Notes from the Borealis Festival, Birgon 2024 – Part 1.

Notes from the Borealis Festival, Birgon 2024 – Part 1.

My name is Paula Ryggvik Mikalsen, and I hold a postdoc position connected to Arctic Auditories situated at the Institute for Gender and Women’s Research at the University in Tromsø. I had the pleasure of attending the Borealis Festival in Birgon/Bergen, and I wanted to share my experience of the festival with you. The Borealis Festival celebrates experimental music from all over Norway and Sápmi, and this year it focused on Sámi experimental music, in collaboration with Sámi artist Elina Waage Mikalsen. From the Borealis homepage:

How does who you are affect how you listen?

Are you excited or tired, or both?

Are you with friends or alone?

Are you listening to something you know, or is it new to you?

What histories and structures are you assuming are “normal”?

The Borealis Festival team in collaboration with Elina Waage Mikalsen

These questions I thought resonated beautifully with what we’re investigating in Arctic Auditories. Over the course of three days and three panel conversations, we listened to artists, researchers, composers, and craftspeople talk about how they use their roots and traditions to connect with their art, histories and culture. The journey began on Wednesday morning.

The journey south felt very apropos, traveling from one cold, dry hydrosphere and arriving in a wet, extremely humid one in Birgon. Winter still held Romssa firmly in its grasp when I left early on Wednesday the 13th of March, and I had to switch my wool coat for my long raincoat and seek shelter from the onslaught of rain. I traveled with my friend Ellen Marie Bråthen Steen (@new_sami_music_phd), who’d been asked to be part of the panel on Sámi experimentalism on Thursday. The kind folks at Borealis picked us up, and they told us they had hoped that the fine weather they’d enjoyed up until now would continue, but alas. It is curious how much cities and its people are shaped by their weather conditions, and the excess or absence of water. Ellen and I had packed more wool than rainproof gear, as we were perhaps more optimistic about travelling to a more gentle climate. Our idea, as North-Norwegians, of spring is that brief interlude between the grey-black of lingering snow and the bright green of summer. This spring in Birgon, on the other hand, was wrapped in mist, clinging to the evening air, obscuring our vision, and augmenting the sounds of wet tires on wet asphalt; the rubbing of jacket cloth as you bundle up tight to keep the moisture out; the heavy flow of the rain running down slanted streets into the harbour.

Thursday – Sámi Experimentalism

I purchased Johan Sara Jr. new album of classical music Gávcci jahkodaga The Eight Sámi Seasons.

At breakfast on Thursday morning, Ellen introduced me to her co-panelists Jakop Janssønn (@jakopjanssonn & @sami_ritmmat) and Ánndaris Rimpi , and later by artist Johan Sara Jr., and Jalvvi Niilas Holmberg. We told stories over coffee and talked about music, about joik in academia, acoustemology (how to interpret the world through sound) and what we dreamed of last night.

Do you know who called me 35 min ago? It was Björk. She wants to work with me. The only problem is – it was a dream.

Some decades ago, temperatures dropped to almost -50 in Guovdegaidno/Kautokeino. This news reached the Norwegian broadcasting network, who sent a journalist to interview the inhabitants. He arrived, and struck up a conversation with a local man at the supermarket.

– Wow, it’s really cold now! says the journalist.

-Oh? You think so? says the local man.

-Of course, it’s -50 degrees outside!

– Yes, outside, sure!

After breakfast, we headed out to the library early. We borrowed umbrellas from the hotel – every shop and restaurant in Bergen has “umbrella parking stations” – and arrived in the cellar auditorium of Bergen Public Library. Multicolored orbs were artistically placed around the sofa where Jakop Jansønn and Ánndaris joined Ellen. Jakop is a PhD and a drummer, Ánndaris hails from Oalloluokta in Jokkmokk and is a Lulesami composer and sound artist (and the voice of Olaf in Jikŋon). The lights dimmed, and after a brief introduction and welcome from a representative from the Bergen Sámiid Searvi/ Bergen Sameforening, Jakop introduced himself and his co-panelists.

