final version: 2001 Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto-Matti Marin, piano, published in 2001 on Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo’s double-cd Breath of Spring (OPTCD-01003-4, Finland). Also republished on Max Savikangas’s composition double-cd Extraterrestrial (UUCD 102, Uusinta Publishing Ltd., Finland).
Artists group IC-98 (dir. Patrik Söderlund) invited me to compose music for their new media installation entitled Theses on the Body Politic (bind). I decided to entitle the music Rope Variations, which was actually the working title for the installation.
The 3-channel, digitally created animation panoramic video installation loop, lasting 12 min. 45 sec. is projected with three projectors on a nearly 18 meters wide screen. The animation depicts the different transformations of a hemp rope, all the way from the field into a rope.
In the work, the rope is a metaphor for society, with the different parts inextricably linked and forming a whole. Thousands of tiny, nearly invisible hemp fibers make up a thick rope. At the same time, the work highlights the diverse and sustainable natural material of hemp, which has the potential to be an alternative for systems of the unsustainable fossil economy.
I composed music for string quintet (2 vl, vla, vlc, db), which was then recorded and mixed in a studio. My warmest thanks go to the trusted musicians violinists Ilkka Lehtonen and Aleksi Kotila, violoncellist Markus Hohti and double bassist Juho Martikainen, who brilliantly performed my music in the studio with me on the viola! Sound engineer Juha-Matti Kauppinen recorded the string quartet with superb quality.
The score, which involves extended string playing techniques and sounds produced thereof, is note fully written out, but at points utilizes a more open approach, which I thought would be more flexible for playing together with the video image.
A major factor in the soundtrack is also sound design – and especially spatialization. My special thanks go to sound designer Toni Ilo at the Finnvox Cinepost studio for his creative input!
The hemp rope, a quite simple artifact, which has been known for millennia represents, together with music and sound, the historical and sociological processes of humanity: political tensions, colonialism, mass migrations on the other hand and the exploitation of nature, people and animals on the other.
At the same time the hemp rope can be also seen as a freely vibrating string, sounding simultaneously by its whole length and its partial lengths, which opens a link to the history of western music from Pythagoras all the way to modern spectral music.
The loudspeakers by the screen emit sound gestures which make their own trajectories around the listener, new gestures appearing from the screen while the earlier ones are still flying around. The surround sound system creates a virtual acoustic space, in which the sound gestures happen in counterpoint.
For this abstract art animation loop without dialogue, I felt tempted to allow interchange and flow between music and sound design. Indeed, together with sound designer Toni Ilo we took the starting point that sometimes it might be difficult for the listener to make difference between the elements of ‘sound design’ and ‘music’.
The soundtrack was thought out in various layers, for example 1) eidetic of affective layer which follows the movements and transformations of the rope 2) musical layer which is more independent from the movements of the rope 3) ambience, creating background and space (e.g. 30 -voice overdubbed string instrument spectral chords, transforming throughout the work 4) spatialization, sound located and moving around the listener 5) foley sounds.
For me as a composer the most exciting part of this process was to get access to a fully equipped surround sound studio with a professional sound designer and hear the sound spatialisations I had imagined come alive! The future of contemporary art music might just lie in immersive sound.
Video sample coming up soon. In the meantime, please listen below to the sountrack mixed down into stereo. Wishing for new showings soon, so that the audience could experience the piece in its full dimensions!
Premiered in September 12th 2019 in Lohja, Finland in a co-concert organized by the Lohja City Orchestra and Uusinta Ensemble, my chamber concerto Silvertone for oboe and ensemble is largely a portrait of my friend, oboist Keijo Silventoinen. I listened to Keijo’s stories, to his oboe playing and to his dreams of a new piece which would feature the oboe in a solistic role. Hence we will hear my musical interpretation of Keijo as a person and a musician, of his mentioned dreams and also obviously of the oboe as a solo instrument.
In my opinion, Silvertone brings the oboe into the spotlight in a new way, as a vital and potent solo instrument of its own right. I also dare to claim that the solo part is absolutely idiomatically written for the oboe, in which Keijo’s support and help has been decisive! I also hope that Silvertone as a piece of music will give to the listeners a new, imaginative, energizing and positive musical experience.
Photo: Keijo Silventoinen
Keijo Silventoinen is a sensitive artist and he also has a great sense of humor and empathy. He values in music more the emotional truth than gimmicks, which I wanted to keep in mind when composing Silvertone and wanted to express my own emotional truth at the moment of composition in the pages of the score, perhaps in a slightly more direct manner than in some of my earlier compositions. However, it will still sound like contemporary music – as it should!
