The shared voice became the primary research focus of my inquiry; one could think of it as vocal thought matter. This kind of sensate thinking is not simply an immaterial form, but an embodied substance, which can be located within the material productions of the human voice.16 In the process of Vocal Nest, this embodied substance was located and co-constituted in the intra-active relations between the participating bodies, voices, and different materialities of the involved hospital environments.17 The compositional process of this material acknowledges myself as an artist-researcher being an inseparable part of the sensate thinking process, not from a certain distance, but from within this entanglement.18 The conceptualisation emerged during the process of working with Vocal Nest as I tried to find a way to talk about the specific evidential power of these voices. They do not endorse only through aurality, hearing, but get into my skin and flesh as tactile and vibrational sensations.19 The sonic relations, through which the overall tone of the piece is composed, are based on my sensate thinking with and knowing from within the shared sphere. However, they are not reducible to my artistic expression.
Anonymous thought matter was transformed into the sonorous basis of a vocal sculpture. I listened to its tones, and tried to reinforce the changes in its intensities and force fields by improvising with my own singing, as conditioned by this entangled material. These improvisations were also recorded. The starting point was an appreciative listening. It took some proximity to the deceased composer Pauline Oliveros’s practice of deep listening, which approaches listening as an invitation to give attention to what is perceived through hearing: to expand one’s listening, embodied with musical sensibility, to continually include more. Although the practice of deep listening involves also bodywork and sonic meditation, my practice orients differently. As noted earlier, the aim of my work is not (only) focused on expanding hearing but to open to the sensate realm of shared reality through vocal sensibility. Through turning my listening into vocalising, I tried to recognize how, from the charged bodies and breathless rhythms of the beginning of the event, something began to gradually take hold of the situation and generate, in a unique sense, a resonant and shared embodiment.20 The composition process of this material was deeply situational, entangled with the people and with more-than-human factors, such as the acoustics of the hospital space; I also attuned the piece with my vocalising to the tone of the elevators in the stairwell (a sharp minor).
The composition, tuned to this pitch, had a generative structure. The compositional system, built by Thomas Svedström, structured the sound as ever-changing and loosely unfolding according to the logic of a Fibonacci sequence. We used the numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 13 as an organisational logic. The system alternated between three generative sound textures. Each texture consisted of voiced sequences and silent parts, so that each consecutive sequence was longer than the previous, having a maximum duration of approximately three minutes. The sequences were constructed using a large sample database that was created by slicing the patient session recordings into 8-12 second pieces, arranged according to their inherent rhythms. Along with these sequences, a new sample of my own vocalising was added, together with a new voiced part, consisting of the patients voices, resulting in a total of five simultaneous sound sources per sound texture. The system monitored silent parts and controlled the fade-ins and fade-outs, so that each sample slid in and out smoothly.
From these various interwoven elements, human-sound environments of approximately five minutes duration were composed. They were played through eight loudspeakers, placed in between the nine floors of the ten-floor high stairwell. The system selected which floor would begin the sound in each sequence, from which point it started to radiate to the other floors until the entire stairwell was sounding. In the sound installation, the alteration between sounds and silent zones was also entangled with other-than-human sounds in the environment: the doors of the wards opening and closing, the elevators moving, people talking and passing by, as well as birds singing and wind blowing outside the hospital windows. Thus, more than a work of art, it is rather pertinent to speak about a procedural continuum of series of encounters, responses, and processes of falling silent.
While demonstrating the installation, we realised that some of the microtonal material I had sung felt too alarming when placed into contact with the deeply sensitive situations people were experiencing. Lucy Lippard maintains that site-specific art should have a particular ethical sensitivity, and that it should assimilate the basic rule: ‘don’t force what don’t fit in.’21 The relation between the tonal, slightly melodic, and non-tonal vocal material was thus composed with particular ethical attention to the situation-sensitivity of this place. The thorough compositional passage and means of the process also rested on such an ethico-aesthetically oriented logic. This orientation is manifested within the compositional details of Vocal Nest.
The shared moments of listening also followed the logic of this compositional process as research, typified by a slow and secure mood, spatial arrangements for listening, and particular ethical attention to describing the piece. After being installed in June 2015, I first introduced the composition to the administration of the hospital, then to the staff of the seven wards, and finally to the people who were inpatients in these seven wards. First, I briefly explained the composition process. Then, I invited inpatients that the staff estimated were capable of leaving the closed ward to listen to the installation for some ten minutes within the stairwell. By the time that Vocal Nest was exposed in the hospital space, the medical research permission for the second stage of my research was still being processed. Due to that, I could not gather systematic feedback.22 In my exposition, I use the descriptions that I wrote of the spontaneous and anonymous embodied reactions and spoken feedback I received from some of the patients and their relatives, the staff, and other people who came to experience the installation from outside the hospital sphere. I made field notes on these encounters. The methodology is also linked to some extent to autoethnographic work, because I make use of my own experiences as an artist-researcher. Furthermore, some connections to the participatory ethnographic research could be made through the vulnerability of being an artist-researcher among the patients within the discursive context of psychiatry. I do not, however, emphasise this realm of research in the exposition. To further expand on the mattering of the process, I refer to a few anonymous written feedback comments from two other installations of the piece. This material comprises 19 written pieces of feedback that I received as an artist from displaying Vocal Nest as part of the Henkireikä Art Festival in the music hall of the HUCH Psychiatry Centre in September 2015. The feedback was given by patients, relatives, staff members, and other people. This setting, unlike that of the stairwell, was a closed room. I have also included 55 anonymous written feedback comments that I received from the installation in Gallery Lapinlahti Helsinki in June and July 2016. I also refer to an interview with the psychiatric nurse Heimo Spelman in January 2017, who co-operated with me in the second phase of my research.
In the next three chapters, I read the insights of people’s experiences with the sonorous, non-discursive vocal matter, and vice versa. By doing so I try to show that the causal relationship between the apparatuses of bodily production (vocalising and listening) and Vocal Nest, as the material phenomenon produced, is one of agential intra-action.23