On the question of his relationship to Sámi experimentalism, Ánndaris replied that it depends on who perceives it as “experimental”, and from there the answer lies in listening, and what we perceive as sound and what is perceived as music. Jakop played a short recording that was made about a hundred years ago, of a man playing a fatnu, a Sámi flute-like instrument made from Angelica root. The recording was made on a wax-roll, which affects the recording’s tempo, pitch, and ‘quality’. Does this qualify as Sámi music? Ánndaris replied in the affirmative and delved further into the idea of leaving room for improvisation as part of project planning. He imagined, using the recording as a point of departure, that at it’s core improvisation was a key component of that recording. Finding the plant, adjusting it, discovering what sounds you could produce, and then playing with these different sounds, are not only the same elements as modern composing but of experimentalism. The ephemerality of the fatnu also becomes part of the Sámi musical tradition. While the sounds produced have a limited lifespan in it’s current form, the melodies, the stories and rituals live on in the people who listen to them. The people travel, and so do the sounds. A hundred years later, this recording has made it’s way to us, for us to make new connections.

Ellen is also writing her PhD (Music Conservatory at UiT) on Sámi music and the use of Sámi culture in new musical forms. Her project is very attuned to the question of what Sámi music is, and who determines its parameters. She talks about listening as a full-body activity, and how during the course of her project, experimental music has cemented this idea for her. The “experimental” nature her PhD-corpus has had a physical impact; she feels it in her body as much as she hears it. There is no Cartesian mind/body division. Sami music is mind/body inclusive, they’re one from the beginning built on the premise that we listen with our bodies.

The panelist also discussed sounds as signals or cues. Different sounds mean and signal different things depending on the context in which they are heard. For example, the sound of antlers rubbing together, for a reindeer herder signals the end of September. Ánndaris explained that he intentionally removes himself from Western mindsets that aver that humans are “masters of nature”. His understanding of the world, based on his Sámi upbringing, situates himself as part of nature, and that all humans are part of, rather than set apart from nature. Working with concrete sounds, he has often experimented with trying to capture individual sounds – “How do I record one mosquito?” – which constitutes huge technical challenges, but I find his practice inspiring. I can only imagine the attention and focus it takes to single out particular sounds in environments of collective species.

Sounds from nature are subjects, not objects of nature and of the earth.


The consensus among the panelist was that sound has a unique ability to transport listeners in time and space, a concept which permeates Ánndaris’ sound installation Birástiddje beljustallam (translation: Sharpened Listening to Your Surroundings). We went to the installation later during the festival, and it was a fantastic experience. Bergen Lydgalleri is a big rectangular space – decorated for the occasion with soft pillows, reindeer fur, sheepskin rugs and pillows in a circle. Speakers formed the outer square, bathing us sounds of mosquitos, old refrigerator sounds, winds, lo-fi beats of about 66 bpm, – the emulation of a human heartbeat. Ánndaris asked us to close our eyes, take a nap, or journey as far or as short as we wanted. I have never experienced anything like it, and I highly recommend experiencing his installations, as they are beyond words. They need to be felt, not described, I think.

The Borealis festival seems very occupied with developing and cultivating listening spaces, and all the panelists throughout the festival were happy to have and share spaces where they could celebrate and engage with their culture, heritage, and diverse backgrounds. Nevertheless, I made a conscious effort to be aware of my own situated body in all the gatherings. My attendance was rooted in my role as a researcher, but in some ways, I had to leave my academic mindset aside; this was not a space meant for the mind alone. The works and recordings shared by the panelists invoked feelings, memories and places felt too personal to include in any field note or report. This was a small revelation, but a deep-seated lesson I brought with me into the following days. Listening is deeply relational, and more often it reveals information about ourselves as much as our environs.

