The aural garden of sounding materials:

performing within the materiality of Et in Arcadia ego-music performance

Picture 1. A photograph of the painting on the lid of the Italian harpsichord owned by Sibelius Academy and built by Andrea di Maio. The lid is painted by the builder.
Photograph: Pirje Mykkänen.

Although professional musicians have during years developed sensitivity suitable for exploring the field of auditory materiality, we don’t often address these questions as researchers. My first sketches of Et in Arcadia ego-music performance are written in 2013. This time I wanted to try out a musical performance as intra-acting from within the materiality of the concert venue and its instruments. Even though the classical music’s performance practices may range from many kinds of electro-acoustical solutions to all sorts of theatrical features, it’s normal to expect that a program of a typical concert of Western art music is performed piece by piece, and that the applauses are heard between each composition. The compositions are usually performed and comprehended as whole, undivided entities. This is often a practical and pleasant solution for the composer, performer and for the audience as well. However, it’s possible to invent, generate, develop and experiment with other kinds of performative approaches suitable for this so called classical music. In this article I aim at discussing the intrinsic material qualities of a music performance. Moreover, I posed the question of whether a study of acoustic features of a concert venue could become material for a more elaborate artistic interaction? Is it possible to animate the concert venue by studying its auditory features more carefully?


Et in Arcadia ego-music performance could be shortly described as an auditory garden deriving its inspiration from 17th-century European meditation gardens. It was premiered at the Helsinki Music Centre in autumn 2016 and it was performed again in the summer of 2017 in Venice as a part of the Research Pavilion of the University of the Arts Helsinki. The performance was initiated as my KeKe-project 2014 (The Sibelius Academy’s former Development Centre, KeKe) with a research question of how to develop the performance practices of classical music by subtly varying its performative parameters.


Pre-recorded organic (as an opposite to synthetic) sound material related to wooden instruments such as organ pipes, psalteries and harpsichords, as well as the concrete sounds of wood, spruce cones, twiggs and sticks were projected into the concert venue and became part of the music repertory and live improvisations. The recording was done based on my ideas on how the musical material could be used as a ground for improvisations and as a way to open up the venue’s acoustic possibilities including its three organ lofts. The recording was done in May 2016 in Organo Hall by the three of us; mezzo soprano Sofia Buono, sound designer Timo Muurinen, and I. Sirje Ruohtula, who works permanently at the Music Centre, became our light designer in 2016, which was a stroke of luck, since Sirje and Timo know each other and have worked together. Timo was responsible for the live sound design and engineering of the multi-channel surround sound system, which he built into Organo. In this exposition I will articulate my own working process as an artistic director, artistic designer and as a musician in the first person. However, I talk about ’our performance’, since it was performed by us all, each of us having his or her own areas of expertise.


Yoldia and I met during the spring 2016, and Yoldia was given freedom to create her own choreography for the air de cour O beau jardin. However, as an artistic designer I had ideas for hearing Yoldia’s and Sofia’s presence in the concert venue, and therefore I gave them a few tasks to move around the walls of the concert venue and along the two balconies. They were also directed to produce acoustic sounds of rushing (galopping) footsteps and rattling cones in their hands while walking in the space.


Historically informed performance (HIP) could often be called ”well-intentioned” musicianship, a term introduced by musicologist Peter Walls in his History, Imagination and the Performance of Music (2003, 71), which simply refers to possibility of finding the most convincing way of performing historical music repertory by becoming aware of its historical context. However, dislocating music from its original function (seremonial court music, private music for intimate gatherings of court, or liturgical music, for example) may corrupt its essential nature. This has been discussed by music philosopher, musicologist Lydia Goehr in her The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (1992). She describes(1992, 104) the regulative aspects of musical works followingly:


”Regular concepts are delimiting. They indirectly suggest to the participants of a practice that only certain beliefs and values are to be held and only certain kinds of actions are to be undertaken. In this ense, regulative concepts are structuring mechanisms that sanction particular thoughts, actions, and rules as being appropriate.”


On the other hand, her major claim is to suggest that a musical work is an open concept (1992, 89–90) ”with original and derivative employment; that it is correleted to the ideals of a practice; that it is regulative; that it is projective; and that it is an emergent concept.” This is revealing, although the word ’derivative’ might imply performance practices, which could be defying the regulations. Musicologist and musician John Butt dissects many ways a musical composition may imply different ways of conceiving the musical notation. The alternative ways of notating may include: 1. notation purposely incomplete, 2. notation as ”fitted suit”, 3. notation as an example, 4. notation as a description or as an alternative embodiment of music. (Butt 2002, 106–122.) In these cases the ’open work’ regulates musician’s work differently from what one would normally expect.


In our case, I wanted to add to Lydia Goehr’s list of ”open” features a generative character of a musical composition. This generative character could maybe be comprehended as a sub-category of her derivative examples. For Lydia Goehr the ”a derivative example is conceptually dependent upon an original example, but not vice versa” (Goehr 1992, 97). I wanted to improvise based on the musical material of the performed works and this was not because the work was made intentionally incomplete or notated in order to serve as an example, but for other reasons, reasons that I described above; for experimental reasons aiming at digging into the materiality of the concert venue.


Even though especially Baroque music implies a lot of improvisatory practices, none of them really describes the way the musical fragments were played with within Et in Arcadia ego. This is not to say, that the way we played with music was somehow new or iconoclastic, not at all. It was merely slightly different in many ways. The generative employment of music as an open concept implied in our performance combining acoustic, improvised and musically developed fragments of the concert repertory with Timo Muurinen’s alive sound engineering aiming at enhancing the materiality of our instruments, bodies, and the concert venue. The musical motives or sounds were heard partly on top of each other, developed, fragmented, played with, hummed, imitated, even shared with the audience who were at one point encourared to sing along. The improvisation in general was not made technically difficult. Instead, it was meditative, mostly tonal and easy.


