Toivoisin, että asuisin kuussa

Toivoisin että asuisin kuussa (“I wish I would live on the Moon”) is a poetry performance with live electronic music and surround sound design with audience participation. The poems, performed by Kaisa Osola, are by a Finnish children’s author Marjatta Kurenniemi (1918–2004). The music and sounds, created and performed by me, salute Marjatta’s son Erkki Kurenniemi (1941–2017), one of the pioneers of electronic music in Finland. Lighting design is made by Ina Niemelä.

The show premiered on 13th May 2018 at a children’s literary art festival Lumotut sanat in Oulu, Finland. It is a part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of Marjatta Kurenniemi. The celebrations are coordinated by Vattumadon talo association, who are also behind the initial idea of the performance. A big thanks to them, and also to the Finnish Cultural Foundation who have supported the project with a grant.

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The performance is built around twelve poems. Music is created by live looping a couple of software synthesizers, a glockenspiel and some simple beatboxing. Theremin is also used for both musical melodies and effects. I have tried to implement some (retro) computer music flavours to loosely connect the soundscape to Erkki Kurenniemi’s works in the 60’s and 70’s. However, I don’t even try to make it sound experimental, which is partly due to keep the performance’s dramaturgy and overall mood focused on Marjatta’s poems and the themes we have chosen to emphasise.

From the sound design perspective the leading ideas are 1) the use of surround sound to immerse the audience inside the performance universe, 2) not hiding the music and sound creation process or technology, but instead letting them have dialogue with the poems, 3) encouraging the audience to participate in creation of some of the soundscapes: collecting words and sounds from the spectators using a wireless microphone (e.g. a single blow), and creating surround soundscapes from those samples (e.g. huge wind circling around the audience).

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The performance is designed for a quadrophonic surround system, but can be converted to other speaker layouts, too. It seems that not many venues have fixed rear or side speakers, so temporary setups must be used. Luckily in Oulu for our premier the Valvesali black box did have a brand new d&b audiotechnik PA with extra speakers in each corner of the space.

I have built a rather complex Pure Data patch for all the sound design elements, and for the surround outputs I use both discrete speaker channels and Ambisonic encoding (using HOA Library by CICM with 4th order, 2D encoding) depending on situation. There are a number of different trigger-enabled, automated or randomised file players and panners for playing back content. Some audio files are pre-recorded effects and some are recorded live during the performance. I’m using several ways of sampling and manipulating audio from two separate handheld microphones and a lavalier carried by Kaisa.

Pure Data is controlled mainly by midi messages from a small Akai LPK25 midi keyboard.

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The music elements run on Ableton Live. It is controlled by an Akai MIDImix controller and an M-Audio Axiom midi keyboard. To get MIDImix’s LED lights to indicate what I am doing in Live (e.g when I have soloed a bus channel) I had to create a subpatch in Pure Data to read which buttons I have pressed and then send messages back to MIDImix to switch on or off the LED’s.

At the premiere in Oulu the audience was excellent and they were very co-operative to take part in creating the soundscapes with us. Without audience participation we would have been in trouble! Also, surround sound is something special that people don’t get to experience too often in live performances, so I believe that had its “magical” effect, too.

There are a couple of more shows booked for the coming summer and autumn (e.g. Our Festival 27 July 2018), and we are very excited to be able to bring this somewhat unique performance to young audiences. We have also future plans to recycle the concept in order to create a poetry performance for adults with contemporary poems and more edgy music and sounds.

Photos by Matti Kurkela and author

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