Part 2 coming soon.

You can listen to all the panels here.

Notes from the Tiny Conference

Section I

In the opening session, Thinking with Water – Thoughts on the Theory and Discussion, Katrin Losleben reflected on the project’s genesis and the insufficiencies that became obvious during it. Katrin explained the project’s current understanding of two of its most salient concepts, place and water, and highlighted their embeddedness in queer theory. Focusing on the feminist new materialist theoretical foundation of hydrofeminism as established by Astrida Neimanis, Katrin showed that this framework is insufficient when doing research in the unceded land of Sápmi. As the project’s central aim is to amplify local and Indigenous knowledges, she zoomed in on the specifics of the sea Sámi history – the similarities and differences of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ population, Norwegianization, German occupation, and its scorched Earth policy. The questions of how the research can proceed in collaboration with these local agents, how not to essentialize identities and experiences, and how potentially gained insights can be integrated into policymaking were discussed following the presentation. 

Section II

In the section Soundwalks 2.0, Britta Sweers presented the development of the sound walk and sound sitting methodology, which is the main activity in work package I. Sweers clarified the strategy for gathering conductors and participants, the development and implementation of the preceding Workshops for Conductors, the implementation of eight sound walks and one sound sitting, and the postwalk interviews. The question of how to work with more diverse groups and positionalities parallelled the information of what had been done so far. She also presented the Manual for Conductors and the Journal for Conductors, which the Arctic Auditories team had developed and handed to the conductors in the initial workshops. Those are also available on issuu for public download. In the second part of the session, Britta and Inga Bardsen Tøllefsen, one of the conductors, discussed the experience of developing and guiding a sound walk. Questions of the walking methodology in a Sámi context/place, ableism, intergenerational listening, human-/non-human relations, Nature with capital N, relations of multiple senses, listening as an “ecology of attention,” and, finally, the role of trouble and pleasure in research were topics of the following conversation.

Section III

“In the first section of the afternoon, Notes from the Field, Angus Carlyle opened the presentation on Notes from the Field with the genesis of sound mapping, including both visual and sounding maps that refer to bodies of water. Angus showed how visual sound maps often restrict the depiction of sound to its source but also presented some exemptions (e.g., Athanasius Kircher’s Phonurgia Nova, 1673). From these maps, water bodies are often left out and remain blanks. Examples of ‘sounding’ soundmaps included Sung Tieu’s Cold Print (2020), Andrea Polli’s Sonic Antarctica (2008), and Jananne Al-Ani’s Sounds of War II (2023). Converging on bodies of water, Angus discussed Annea Lockwood’s The River Archive (1964–) and other works, Hildegard Westerkamp’s Inside the Soundscape #5 / Harbour Symphony (1986), and finally, Mere Nailatikau’s and A.M. Kanngieser’s 2024 contribution to the CTM X Intermediale, Oceanic Refraction. With the latter, Angus pointed to the role of feminist theory in the cultural turn and, with this, to sensory and embodied approaches that, in a feminist tradition, disrupt dualisms. Also, he referred to Kanngieser’s publication on “Sonic colonialities” (2023) and its call to refrain from the idea that listening is a benign activity. Angus emphasized one prominent mode of listening that explains the project’s approach and its familiar challenges: Listening to books, artworks, and films, and listening to listeners, all modes of listening to the project’s approach to listen to ‘expert listeners,’ sound artists, listening authors and beings who have worked to listen to those silences that Western scholarship in the Arctic had left unnoticed.

Angus hosted a listening session, deploying recordings made at fieldwork sites as a focus and framed in terms of the kinds of questions that we have seen emerging in the post-soundwalk discussions. In breakout groups the participants discussed their listening experiences and noted them on framapad. You can listen to the recordings here.  

