JR: I’ve spent the last two weeks here at the Kiekula residence on my first visit to the Arctic. I’ve never experienced 24 hour days, and it’s extraordinary how such a simple difference so radically alters my perception of time. When noon looks the same as midnight, clock time becomes meaningless. The most fundamental activities such as eating and sleeping are no longer triggered by darkness or by the angle of the sun. I can feel tired or hungry at any time, not unlike jet lag.

midnight in kilpis - view to the south of Kiekula House

EF: The strong ties to the daily sun cycle can be represented by aesthetic, psychological, and physiological relationships to light and darkness.  For many species and many cultures of humans, the deepest relationship to sun cycles are formed within the 24 hour sun cycle. 

JR: How do I cope? I am clinging to a regular schedule. At a reasonable hour I shut the curtains, put on my sleep mask, and make myself lay down to sleep. I seem to wake up after the usual 7 or 8 hours. Meals likewise happen at the usual intervals. Perhaps I am afraid to let go of regularity, of a reassuring rhythm that grounds me, connects me to my appetites for food, for sleep, for running and walking.

EF: Within a few days, my sleep time creeped along later and later and my wake time followed along in tow.  By the end of my stay, I fell asleep at 6am and woke at 4pm.  I believed that my biological clock was in a state that is called ‘free run’ – dissociated from the day-night light cycle (or lack thereof).  

Self portrait of sleep deprivation

JR: Funny how appetite and time are so closely connected. With clock time fading into the shadows, I am noticing how many clocks in my body are asserting their existence. My heart and my breath, eating, walking, running, sleeping: all are oscillating in their own rhythms. My heartbeat has become even slower than usual here, beating 36 times a minute while I write this.

EF: Fatigue set in at midnight, regardless of when I fell asleep.  Between fatigue and sleep, movements felt languid, thoughts felt prolonged, and the ‘wait’ seemed to be inescapable.

JR:As a composer, my activities are not as closely linked to the environment here at Bioarctica as those of many of the other artist residents. So what do I do here? Mostly I go outdoors. I run every morning, for 40 minutes or an hour or more, up and down hills, skipping over rocks and mud and streams, bumping into reindeer. And most days I go for extended hikes, from one to six hours.

Self portrait where 3 boundaries collide

Then I listen to music on my trusty iPad. I follow my nose, and it’s been leading me to highly rhythmic music, funk especially, and dance music of all kinds (The arctic solstice felt like funk). Finally, I compose and sketch fragments of various pieces I’m working on, or fragments with no direction home, complete unknowns, musical doodles.

I am noticing a thread here. Of all the elements in music–timbre, harmony, melody–it is time which is perhaps the most compelling, and the most mysterious. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, to quantify or theorize, whether as local rhythms or large-scale structures. Yet it is said that timing is everything.

EF: These kinds of considerations are the lense through which I view the world. Particularly, I am drawn to low frequencies. Timescales of days, months, and years, are relevant to aspects of our experience like memory, reflection, and emotional resolution.  It is possible that time heals because it removes you from the moment, and it is viewpoint that keeps your perception locked in some ‘there’ – in some space. Music is like a moving image of time that takes me on a journey to other spaces.

JR: Arnold Schoenberg once told John Cage that he had no feeling for harmony, whereupon Cage replied that he would spend the rest of his life banging his head against the wall, trying to figure out harmony. I imagine Cage, whose wonderful innate feeling for rhythm can be heard in joyful 1940s works such as Third Construction in Metal and Credo in Us, banging his head in those same infectious grooves. And if I bang my head against anything, no matter how wonderful the world of harmony might be, let it be the rhythm wall. (If only Schoenberg had banged that wall every now and then.)

EF: It feels odd to say – counterintuitive, maybe – but I find it much easier to find myself lost in time to music that it very ‘rhythmocentric’ than while listening to music that highlights melody (Heartthrob – Futures Past).  Perhaps I am searching for rhythm, and that attention to time makes it more difficult to lose track of temporality.

