24 Nov 2017




David Chisholm describes his time in Finland as an unusual experience, having to communicate between different time zones, the constantly changing weather and not getting enough sleep. However unusual he found the logistics of the experience, above all else he found it extremely inspiring. He plans to return in 2020 to present an ambitious all-night event on the island of Suomenlinna that will combine orchestras, choirs and chamber music.

Until then, his own music festival will certainly keep him busy. The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music is an ongoing festival that takes place every September in David’s current city of residence, Bendigo, a city of around 100.000 people in Central Victoria, Australia. The first version of the festival was a pop-up, pre-festival one-day event back in 2012, for around 30 people, prior to the inaugural three-day event in 2013. Since then the festival has grown into an internationally lauded, three-day festival with roughly 24 events every year. In 2015, Helsinki’s defunensemble performed two concerts of mostly Finnish music, and from that connection David applied for and was accepted into the HIAP residency programme.

David believes that he owes much of the festival’s success to a good production team, specifically his Production Manager Marina Milankovic, as well as the festival’s purpose of giving a voice for composers from everywhere, who do not usually fit in with the trends determined by publishers and agents. The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music represents not only the Australian alternative voice, but a global alternative voice as well.

The curated festival gives musicians the opportunity to create and present pieces that do not necessarily fit into the commercial constraints of a box office – longer pieces, for example, feature heavily in the programming. A commitment to low ticket prices means the festival is open to everyone, and the box office of each year goes to commissioning new works of the following year. This way, each member of the audience becomes a patron for next year’s music.

The festival also includes events such as concerts, recitals and community music making events. When the festival works with community musicians, pedagogy is not an aim; David does not want to educate or treat the local community members in a patronising manner, but wants to work with the extant skills of these people and push their limits just as they do with professional musicians. As David puts it, “composition is not always about writing very difficult music. It can also be about placement, about how you curate talent. People playing relatively simple material that can sound lush once you layer it up.”

This same idea of layering up multiple musical components is what lead him to the work he created while and after his HIAP residency period. At the end of his initial residency David presented henki, a 5-speaker and light installation created in collaboration with Anders Pohjola, an electronics artist from defunensemble. Taking the ambient sound of a foghorn – something he heard a lot during his stay in Suomenlinna – David transposed the sound into four other pitch states, with each speaker and light positioned into a window of a section of the fortress on the island. henki was then “a five-note fog horn organ” which performed a pre-composed requiem fanfare at the tomb of the island’s architect Augustin Ehrensvärd which can be viewed here:  https://vimeo.com/223622771

The island of Suomenlinna is a peculiar place; at the same time isolated and extremely busy, it combines a flood of tourists in the summer time with a vibrant community of local artists and, perhaps surprisingly, a navy training base. The inspiring surroundings, as well as the environment David experienced at a French residency back in 2009, developed in his musical mind into an oratorio work about the sinking of a submarine, voices submerging and also quite the opposite: emerging from the darkness of below. David is also interested in the musical history of the 19th century, hence the emergence of voices out of orchestral textures.

His plan consists of returning to HIAP in 2020 and putting on an all-night music, sound and performance event, a site-specific work on the island of Suomenlinna that will involve the audience moving from station to station. The event and the resulting piece of music will be called Into Darkness; it is Finland, after all.

In the proposed project, the audience would arrive at Suomenlinna just as it is getting dark, in late summer or early autumn, and experience an all-night event which would combine performances by various choirs and orchestras, including a children’s choir and a chamber choir. Suomenlinna island will act like a big theatre stage, with different parts of the music being performed on different parts of the island, every corner being another revelation, adding to the experience of an immersive piece.

David plans to co-compose the work with two Finnish composers Sami Klemola and Antti Auvinen, although he is still trying to figure out how such an unusual proposition will work. “Layering or interconnecting three different compositional voices into one cohesive work remains the greatest challenge for the project”. One of the solutions would involve sharing materials, emerging from David’s initial idea to write a quintet for Helsinki based defunensemble which also functions as five solo works.” Layering five solos over each other can be very messy”, laughs David, “but it can also be amazing and very rich.”  Layering a piano solo over a wind solo, then the choir of children as they approach the island over the sea, while the audience is hearing echoing fragments of the eventual piece throughout the night – it sounds terribly ambitious, almost like a puzzle.

The inspiration for the final event comes from the past as well as the present: the Finnish epic poem Kalevala seems to influence every newcomer to Finnish culture, but David is working differently. He is collaborating with Suomenlinna artist and author of local history Ida Lindström, who published the extraordinary research on the islands, social history Kohtalona Suomenlinna in 2016. David is also planning to collaborate with Harrie LiveArt – a shared brain performance duo from Helsinki – who were also in residence at HIAP during his stay.

With its venue-to-venue performance, every new place being a set of discoveries. All these themes and ideas will form into one big all-night event, which will follow on from a lot of talking, looking, planning, conversing with other artists and working with the local communities, until its proposed premiere in September 2020.




Interview by Athanasía Aarniosuo.