Section IV

In the fourth and final presentation, Arctic Futurisms: Writing Water, Paula R. Mikalsen, who leads WP 3 together with Elizabeth S. Barron, talked about the work being done, including the creation of an Online Writing League (OWL), a literary database of fiction, grey texts and academic works concerned with climate change, futurism, resource management and hope, and finally the creation of an aqueous glossary of local words related to water. The premise of the work package is part creative co-creation and part archival constitution and will consist of written materials from different genres and styles. Paula considered the merits of a diffractive approach inspired by Donna Haraway, Trinh T. Minhha, and Karen Barad, which “maps where the effects of differences appear” (Haraway 1992). Diffractive reading enables the researchers to work with different materials from different disciplines, each with their own canon and jargon, as they will attempt to map some spaces, fictional and perhaps some academic, that envision the future in the Arctic or the North, differently.  

Thanks to

We want to give a big thank you to the many participants from the advisory board, the conductors, colleagues, and friends. You stayed in an online meeting for 7 hours, frequently took the microphone to offer your perspectives in a critical and supportive way. We look forward to the next gathering in October.  

Katrin Losleben and Paula R. Mikalsen with Britta Sweers, Angus Carlyle, Elizabeth S. Barron and Silje Gaupseth

Arctic Auditories Tiny Conference

We’re entering the new year with intention and reflection, and on Feb 1-2, we are gathering all our participants, guides, friends, and colleagues to join us for our Tiny Conference. 

Each project member will give a short presentation on their contribution to Arctic Auditories in their respective fields and disciplines, and share some works in progress.

While this full-day event is for our consortium (all the folks from the community involved in the project) only, this blog is dedicated to documenting and informing the public of our activities. So, for those who can’t attend: among our acticities, we’ll delve into methodological discussions on the evolution of soundwalks with one of our guides, we’ll take a look at some field notes, pictures and of course, some audio-materials.  

The first day will conclude with a talk from artist Margrethe Pettersen on her ongoing “Remembering with Rivers” project. The event is open to the public, free and streams on Zoom. Tickets available here.

Water, my companion

By Elizabeth Barron, Arctic Auditories research team member.

By May 2023, we were well into Arctic Auditories. Spending all this time with colleagues focused on sound (something I have never worked on within my own scholarship) was starting to influence affect me. I was co-leading a field course in the United States for a mixed class of Norwegian and American students. The class was on conservation, sustainability, and environmental citizenship with a focus on national parks. After four months of mostly classroom-based learning, we took the students on a three-week trip to Yellowstone National Park, with stops at Teddy Roosevelt National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.  

The students were well-bonded by the time we were in the field, and talked a lot! They were also a generally healthy, fit group of fast hikers. Some kind of combination of youthful energy and peer pressure to not fall behind meant I, being neither youthful nor willing to push myself way outside my comfort zone to keep up, was often hiking alone.  

Was I alone in these mountains? Or was I [alone] along rivers, [alone] surrounded by volcanos, [alone] with microbes (Figure 1)? 

Figure 1: Beehive Geyser at Yellowstone National Park. The geysers at Yellowstone are an amazingly diverse community of algae, fungi, and bacteria that live happily in the extreme heat and toxic-to-humans landscape of the active volcano that makes up the heart of Yellowstone National Park. It erupted just a few minutes after this photo was taken (May 20, 2023).

I wanted the students to slow down, to listen to their surroundings rather than each other for even a few minutes. In the classroom, I had taught them about different ways to engage in fieldwork, and other sensory geographies such as smellscapes and soundscapes. So, when we were in the Grand Tetons, after making it to the top and re-joining the group (who were all done with their lunch and exploring by the time I met them (Figure 2)), I asked everyone to spend at least 10 minutes of their return hike in silence, ideally hiking alone, listening.  

Figure 2: Student peering over the cliff edge at wildlife below, Grand Tetons National Park with Jenny Lake in the background (May 21, 2023).

