The teddy bear sings freakfolk

 

 

 

Your father is British and your mother is
Finnish, but it seems that you strongly identify with your Finnish side (your
band’s name is Nalle – Finnish for “little bear” – and you don’t use your British
surname for your work). Have you lived in Finland or spent much time here?

Yes, my mother is from Iisalmi and my
father from Sussex, where they both live and where I grew up. As a child I
spent my holidays with my Mummo in Iisalmi until she died and then visits to
Finland became less frequent. Two years ago I spent three months living in
Pispala, Tampere whilst on exchange at art school.

 

{mosimage} 

 

I identify with both ‘sides’, but yes, I
guess I yearn for the forests and lakes in Finland and the scent of the air.
They almost remain a fantasy in my dreams when I am not there and a constant
source of inspiration. I use my middle name Tuulikki (in English means little
wind) as my surname because I think its meaning describes me and the things
that I do better than my real surname. 

The band name Nalle came from the name of
my bear I was given by my Mummo and the idea that somehow our music is like a
transition object between us and the world, in the same way that a toy is to a
child.

Your website (www.hannatuulikki.com) gives a really
great overview of all of your work, which includes music and drawing. As your
artist’s statement highlights, you use various media “to explore music not as
an end in itself but as part of the wider environmental sound-scape”. Why did
you choose art school rather than music school? Who did you study with at the
Glasgow School of Art?

I guess I never really considered myself a
musician. Sure, I played music, but never in public! Aside from learning the
recorder and flute as a child, I have taught myself to sing and play, so music
school was never an option. It was only while at art school that I began to
perform.

I went to art school in Glasgow because I
was interested in the environmental art course as something that looks at other
ways of engaging with an audience apart from the gallery space. Whilst there, I
studied with Tanya Eccleson, Justin Carter, Sue Brind and Ross Sinclair. 

Going to art school was great because it
made me think about who I was and what was important to me. I realised that my
connection with nature and music were the things that motivate me and I wanted
a way of combining those things. I started to experiment with playing outside,
listening to and imitating the sounds around me that in my ears, were all
music. When we look at the world, our sense of vision emphasises the distinct
boundaries between phenomena, whereas the sounds that things make are often not
so distinct and sometimes the experience of listening is often one of
perceiving the inseparability of phenomena. So, I guess I like to create sound
worlds that attempt to dissolve certain distinctions between humans, the
environment and animals.

There’s a thought-provoking essay on your
site (by you) on the role of art in ecological sustainability and environmental
change. Are those ideas you continue to deal with in your work? If so, how do
you do that?

I wrote that essay while I was at art
school, where I became very interested in art that can help to create
social/ecological change. There are certain artists around the world who seek
to use their art as means to create pragmatic change, for example to restore
contaminated land and habitats. I really believe in this work, for example the
work of Mel Chin, Alan Sonfist and Helen Mayer, and Newton Harrison. I began to
try and work in a similar way, but felt trapped in politics and felt
disconnected in some ways to the things that really inspire me.

In this time of ecological crisis, I think
it is also important to embrace the tools that we have to remind us of the
sacred. Music or sound are my tools and I have discovered that aural and
musical metaphors can provide us with a means to describe the world in ways
that remind us of our physical connection to the environment. Within my work
now, I seek to find a sonic space where I can almost transcend my humanness or
my sense of self in order to feel a deeper connection, either with other
people, or another species or a particular environment.

{mosimage}Your band, Nalle, released its first album
(By Chance Upon Waking) in 2006. You sing
partially in Finnish, you play the kantele (a traditional Finnish instrument),
and your music fits in nicely with the current Finnish folk scene. Were you
influenced by Finnish folk music? Who are some of your other influences?

On that album I actually don’t sing in
Finnish, but for some reason in some reviews it says that I do. When we play
live I do sing one traditional gypsy song in Finnish (Voi Ruusuni), which we
are currently recording as part of the new album to come out on Locust Records later
this year.

I picked up a kantele when I was living in
Pispala and started recording with it, enjoying the way the wood sits in my
hands and its pure sound. I like the kantele as an instrument and its symbolic
significance in folklore. I have not heard many recordings that use traditional
musical forms, except for PRIMO’s Bear Feast (Karhu Juhla), which I think has
definitely been an influence. I also have a great album of wax cylinder
recordings made in the first part of the 20th century. I like the
simple pentatonic melodies and I love the stories. I have also listened to a
fair bit of Finnish gypsy music and met some great players on my travels.

Other influences range from traditional
folk music from many parts of the world, music of the 60s and 70s folk revival,
60s drone music, free or improvised music and music of the birds.

People have compared you to Joanna Newsom
and Björk, but I find your vocal
experimentation unique. Can you share something about your singing aesthetic?

Yes, that comparison is made too often! I
find this question quite difficult to answer because I don’t really think about
it – I just sing! It is just what feels like the most natural form of
expression. I try to expand the range of sounds I make so that I use my voice as
an instrument and I sing with words to tell stories.