SOURCEMOUTH : LIQUIDBODY – Hanna Tuulikki shortlisted for Sound Art / Electroacoustic Work

1. How did the piece come about?

SOURCEMOUTH : LIQUIDBODY is a new place-responsive work commissioned for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. My starting point was to research and explore India’s ‘mnemonic landscape’, and in particular, how river-systems are represented within the languages and traditional performing arts of South India.

Early on in my process, I met Kapila Venu, a leading practitioner of Kutiyattam, which is a form of Sanskrit drama told through codified gestures of hands and eyes. Performed in Kerala, it is one of India’s oldest living performing arts. Kapila demonstrated a sequence from Kutiyattam known as Nadi Varnana – River Description. Embodying the watershed mimetically, it represents the river cycle as a succession of stylized movements – the first rain on the mountaintop, rivulets becoming mountain streams, fast flowing river, and, the completion of a slow meander to the sea.

Over the course of a residency in Kochi, Kapila became my guide and mentor, tutoring me in the Nadi Varnana cycle, which formed the nucleus of my project. I began to conceive of an audiovisual installation that combined three things: a series of films; vocal compositions; and visual scores. I realised the idea of the river flowing from source to mouth could be the key metaphor to hold these different elements together – flowing along the carrying stream of tradition, teacher to novice, observing eyes to embodiment, score to performance.

Adapting the traditional sequence into a performance-to-camera, I created three interlinked films. In the first, my silver-costumed figure traces a fluvial line that enacts each stage of the river’s journey. Alongside this, I created a vocal composition from multi-layered vocals, imitative of the percussion (drums and cymbals) that traditionally accompanies the sequence, evoking the river’s formation and flow. The second film is a startling close up of my open eyes performing choreographed gestures that signify the same transition from river source to mouth. As my eyes close shut, and the stage falls empty, on a third screen, my disembodied mouth incants instructions for the performance with a melody that draws on the vocal chanting style of Kutiyattam: “take your eyes to the top of the high mountain, trace the summit with your fingers, open the brow, wait for the rain to fall…” Two visual scores are displayed nearby, transcribing the stages of the river embodied movement. As the mouth closes, bringing an end to the song, the body gives expression to the lyrics, beginning a new cycle of the river score.

2.     Was the piece written for a specific space, and if so, how did that influence the work?

The whole process responded to both place and space – place in terms of the ‘mnemonic landscapes’ or ‘riverscapes’ of India and the cultural traditions of Kerala; space in terms of the physical site of the installation.

The space I had been assigned for the biennale is in Pepperhouse, located on the waterfront. Made up of two rooms, it is divided by a central wall and doorway. For my installation, the three films, and two pieces of music were split across the rooms. One area became a kind of source, the other the mouth, with each one being activated at different times within a repeating cycle. Accompanied by the layered vocal composition, the large screen portrays the full river sequence, opposite a smaller screen with the eyes, situated above the central door. Through this doorway, in the other room, the third screen portrays the disembodied mouth singing instructions for the performance. In this way, the liquid body’s cycle becomes continuous: from source to mouth to source to mouth to source….

3.     What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

I am working on a number of new projects, including TideSongs, a vocal work exploring mimetic tidal languages of the north sea with the artist-poet Alec Finlay, and an as yet untitled audiovisual installation, that will feature a composition for voices and singing saws created from fragments of Finnish forest-related songs. This year, I am Leverhulme artist-in-residence in The Centre for Language Evolution at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences in The University of Edinburgh. And I’m also beginning to plan how I can take a number of older projects on tour and release some albums.

4.     Who are the upcoming Scottish creators to watch?

I’d recommend checking out performance maker Nic Green, whose ecological and political work I greatly admire; vocalist-composer Lucy Duncombe, whose new experimental vocal composition will see an outing in the near future; sculptor Hannah Imlach, whose futuristic sculptures are informed by our interactions with the environment; choreographer Simone Kenyon, who is exploring women’s mountain walking practices; and artist-composer-poets Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson, who recently moved to Scotland and whose work is investigates landscape and language.

5.     What other pieces have you seen this year that you found exciting and will stand the test of time?

I haven’t seen much yet this year, as I have been quite snowed under with work, but last year I really enjoyed Alvin Curran’s ‘Musique Sans Frontieres’ piece at Tectonics Festival Glasgow, who created a series of cacophonous sound worlds for different spaces, inviting the audience to move in procession from room to room. I also loved Baul tradition bearer Parvathy Baul’s performance at Kochi Biennale, whose freedom and power of vocal expression still sends shivers down my spine.

6.     What is the piece that you would most like to write?

I have a dream project that is based around the migration route and compositional ‘approach’ of the Marsh Warbler. This bird migrates from northern Europe to Africa and back every year. What is so fascinating about the Marsh Warbler is that it does not have it’s own song – it imitates fragments of other birds’ songs and threads them together in a very intriguing way, which to my ears, sounds like a avant-garde conceptual sequence. I would love to travel along the same migration route of the Marsh Warbler, and do a similar thing with human music – learning songs from people, and adopting the structure of the bird’s composition to compose with fragments of these songs.

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