Remnants of a prison camp

JR: On a hike north of the fell Saana, there are the remains of a German WW2 prison camp. I think of Messiaen and his Quartet For The End of Time, written in just such a camp.

At times in that piece, we can hear how his perception of time must have been radically changed by his surroundings, putting him in closer relationship with the idea of eternity, an idea which was also important in his Catholic faith. I am drawn to composers who have very personal takes on time, be they Messiaen or Cage, Stravinsky or Varese, Andriessen or Feldman.

EF:  The prison camp was settled in the basin of rolling hills at the foot of massive blades of mountain.  El medio de la nada. Everything was visible but you felt the ‘nowhereness’ in the superficial stasis of the environment.  Spending time in the location meant experiencing the flux of the wind, and the events that come with it.  As we grew to learn, many species and cultures of humans form deep aesthetic, psychological, and physiological ties to the cycles of the wind.

JR:I’ve come this far without mentioning the most striking thing about being here: it’s so beautiful. The plants and animals, the rolling alpine meadows and snowy peaks, the lakes and rivers, the quiet (no planes, no honking, no car alarms, no blaring music), the pure and tasty air and water, the colours, seeing nothing but nature for mile upon mile: how could anything be more beautiful? It shows me what I lose by living in a city. Being here is like finding roots I wasn’t even aware existed.

Lake Kilpisjärvi and Pikku Mala

 

It’s especially relevant being from Canada, a country whose identity is so closely tied to nature, yet which has become rapidly urbanized. How odd to go so far from home to learn about home.

Lake Louise and the Valley of Ten Peaks

by James Rolfe, 29 June 2014

I’ve spent the last two weeks here at the Kiekula residence on my first visit to the Arctic. I’ve never experienced 24 hour days, and it’s extraordinary how such a simple difference so radically alters my perception of time. When noon looks the same as midnight, clock time becomes meaningless. The most fundamental activities such as eating and sleeping are no longer triggered by darkness or by the angle of the sun. I can feel tired or hungry at any time, not unlike jet lag.

How do I cope? I am clinging to a regular schedule. At a reasonable hour I shut the curtains, put on my sleep mask, and make myself lay down to sleep. I seem to wake up after the usual 7 or 8 hours. Meals likewise happen at the usual intervals. Perhaps I am afraid to let go of regularity, of a reassuring rhythm that grounds me, connects me to my appetites for food, for sleep, for running and walking.

Funny how appetite and time are so closely connected. With clock time fading into the shadows, I am noticing how many clocks in my body are asserting their existence. My heart and my breath, eating, walking, running, sleeping: all are oscillating in their own rhythms. My heartbeat has become even slower than usual here, beating 36 times a minute while I write this.

As a composer, my activities are not as closely linked to the environment here at Bioarctica as those of many of the other artist residents. So what do I do here? Mostly I go outdoors. I run every morning, for 40 minutes or an hour or more, up and down hills, skipping over rocks and mud and streams, bumping into reindeer. And most days I go for extended hikes, from one to six hours. Then I listen to music on my trusty iPad. I follow my nose, and it’s been leading me to highly rhythmic music, funk especially, and dance music of all kinds. Finally, I compose and sketch fragments of various pieces I’m working on, or fragments with no direction home, complete unknowns, musical doodles.

I am noticing a thread here. Of all the elements in music–timbre, harmony, melody–it is time which is perhaps the most compelling, and the most mysterious. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, to quantify or theorize, whether as local rhythms or large-scale structures. Yet it is said that timing is everything. Arnold Schoenberg once told John Cage that he had no feeling for harmony, whereupon Cage replied that he would spend the rest of his life banging his head against the wall, trying to figure out harmony. I imagine Cage, whose wonderful innate feeling for rhythm can be heard in joyful 1940s works such as Third Construction in Metal and Credo in Us, banging his head in those same infectious grooves. And if I bang my head against anything, no matter how wonderful the world of harmony might be, let it be the rhythm wall. (If only Schoenberg had banged that wall every now and then.)

