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Aspects of Hearing

Doctoral Project of Pia Siirala

Getting to know the music of the indigenous people of the north eastern Siberia has been a turning point in my life. It changed my earlier views and ideas about music and made me question how I perceive it, as someone brought up in the western tradition of classical music. Its unfamiliarity has an enchanting power, which I want to study and therefore I have named my research Aspects of Hearing.
Since 2004 I have made several field trips to Sakhalin, Kamchatka and Chukotka where the ancient musical tradition of the Personal Song is still alive. To date I have recorded approximately 1200 songs. The Personal Song is a song that is given to every child at birth. Later in life adults create their own songs. Singing is not a repetition of something that one has already heard, but as spontaneous as a conversation. It is also common to sing ancestral songs of the family. Unfortunately, this aural tradition is vanishing, together with the traditional reindeer herding lifestyle.
I use composing as a method to explore this music. My observations will be demonstrated in five artistic components and a thesis.

Artistic components:
The 1st doctoral concert, Ulita’s Walk, demonstrated my early experiences of indigenous music; how I heard and notated it. The following compositions were performed: Ulita’s walk for violin solo, Asikongaun – 11 moments for violin and kantele and The Nivkh Themes for violin, viola, cello and double bass.

The 2nd concert, Sound answers Voice, explored the Personal Song of the nomadic reindeer herders of Arctic Chukotka; what is the root and development of a musical thought and what is the relationship between hearing and synchronisation. During the concert the singing of the nomadic reindeer herders from the field recordings and live music entered into dialogue.

The 3rd artistic component, The Stream of music, will concentrate on the aspect of music, which is always present and flows in a subconscious mind. It will combine my fieldwork films and recordings with my musical impressions of the indigenous singing.

The 4th artistic component, Birth of a Personal Song, I will begin to create my own Personal Song, based on the two Personal Songs that the Koryak Elder, Mulingaut and the Chukchi Elder, Vukvunga each gave me as a gift.

In the 5th concert, Polar Voices is a work for string orchestra. It explores the concept of time and the different paces of time that are not directly related to each other. These elements create a space in the same way as unrelated sounds create a space of silence in nature.

The Thesis will concentrate on the music of the Paleosiberian indigenous peoples, especially of the Chukchi. Based on the material that I have collected on my field trips; I examine the variability of the Personal Song in the areas where nomadic reindeer herding continues to exist. I will contemplate on how my hearing filters Chukchi traditional singing. In nomadic Chukchi culture concepts such as melody, pitch, rhythm or form do not necessarily exist, or they might be understood differently. Instead of the word, “music” there are words such as “singing” or “imitation of animals” or other sounds of nature. For us music is something that we produce, whereas in the culture of the indigenous peoples of the North, music is a part of a person’s identity. These differences in perceptions of music between a Chukchi singer who has been brought up by the traditional nomadic reindeer herding culture and a musician who has been brought up in the western tradition of classical music, causes a clash that will hopefully produce new knowledge.

Pia Siirala is a doctoral student in the Arts study programme at the MuTri Doctoral School.

Keywords: Arctic, Indigenous music, Chukchi, Personal Song

Future doctors in music

We have approximately 150 doctoral students enrolled at the Sibelius Academy. This blog offers a view to their research projects.

The doctoral students are a part of a research community which is a unique combination of artistic activities, education, and research.

Their projects cover a wide spectrum of topics in the realm of music, combining musical practices and different research approaches.

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