Music is a phenomenon resembling language, but without semantics – I might be a composer partly because in music I can express and share thoughts and feelings for which I cannot find words.
Silvertone is cast in one 20-minute movement and gradual changes between musical materials are typical, without clear boundaries between motives and sections. In my opinion, this gives drive and facility to the piece.
The oboe solo cadenza by the end can also be performed as a separate solo oboe piece. The cadenza is not fully written out, but utilizes the Directed Modular-Transformative Improvisation Technique developed by me. Including improvisation means, I hope, that each performance will be somewhat different, which might help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.
The instrumentation of Silvertone has been designed together with Keijo Silventoinen and his inspiring idea was to include the bandoneon, which is related to the concertina, a German folk instrument and also resembling the accordion by its timbre and sound production. Its role in the piece is to bind the solo oboe and the ensemble together on one hand and to play as the alter ego or counterpoint of the oboe on the other.
The bandoneon is probably named after its German inventor Heinrich Band (1821–1860) and it was originally meant to be used in religious and popular music, but by the end of the 19th century it found its way to Argentina in the hands of sailors and emigrants and was adopted there as an essential part of the Argentinian tango orchestra. The sound of the bandoneon is attractively vivid, light and clear, but when required it’s also more piercing an projecting than the sound of the accordion. In addition, the accent technique played against the knee provides very striking and powerful effects.
The bitonal and seemingly random keyboards of the bandoneon are difficult to learn, but as a reward they enable playing large intervals very fast and also some unique chord change repetitions. The bandoneon part of Silvertone is composed for the so called 142 -tone Rheinische Tonlage commonly used in Argentina.
My warmest thanks belong to Keijo Silventoinen, who commissioned the work with the financial aid of the MadetojaFund of the Society of Finnish Composers and Arts Promotion Centre Finland. I would also like to express my gratitude to Felix von Willebrand, the GM of the Lohja City Orchestra, who in an early stage of the composition project agreed that they will organize the World Premiere of the piece.
The second performance of Silvertone was organized by the Sibelius Academy based NYKY Ensemble in October 23rd 2020 at the Helsinki Music Centre, with Keijo Silventoinen as soloist and James Kahane as conductor. It was also a wonderful performance and I was very impressed by their dedicated interpretation.
For me the new playing techniques and timbres thus produced (e.g. Sul tasto ‘pan’, Bend-buzz-pizzicato, Circular bowing, Whisked whistle, Glissando repetition or Mirror pizzicato) are not the final goal, but a necessary method to achieve my own musical expression. The hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes are by no means effects or seasonings added afterwards into the music; they are an organic part of my expression.
Improvisation has a special meaning to me as a performing musician. When I’m allowed the improvisational freedom as a player – and the responsibility which follows it – it certainly heightens my musical experience (and hopefully the listeners’ as well) and gives a possibility for such music to be invented which might be impossible to achieve by notational means.
In addition, the starting point for my notated instrumental compositions might often be improvising. I enjoy improvising on the viola, and as usually happens, some spontaneous ideas survive and begin to live their own lives in my mind. Some of these ideas may end up as starting points of my written compositions. Larger musical forms are often derived from those interesting sound events – taken that they have been interesting and strong enough to stay in the focus of my imagination. The nucleus of my composing is therefore theheard sound, perhapsin opposition to some more abstract ideas on paper or in a computer.
This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have a great interest in music which is notated very carefully to the smallest detail. Would it be, then, possible to find connections and interactive links between improvised and written down music? Wormholes? For me, absolutely! One connection can be found in timbral thinking: the interchange and tension between contrasting timbres can propel the music along, on equal terms with the other more traditional devices such as melody, harmony and rhythm (timbre should here be understood broadly as an umbrella term for all the components of a sound event).
More coming up!
Watch below me premiering my piece Azonal Advice in 2009 in Helsinki.
Watch below a short animated film Flora (2012) by artist Pirjetta Brander for which I have composed the soundtrack with multitrack violas and FX pedals.
In 2012 Finnish conductor talent Santtu-Matias Rouvali gave the premiere of my orchestral piece Whisked Whistle(2011) at the Helsinki Music Centre with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was very satisfied with the performance and especially with Santtu’s interpretation, so when he called me later and asked if I would be interested in composing a new double concerto for trumpet, double bass and orchestra to be premiered in Australia and then again in Finland under his baton I didn’t have to hesitate.
Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali in Brisbane before the World Premiere.
This might be the first ever double concerto for trumpet, double bass and symphony orchestra? At least I have not been able to find information of an earlier double concerto for this instrumentation. At first this solo duo might seem a bit odd, but actually it offers some unique musical possibilities. The trumpet is the leader and highest voice in the brass choir, while the double bass is the foundation of the strings, which opens an interesting connection and also a contradiction between the soloists and the symphony orchestra. I also discovered that the contrasting characters of these two instruments provided a fruitful starting point for composing.
The composer with soloists Edgar Meyer (db) and James Morrison (tr) after the World Premiere in Brisbane.
Improvisation has a special meaning to me. I believe that improvisation can release the full energy of a musician, allowing her or him to be truly free and express his or her personality in a very direct and intuitive way – “to allow me to be me” as James Morrison put it when I met him in Finland after his wonderful multi-instrumental jazz concert with the Marian Petrescu Trio. Improvisation may also produce music which is played only once and cannot be repeated live exactly. Intergrated into an orchestral score which is mostly notated in every detail, improvisational elements might also help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.
Bowing after the Finnish Premiere in Tampere (photo: TPO)
My Double Concerto is putting all these ideas together. It is partly fully written out and relies partly on the improvisational skills and imagination of the soloists, the members of the orchestra and even the conductor. The flowing interchange between these two ways of making music is in focus.
I composed the Double Concerto with the idea in mind that the double bass solo would not need to be amplified. However, in both of the performances so far it was. Edgar Meyer, the double bass soloist in the World Premiere actually considers a slight, “natural sounding” support amplification as the default practise for his solo performances with orchestras. Which, to sound enjoyable, obviously requires high quality technology from the venue and a skilled sound engineer. Which we luckily had.
Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali rehearsing the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra with soloists Aki Välimäki (tr) and Petri Mäkiharju (db).
The score is available in two versions, the orchestra either or not including four saxophones (SATB). With the saxophone quartet the orchestra will sound much more colorful, but obviously the production costs will be somewhat higher. The music remains the same in both versions.
Both first performances were given without saxophones. I personally hope that the saxophone quartet would be soon adopted as a standard element of the modern symphony orchestra, which would highly enrich its sound palette and thus provide new possibilities for composers.
I was truly and equally satisfied with both of the dedicated performances of my Double Concerto. It was a great pleasure to get to know the four soloists – all wonderful musical personalities of their own right! Working with conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali and having the possibility to follow the emergence of his interpretation of my music was again a fascinating learning experience.
My Double Concerto was indeed very well received both in Australia and in Finland. The feedback from the conductor, soloists, from the members of both of the orchestras and of the audiences was warm, positive and enthusiastic.
Tomi Vuokola of Aamulehti, the biggest newspaper in Tampere, Finland, wrote of the Finnish Premiere in April 23rd 2016: “…the Double Concerto by Max Savikangas includes everything possible, such as crackling of the strings and other extended playing techniques, jazz-feelings and a bit of improvisation, too…the piece as a whole could be said to be on the other hand a bit messy and shapeless, but also fun and vivid on the other. The listener is free to choose.”
Jagdish Mistry, prominent violinist of the famous international Ensemble Modern, next to whom I had the pleasure of playing viola in an festival ensemble at the Time of Music Festival 2015, kindly listened on my request to the World Premiere recording of my Double Concerto with the score and wrote back to me: “I have listened to your Double Concerto and I must say, I really admire and like it! I find the basic material at the beginning interesting harmonically and rhythmically and just ‘mad’ enough to arouse and sustain the curiosity so that one is always thinking ‘where is this going to…!’…The jazz club style of section I found absolutely super in that this treatment of the material is harmonically well integrated into the structure and language of the piece altogether. The strings-scrunching music (at around 19’) is introduced at absolutely the right moment in the piece and the trumpet cadenza accompanied is also good and at the right structural position. I also like your use of orchestration as a structural component of the dramaturgy of the piece and not just a function of making everything sound lush and attractive. I get the feeling you are a very experienced composer…And your statement of your compositional intent is very much what I heard in the Double Concerto – as you can see from my remarks! Now that I see that some of the parts were improvised I think it is great that one doesn’t hear the difference between improvisation and the fully composed bits – it all sounds integrated as a composition! Congratulations!”