On a hike north of the fell Saana, there are the remains of a German WW2 prison camp. I think of Messiaen and his Quartet for the End of Time, written in just such a camp. At times in that piece, we can hear how his perception of time must have been radically changed by his surroundings, putting him in closer relationship with the idea of eternity, an idea which was also important in his Catholic faith. I am drawn to composers who have very personal takes on time, be they Messiaen or Cage, Stravinsky or Varese, Andriessen or Feldman.

I’ve come this far without mentioning the most striking thing about being here: it’s so beautiful. The plants and animals, the rolling alpine meadows and snowy peaks, the lakes and rivers, the quiet (no planes, no honking, no car alarms, no blaring music), the pure and tasty air and water, the colours, seeing nothing but nature for mile upon mile: how could anything be more beautiful? It shows me what I lose by living in a city. Being here is like finding roots I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s especially relevant being from Canada, a country whose identity is so closely tied to nature, yet which has become rapidly urbanized. How odd to go so far from home to learn about home.

The Four Seasons Project is a multi-media project that incorporates chronobiological research, innovative approaches to new media performance art, and experiments in music composition.
The Times Collide Group consists of scientist/visual artist Erin Fortier, interdisciplinary artist Jason Baerg, and composer James Rolfe. This Art and Science collaborative was born at a symposium called ‘Collide: Experiments in Music, Media Art and Science’, which took place at Hexagram in Montréal in April 2013. Collide is a two-year long initiative organized through a partnership between Subtle Technologies Art and Science Festival, now in its 14th year, and Continuum Contemporary Music, an organization in its 28th year, that is internationally renowned for commissioning and premiering cutting-edge contemporary music. The weekend long workshop launched five collaborative groups, each consisting of a media artist, a composer, and a scientist, with each group intended to create cross-disciplinary performances and installations. The collaborations will lead to public presentations, concerts, and performances in May and August 2015.

Times Collide is applying to Ars Bioarctica to do the work, research, and art, which will inform our collaboration. We intend to use the station as a forum for discussion about the nature of Time as a scientific concept and as an aesthetic experience. Our daily sessions of comparing notes and feeding off each other’s research and creation will deepen our collaboration and broaden the scope of the work that is detailed in our application.
Within our group residency proposal, each of us has a work plan that connects this collaboration to our respective practices. Chronobiologist and artist Erin Fortier will focus on the elements of biological timescales within the framework of traditional Saami temporal concepts and the unique surroundings of the midnight sun. For Composer James Rolfe, this will be the first of four carefully selected environments in which to explore the dramatic impact of natural rhythms on creativity, work which will ultimately be expressed in extended instrumental compositions. Interdisciplinary artist Jason Baerg will develop intercultural artistic exchanges that share knowledge through the creative process, bringing forth layers of meaning through Indigenous understanding of nature and perspectives on time.

Finally, during my last day here, I managed to get all the way to the summit of Saana. And it was worth it, although the wind was freezing cold. On the way up it was helping from the back, but on the way down it was blowing right in your face. No mist, luckily. The walk up on top of the mountain is rather pleasant, after the steep steps, although it is longer than you would imagine. There is always one more peak ahead. Coming down was almost harder because of the cold wind, but I did not feel tired before I was safely down on the main road. Only then did my legs tell me they wanted some rest. So now I have done my duty as a good tourist and feel I can leave the place content of fulfilling what was expected of me. And sure, I would be poorer without the views from Saana in my mind. The pictures on my phone are only a pale shadow of them, of course.

   

The ten days I have spent here have coincided with the arrival of spring. When I came I was astonished at the warm weather and the fact that the birches did not show any signs of green. And now when I am about to leave, I am surprised by the cold weather although the landscape is now all green around me. Although today was spent freezing in the dry, rocky moon landscape on Saana, some images of the beautiful foaming waterfall near the village I passed on my way to Lake Saana yesterday, can serve as a counterpoint.