My purpose is to embrace the variety and possibilities we have as performers of the historical repertory and to broaden the way we think performing as historically informed. I aim at paying attention to the qualitative changes of the historically informed musician’s intentions. This time I focused on the “Arcadian” materiality and the perceptive layers of cultural background evoked by our performative choices, instruments and the concert venue. This is done by the whole Et in Arcadia ego-project including the preparative studies, readings and rehearsals, performances, presentations (SAR 2017, Venice Research Pavilion 2017) and by writing this exposition.

Picture 3. Mykkänen, Pirje: An immersion of a portrait of Timo Muurinen and Assi Karttunen into the painting on the lid of the Italian harpsichord painted by Andrea di Maio.

On the philosophical background of Et in Arcadia ego


A multidisciplinary performance like Et in Arcadia ego raises a question of in what ways the different sensory impulses are merging into each other. Often the other genres of art are overpowering the music and aural experiences, and the auditory elements are left with a role of accompanying the other types of action like dancing or acting. Maurice Merleau-Ponty ([1964] 1968, 130–155) writes ever so poetically about the corporeality of visuality and about how it is merged with tactile impulses. He talks about the intertwining (le chiasm) of several, corporeal ’consciousnesses’ and one of the many metaphors he uses is a bouquet of flowers.


“A difficult relation to conceive – since what has to be comprehended is that these visions, these touches, these little subjectivities, these ’consciousnesses of…,’ could be assembled like flowers into a bouquet, when each being ’consciousness of,’ being For Itself, reduces the others into objects.” (Merleau-Ponty [1964] 1968, 141.)


As a musician I find the auditory phenomena more explisitly explained in Don Ihde’s phenomenologies of sound, Listening and voice [1976] 2007. What strikes me, is the fundamental intentionality of our aural skills. The auditory perception gains knowledge related to spatiality, directionality and materiality. In this sense, the aurality as such is multi-sensorily oriented. This is the reason why the visuality was actually strongly restricted in Et in Arcadia ego-performance. The whole beginning section of the Et in Arcadia ego was performed in a dim light, almost in darkness. Therefore the videotaping of our performance was not among the primary goals of our project.


Ihde (2007, 15) undertakes a task of decentering visualism and says: “Its more profound aim is to move from the present with all its taken-for-granted beliefs about vision and experience and step by step, to move toward a radically different understanding of experience, one which has its roots in a phenomenology of auditory experience.” He is not only interested in human experience, but his thinking includes new materialist features.


What combines Don Ihde’s and philosopher Gaston Bachelard's (1884–1962) thinking is the focusing on the materiality. By writing in his La poétique de l’espace(1957) about houses, nests, drawers, chests and even cabinets Bachelard ([1957] 2010) seems to be endlessly fascinated by the poetical, psycho-analytical, mythological and cultural layers of our everyday materiality. Similarly, his L’Eau et les rêves, essai sur l’imagination de la matière (1942) consists of analyses of ”imagination of the water”; the transparity, fluidity, plasticity, depthness and the assumed purifying effect of it. Our Et in Arcadia ego created confluences with new materialities along with the posthumanist conception of matter as lively or exhibiting agency, since it concerns (artistically relevant) qualities, materials and their performativity.


During the years I visited many meditative gardens ranging from Finnish gardens like the ones in Fagervik, Mustio and in Fiskars to Tuileries in Paris, Sanssouci in Potsdam and read books written on gardens (Lounatvuori 2004; Knapas 2008; van den Broek 2012) or parks like Monrepos in Vyborg, or Ermenonville near Paris.[1]


Moreover, I participated a working group creating a performance on Basho’s poetry titled In a wood, in a hut, in a mind (2013), which was initiated by me and directed by Pauliina Hulkko. Her and sound designer Jone Takamäki’s careful and sensitive ideas on spatial and aural elements influenced my thinking. Also, I appreciated the performative ideas on which Hulkko based her Pavlova Experiment I and II (I joined the Pavlova Experiment II as a performer) in 2010. As a musician and artistic designer I have worked in numerous performances including collaboration with actors, directors, sound designers, dancers, singers, choreographers, media artists, and photographers.


The performers:

Mezzo soprano Sofia Buono

Dancer-choreographer Yoldia van Gemert

Sound designer Timo Muurinen

Harpsichordist Assi Karttunen



Jean-Henri d’ Anglebert (1629–1691): Gaillarde, O beau jardin, Les Pièces Manuscrites

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704): Sans frayeur

Stefano Landi (1587-1639): Augellin

Graham Lynch (1959): Pastorale 2015 (premier), Rondeau 2016 (premier)



Return to Arcadia


Arcadia is a universal theme permeating the whole history of art, the earliest examples of Arcadian art works being Polybius the Arcadian’s (c. 200 – c. 118 BC) Histories, Ovid’s (43 BC– 17/18 AC) Metamorphoses, Theocritus’s (died 260 BC) Idylls, Virgil’s (70 BC–19 BC) Eclogues. Music historian Giuseppe Gerbino (2014,1) points out the veiled eroticism of Arcadian pastoral:


“At the beginning of the seventeenth century, cardinal Roberto Bellarmino allegedly claimed that Batista Guarini’s Il pastor fido posed as great a threat as the protestant reformation”.


