September’s calendar is filling up with interesting events. I’ve just booked seats to see a Finnish-themed music theatre work by an MFA grad with a Finnish name. As immigrants ourselves, my husband and I were quite intrigued by this program description:

RETURNS is a music theatre work. It is Pessi Parviainen’s MFA Graduating Project in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.

Part concert, part theatre, the piece visits four generations of Finnish immigration with original music, storytelling, and video segments. ‘Returns’ navigates the gaps between Finland and Canada, past and present, fact and fiction.

As source material, Parviainen uses his family’s immigration stories and 8mm home movies from the 1950s and 1980s. The music Parviainen has composed draws from Finnish folk music, tango, contemporary classical music and free improvisation.

Studio II Theatre
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Mountain Campus
Burnaby, BC
September 13, 14, 15, all shows at 8 pm
Free admission
Seating limited. Call SFU Theatre Box Office to reserve seats: 778-782-3514

The website for the show has a nice snippet of music that sounds like a mix of kantele and guitar that you may enjoy. And new-to-me is the sponsor, The Finnish Institute of Suomi, which I’m going to keep an eye on.
UPDATE: The performance was great! The old videos, the snippets of familiar folk music blended into new music, the stories of immigrant life all had an evocative feeling for us. Even Pessi Parvianen’s very Finnish looks made me think of my father and another old friend, except that he’s VERY tall (which is beside the point). An enjoyable evening of unique music and images.

77 Million Paintings


Saturday evening, yesterday, felt like a fall evening, so dark so early with rain thundering on the skylights. Desiring some cocooning, we set up our favourite game of Liverpool Rummy on the table, with hot cups of gen-mai cha (roasted rice green tea) beside us, and the laptop playing Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings for the first time.

I mentioned this piece by prolific electronic music and video artist Brian Eno many months ago, and was lent the DVD and book some time ago, but only now made the time to view it. The program is installed on the computer from the DVD in order to utilize the computer’s unique capacity as a generating processor to produce original visual compounds out of a large quantity of hand-painted elements.

Our gazes were mesmerized by the slow transformations of the images set to the gentle electronic music, very meditative and calming as we played our game. I think we would have found it too slow to watch with full attention, though I believe there is a way to speed it up. From time to time I read out loud some passages from the accompanying little book. First came the introduction by Nick Robertson Painting by Numbers. It’s too long to quote, but it’s about how each viewing is unique, never the same for each viewer. Some excerpts:

The audio is processed in a similar way, containing layers of sound, ensuring you never hear exactly the same thing twice, even if running 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The title “77 Million Paintings” reflects the possible permutations of the piece.
The original in art is no longer solely bound up in the physical object, but rather in the way the piece lives and grows. It is moving in time and each moment is an original. As a fluid fusion of traditional painting techniques and computer coding, this is truly painting by numbers.

My Light Years, Brian Eno’s own story of how this work came about from his explorations into light as an artist’s medium makes for interesting reading along with the printed images, which I’m still slowly savouring my way through. There’s also a DVD with an interview of Eno that I look forward to viewing.

This is very inspiring! I wish I had the skill and the equipment to set up my own generating software so that I could use my own artwork to create something like this! I know some other artists are doing this kind of work nowadays, hmmm….

Eno has had many museum shows of his projects including this one. Recently when checking out a few Second Life blogs, I learned that Brian Eno also had an opening tour of his multi-installation/collaboration of 77 Million Paintings with them. This is all very new and a bit incomprehensible for me at the moment.
(Image from 77 Million Paintings)

colours of music


Can music have colour? David Hockney thought so, as filmmaker Maryte Kavaliauskas shows in her profile for PBS’s American Masters, David Hockney: The Colors of Music.

Hockney designed sets for perfomances of some of the world’s great operas for more than 30 years, surreal backdrops of “purple forests, spacey blues, giant blocks and mad silhouettes.” Kavaliauskas’ film features excerpts from operas by Mozart, Stravinsky, Ravel and Puccini, and the result is a mesmerizing, occasionally dizzying scherzo of sound and colour.