  

The video works with Malla that I tried to complete here still remain to be edited, but for now this is enough. I am fairly sure to be back one day, perhaps already in the autumn, who knows. For now, thank you to the Finnish Bioart Society for the possibility to return here – and good luck to those who come after me.

Two days of mist and rain. Yesterday I walked on the slope of Saana toward Saanajärvi, but turned around half way, scared of the fog, or perhaps tired and cold, too. Today the weather was a bit clearer, so I walked up towards Jehkas on the nature path and marveled at the open landscape on the “paljakka”, above tree level. I begin to realize why people want to wander up on the fells.  I saw all the German remains, too, of the airplane that crashed and the camp for prisoners, weird rusty evidence of a war that seems so  far away in time. The rivulets had turned into rivers in some places, and the snow was treacherous, hiding the water underneath. I managed to circumvent a few problematic places but in the end I came to a river that was too much to wade across. I did not want to come back the same way, so I took a deep breath, abandoned the path (which was cut off by the river) and started walking towards Saana, since I calculated that the circular path would come back somewhere there. It felt scary, although there was of course no way of getting lost in an open area between such mighty fells. Nevertheless I was very, very happy, when I finally saw a stick with an orange colored top, the sign of the path.

After the majestic views and timeless emptiness on the “paljakka” it felt somehow sad, like when the party is over, to return to the slopes with vegetation, well trodden paths and murmuring brooks. I continued with some small experiments I tentatively started yesterday, for lack of any better ideas, that is, recording the small brooks of melting water that are cascading or trickling down everywhere on the slopes. The very first work I did by myself with a video camera in 1999 was following two mountain brooks  in Farrera de Pallars in the Pyrenées to the point of their confluence, during my residency at Centre D’Art i Natura there. So like a reflex, I tried to look at the brooks again, prompted by their omnipresent sound. I expected to get som picturesque but probably uninteresting imagery and used video mainly for the sound.

  

The still images I took on the same spots that I videoed looked really strange, when I transferred them to my computer. The grey sky is reflected in the water, and turns the images with water running over last years’ grass into flat surfaces, rather fascinating in their blandness. So what to do with these? Luckily I need not decide that now…

  

  

 

Today at noon I finished my Whitsuntide with Malla, or Little Malla, as I realized today. The real Malla is actually behind the mountain I have called Malla and is not visible from the shore. There was fog and mist during the night, but luckily the rain started only in the afternoon, when I had already finished recording. Beginning with a chilly wind and cloudy skies, through a white night with thick fog that completely hid Little Malla from view and ending with ominously dark clouds and no wind these twenty four hours were perhaps more interesting, albeit gloomy, than a day and night with blue skies and continuous sunshine.
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Strange way to spend the Pentecost or Whitsuntide, sitting on a rock watching a mountain, I thought, when reminded of the religious feast this weekend. Here those rituals seem irrelevant, although in historical times they probably had a lot of meaning even here. There is a saying in Finnish, related to the pagan precursor to the Pentecost that if you have not chosen your Valentine or beloved one by Whitsuntide you will remain alone for the whole summer. I guess a mountain does not count as an ordinary loved one, but does spending this special day and night with an entity of such strong character mean that I am somehow bound to be devoted to it for the rest of the summer? Perhaps I am too superstitious, and I would not mind meeting Malla again in the autumn…
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I have not yet looked at the material; the images here are snapshots taken with my phone, with a slightly different framing and of course without me sitting on the rock, but I have a feeling that the framing was fairly constant, since the tripod was well fixed. The first image, the foggy moment at  midnight, is the closest I came to the midnight sun and the second image is the last image, at noon on Sunday.
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The heat wave is over; a cold wind blows from northeast bringing a chilly mist from the Arctic Sea, perhaps even rain later tonight. It is hard to remember what it felt like to sit on the rock on the shore last night with the sun burning hot in my neck. Now, sitting on the same rock, I am shivering in the wind. The changes in the landscape during these few days have been swift. The birches are now green, since yesterday, and the ice on the lake has turned dark and damp today. The sky has been mainly grey today, no spectacular midnight sun tonight. Of course not, since I decided this Saturday-Sunday would be the right time to record a full day and a night from noon to noon. After the initial disappointment and dread of possible rain around midnight I realised the good sides to this boring greyness; the clouds cover the sun during those hours when it would be facing the camera, possibly blinding it. And there is the satisfaction of knowing that I did not bring my winter coat with me in vain. The temperature is estimated to sink down to + 4 degrees Celsius tomorrow morning. That is fine with me, as long as there is no heavy rain, which the camera would not like. While writing this, I am almost half-way through with one hour left until midnight. The light outside at the moment is like a winter afternoon. The clouds probably spread out the light in more evenly, and one cannot see the sun slowly sliding behind Saana.