It would be demeaning to stigmatize pastorale poetry only as frivolous and self-referential pastime of the elite. Contrariwise, the pastoral fiction seemed to “work as a metaphor for human existence, and as a way to articulate discourses about human nature and its relation to the world” (Gerbino 2014, 4). However, this exposition cannot provide an overall view on this literature. The pastorale idyll has also been depicted in the painting by Nicolas Poussin called Arcadian Shepherds. The first version was painted around 1628–30 and is located in Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. The other version (painted c. 1637–38), entitled Les Bergers d’ Arcadie, is currently in the Louvre. In both paintings, the shepherd is pointing to the words engraved on a tombstone: Et in Arcadia ego.


According to art historian Louis Marin ([1977] 1995, 29) Poussin deconstructed historical painting through metarepresantation:

“He construes the painting as a kind of ’theoretical’ paradigm while representing representation as contemplation. Yet his conception deconstructs the painting in the very instant its end is achieved, the moment it provokes the delectation or jouissance that is the effect of representation itself.” (Marin [1977] 1995, 28.)


Louis Marin ([1995]1999, 80) points out art historian Erwin Panofsky’s (1892–1968) thesis relying on the two contradictory characterizations of Arcadia that may be found in classical texts. “On the other hand we have the Arcadia of Ovid and Polybius the Arcadian. This Arcadia is the land of precivilized origins, of the origin contrued as a wilderness. On the other hand we have the conception of Arcadia described in Virgil’s Eclogues, a conception resulting from transference, that is a renaming of the Sicily of Theocritus’s Idylls.” The latter conception created by Theocritus and Virgil, emphasizes the “discordance between the supernatural perfection of an imaginary space and the natural limits of human life.” (Marin ([1995]1999, 80)


The fragment Et in Arcadia ego could be seen as a paraphrase of Virgil’s V Eclogue, which tells about the shepherds Menalcas and Mopsus arriving at the tomb of their companion Daphnis. In Eclogue V the shepherds Menalcas and Mopsus mourn their deceased companion Daphnis:


The thistle springs up

and the thorn-bush with the sharp prickles.                

Strew the ground with leaves,

draw the shadows over the fountains, shepherds.

Daphnis orders such things to be done for him;

And make a tomb, and to the tomb superadd an inscription:

‘I am Daphnis in the woodlands, known hence even to the stars.

Guard of a beautiful flock, myself more beautiful even.


(Virgil, translated by I. Perley Smith 1909, 31.)


Thus the shepherds cried over their beloved Daphnis. This has often been interpreted as a metaphor for death, which is present even in Arcadia. One could ask whether death is not the key element of our ”first” experience of the natural world. The scent of mouldering earth – with no sense of drama – is typical of real woodland. This suggestion is at the core of our performance of Et in Arcadia. The materiality of wood is used as a performative element in our music performance.


Wood is often experienced as a secure, organic and welcoming material, although it is undeniably dead and brittle, having lost its vital elasticity. Wood, used as building material, has lost its ability to grow new leaves, and the tree’s photosynthesis has stopped.[2] These multi-layered and even contradictory qualities of wood are known to instrument builders around the world, and the famous verse Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano has often been written on the lids of the muselars and harpsichords of the 17th-century: While living I was silent; dead, I sing sweetly.[3]


According to Bachelard ([1942] 2006, 11), the unconscious is immediately captured by the ambiguity of the matter embedded in the form. The imagination seems to become particularly fascinated by a matter that tempts an imaginative response: “A matter without imagined dual existence cannot play this psychological role of fundamental matter. Matter that does not provide the opportunity for a psychological ambivalence cannot find the poetic double which allows endless transpositions.” (Bachelard [1942] 2006, 11.)


In our performance, wood as artistic material creates multiple poetic connotations. To Virgil, Arcadia was the meeting point of life and death, the very place where the circle of life can be understood in its most tangible manner. In this case, even the wooden concert venue and instruments, as well as the living (singing) and dead materials of the performance itself, themselves embed endless amounts of the ”poetic transpositions” described by Bachelard ([1942] 2006, 11). This is one way of enhancing materiality in a music performance.

Landscaping a meditative garden

The cultural values related to trees, gardens, parks and woodlands can be analyzed by exploring the ideas of the famous landscape architects. The most interesting topic concerning our Et in Arcadia ego-music performance is the relationship between the natural and artificial elements. Art historian and art philosopher Oskar Bätschmann points out the essential element of portrayal as evidence of the death of the person it represents and he quotes Blaise Pascal, who expressed this dialectic of the portrait followingly: “A portrait contains absence and presence, pleasure and displeasure. Reality excludes absence and displeasure.” (Pascal cited by Bätschmann 1990, 50.)


Ermenonville, near Paris is one of the most famous meditative parks, and belonged to the marquis Louis-René de Girardin (1735–1808), who was passionate about landscape gardening. Ermenonville was inspired by English gardens but was particularly known for its paysages interessans, a more liberated way of landscaping compared to the previous style of geographical lines dominated by Cartesian laws (van den Brock 2012, 44). This passion for landscaping led de Girardin to write a book, De la composition des paysages, ou des moyens d’embellir la nature autours des habitations, en y joignant l’agréable à l’utile, which was published in 1777 (Ibid., 45–46).


The ideas of a ”natural” landscape and of a cultivated and designed park are intertwined. Van den Broek describes the relationship between fabricated and natural by pointing out the special interconnection this question has with painting. “Most painters of that time fabricated dramatized landscapes, made up of landmarks, villages, castles, ruins, mills, and monumental trees. In England, the painting more or less preceded the landscape, whereas de Girardin tried to lay out a landscape that invited to be painted.” (Van den Broek 2012, 47.)


De Girardin wanted to show the endless possibilities of embellishing and enriching nature (van den Broek 2012, 52). Already in the beginning of his book de Girardin shows the differences between his ideas on landscaping referred to the previous landscape architect André Le Notre’s (1613–1700) visions. According to de Girardin Le Notre managed to massacre the nature in the name of architecture, mutilated the trees in every way, flattened the terrain into a monotonous planimetry, and made the whole plantation follow cold symmetrical lines (de Girardin 1777, Introduction xj).


