Juhani Silvola is a Norwegian/Finish is a composer, musician and producer working across multiple genres and disciplines. He is coming to Bodø with a world premiere for the loundspeaker orchestra!
Silvola has a master’s degree from the Norwegian Academy of Music, where he studied electroacoustic music with Natasha Barrett. Silvola’s music often explores the themes of post-humanism, mediated nature and virtual reality, and draws from the rich history of electronic and experimental music, resounding with traces of French electro-acoustic music, Japanese harsh-noise, Finnish minimal techno and C20th chamber music.
He has worked with everything from acoustic folk to free improv, from doom to sound art, and is a sought-after performer, producer and mixing engineer. He has released three critically acclaimed solo-albums, two highly successful and forward-thinking folk-music albums with the violinist Sarah-Jane Summers, and produced and mixed albums for pop-bands such as Highasakite.
He currently plays with Sarah-Jane Summers, Frode Haltli Avant Folk, The SISKIN Quartet and Sjøvaag & Silvola, and has worked with, among others, Splashgirl, Sam Lee, Adjagas, Erlend Viken Trio, Erlend Apneseth, Sigrid Moldestad, Unni Løvlid, Jenny Hval & Jessica Sligter.
How do you work when choosing your material? What do you listen for?
The materials I search for have to possess an inherent meaning or truth on a visceral level. I know that something is worth keeping when it grabs hold of me and pulls me towards it, demanding a response. A sound object can be ‘good’, ‘nice’ or ‘correct’, but worthless, if it doesn’t possess this presence.
On a more concrete level, I look for interesting internal developments, or narratives if you wish, on multiple temporal levels. It is especially the life of a sound on the micro-level that interests me. Just like one instinctively prefers the sound of an instrumentalist who doesn’t just have a good surface tone, but breathes life into every note, I look for sounds that have this depth.
Extended techniques are important to me when generating my materials, and are something I apply to any ‘instrument’ or sound source I use. The concept is, or rather should be, quite outdated, since to claim in this day and age, that there is any real difference between the ‘conventional’ and ‘extended’ techniques is nonsensical. I am a huge fan of instrumental craft and technique, whether it is related to playing the violin, programming a hip-hop beat, playing prepared guitar or screaming your lungs out with contact mics stuffed in your mouth.
Any sound emanating from any object excited by any means is potentially equally useful or useless.
What thoughts do you have about the composer’s role in the further development of the music and art field?
The answer depends on the definition of a composer. I like to think in terms of five kinds of music creation, focused around the archetypes of the performer (jazz, folk, improv etc), the programmer (techno, electronica), the producer (modern pop, r&b, hip-hop), the experimenter (tradition after Cage, Tudor, Lucier) and the composer (roughly the extended European art music tradition dealing with form and development).
These five categories are equal in artistic value, and describe a set of tools and methods, rather than rigid identities, and overlap constantly (no classification system should ever be watertight but welcome anomalies as the norm).
The relevance of the typical composer, I think, hinges on the ability to avoid that which can be better achieved through other methods. It is important to understand the strengths and limitations of the compositional craft, and to realize when different tools are necessary. Essentially, to know whether to change the game board and rulebook or just the arrangement of pieces at play. It is crucial for any craftsman to match the appropriate tool for the task at hand.
I do think it is important to have composers with a capital C, who work with larger forms, and write something that doesn’t fit in basic song-forms or over the framework of beat-based music, and can not be improvised easily. But the significance of the composer in today’s musical climate has more and more been overtaken by the improviser and the experimenter. For example, I often find those good improvisers create more interesting music than composers who work within a similar idiom, where writing things down can be more of a hindrance to the performer.
But, the truly compositional music is absolutely wonderful and is able to present something very different from the other categories, and should thus ideally have much to say in the development of the field.
You are both a performer and a composer. How do you use your musicianship in your compositions?
I use my musicianship all the time, and try to use my hands and body as much as possible when generating my materials. To me, physicality translates into interesting sonic trajectories on multiple timescales, and the precision and intentionality/directionality of a human will and body, combined precisely with a lack of machine-like perfection, is what yields interesting results.
In general, a composer should think like a performer, a performer should think like a composer and so on. The more perspectives one gain, the more degrees of freedom become available. It is also easier to see that problems that seem huge in one field are merrily bypassed as something irrelevant in another field. Being a performer can be described as a method, just like being a programmer, a mixing engineer, or a ‘classical’ composer, and knowing how these methods work within different discourses or genres and within different individual practices is essential.
Do you have any thoughts on music’s role in our identity? Do you think of yourself as a Nordic composer?
I am definitely Nordic in many ways, yet it is not something that actively shapes my thinking or music. I am originally from Finland but have lived in Norway since I was 13. These cultures are definitely there as a ground from which everything grows, but since I am also married to the Scottish violinist Sarah-Jane Summers, the result is that I am always looking at the cultures in my life through at least two different outsider perspectives.
Music is a huge part of my life, but not any particular kind of music. Identity is a tricky question. Of course, music has played a part in the identities of different cultures and sub-cultures, but personally, I’ve always fought against the idea of identity. For me, the concept has severely limited human potential throughout history. Music to me is not a marker of social identity, but a method for investigating, experiencing and living in the world.
Is music, often wordless, freer than other art forms? Any thoughts on this?
This is a huge question, and the answer is both yes and no. Freedom is such an interesting and important topic, and way too big to discuss properly here.
I do believe that music has the potential to be the freest of all arts, in the sense that it can potentially be most itself. Yet, music is also so completely laden with conventions, rules, fears and expectations that it often has almost zero actual degrees of freedom left.
I would describe music as the most non-human art, in the best possible sense. It does not have to refer to anything outside itself and can bypass language and concepts. Also, it doesn’t have to deal with the human agent in the same way as dance/performance art has to, nor does it have to deal with direct physical materiality like abstract painting and sculpture has to. This is of course, even more, the case with acousmatic music, where there is nothing to look at, nothing that obviously causes the sounds.
I try to approach performed music the same way as the acousmatic, and seldom wish to look at the performers on stage. The better the playing and the music is, the more I want to close my eyes and not be distracted by ‘communicative’ gestures and markers of ‘feeling’. Either the ‘feeling’ or ‘meaning’ or whatever you call it is in the sound that reaches the listener, or it is nowhere.
Failure on two levels is the main concern of this work. Firstly, the failure of the piece itself to satisfyingly represent anything outside itself, and secondly, the failures of various systems of thought attempting to represent what a human truly is.
(Absolute) music has never been very good at being ‘about’ anything, yet it has always excelled at being itself, thus arguably being the most ‘truthful’ art.
Even with electroacoustic music, such as this piece, where the materials are largely digital or analog representations of ‘concrete’ sounds, I still find that my music mostly fails to be anything else than music.
I am interested in the question of what a human truly is, and how this essential nature has at various times been represented as (or reduced to) either an animal/beast, a soul/spirit, a mechanical machine, a mind/ computer, or in the case of post-humanism, an illusion.
Here, I am genuinely trying to represent these failed attempts in the actual sounding music.