Kunstakademiet, Tromsø 


Sami listening

Indigenous listening vs Western listening

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää


Note: Nils-Aslak Valkeapää or Áillohaš was a Sami visual artist, poet, musician, activist and much more. He was born in 1943 into a reindeer-herding family and grew up in Käsivarsi region in the north of Finland. Every summer he and his family migrated together with the reindeers to the coast of Norway, around Skibotn and the Lyngen area. At an early stage it became clear for him that he wouldn’t become a reindeer herder, so he went to study to become a teacher. Valkeapää was a keyfigure and a role model in the political Sami movement in the 80s and 90s, his work and practice are still well recognized internationally and a big inspiration for many younger Sami artists. His debut album ‘Joikuja’ came in 1968 on the Finnish label Otavan Kirjallinen Äänilevy. Later he collaborated and recorded several albums with experimental jazz musician Seppo ‘Baron’ Paakunainen and electronic musician Esa Kotilainen, both pioneers in the Finnish experimental and electronic music scene. They collaborated on albums such as Vuoi, Biret Máret, Vuoi! (1974), ‘Sami Eadnan Duoaddariid’ (1978), ‘Beaivi Áčhžán’ (1988) and Sapmi Lottzan (1992).


In 1992, he was commissioned by the Music Drama Group/Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (Sveriges Radio) to create the work Goase dušše – Loddesinfoniija / the bird symphony.The album was mixed in Áillohaš’s cottage in Beattet (Pätikkä), on the Finnish side of Sápmi, together with sound technician Mikal Brodin, and was produced by Gunilla Gustafsson (Bresky) and Sven Åke Landström. Valkeapää spent a couple of years focusing on the acoustic ecology and the sonic environment of the north recording various birds, reindeer herds and nature sounds. The album was one of the first in its genre to combine yoik, field recordings and soundscapes from the North. The first time I heard Goase dušše I was struck by its absolute presence, the well-crafted recordings and its slow pace. It also creates a feeling of melancholy and loss. In my opinion, it is still unrecognised as a piece of field recordings and I hope this truly pioneering work will get more attention in the future. Even though the work of Áillohaš differs from mine, I find similarities in our ways of collecting material, listening and approaching landscape, a relational, transformative and a non-human-centric epistemology. Valkeapää's’ bird symphony could be understood as a form of sonic activism and a shout out for eco awareness, but also a declaration of love for nature. Anthropologist and sound artist Steven Feld[1], known for his research on Kaluli listening in the Bosavi rainforest, Papa New Guinea coined the term «Acoustemology» in 1992, that merges the terms ‘acoustics’ and ‘epistemology’, What he describes as an ‘Anthropology of Sound’Sound and listening as a way of knowing, both through social and material, knowing with and knowing through the audible.


In May 2018. the Norwegian sound artist Elin Már Øyen Vister’s presented the work, Goase Dušše Revisited as part of Office for Contemporary Art’s (OCA) Exhibition, Let The River Flow. Øyen Vister commented, "Áillohaš’s piece is a call to listen to the sounds of life, and a warning that ‘nature is dying’ (Áilu-loddemánná). It was and still is today, in an era of global ecological crisis, ahead of its time and is more relevant now than ever.” In Vister’s work Soundscapes Røst – Spaces and Species Vol.1 (2012), she records and documents the Røst Archipelago and its pelagic birdlife situated off the coast of Nordland. The recordings which date back to 2010 and 2011, offers both a macro and a micro listening perspective at the same time, close-up sounds of puffins and kittiwakes in action, breeding and socialising. Since the album was released, the decline in the seabird populations has escalated. During the summer of 2020 the bird mountain of Vedøya at Røst became silent. The irreplaceable life and acoustic ecology on the Røst Archipelago may never be re-built or re-created, but Øyen Vister’s work offers an opportunity to listen and reflect upon the richness and variety of the acoustic reality these bird mountains contained.


1.Steven Feld, Acoustemology, Keywords in Sound, duke university press 2015