In contrast, De Girardin aimed at developing, conserving and imitating the nature. He didn't want to force it to submit to the rules of architecture. (de Girardin 1777, Introduction xij–xiij.) André Le Notre didn’t write a book on landscaping, but one can visit the gardens and parks he has designed. For him the symmetry and clear, geometric layouts probably incorporated power, monarchy and divine omnipotence on earth. His re-landscaping of Le Jardin des Tuileries (1664) was like the Elysian Fields come true.


One of the most recent meditative parks, I have visited is Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany. This large park spreads out in front of the palace of Sanssouci once owned by Frederick the Great. One of his ideas with the creation of the park was to cultivate plums, figs and grapevines in Potsdam, and therefore a terraced vineyard garden was built there in 1744. A pavilion resembling a Chinese teahouse is located on the south side of the palace with a golden figurine representing an imaginative version of a Chinese man sitting on top of the pavilion’s tambour and holding a parasol. The pavilion was built during 1755–1764 and designed by the architect Johann Gottfried Büring. As also typical for meditative gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Sanssouci includes artificial ruins called Roman Pillars, a round temple and a wall of an ancient theatre were built in 1748 and designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff and a theatre painter, Innocente Bellavita.


Similar elements can be found in meditative landscape gardens in Finland, but on a smaller scale. The gardens of Mustio, Fagervik and Monrepos, near the former Finnish town of Viborg, are all famous for details resembling those in Sanssouci. Meditative landscape gardens are often designed to have a calming effect on the human mind, but at the same time they are meant to invigorate the (possibly) weary soul and to orientate the thoughts towards lofty and universal themes such as the course of human life and death, the human history and humans’ role on earth. One can ponder different nations on our planet, and the different types of nature one can experience here in different countries. The paths through the garden are designed to provide compelling sights, which are constantly revealing new viewpoints on the landscape.


Typically, a charming river weaves back and forth along and across the path of a meditative garden. Often, a pretty bridge is built over it, and perhaps one might even see an island or a formation of rocks in the water, making the river even more interesting. The sound of water amongst the stones and curves is as important as its winding shapes. One path might lead to the gravestone of an ancient philosopher, while another tempts us towards a delightful pavilion, or a meadow, or perhaps a statue. The light one sees through the high thickets of reeds is different from the one filtering through the leaves of a maple tree. All of the elements of a garden are carefully studied and conjoined in order to emphasize their diversity or their mutual harmony.


This surrounding, omni-directional and immersive effect of nature concords with the ideas of the aural garden of Et in Arcadia ego-music performance. The aural omnidirectionality can be referred to visual sensory impulses like Don Ihde (2007, 75) does followingly:


“My auditory field and my auditory focusing is not isomorphic with visual field and focus, it is omnidirectional. In the shape of the auditory field, as a surrounding thing, the field-shape ’exceeds’ that of the field-shape of sight. Were it to be modeled spatially, the auditory field would have to be conceived of as a ’sphere’ within which I am positioned, but whose ’extent’ remains indefinite as it reaches outward toward a horizon.”


The challenge is to overcome the qualitative differences between the acoustical and amplified sounds. Therefore the experimentation between the acoustical and manifactured sound are crucial for this kind of a performance and artistic research. 



How to be in an aural Arcadia


In Arcadia-performance the invented, imagined and manufactured are mixed with the actual reality of the concert venue’s materiality. This could perhaps be called extended reality. This brings to my mind Marin’s idea referring to the jouissance of portrayal is able to provoke. According to Marin the jouissance starts, when the representation reaches its limits (Marin [1977] 1995, 28.) The participating in our aural Arcadia meant also extended and mixed musicianship, authorship and performership.


The concert venue’s performative setting(s) were designed in a way, which made many Arcadian features possible (features derived from a typical 17th–18th-century meditative garden). Of course, it is impossible to reconstruct pagodes, rivers, tombs, bridges, pergolas, trees and pavillions into a concert hall. The deviation from the original model offered me, and us, an opportunity to create a performative setting full of possibilities to play and to experiment. The idea of representation was seen as contemplation (see Marin [1977] 1995, 28) and the performance was constructed to mean more than a mere imitation.


During the rehearsal period we discussed a lot with the sound designer Timo Muurinen and agreed on the preliminary plan of not using the most obvious ”natural” sounds like sounds of birds, grasshoppers, frogs. Instead we decided to create an ”aural garden” of sounds, which are produced mostly by our instruments, our voices, and by the materiality of the hall.


In other words, the ”aural garden” of the performance was not created from ”outside”, but through intra-action within the materiality of the concert venue. In this sense the artistic researching and theorizing were dynamic forces affecting each other. I see here a point of contact with Annette Arlander’s artistic research on performing landscape. According to Arlander (2015) it is possible to create a landscape by acts of performative practices. For her this is one way of ”landscaping”.


The only exceptions were the sounds of the spruce cones and twiggs which we brought into the material setting of the hall. Timo pointed out that to use spruces’ sounds would be a solution without a fabricated and designed character. These sounds would only one-dimensionally refer to the same sound they represent in the woods. However, for me the sounds of spruce cones and twiggs were a tool for auditory ”drawing” or ”outlining”. With help of the crackling sounds of the cones and the twiggs we were able to make the hall's shapes, building materials and the lofts’ various distances audible. When we listen to sounds we are actually locating ourselves and getting information of the surroundings, almost like bats. This is one of Don Ihde´s favorite topics.