Ironically, Hockney suffered from gradual but steadily deteriorating hearing loss late in life – a decline documented in the program. “I have always said how a hearing loss makes you aware of space, visually,” Hockney says in the film. “I became aware of that…I am aware.” And how. David Hockney: The Colors of Music is a feast for the eyes. (PBS – 10 p.m.)
– Alex Strachan, The Vancouver Sun, Page C6 (print only), July 18, 2007. (Links added by me.)

A TV program on my favourite subjects, visual art and opera, and a famous artist as well!

I read the above in our paper this morning and was happy to note that the program is available on one of our basic cable channels (unlike another art program). I rarely watch TV because I don’t often know when something really good is on. I detest skimming through pages of tiny uninformative print in the TV listings for over a hundred channels, most of which we don’t receive. So, I’m pleased when I see something like this written up to alert me. I’ll be watching it this evening, and hopefully will update later on as to what I think of it. Some readers may have seen this film already as it is a couple of years old. If not, check your local PBS listings (Canada and US).

Meanwhile, there are interesting links at David Hockney: The Colors of Music website for more information, such as about the people involved like Lithuanian born Maryte Kavaliauskas and the lovely photos of stage sets (above is the performance still from Die Frau Ohne Schatten.) This production reminds me a little of Visual Music.

UPDATE July 19th 10:00 am: I enjoyed the film very much and I’m glad I taped it to view again. It was very interesting to listen to Hockney talk about the challenges of working in a new area that is very 3D instead of his usual 2D and working with light, and how stage design is a collaboration with compromises. I loved the snippets of music and dress rehearsals, such as Erik Satie’s Parade. Hockney says music is heightened poetry and heightened experience. His comments on slowly going deaf were enlightening; he doesn’t like background music, only foreground music – when you just listen to it! Amazing how many times I nodded in agreement. Oh, there’s more but you will just have to see it for yourself!

the magic flute


Oh my, what a wonderful evening! We splurged on a special night out at the opera and were thoroughly enthralled by the wonderful new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in a unique and fascinating collaboration with First Nations artists.

Vancouver Opera’s new production of Mozart’s beguiling opera is set on the rocky shores and in the looming forests of the Pacific coast. There, the characters encounter many of the human figures, animals and supernatural creatures of Coast Salish mythology, in a visually splendid design conceived in collaboration with a team of First Nations artists. The Magic Flute will be an exciting exploration of the intersection of two rich cultures – the musical and theatrical traditions of 18th century Europe, beautifully performed, and the ancient mythology of the indigenous people of the Canadian west coast, beautifully depicted.

We found the sets absolutely magical and powerful – I’m feeling very inspired and high and unable to go to sleep yet! The adaptation and the costumes were marvellous and the singing was very good, though not always with the power I like, but perhaps that was partly the acoustics of the theatre. We found it interesting that just before the start of the opera, Leonard George (if we caught the name right, the son of the famous late Chief Dan George), spoke a few words of gratitude for this collaboration and then chanted and played the tribal drum for a few minutes – a moving touch! It was an almost full house, even on a Tuesday night, so it’s been received very well. We were saying on the way home that this is the kind of artistic production that we should be presenting at our Olympics. My only beef is that the audience kept clapping after every song, not our usual experience.

To give you a little taste of it, you may enjoy viewing several audio and video clips from the production, on VO’s site. For many weeks there was a great deal of advance media buzz about this innovative production, which certainly attracted our interest: in the CBC, this review.

Image above, from CBC: Etienne Dupuis is Papageno and Angela Welch is Papagena. Costumes reflect West Coast native traditions. (Tim Matheson/Vancouver Opera)

UPDATE 2013: most links are no longer available and have been removed.



Well, it’s still rather soggy in southwest BC, with storm after storm bringing us more heavy rains in the past nearly two weeks than we normally get in the whole month of November, usually our wettest month of the year. More storms coming and no sun in sight on the weather map! Our backyard is a swamp but at least we aren’t flooded by overflowing rivers like in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver. It’s too wet to rake the leaves or dig up the dahlia tubers buried in wet mud. The past few days have gotten colder so I hear the mountains have lots of snow, I just haven’t seen it with my own eyes with those very low-hanging dark clouds. We did manage a walk between showers, finding ourselves stopping for several pleasant chats with neighbours out trying to clean their yards.

