I also discussed the experience of the uncanny with a psychiatric nurse (family psychotherapist Heimo Spelman from HUH Psychiatry), who experienced the composition in the stairwell and was touched by it. From the viewpoint of the practice of psychiatric care, he critically speculated, ‘What do we consider as uncanny, strange, bearable, or unbearable within […] the human voice? What do we consider as flowing and fluent?’.10 Spelman brought up an understanding that within psychiatric hospitals ‘there has been perhaps for decades a particular unwritten basic idea, that if a person shouts, or talks loudly, or incessantly, or does something differently [with his or her voice] than what others of us perhaps do (at least not at work), then this person is [considered] sick, somehow. […] That there is something wrong with him or her.’ Spelman wondered: would it have been more tolerable, from the perspective of the psychiatric health care profession, if the patients had talked about the difficult things they experienced, and these verbalisations would have been installed into the stairwell? I will answer from the viewpoint of the singular experience of a person who was in the hospital as a patient: ‘Why doesn’t one do a practice like this?’ he asked while listening to the composition in the stairwell. His answer was that if one were to hear voices inside one’s head, he would prefer not to talk about it, and would ‘rather this kind of a music’.11
I want to stress that the aim of my project was to take part in the development process of a psychiatric value system through the methodological framework of artistic research, in dialogue with psychiatric discourse. In this particular context, the possibilities of art are rooted to the embodied, sensate, and social registers entangled with the mental register. The alternative epistemological registers were not meant to compete against each other. Instead, in line with Crossick et al., the idea was to generate intra-active complementarities, where each new entanglement generates an incremental increase in our knowledge.12 The sensate modes of knowing augment the valuable knowledge production of psychiatric practice and understanding. Even if the goal of my work was not therapeutic, the singular experience might have been therapeutic to some people. Also, as performance artist and theorist Tero Nauha argues, ‘what is significantly similar between artistic practice and therapy, is the production of subjectivity in both instances’.13
Verbal interaction has its own undisputable function in the recovery process, as in so many other interactions with the world. However, what was revealed in the non-verbal atmospheres of Vocal Nest, also seem to suggest a need for self-expression on a wider scale, without a therapeutical presumption. Such themes specifically came up in one of the wards, when I introduced the composition accompanied by a voluntary vocal session: participants brought up the need for other kinds of contact besides the psychiatric care, ‘such as this’. The justification of such artistic research work in the context of a psychiatric hospital has perhaps more to do with the question of cultural rights than, for example, mental health benefits. In line with Kai Lehikoinen (Professor of the Centre for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts [CERADA] at the University of the Arts Helsinki), the idea of cultural rights here ‘reference[…] the availability of cultural services, inclusion and [particularly, and rather tangibly] the notion of having one’s voice heard’.14
To understand more broadly the non-therapeutically oriented potentialities of vocal art in the material-discursive environment of a psychiatric hospital, it would be crucial in the future to closely re-examine, by artistic means, the relation between communication and expression. From here, one could map out the gradually scaled dimensions of how communication and expression differ and entangle. As I have argued, Vocal Nest did not actually communicate information from one person to another. It was not conversation in the sense of each participant contributing to the given theme. Nor was there such a theme. Nobody knew exactly where the vocal utterances came from. People vocalised and listened to something which co-emerged in a new way through a sensate and immanent path of encounter. Something tangible arose from the vocal atmospheres that did not require any kind of a dialogue or interaction — just the embodied presence of those several people, co-inhabiting a specific time and place. It is important to acknowledge that these singular affective qualities of the atmosphere would not have been possible to create anywhere else except for this particular psychiatric hospital and with these specific people.15
The resonance sphere created new affective tones for the norms of human expression in this sensitive environment. They allowed for ineffable and rudimentary vocal attributes to inhabit the hospital space and create the time and space for sensate thinking. Such atmospheres are never finished, static, but are perpetually forming and unforming, as Anderson argues.16 Therefore, there is no normative way of knowing and hearing the affective quality of this specific vocal sphere.17 There is simply the manifold nature of the entangled voices that are heard, perceived, and in a sense created, through the sensate knowledge of the listening bodies. Perhaps it could be argued that the intensity of the vocal spheres forced the listeners to take an embodied stance on the ethos of the piece. According to the sensate and reflective research material presented in this exposition, it seems that the singular affective qualities of Vocal Nest widened, elevated, or in some cases even liberated the presence of many of the people who were in the hospital as patients. However, as noted, the atmosphere that emerged also seemed to narrow and repress the bodily-perceived presence of some other people. It thus temporarily and slightly threw off the strictly regulated psychiatric hospital space. The mediating transmission appeared between the established ways of perceiving the subject and object, and a previously unknown sensate experience.18 That is, the composition showed the psychiatric hospital environment in an atmospheric mood, and thus proposed an artistic measure for considering the significance of the human voice as experience. Through such moments, artistic practice as research may be able to contribute something to psychiatric care that could provide people with another (side)path to the process of recovery.