When hearing a sound we don’t merely ask: ”What was that?” We also ask, where a specific sound comes from and how far it is located from me? Don Ihde (2007, 54) describes this auditory phenomenon by saying:


“Sounds are frequently thought of as anticipatory clues for ultimate visual fulfillments. The most ordinary of such occurrences are noted in locating unseen entities. The bird-watcher in the woods often first hears his bird, then he seeks it and fixes it in the sight of his binoculars.“


He introduces a term called echolocation by claiming:


“This same following focus on reverberational phenomena occurs in relation to interiors if the ’voice’ that is given is that of the echo. If I am practicing a human adaptation of ’echolocation’, as in the use of a tapping cane, or if I am blind and using this method to navigate, again I do not attend to the instant of the tap. Indeed, I do not pay much attention to the tap at all unless I am more interested in a surface than in the wider sense of distance and the presence of reflecting surfaces. Thus I listen for the echo, I ’follow’ the echo, which gives me whatever sense of vague walls or corridors within which I must move. Again the ’fine focus’ is on the ’following’ and ’running off’ phenomena of the whole temporal event.” (Ihde 2007, 99.)


The spatial, temporal, directional, echolocational, surrounding, omni-directional and immersive features of auditory materiality and phenomenality seem to suggest that it is possible to create an aural garden inspired by meditative parks without reconstructing those parks in an imitative manner. Moreover, the temporality of our Et in Arcadia ego was half-structured and partly free. This means that the performance’s every re-presentation is different. Certain time frames were given by the performers themselves. The temporality was enacted as mutual understanding of the performative rhythm, pauses, and moments of listening. Sofia and Yoldia were asked to listen to each other’s ”playing” of the spruce cones in order to avoid changing the individual rustles into a continuos field of rustling. I was allowed to play my spruce cone (following my own rules) not until Yoldia threw it to me from the balcony.


In Et in Arcadia ego the performed compositions, especially two of them Pastorale and O beau jardin, were heard at first as fragments, and as bases for improvisations.

Also, the fragments were at times heard partly on top of each other, since I noticed soon, that some details of the compositions could be played in a way, which made them casually overlap each other. This is naturally due to the fact that the composer Graham Lynch knew we are going to play O beau jardin in the program. I told Graham about my wishes to introduce the compositions little by little, and he was aware of the fact that I’m going to improvise based on his music and had nothing against it.


The circle of life present in a typical meditative garden was embedded into the performance: the performers were representing different stages of life, we were of three generations; a child dancer, a young singer and a middle-aged musician. There was one exception to this; the sound designer Timo Muurinen and I are of the same age. The Arcadia is essentially transcient by nature. This is the reason for the tomb in the Arcadia painted by Poussin, and therefore the text ”et in Arcadia ego” refers to natural time limits of our human life.


The directionality of a meditative garden encourages the visitor to roam around in it, to pick a different path this time or to return to one’s favorite places. Similarly, we created paths around the concert venue and its lofts. These paths were slightly different in the Venice performance. Timo got a splendid idea to use the actual alive sound heard from a window as a part of the performance in Venice. At one point Sofia went to open a large, wooden window to a garden, and we just listened to the weak warble heard from the yard.


The performance’s relationship to the architectural components of the Organo hall were both symmetrical and spontaneous. This resembles the many ways nature and the plantations were following freely the architectural designs of the meditative gardens. The Organo hall was experienced as multilayered terrain resembling the terrains of different hights wished by Girardin) instead of ”monotonous planimetry” (de Girardin 1777, Introduction xj.)


The landscaping was constantly referred to painting by de Girardin (1777, Introduction xij). The movement around the venue was something the 17th and18th-century landscape painters longed for by introducing new techniques to capture movement, turbulence, wind and even storm, all topics already addressed by Leonardo da Vinci in his work diaries (da Vinci 2009, 112 and 114–116.).


Asyncronicity, improvisatory spontaneity and asymmetricity, all these features are challenging static and formal performing usually heard at a classical music concert venue’s stage, which could be described as a ”static arena” like in classical physics described by Doreen Massey. According to Massey’s understanding of time-space (2008, 29–30, 50 and 59) the place can be perceived as a meeting point of simultaneous events having their own causalities and without predefined limits. A place may be seen as a dynamic, living phenomenon implying its inner conflicts and not as a static arena. In this sense a performer may relate to the place in a way that pays attention to the living context in which the music is played and heard. This doesn't imply that music performance at the ”arena” would not have its important role as a mode of music performance, and this sort of performing (pieces played at the front of the stage) was included in the Et in Arcadia ego-performance, too.


How to build an Arcadian program?


There were many phases in the programming of Et in Arcadia ego. I instantly knew that the air de cour O beau jardin would be one of the concert’s main works. This piece can be found in the collection of Brunettes ou petits airs tendres, published by Christophe Ballard (1641–1715).[4]


The text of this air is about cherishing a garden which is able to ”unite art and nature” in a miraculous way. This air is apparently sung to the narrator’s love object because he describes how, instead of flowers, love blossoms from the steps of his beloved.


Oh, beautiful garden, air de cour (O beau jardin)


Oh beautiful garden,

Where Art and Nature

Compel us to admire a hundred miracles diverse.

If there exists one object in the universe

That can efface your lovely tableau

It is the beauty of the one I serve


Your adornments come by the grace of Flore,

But the Spring will determine their course.

Whereas one can see evermore

Beneath the step of the One I adore

Not the blossoming of flowers but of Love


(transl. by Assi Karttunen and Lynne Sunderman as a part of the language inspection 2017.)


The chaconne Sans frayeur tells about a shepherd who, arriving to a forest, sees Tircis, a shepherdess, but without any emotional engagement.


Without fear, chaconne (Sans frayeur)

Without fear I came to these woods alone.

Here I saw Tircis without being moved.

