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Finnish, Copenhagen-based vocal artist Johanna Elina Sulkunen (of the IKI vocal ensemble) completes with Coexistence her impressive Sonority trilogy that began with Koan (Ilk Music, 2018) and continued with Terra (released by Sulkunen’s label, Tila, 2021). This trilogy takes the listener into a multilayered journey of sounds of the human voice augmented and manipulated with electronics, borrowing elements from experimental jazz, electronic music, electroacoustic composition and avant-garde, and touching on life’s big questions.

Coexistence is the most ambitious and adventurous part of the trilogy. Koan and were meditative explorations of Sulkunen’s own voice and body in relation to ambient soundscapes and field recordings but Coexistence asks the listener to listen to other people’s voices in search of connection and community, often people in need and out of their homeland and culture. The album asks: Can we, by listening, learn to think differently? And for Sulkunen listening is not only a daily practice but also a human need.

Sulkunen reflects on the power relations and social hierarchies that are also embedded in the human voice. Although the voice is seemingly a common human condition that can bind us together, some voices take up a lot of space – literally – in society, while other voices are marginalized, fragile, or even silenced. The eleven pieces are the outcome of conversations and interviews with homeless people and refugees, with all of them answering Sulkunen’s question: What would you say if the whole world was listening?

Fragments of these supposedly anthropological conversations were layered and processed and defined the themes of the soundscapes – home or lack of home, borders and the absence of borders, happiness, dreams and visions for the world. Still, except for the calling for mindfulness listening, Coexistence offers no clear morality. The heavily fragmented and manipulated voices offer a naive – yet quite immersive and beautiful – desire to create a common human space or a meeting place with room for all to express their voice and listen to others. It is an impressive conclusion to the Sonority trilogy but a real change in our listening habits may require a more bold, direct and unsettling statement.

Eyal Hareuveni

Johanna Elina Sulkunen (vocals, electronics), Francesco Bigoni (saxophones)