About the Site-Specific Sound and Light Installation Okeanos (2014)


The rotunda on the third floor of the Turku Academy’s observatory, completed in 1819, is circular. As it were, the ‘cartographers’ of antiquity imagined an inhabited world, the Oikoumene. The known world was surrounded by the great Okeanos stream, the source of all the water in the world. Okeanos is also the name of the new sound and light installation by IC-98, i.e. Patrik Söderlund and Visa Suonpää, in a darkened rotunda. The dark space itself is impressive.

Fine is also the space-filling composer Max Savikangas’ collage of sounds, at the heart of which is Savikangas’ arrangement of the Finnish folk song When I forsook my home, performed by the singers of the Helsinki Chamber Choir…

The darkness of the rotunda is broken by a lone light spot that illuminates the stucco decorations of the roof with the zodiac sign for Scorpio. In Christian iconography, Scorpio refers to Judas, the betrayer of Christ. In antiquity, Scorpio symbolized Africa, one of the four continents. Connected to Scorpio, the wistful Finnish folk song becomes an universal allegory of departure, referring to boat refugees who lay their lives at the mercy of the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life.

Despite its symbolic openness – or perhaps precisely because of it – Okeanos becomes an artwork of international level, with a subtext that criticizes the fortress of Europe – Oikoumene – beneath its poetic surface.

Lars Saari, Turun Sanomat 17.12.2015

The site-specific sound and light installation Okeanos (2014) was made for Vartiovuori Observatory, built in Turku, Finland, in 1819, which later served as a Naval Academy (1836–1967). In the building, navigation is intertwined with the cosmos, scientific and political power with mythology. The work treats the observatory as a Northern watchtower, as well as a lighthouse, with their undertones of colonialism and of the current flows of migration.

The installation occupied the top-floor rotunda, along with a polyphonic soundscape, an adaptation of a Finnish folk song Kun minä kotoani läksin (When I forsook my home). In the darkened space the zodiac sign for Scorpio – one of the twelve signs depicted in the circular frieze – was illuminated.

The sound landscape of Okeanos is presenting the following theme and atmosphere: on the Mediterranean Sea, on a sinking boat with a broken engine, there is a group of refugees having been trying to get to Europe. They have realized that they will soon die, either by drowning or by shark attacks. The sound landscape consists of sounds recorded and gathered by me such as wooden creaks of the boat, turbulences and splashes of the water having leaked into the boat, noises and rumbles of the high sea waves, humming and whining of the wind against the boat’s structures  – and of recorded vocal materials, either whispered, spoken, cried or sung.

The mentioned folk song is heard every now and then as such, but I also deconstructed its melody and lyrics into their bare elements and derived from these new syllables, new four-note chord glissando successions and new simple melodic motifs and composed with them. The density of events is slow and the mood is desperate, however on the other hand somewhat spiritual.

No special sound processing was used in mixing the sound landscape, to gain an illusion of a natural sound image, which is then hugely echoed by ca 4 second reverb in the unique acoustics of the big 15-meter-diameter and 6-meter-high observatory dome. Two loudspeakers and the light projector (actually a video projector playing a fluctuating white screen video file to mimic a dynamic light spot) were installed in the middle of the dome two thirds up to the elegant steel spiral stairway.

The work is related to Oikoumene (Greek: οἰκουμένη, oikouménē, lit. “inhabited”), in which a fortress surrounded by an ocean stands for Europe. In ancient Greek it referred to the known world, the inhabited world, or the habitable world. Under the Roman Empire, it came to refer to civilization and the secular and religious imperial administration. Our installation Okeanos focuses attention on the individual tragedies taking place now on the Mediterranean.

First presentation took place between December 12th 2014 and January 11th 2015 as part of a group exhibition entitled On the Blue Planet, produced by The Artists’ Association of Finland and curated by Marketta Haila .

Concept and visualisation: IC-98
Music and sound design: Max Savikangas
Choral conducting: Nils Schweckendiek
Singers of The Helsinki Chamber Choir:
Heta Kokkomäki, soprano, Nairi Azezian, mezzosoprano, Martti Anttila, tenor and Jouni Rissanen, bass
Recording: Pekka Mikael Laine

Listen to the recording of Okeanos

Max Savikangas, Composer

Currently I’m composing a 2-hour science fiction chamber opera entitled Posthuman with the kind support of the Kone Foundation.

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 Finnish artist, director, poet, writer and Doctor of Fine Arts Teemu Mäki, who will also direct and visualize the premiere on October 2021 in Helsinki. The premiere will be given in Finnish with English subtitles.

More info coming up!

Max Savikangas
Max Savikangas_Photo_Ari-Matti_Huotari_copy2
Photo: Ari-Matti Huotari

I enjoy contemporary music with its constantly renewing challenges, improvising, listening to the world, experimenting with sounds—and composing.

As a composer-musician I have wanted to expand the means of expression of my own instrument Viola with new playing techniques and experimental live-electronics, which has led to studying these possibilities of other instruments as well.

The nucleus of my composing is the heard sound. The seeds of my compositions often emerge as a result of (instru)mental improvisation, of savouring all kinds of sound events of the world and of tentative computer sound processing experiments. As a rule, some of these spontaneous ideas thus found begin to lead a life of their own in my mind, ending up as the points of departure for my written-out and/or media compositions.

Max Savikangas
Photo: Ville Hautamäki

I believe that timbre in contemporary music is equal to melody, harmony and rhythm and it should be understood as an umbrella term, covering all components of a sound event.

At best, different hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes are by no means effects or seasoning added afterwards to the music, but they are an organic and sensual part of expression, which is further expanded by the virtual acoustic space created by means of sound processing and amplification.

Max Savikangas
Photo: Touko Hujanen

I don’t think contemporary music needs to live in its own bubble, but it can let the world in and help structure it.

It’s worth listening with an open mind, empathizing and paying attention to what you think is interesting, engaging, moving, fun…

Max Savikangas

Index of posts