When Hanna Tuulikki was growing up in Brighton, she spent five years living in a mobile home while her architect father built his family a brand new house. In such cramped confines, the then eleven-year-old understandably craved the great outdoors, where sea, sand and sky were in abundance. Now 24, the Glasgow-based sound artist and singer with off-kilter free folk groups Nalle and Scatter, concedes that being at one with nature at such a formative age has maybe influenced her current practice.
This includes a recent residency in Cromarty, recording people imitating the slow but steady inhalations and exhalations of the sea on the CD 100 Breaths, 100 Waves, and a replication of a dawn chorus on Salutations To The Sun . Rather than kooky affectation, however, Tuulikki’s outdoor pursuits were developed on Glasgow School of Art’s environmental art course.
‘I was very idealistic’, Tuulikki says, ‘and interested in how art could provide solutions to a person’s environmental problems. But I felt very vulnerable, because I was wearing my politics on my sleeve, and the most important thing, which was music, was getting lost, and everything was becoming dry and calculated. I spent my final year thinking about how I could bring my voice into my practice’.
An epiphany came via ‘Call and Response’, in which Tuulikki sang and played clarinet to feathered occupants of a wildfowl sanctuary, incorporating the resultant birdsong into the ‘performance’. She has since solicited similarly styled invocations on ‘Singing Bowl’, a ‘participatory song sculpture’, and ‘Pollockshaws Song Portrait’, which recorded songs chosen and sung by ten participants, then fused them into an overlapping chorale. All are documented on CDs released through Tuulikki’s own Gleaners imprint.
Given such grassroots oral archiving, Tuulikki’s influences unsurprisingly stem from Joseph Beuys’ organic extrapolations by way of New York composer Pauline Oliveros’s notion of Deep Listening. Tuulikki also cites Matt Stokes, whose own Dawn Chorus, involving video-projected choir, recently opened at Gateshead’s Baltic Centre.
If Tuulikki has a guru though, it’s Chris Watson, the former Cabaret Voltaire electronicist turned wildlife recordist for David Attenburgh’s Life On Earth documentaries and soundscape artist for Touch Records. Watson provided Tuulikki with seal recordings for her degree show, a video and sound installation which attempted to achieve with seals what ‘Call and Response’ had done with birds.
Since Cromarty, Tuulikki has been recording and touring with Nalle. With a name meaning teddy bear in Finnish, and a cover drawing of a winged grizzly, the band’s debut album, By Chance Upon Waking, is awash with Tuulikki’s wide-eyed predilections with suns, skies, mountains and forests. Tuulikki also contributed to Flight/Vuelo, a multi-media project with Cuban video artists, curated by Nicola Atkinson Davidson (www.nadfly.com) . A second collaboration formed part of the latter’s, Hanging By A Thread exhibition, at Paisley Museum.
Also with Atkinson Davidson, a project in Dumfermline, Fife, 23/24 March marks the demolition of a block of flats, while Tuulikki’s degree show film screens at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. An already recorded sound library of vocal inflections is also ready to launch in April at the CCA in Glasgow, as part of an interactive web programme devised by Simon Yuill.
With music and art now no longer separate worlds, Tuulikki would ‘like there to be even more synthesis, so that I can play a show that can be an art show at the same time, and people wouldn’t have to ask if I was an artist or a musician. I don’t want to have that distinction’, she says, catching her breath, waiting for the next wave.
Neil Cooper is a writer and critic