Ah! Is there nothing I can do?

How a young callous heart is to be pitied! 

I seek no danger, but at least I would like to fear it.


(transl. by Assi Karttunen and Lynne Sunderman as a part of the language inspection 2017.)


I sent this air de cour to composer Graham Lynch, who was commissioned by me to compose a harpsichord solo for our pastorale-performance. I also asked the composer to consider some other ”Arcadian” elements in the composition. The elements I was looking for had something in common with the French préludes non-mesurés. These early seventeenth-century compositions draw their inspiration from lute-like playing techniques.


Even though the harpsichord’s sound is articulated in a clear‐cut way, it is possible to write for the instrument in a deliberately ambiguous manner that blurs the harmonies into a delicious-sounding garland. Usually this is done by writing a group of voices that can be played in clusters, in a casual and sketch‐like style. Graham Lynch composed this sort of texture into his Pastorale (2016) by writing both rhythmical, arpeggiating passages, or sprayed, broken sonorities.


The introduction of the piece is like an improvisation based on warble-like motives and arpeggios. These varied arpeggios deliver the music into a horizontal and floating sound world. The vertical chord pillars are paradoxically realised in a variety of horizontal textures, in a lute‐like way – luthé. The chords played luthé become functionally more ambiguous as the voices intertwine, one after another. This musical feature is also typical of the meditative preludes of 17th- and 18th-century France; it is as if the harpsichord was thinking by itself.


The rhythmically structured part of the composition plays with a new kind of organ point, a borduna, a long bass note sustained over time. This borduna is written in a form of basso ostinatos of octaves and fifths resembling a musette or a hurdy-gurdy, both typical folk music instruments. These musette-like bass parts can be found in many works of François Couperin, for example in his Le Carillon de Cythère (1722) of the Troisième Livre, (14ème Ordre).


However, in this composition, the musette-like bass part is very chromatic and harmonically inventive referred to Couperin’s. The modulations and harmonic patterns develop the ideas of early Parisian modernism, and are inspired by works of composers such as Francis Poulenc, Eric Satie, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky. A similar kind of harmonic thinking may be heard in the works of Toru Takemitsu, Jehan Allain, and Maurice Ohana. Another piece, Rondeau (2016), develops the same harmonic idea, consistently, and in a Satie-like style.


I wanted these contemporary pieces (Pastorale and Rondeau) to differ from the normal way of introducing them one after another in the order mentioned in the program notes. The pre-recorded material included parts of the aforementioned compositions by Lynch and d’Anglebert, and the whole first part of the concert included improvisations based on this music. Mezzo soprano Sofia Buono sang voice improvisations on top of the ”sound track”. Later on I joined this by improvising on my virginal and psaltery. In other words, we were both improvising to this sound track, but not necessarily at the same time.


During the performance we also introduced an innocently ‘Cageian’ way of playing with the pre-recorded concrete sounds. Our dancer, Yoldia van Gemert, and Sofia started the concert by running diagonally through the concert venue. This noise of galloping was repeated by Yoldia and Sofia on the two balconies. Also, our task as was to produce crackling and rustling sounds during the introduction. Yoldia and Sofia started to make these silent sounds of crackling sticks and sprucecones all over the hall. [5] I had a little solo as well, which entailed entering into the shadowy venue and picking up a sprucecone which had been dropped (by Yoldia) from the second balcony. This sprucecone was my instrument for a while, and I played its scales with my thumbs as if it were a thumb piano (originally an African instrument). Timo played the pre-recorded ”crushing-sprucecone” sound after the ”thumb-piano” solo simultaneously with my gesture of crushing the sprucecone.


We introduced yet another Cageian extension of what a musical instrument can be during the performance. While the Pastorale composition was heard, Yoldia and Sofia started to set a table and chairs for a garden pique-nique. A tablecloth was set on the table, along with some cups, bread and jam. Finally, a toaster was turned on while the music was playing, and the scent of toasting bread began to make its way through the venue. The sound of a slice of bread popping up in the toaster made a surprising albeit childish auditory contribution to our performance.


The performance did eventually become more concert-like. The pieces were performed one after another, for example, and we even bowed and applauded for each other’s performances until Sofia started to hand out music sheets to our audience. I had hired two friends (mezzo soprano Eira Karlsson and guitarist Rody van Gemert) to sit among the audience; their duty was to start singing O Beau Jardin together with me while Sofia encouraged the members of the audience to participate in this sing-along, or, to be more exact, hum-along, part of the concert. To my surprise, I started to hear the audience singing the piece while I played it on the harpsichord. This was possible presumably because the audience had actually heard many parts of the song already during the improvisational part of the performance.


This was a deliberately risky way of having fun with the audience, of sharing the experience and encouraging them to enjoy the moment. However, this is one of the most delicate ways of testing the created atmosphere. Often, people simply do not care to participate in this way for numerous reasons. They might feel alienated by the whole approach. Or perhaps they might consider it irritatingly childish to sing along. Furthermore, the text of the song is in French, which does not make the task any easier. The safety of being one more anonymous member of the audience is removed. If we understand music as time-space (spatiality) and that “sound embodies the sense of time” (Ihde 2007, 87), it’s easy to comprehend that singing as a performative act means entering the specific Arcadia which the performance brings about.



Multi-layered poetics of wood and voice


Organo Hall is a rather small wooden concert venue, and it has three separate balconies. We decided to use the hall’s shape and materials as sound sources and to pre-record the sounds of the venue in spring 2016 in a separate recording session. We used the balconies to create a sort of surround-effect of the sounds and movements. Two instruments, a virginal and a psaltery, as well as the improvised singing were heard from the lower balcony.


