Olli Sorjonen

A sound work by the head of the jury in Joensuu Soundscape Composition Contest, John Wynne, was banned in Copenhagen


Sound artist John Wynne tells that he is constantly listening to the environment. However, senses shouldn’t be separated, they are a wholeness, Wynne says.

John Wynne, born in Canada, works as a researcher and a lecturer in London, but considers himself mainly as a sound artist, not an academic.  In his early days, Wynne studied music. As a teenager, he changed his mind and switched from music to books.  He studied English Literature in the university, but that didn’t feel quite right either. Little by little, he became interested in experimental music again.

The real awakening happened in San Francisco, when he heard lectures by the musician and sound researcher David Rosenboom who had studied brainwaves.  “Through that experience, I became interested in sound art and shaping tapes and devices for making sound. Musique concrete also made a big impression,“ Wynne recalls.  “The interesting thing for me in sound art is the approach of working with ready-made sounds, not notes.”  Taking the living atmosphere into the process was then a natural follow-up.

Silent cars
Wynne came to Joensuu for the job as the head of the jury in the soundscape composition contest.  “This event is truly unique. At least I haven’t heard of any other occasion where this kind of contest would have been situated straight into the city environment.”
Do we need more noise to the urban space, then? 
“That depends entirely upon the work. We weren’t looking for works that simply add to the existing noise but rather ones which were able to leave space for and work together with the environment, to become a part of it. Used carefully, a public sound piece can make the urban soundscape more interesting… but even then a lot of attention has to be paid to the volume level” says Wynne, after pondering a while.
What would improve the urban soundscape?
“Quieter cars and better road materials would make a big difference. Electric cars are almost silent, but then again they have to be equipped with sound by which the pedestrians know to watch out for them. Used imaginatively, that could be a great opportunity to improve the urban soundscape.”
Also the architects could do their job.
“Architects should pay more attention to acoustics. Public spaces are often awful in terms of sound.”
As for the soundscape of Joensuu city, Wynne describes it with the concept hi-fi.   “London, on the contrary, is most often very lo-fi, as single sounds cannot be clearly perceived from its mass of sound. In small cities like Joensuu, the sound is more spacious and bright.”

At the moment, Wynne’s work is exhibited in Canada, where he portrays an endangered native language through images and sound.  In Canada, there are many native languages with only a few older speakers left.  His work has also been exhibited in Helsinki at Kiasma.
“At the beginning of 21st century the municipality of Copenhagen banned my work consisting of alarm sounds because they claimed it frightened and confused the public,” Wynne laughs.

CAPTION: The winning work by Jenni Hanikka was recorded by Antti Koukonen
Jenni Hanikka, from Joensuu, won the first Joensuu Soundscape Composition Contest. Hanikka’s work was also ranked first by the audience. There were 153 public votes cast in total.
The unanimous jury applauded Hanikka’s Oneness (13 min) for its strong concept, good structure and technical quality. There was no home ground benefit, the jury concluded.
“The aim of the piece was tranquillity, and that was well achieved. The work has a positive effect on its environment and it is beautiful,” head of the jury John Wynne applauded.
The winning piece came close to not being submitted:  “I was just arriving from Borneo, from a sound collecting trip, and the whole contest was close to slipping from my mind. We contributed in the last minute,” Jenni Hanikka, just arrived from a gig from Kaustinen, told.
Even though there are many dissimilar elements in the four-part work, such as bagpipes, Karelian lullaby and Buddhist Om-mantra, the piece is coherent and flowing.
“A feeling of calming down unites it all. It was really impressive to hear my own work in the sound system in the pedestrian zone. The linear aesthetic used in shepherd songs interests me. Small variations and the unlikeness of the conception of time,” Hanikka reflected.
Hanikka has herself recorded all the sounds of her work: some of them in her own living room, some of them in Borneo.  Prize money, 2000 Euro in total, goes to savings, as the study grants already went to the Borneo trip. Hanikka studies folk music in North Karelia Polytechnic. In Kaustinen Folk Music Festival she performed with Grupa Muzica. On Friday, she performs on the Market Square Stage in Joensuu, so she hasn’t got a lot of time being idle.
The second prize of the contest went to Swiss artist Joel Chètelat with Everyone Is a Sheep Until Becoming Wolf. The third prize is split by Sam Salem and Virgilio Oliveira.