Music for an installation by Jimmy Pulli

Duration: —
Composed: 2013
4-channel interactive sound installation

Surium was composed and recorded for the eponymous installation by the Finnish artist Jimmy Pulli. He had heard a traditional Albanian polyphonic song performed by our male vocal quartet Äijä. He wanted a polyphonic vocal piece that could be reassembled in endless permutations, much like Heraclitus’ ever-changing-ever-flowing river. At the installation, this would be facilitated by proximity triggers for each of the four loudspeakers, each playing only one of the four voices. So, at the exhibition the composition was never heard in its original form, because it was impossible to trigger the loudspeakers in coordination. The installation was on display from 22 August until 29 September 2013 at the Vaasa Art Gallery, Finland.

The technique I used for the underlying composition relates to the Missa brevis technique, whereby the long text of the church mass was folded onto itself to save time. My adaptation of this technique was also inspired by certain Tibetan Buddhist rituals where the listeners need to hear certain sacred texts, but must not understand them, as the texts are also secret – a form of aural encryption.

Surium was constructed using a verse from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. As with the sacred Tibetan chants, the text remains intact in Surium, but is masked by itself and the complex polyphony of the four voices. But, as the separate voices are heard, the words can become clear, obscuring instead the complex interaction of the four voices in the composition.