Spring-cleaning was the prompt I received for today, which is a suitably exhausting activity comparable with staying up for 24 hours, despite short naps between the night sessions. While waiting for the next session – I go down to the shore every two hours – I have been cleaning my website, removing typos and minor errors, a spring-cleaning of sorts, too. The images here below are from earlier today, before the mist started pouring in from Norway, between Malla and Saana Fell. The wind makes my scarf flap while sitting on the rock, which is an unnecessary distraction in the image, but then again, documentation means documenting what happens, not what you would prefer taking place.

Why is it that the images I take as snapshots, without planning, always seem so much more interesting than the ones I deliberately prepare with a proper camera? Like these, taken in amazement when the ice suddenly began disappearing with an astonishing speed.

  

 

Rewriting an academic text on interaction as a pre-requisite for our contemporary understanding of “liveness”(and what that means for our relationship to animate beings in the environment that cannot provide an immediate experience of interaction, like trees, for example) has occupied me for most of the day. And in the evening I received a message from my colleague, who cursed some fallen trees that blocked the road and destroyed the electricity lines at the cottage. Trees can have agency, too, no doubt about that. I realized how protected and easy my life here at the station is, with three meals a day if needed, warm water, internet connection and all the electricity for the appliances that I depend on, from camera and computer to telephone and toothbrush. Without electricity most of our society would probably collapse within days.

I did a little bit of video this afternoon, well, this evening, although it looks like afternoon, I guess. Sitting on a rock at the shore for fifteen minutes, almost as a still image, to be combined in a long crossfade with the “empty” view, to let the human figure slowly dissolve into the landscape. (The editing I cannot do here, but that is the plan). The sun was burning hot, despite the chilly presence of the ice on the lake. I took two snapshots with my phone, one picture of the view, which the camera saw (albeit vertical, while the video image is horizontal) though without me sitting in the image, and another from where I sat on the rock, of the view that I saw. For once they were not that dissimilar. Sometimes the difference between what I see while performing and what the camera sees while watching or recording me is hilarious. Here the landscape is  continuous; there is very little that you would want to crop out of sight. The sounds of the cars passing on the road I would gladly do without, though. I hoped the glimmer of the empty beer can floating by the shore next to the rock would be visible in the latter image, but maybe not. The illusion of a pristine beauty is preserved, for now.

  

 

Light and air everywhere – only towards evening some clouds have appeared. I would never have imagined that I would be waiting for clouds here, to have some relief from the glaring sun! A second day of warmth and already some signs of green surround the birches. The spring is gaining momentum now. The melting snow runs down the slopes, only the path to the shore where I put my camera tripod this morning is still covered in snow. Funny feeling walking in deep snow wearing rubber boots, shorts and a T-shirt, and feeling hot. The water erodes the snow from below, the sun from above; sometimes the crust breaks and I fall deep into the snow, although I have created a small path of footsteps to follow.

  

This morning at ten o’clock, rather late, I started a test series with images of Malla, to be taken every second hour, which will continue until ten at night. This means I have been going back and forth to the shore, taking short walks, reading something, wandering around, unable to concentrate on anything fully. Right now I am looking at my watch, it is soon time to go down again.