As I’ve written earlier, we are enjoying the coziness of the indoors. Saturday evening, we filled and lit the fireplace with logs, put on some old favourite music like Anne Sofie von Otter’s Wings in the Night (Swedish Songs) and sat down with some books. In this relaxing and mellow atmosphere I found myself often pausing in my reading to enjoy the best passages of the music while gazing at the dancing flames.

I’m reading Anita Konkka’s A Fool’s Paradise. I’ve been enjoying her blog Sanat (Words, in Finnish) for some time and have been wanting to read her books but they’ve been out of print until this translation. From her blog, I know that Anita has a deep interest in dreams and astrology, and that shows in the book. To me the writing is minimalist yet very visual as she describes vivid images and actions from dreams and real life, and sometimes the two seem to merge. Something about the mood, the air of mild depression and the slow almost total lack of a plot reminds me of some of Aki Kaurismäki’s films. I haven’t quite finished it yet but it is deep, thoughtful and satisfying reading. I wonder what it would be like to read in Finnish, probably a bit challenging for my rusty vocabulary.

Husband’s book The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce Lipton excited him so much that he was reading passages aloud, leading us into some animated discussions. We’ve been turning away from much of traditional Western medicine and pharmaceuticals and looking at alternatives, so this book was very inspirational and hopeful.

Sunday was family day. Our eldest daughter and her partner were in town unexpectedly so we were all together playing with the grand-daughters and then having a nice meal around the extended table. This long weekend felt almost like Christmas, was it the mellowness?

Reviews of A Fool’s Paradise by Anita Konkka at:
Literary Saloon
Now What blog
And an interview



It’s been quiet for a few days here as I recover from having a lot of visitors in the midst of a heat wave. Though it’s a little cooler today, I’m still feeling tired and uninspired. Instead I’ve been doing some needed housekeeping on my computer, and then rewarded myself with another tour of our photos from the recent trip to Alberta. I’m thinking again about how I may use the Writing-on-Stone Park photos, like the one above, in my new work.

Suiting my pensive mood, I’ve also enjoyed a tour through Simon Marsden’s moody and darkly romantic photos (introduced by wood s lot). Naturally I like his Standing Stones the most. The arches and the ruins appeal as well for they have been elements in my past work.

Then a little bit of opera music lifted my spirits some more, though the video itself is too cheesy for my taste. I know and love Dvorak’s Song to the Moon, this time sung by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. (Kiitos, thanks to tuumailu for the link!) Nothing like this kind of art to nurse a pensive mood and then inspire! Does it work that way for you too?

beauties vs beasts

03 Finland Left 2006
(Lordi – Photo from Eurovision)

The first that I ever heard of LORDI was in an email about two weeks ago from fellow-blogger Anna in England: “Lordi lordi, whatever next? I really think that you should do a piece about these guys…we are  about to be deeply shocked apparently.” I wrote back, “I’m missing something here… what guys? what’s shocking?” Then Anna sent me this link. Ohh!

So, Lordi is the monster heavy-metal band that is representing Finland in this year’s Eurovision song contest. I must say I’m not a fan of heavy-metal rock. I first heard their entry Hard Rock Hallelujah at BBC (via Pinseri). The Lordi members are from Finnish Saame (Lapland) and credit Kiss for their inspiration. They have never appeared without the heavy grotesque makeup and costumes nor revealed their true identities.

What got me interested in them initially is this mystery, a hint of Lord of the Rings, the “Arockalypse” (as they post on their homepage) and the pyrotechnics in their huge performances – is it clever marketing? The huge media coverage Lordi is getting seems to indicate success, just look at the blogs, online news in Finland, the UK and Canada including the CBC, and print news such as even our conservative Vancouver Sun with two articles “Monster-rock band has even fellow-Finns feeling horrified” and “Euro songfest’s easy-beat challenged”. (That’s enough links already, eh!)

Lordi was voted in as one of ten finalists, a first ever for Finland, both elating and upsetting many conservative Finns. The finals of this 50 year old contest are presently underway as I write this, and I’ll be back as soon as I know the final results of the voting.

UPDATE 3:45 pm PDT – FINLAND WINS! Learned first at Pinseri, then Finland for Thought (great photo here). The Eurovision site is slow updating, guess the Finns have been watching TV into the wee hours!!

LATER: BBC has a report and list of runner-ups.