I set back down the trail at 2 pm. It was sunny, 22°C, and now I chose to walk alone. Thinking about my Arctic Auditories crew back in Norway, I chose to focus on watery sounds as I walked the Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail. This is what I heard – although actually, this is me deciding what words in my native language of English can come anywhere near trying to describe what I heard, which of course you can never read.  

This exploration and play with language is something we will soon start focusing more on in Arctic Auditories, as we begin to build a multi-lingual glossary of sound words, sonic writing practices, and how we write ourselves into sound and place.  

Sounds of water on the trail  

  • The slap splash of my boots in a puddle on the trail 
  • The dull roar of the big waterfalls, and slightly gentler, higher sound of rushing rapids 
  • The gurgle plop of the lake edge, like an unassuming toddler talking in her sleep, loses out to the deafening motor roar of a passing speedboat, which when gone has left me the loud crashing waves on a built-up rock wall at the lake’s edge 
  • The gurgle on the rock wall at the lake’s edge, of water breaking on rocks, is different than the little bubbles that pop up like friends when the waves hit submerged wood 
  • The shush-shush of slush alternates with the slap-slap of walking across trails damp with melting snow and puddles 
  • A gurgling brook emerging out from under a boulder and draining into the lake reminds me spring is well underway, but here in the mountains of Wyoming, USA the snow is still melting, feeding the lake for the summer to come 

Like a TV cooking show host tasting their final dish and telling you how delicious it is: the smells and textures that you only hope to experience…I can only tell you my experience of water and hope that you will know something more. Perhaps you will think about the paradoxical nature of our watery words – that water on the mountain is powerful and strong – it crashes, rushes, and roars. Water on the trail is more of a nuisance – it slaps, slushes, and plops. All this water reminds me that water is change, it is almost constantly moving, and its instantiations are ephemeral. It is like sound in this way. How can we, with writing and language, convey the fluidity of the watery sounds around us? We hope you will help us think through this in the coming months. 

Water hits the sides of my water bottle like irregular drumbeats, reminding me I am on the move. I am alive in this landscape with salty water running down my face, proving that I can move, I do move, and my body takes care of me as I take care of it, at my own pace. 

Figure 3: The author (me!) after just arriving at the destination for our Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail Hike – a nice lake overlook you can see in Figure 2. Students relax in the background. 😉

@ Elisabeth Barron

New Project means New Notebook.

New Project means New Notebook.

Whenever I’m working on a project, I have a dedicated notebook on the go. I’m not precious about these as artefacts – at the end of each year, I type up and photograph any relevant pages before recycling. The images accompanying this post by @anguscarlyle are all from my 2023 Arctic Auditories notebook.

My notebooks have all kinds of functions. At their most pretentious, there are affinities with what Michael Taussig has to say about the notebook in “I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own” in a quote I’ve used often in class: “the fieldwork diary is built upon a sense of failure—a foreboding sense that the writing is always inadequate to the experience it records. Nevertheless, on rereading by its author, the diary has the potential to bring forth a shadow text that can simulate the experience that gave birth to the diary entry, not only for what is said, but more likely for what is omitted yet exists in gestures between the words. This is what Barthes called the ‘role of the Phantom, of the Shadow’”.

Though Taussig talks of the notebook’s resemblance to “a magical object in a fairytale” and suggests “the point is that a fieldworker’s diary is about experience in a field of strangeness,” I try and keep journals that are more ordinary, their details stretching (with the field itself) to include what happens here, where I live in the UK, as well as what goes on in Tromsø / Romssa and, in parallel, to extend the timeframe from the period away to hours spent preparing and reflecting. Some texts and drawing were made there, away (the two grey mountains were rendered with boot polish in the rain after a hike up a valley, the colours added later in my cabin, the written place names after I’d returned to the UK). Some texts and drawings only appeared here and later (the light blue writing on the page with the leaf include doodles made during a Teams meeting). Going through my photos and deciding which of these to print out and add to the journal can help recirculate memories (though, what was not photographed might struggle to raise a shadow).