Saturday, 7 September 2013

Symphony of wind

Every August, the Helsinki Festival turns the city into a two-week international cultural feast. The program includes music, dance, theatre, visual arts, movies, circus, you name it. This year, even Yoko Ono (80) performed here.

A slalom through a serpentine of bamboo organs.

The festival also offers quite a number of free outdoor events. This time the most interesting of them, at least to me, was the Sounding City project, especially the Harmonic Fields, “a symphonic march for wind instruments and a moving audience”.

As the event was open on four days only and as I am a fan of street art, flash mobs and all kinds of public acts such as Improv Everywhere, I dragged him to Helsinki on a Saturday afternoon to experience the wind-composed symphony. After a sunny stroll through the soothing sounds on the Eiranranta waterfront he, too, was impressed.

Where did all the old petanque balls go? To decorate wind instruments.
Harmonic Fields or Champ harmonique is a creation of the French composer and former free-jazz trumpeter Pierre Sauvageot. He is also the leader of Lieux publics, national centre for creation in public space from Marseille, the group that brought the event to Helsinki. Lieux publics works with artists from every discipline “who make the city the location, object and subject of their productions”. Since 2001, they have accompanied some 500 events.

The instruments of wind in the Harmonic Fields production – the woodwind, strings, percussion – are custom-made for the symphony of nature. The day was rather calm and some of the tunes were pretty faint but if you pressed your ear against the instrument and closed your eyes you could catch the distant sound of the föhn, mistral or sirocco approaching.

Chairs or loungers were placed by some of the instruments inviting you to relax to their clacking, banging, whirring or buzzing melody. There were also a couple of items you could stick your head into and the current you created caused a wonderfully powerful humming sound for your ears only.

Lie down and learn to listen.

Stick your head inside this flying saucer.
The climax of the symphonic journey was waiting at the end and turning point of the walk: a circle of ‘cellos’ and drums hanging pierced by high poles with strings suspended from the top to the bottom. A row of some 15 deck chairs was placed in the middle for visitors to sit down and take their time to listen and unwind. The magical composition the gentle breeze generated could have made the heaviest of hearts surrender.

Harmonique Fields was created in 2010 and has since then delighted audiences in several European locations, most recently in Marseille, one of the two  2013 European Capitals of Culture (the other one being Kosice in Slovakia; don’t worry, I didn’t remember that either) and just before arriving at Helsinki in Genk, Belgium. Here is a link to a video of the event in the magnificent setting of Les Goudes, Marseille and here another one to a video recorded at Eiranranta in Helsinki.

Should Lieux publics bring any of their productions to a site close to you do attend!


  1. How interesting, I hope to see this one day! And how pure and blue is the sky in your country!

    1. We had a lovely August and the weather is continuing exceptionally warm. Blue skies almost every day and bright stars during the nights. Can't complain!

  2. Teresa we had Harmonic fields here last September as part of the Olympics celebrations and I too wrote a post about it then. We found it quite magical listening to all the different sounds. It was lovely to see your post to remind us this lovely event.
    Sarah x

    1. I was wondering if you had seen it as I read it had been to Dorset last year. Must search it from your blog to see how it was over there.