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  • Writer's pictureChris Bradbury

Kylmä Sota

Have a listen and a read. Use headphones.

Cold War. In my mind, as a naive child of the 1990s, this phrase had more in common with James Bond movies than it did anything else. Sadly in March 2022, it fiercely reentered our vocabulary.

As a newcomer to Finland, it has been awakening to observe just how quickly the national position on neutrality has been abandoned. Frustrations with the neighbouring administration have been vocal. Increasingly since March, conversations have been dominated by National Defence and NATO talk. Many of my live stream jobs have focussed on it: The Finnish Reservists Administration held a live panel discussion on NATO membership. A webinar run by a tech firm discussing the elevated cyber threat to Finland. There was one gig recording a seminar for the ministry of defence, the details of which they asked not to be made public.

Finland is experienced at handling provocation and threats. (There's a civil defence bunker in the basement of my apartment building. For those "just incase" scenarios).

Anyway - sound stuff! I recently made a radio art piece for the 60 Sec Radio Art Competition in Montreal. The project includes audio that features from an earlier blog post (see “Stating Your Mind”), and was heavily influenced by global events happening this Spring.

Kylmä Sota was made using granular synthesis processing. Simply put - you feed audio into a sampler, which breaks it down into tiny fragments (milliseconds). The sampler will play, layer and repeat these sampled ‘grains’ of audio to create complex pallets of sound. With parameters of modulation, effects and time stretching, and with the use of a midi keyboard, you can create virtual instruments out of these sounds. The audio I have sampled was collected from field recordings around Helsinki in Winter/Spring 2022.

Part of field recording trips out into the Helsinki winter.
Hydrophones in the snow

In the early stages of making this piece, one of the granulated sounds produced these succinct, ringing notes. They reminded me of alarm sirens, and gave me the core idea for a narrative. The work starts with footsteps in snow. It draws a solitary images of someone walking into the wilderness. As the sounds of granulated ice swell, the chanting crowd rises out of the frozen backdrop. In my mind, it appears as an embodiment of all the frustration and anxiety surrounding war. A resounding defiant voice, rising up and breaking against the cold oppression.

As the ringing alarm sirens reach a peak, the sustain audibly disintegrates, leaving us with eerie resonating metallic overtones. At this point the sound from the samplers begins to overwhelm. These grow to a crescendo, building the sonic tension in our ears.

In the final seconds the higher frequencies are cut, leaving us with more vibration than audible sound. This creates a visceral effect, inducing a chilling tactile sensation. Like a foreboding onset of conflict?

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet. For just a moment. (Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Reflecting on all of this, it comes to me now that the work acts as a metaphor for the information overload we face in this cold war-internet age. Overwhelming material is poured into our feeds on social media, news outlets, conversations, TV and radio; chewed up, fragmented and resampled into grains that form our pallet of opinions and perspectives. I resoundingly oppose the invasion of Ukraine, but I shudder also at the sounds of the Western war machines as they wake.

The biography submitted to the competition:

Spring is always welcome after a long Finnish winter. As the snow melts away this year, the change of season is tainted by war. Finland’s history with Russia is complicated, and sympathies with Ukraine run deep. A foreboding Cold War mentality awakens.

This work manipulates field recordings collected in Helsinki. I wanted to create a narrative reflecting our growing anxieties. Using granular synthesis, sounds of water, ice, snow, city ambience and anti-war demonstrations are transformed into a pallet of sonic textures. Building upon the aesthetics of organised sound (Edgar Varès), these sonic entities overwhelm, like the apprehension of conflict.

Kylmä Sota For 60 Seconds Radio 2022.

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