The massive presence of organs in the hall demonstrates the institutional role of the organ hall, Organo, which is a concert venue for organists as well as for early music specialists. The hall rests on a sand bed, and its walls are covered with metal grates in order to control the acoustics and make it suitable for the three built-in organs, which represent different time periods and organologic traditions. In a musical performance, the music creates a kind of spatiality of its own, while the concert venue has unique and potentially interesting features.


The sound of a spruce cone being crushed is reminiscent of the unexpected importance of crispiness in our sensory world. Let us take the Japanese dish tempura as an example. Tempura experts recommend that tempura be eaten in silence, perhaps with the idea that the sound of the actual boiling of sesame oil is interesting enough. The feet of the deep-fried prawns are served first since they spread out like a blooming flower and become deliciously reddish and crispy. The moment one bites into this tempura delicatesse, a rapid succession of slight crackling noises can be heard. Likewise, the sounds of a specific instrument include the actual texture of the beginning of the sound (the attack), as well as the sharpness, softness, viscosity, stickiness, porosity or density, giving the instrument its own particular profile for a whole series of overtones.


The whispering effect of semi-audible or nearly inaudible sounds was used in music long before John Cage’s famous 4’33’’,composed in 1952, a composition often described as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence” and consisting of ambient noise, the audience's behaviour, their possible whispers and movements. A sort of whispering sound as an element of heightened silence can be experienced in the traditional Zen Buddhist music played by shakuhachi- and hochiku flutes, or in the harpsichord solos of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[6]


Gentle whispering can also have a pampering and maternal variant called chuchoter in French. These barely-audible sounds are private and intimate. They give space for emotions and intersubjective experiences. In the works of Kaija Saariaho, such as her Jardin Secret II (1868) for harpsichord and electronics and her radiophonic Stilleben (1988), the barely-audible spoken voices and sighs are used as electro-acoustical elements of music. [7] In a whisper, one hears the air, the lips, the vocal chords, the inner space of the throat, the pharynx, the chest and the mouth. Juxtaposed to that, one hears the nearness or the distance of heard sounds, and consequently the spatial features of the room or the space in question.


During our Et in Arcadia ego concert, one could hear the sounds of single scales played with the thumbs on a spruce cone. Soon after that the cone was crushed in the hollow of my joined hands. That sound is a cluster of tiny rustles and air. I would not call such a sound comforting. Rather, it creates a tiny audible tension and piques our curiosity. Pricking up our ears, we want to know what could create such a sound.


Picture 7.  Spruce cones and sticks.


An aurally animated and imagined concert venue


Et in Arcadia ego reverbarates in the listeners’ auditory perception and imagination. The constitution of an aural garden becomes real in the rich complexity of human experience. Don Ihde (1975, 207) discusses several imaginative modes of human experience. Even though our imagination seems to be dependent on perception, there are cases in which imaginative activity may exceed perceptual modes of listening or seeing: “All imaginative activity allows a free variation of its contents. Thus while in the imagination of fantastic animals it may be possible to void the imaginative field of color characteristics, it is possible to imagine blue centaurs or green griffins such as have never been perceived and thus ‘make possible their perceptual appearance in statuary or pictures.’”


In the case of an aural garden, this means that the multidimensional modes of perception are combined, extended and transposed to the realm of imaginative modalities. The garden of auditory experiences begins its becoming or coming-into-being in the bodies of the listeners. According to Ihde (1975, 209), the auditory imagination seems to display the same general features that its perceptual base does.


In our naïve, primary experience, the heard sounds are immediately associated with objects causing the sounds. “Sounds are ’first’ experienced as things” (Ihde 1975, 60). A crack is a snapping twig. A rustling is a spruce cone being crushed underfoot. In an archaic sense, these silent-yet-heard sounds can also imply some sort of threat, perhaps caused by an animal of some sort.


According to Ihde’s (1970, 67) aural phenomenology, even a single sound is actually a combination of different vibrating materials. The sound, understood as vibration, is caused by two or more materials, such as air, brass or wood, causing each other to sound. “One thing is struck by another, one surface contacts another, and in the encounter a voice is given to the thing.” In the Et in Arcadia ego-performance, this perspective on human perception of sound was applied to the concert venue itself, which was understood as a compound of resonating elements and shapes.


Ihde describes sound’s ability to ”move” in the auditory field:


“The auditory field, continuous and full, penetrating in its presence, is also lively. Sounds ’move’ in the rhythms of auditory presence. Here we approach more closely that first listening that detects in sound an essential temporality. The fullness of auditory presence is one of an ‘animated’ liveliness.” (1975, 82)


In other words, the auditory garden of our performance is the embodied flow of time rooted in the very basis of our animate existence.


Et in Arcadia ego performance transforming the performance practices of classical music

Do we need to develop the performativity of classical music? Does this destroy the original employment of a musical composition described by Lydia Goehr, and what could the ”derivative” employment mean in practice? If a musician’s task is not to imitate, and to execute the pieces one after another like a jukebox, what are the multitudes of possibilities of performing as a musician of classical repertory? It’s possible to give just an example of varied performance practices without meaning that this specific example needs to be copied.


It’s always (politically) interesting to ponder on whether artistic research is able to achieve results. Whether the classical music performance practices could be developed by experimenting in the ways I have described, it’s obvious that the answer is yes, and that in this sense we can talk about results. The results are answers to some artistically relevant questions posed in the beginning of this article. Et in Arcadia ego-performance was able to illuminate the basic dynamics between the performance venue and the performative practices of the music, thus giving us preliminary understanding necessary for theoretical thinking. Thereupon, this article has been written in order to create new connections between performance practices, historical understanding of spatiality and materiality understood in line with aural phenomenologies. It is crucial to internalize that an interdisciplinary (multimodal) music performance is not merely about piling sensory impulses on top of each other. Instead, it’s possible to work on areas, which are affecting each other like in a collage, side by side, one after another, or one crashing into another, or perhaps only lingering around each other. In other words, the connections between art forms don’t have to be predictable or uniform.