These two images show the changes taking place in the landscape within two hours. They are snapshots with my phone, and their framing differs from the video image, of course, not even the horizon is stable, but perhaps you can get the idea.

  

I wonder what would happen if music was added to these images? Would it turn them into mere illustration or background to the music, or perhaps the opposite, would the music turn into some sort of accompaniment only? The idea of nature images and music sounds like kitsch, or some travel advertisement. Why am I even thinking of it? Because the prompt I received this afternoon was a piece of amazing experimental string music, with lots of strong contrasts, thundering echoes and small twinkling sounds and plenty of silence. A music that makes you see images of ice floes breaking or branches suddenly cracking and falling, all kinds of dynamic events in the landscape, large and small. The problem is, when you listen you can imagine them, or perhaps something else, whatever fills your mind, and the images are stronger because you create them in your mind by yourself while listening.

To combine real images and music is really complicated, almost impossible but seductive. Sound can transform any image, by adding an extra layer; it functions as a voice-over even without words, or like a lens or window through which the images are seen, providing a mood or character, a guideline for interpretation. For a person attuned to listening, the images probably become some form of tapestry, like the ever-shifting ornaments shown by media players. Our senses work in a synesthetic fashion; seeing, hearing, touching all work in combination. Reality is a multisensory affair, but work which combines sound and images immediately has to meet the challenges of all cinematic conventions, where sound emotionally explains the images. Maybe I am simply afraid, since the world of music is unfamiliar to me, like a foreign language I do not understand or speak, that I can only listen to in awe.

 

Great to be back after almost two months – everything is the same and everything has changed! Most of the snow is gone, but a lot of it still remains here and there. I knew there would be ice on the lake, but I expected the birches to be in bloom, at least slightly greenish, but no, not yet. The spring is only beginning here. The sun is incredibly bright and warm and stays high up in the sky, its dazzling light both energising and exhausting. Arriving here yesterday I soon realised I cannot simply continue to work from where I stopped when I left. Or in some way perhaps I can, by making a second part, which will be different, of course, and still somehow resemble the first part.

What is changing, what remains the same? A colleague agreed to help me by sending a challenge, a prompt, a question, a quote, something to act as an impulse I could start from. This morning I received a brief poem by the great modernist poet Gunnar Björling that almost made me cry. The text is impossible to translate here without destroying it; about the defiance in looking at the world as if nineteen, of remaining nineteen through age and time and wrinkles. Perhaps even remaining true to who you are, which is a scary thought. It is easier to think of life as a form of becoming. When the mountain slopes are filled with brooks that sing of spring it is easy to feel forever young, or at least in the beginning of a journey. Everything around is waking up as if born again. Life is so fragile, the time for growth so brief, that each creature feels precious. Or perhaps, on the contrary, the plants and animals that live here are extraordinary strong. How else could they survive? I sure wish I could grow new hair each spring, like all these other growing things.

What is changing, what remains the same? I tried to recreate the image I repeated for a day in April, and found almost the same spot for my camera tripod; the wooden construction I used as a signpost was still there. Almost, that is, because the shores are open, I cannot walk on the ice, of course, and even the slight shift in the angle of the camera transforms the image. I will probably make a version, one day every second hour, without the human figure, nevertheless. Another option I tried was sitting on a rock on the shore. I placed my blue scarf as a marker for the snapshot, which I made without a tripod, as a note. There is too much information in the image with branches and rocks and whatever, but I have to accept that, if I want to face Malla Fell as before. Everything changes; perhaps something remains the same.

What should I change and what should I try to maintain as the same? A delicate balance; in some sense nothing is ever, ever the same. That is the beauty of  it, the whole point of performing landscape; it changes all the time. And that is why repetition is needed, to somehow artificially produce an impression of something remaining the same in order for all the small changes to become discernible. By saying that, I repeat myself, again. Tonight I repeated my attempt to climb up to Saana, which I gave up in April, and this time I succeeded; not all the way to the summit, but high enough to be on the mountain, to have an other view of Malla. And for a brief moment I felt nineteen.