The Scotsman Sessions #79: Hanna Tuulikki

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, Glasgow-based Hanna Tuulikki gets up very early in the morning to perform her 2013 solo vocal piece At Sing Two Birds, with accompaniment from the local dawn chorus

Visual artist, composer and performer, Glasgow-based Hanna Tuulikki produces work that refuses to be pigeonholed into the neat categories that those roles suggest, instead blurring the edges between traditionally separate artforms. So it’s no surprise that her work often strains at other boundaries, too, those between the human and not-human, taking inspiration from and even directly emulating aspects of the natural world – birdsong, the movements of deer, or even the shape-shifting forms of rivers.

For someone so connected with nature, Tuulikki has found the last few months somewhat perplexing. “I’ve definitely noticed the saturation of birdsong, but I’ve also really missed going out of the city and experiencing the month of May, for example. One of the reasons I’ve recorded At Sing Two Birds is because I really missed the cuckoo – I haven’t even heard a cuckoo this year.”

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Her solo vocal piece At Sing Two Birds comes from 2013, and it’s almost a study for her grander, Gaelic folksong-inspired Away with the Birds which she performed with a large chorus on the isle of Canna in 2014. “I was looking at mimesis – or the imitation of the more-than-human – in English-speaking traditions, and I could actually only find two traditional English songs where you can hear the melody and rhythm of the birds within the song itself. They’re the cuckoo and the blackbird. I deconstructed the songs into fragments and wove them together in a linear way, so that the two songs still exist in their original forms if you listen to the lyrics.”

She made the recording in her shared garden in the south side of Glasgow just after dawn, with the intention of capturing authentic birdsong alongside her vocal imitations (watch out for a surreptitious mammalian visitor in there, too). “At Sing Two Birds is definitely the precursor to a lot of my work,” says Tuulikki, “beginning to ask questions about what happens to my human edges when I extend my voice into a space where species meet.” Explore Tuulikki’s work further when the Edinburgh Art Festival revisits her vocal and gestural Sing Sign, originally commissioned for the 2015 event.

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