In the Et in Arcadia ego performance, the idea of a musical work has been dealt with differently from what is normally considered ”correct” in the context of so-called western art music. The idea of textual fidelity was a way to emphasize the status of the creative work done by the original creator, the composer. However, music composed in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries clearly demonstrates the various ways that notation can guide other kinds of approaches. (See Butt 2002, 106–122).  The musical practices typical for that time period like basso continuo, and genres like preludes, toccatas, variations, and doubles all refer to free, and spontanious invention based on counter point.


In our performance, the compositions were used as a ground for improvisations. At other times, a score may also be understood as an example, as in the case of the O beau jardin solo harpsichord piece, which is an instrumental version of the original air de cour. Thus, the process of composing, varying, alternating and playing was still in flux. The composition provided us musical elements like motives, harmonic patterns, and rhythms. The ”results” of this case study suggest that especially in classical music, the performance practice can be seen as a network or a rhizome of musical parameters, all potentially possible elements for adjustment and alteration. During Et in Arcadia ego, all this was done in multiple ways. I counted nearly 20 ways of altering the traditional performance practice of a classical music recital. These are several broad categories that encompass those alterations:


  1. The role of the concert venue can be studied beforehand, and the acoustic features of the venue, including its shapes and materials, can be understood as essential elements influencing the concert on a profound level. Also, the concert venue might have its own institutional role, which can be taken into consideration in many ways. What kind of ”becoming” does this feature imply? The venue does not have to be seen as a static arena.
  2. The roles of the performers can be extended and understood in a broader sense. A musician is a professional performer with a unique presence, voice, and ability to talk and move. The role of the audience can also be studied. The roles of the audience and the performers can also be blurred in one way or another. (In Et in Arcadia ego all of the performers sang and played harpsichord).
  3. The possibilities of improvisation can be explored. Usually there are improvisational elements embedded in the tradition of classical music, which can be taken seriously and used as an elementary part of the actual concert program. The role of a ”work” can be redefined again and again in the process of gaining new understandings of it.
  4. The new technologies of recording and sound engineering could be essential elements of the performance practices of classical music. This know-how can be explored in-depth. These technological innovations have developed greatly during the last decades, and therefore they are no longer limited to the world of popular music, contemporary music or theatre. The challenge is to find ways of blurring the line between pre-recorded and live music, the acoustic and the amplified, the prepared and the manufactured, and spontaneous and immediate. These elements can be used simultaneously, and they can be layered and overlapping.
  5. The themes and new openings embedded in the performed music can be dealt with in a subtle, immediate, primary and pre-conceptual way. Interestingly enough, in our performance, the sound related to wood is ambiguous as such. Wood related to instruments and concert halls is a possible performative element because of its rich cultural and perceptual background, its organic, dead, dry, lively, singing and warm features and presence


Music is not an island of its own. By studying interdisciplinary art projects we are empowering ourselves to take control over how music is integrated into an interdisciplinary performance, instead of complaining about it. Our oral skills are oriented towards the world. Actually, they are ”there” already. The spatial, temporal, directional, echolocational, surrounding, omni-directional and immersive features of auditory materiality are performative variables, elements or parametres, which are universally shared with all music performances. Therefore they are worth studying by researchers, musicologists, musicians and artists in general.


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Picture 1. Mykkänen, Pirje: A photograph of the painting on the lid of the Italian harpsichord owned by Sibelius Academy and built by Andrea di Maio. The lid is painted by the builder.

Picture 2. Knif, Jonte: A photograph of Sofia Buono singing, Yoldia van Gemert dancing and Assi Karttunen playing O beau jardin.

Picture 3. Mykkänen, Pirje: An immersion of a portrait of Timo Muurinen and Assi Karttunen into the photograph of the lid of the Italian harpsichord painted by Andrea di Maio.

Picture 4. Poussin, Nicolas: Les Bergers d’Arcadie. Musée du Louvre.

[Accessed 16.5. 2017].

Picture 5. Dancer Yoldia van Gemert gets up the stairs to the organ lofts.

Picture 6. Karttunen, Assi: A photograph of the golden figurine on top of the Chinese Teahouse in the garden of Sanssouci. 

Picture 7. Karttunen, Assi: A photograph of the sticks and spruces used in the performance (including the pictures of singe spruce cones 7a, 7b, 7c, and 7d).

Picture 8. Knif, Jonte. Mezzo soprano Sofia Buono singing.



Registered by Timo Muurinen and played by Assi Karttunen and Sofia Buono:

Sounds of spruces and sticks 1., 2., 3. and 4.

A sound of a Klopp organ positive.

Two audio takes of Sofia Buono's singing.



The video of the Et in Arcadia ego in September 2016. The video camera was placed by Mikko Ingman.









Picture 8. Mezzo soprano Sofia Buono sings. In the audio samples we hear her starting her singing porously in the first sample, and making a subtle crescendo (increasing the intensity and volume of the sound) in the second sample.

Picture 6. The Chinese Teahouse and its golden figurine in the garden of Sanssouci, Potsdam.

See video of the Et in Arcadia ego-performance September 1st 2016 in Organo, Music Centre, Helsinki.

Picture 4. Poussin Nicolas: Les Bergers d’Arcadie. Musée du Louvre.

Picture 2. Sofia Buono singing, Yoldia van Gemert dancing and Assi Karttunen playing O beau jardin. Photograph: Jonte Knif.

Picture 5. Dancer Yoldia van Gemert gets up the stairs to the organ lofts.