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