ADDENDUM: May 21st: Lordi is now in Wikipedia in English and Finnish. (Thanks to blogisisko)
AND the feedback from Helsinki’s main newspaper: Helsingit Sanomat where there are also some great photos

May 24th: Lordi-mania is still humming away, though I said to myself that I wouldn’t write anymore about this. However an interesting article about lead Tomi Putaansuu and his labour of love is too good not to share. Also, read the comment and question from Anna Amnell below – anyone have an answer?

Kaija Saariaho, opera composer

Charles Downey of Ionarts wrote today:

Tonight was the big night in Paris, the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s new opera, Adriana Mater, at the Opéra national de Paris. It was to have been the jewel in the crown of a challenging and adventurous season of opera, the Opéra national de Paris’s commission of a new opera by the Finnish composer, whose L’Amour de Loin was such a sensation at the Salzburg Festival in 2000.

Unfortunately the premiere has been cancelled because of a strike. So, instead of commenting on the expected reviews, Ionarts wrote about the composer’s earlier works.

Thanks to this piece, I became inspired and curious to find out more about this famous Finnish woman composer that I knew very little about. Virtual Finland’s article* states that Kaija Saariaho was born in 1952 in Helsinki, and received her music education at the Sibelius Academy. She has composed numerous works since 1982 and concerts of her work have been performed at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, London, Paris,Vienna and Jakarta. She was winner of the Prix Italia, 1988 and of the Recording of the year award from the Finnish Broadcasting Company, 1993. In 2003 she was the winner of one of the world’s biggest prizes for composition, the Grawemeyer prize for 2003. Worth $200,000 US, Kaija Saariaho won it for her first opera L’Amour de Loin.

The prize means a lot because with L’Amour de Loin I stepped into a new area, after which my life and my music changed, said Saariaho in a statement. I have found from within the world of opera in all its glory. Interestingly her earlier work involved “electronics, with computer-analyzed sonorities shifting imperceptibly into new ones”, so it is indeed a big shift. Writing opera has certainly catapulted her to great fame and demand. What an amazing woman!

Now I must find me some of her recordings – L’amour de Loin sounds wonderful.

By the way, Charles Downey is quite the admirer of Finnish music, especially opera, which he has attributed to Finland’s excellent music education.

April 4th, 2006: The news in Helsingin Sanomat today: Adriana Mater opera’s world première is big success in Paris. The opera premiered last night after being postponed from last Thursday.

April 5th: Ionarts reports on the mixed reviews in the French press.

April 15th: A very interesting interview with the production’s conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen (by Shirley Apthorp, Bloomberg News). Despite an enthusiastic response from the public, the French press response was not glowing. “Everything is political in Paris,” Salonen says. “To damn this opera is to take a swipe at Mortier. And here you had a Lebanese librettist, a Finnish composer and an American director coming to Paris to do an opera at the country’s national house . . .”

Thanks again to ionarts!

* link has expired and has been removed

Toronto’s Lord of the Rings

lotrwallpaper_thumb.jpgThe much-anticipated musical theatre version of The Lord of the Rings made its formal début in a gala première in Toronto on Thursday evening, and the reactions of the audience suggested that the massive production would not be leaving town very soon.

From the Finnish point of view Toronto’s The Lord of the Rings production is particularly interesting, with its strong Karelian-tinged songs composed by the Finnish folk group Värttinä.

“Just as in Tolkien’s original work, music has a greater role in the stage adaption than it had in Peter Jackson’s highly successful film trilogy. The “Finnish connection” is not altogether a coincidence: Tolkien often referred to his own personal debt to the myths of the Finnish national epic Kalevala.” (from Helsingin Sanomat International*)

I’ve been waiting to hear more about this since first reading about the Finnish connection, and then learning that the debut would be in Toronto. Well, it has received mixed reviews in both the CBC* and the Globe and Mail*. I wonder if the expectations might be too high after the films, even the book.

Still, I wish I was closer to Toronto to go see this production. And that reminds me, I still haven’t seen all of the films and I must reread the book after 20 years or so. Ah time, time…

ADDENDUM March 28th: Here’s more from Helsingin Sanomat*: “Finger of fate pointed Lord of the Rings music towards Finland; Värttinä discovered largely by chance to compose the music for Toronto production”.

* Updated 27.08.2015 – expired links removed

Kalevala Event