Saari Alumni Stories: Mikel R. Nieto

To celebrate the Saari Residence’s 10th anniversary, we will begin a new Saari Alumni Stories series, interviewing artists and researchers who have worked at the residence. Our first interviewee is sound artist Mikel R. Nieto, who stayed at the Saari Residence in late 2016. While Nieto works with sound, it is not just a medium for him. It is a tool that we can use to understand what we hear and how we listen.

Sataa lunta, lumipyry, myräkkä, rae, räntä, loska, tuisku, hyhmä, sohjo, ahtojää, kide, lumikide, jääkide, kohva, paanne, paannejää, railo, tykky, tykkylumi, iljanne, kaljama, hanki, huurre, härmä, kuura, kinos, lumikinos, nietos, nuoska, viti, vitilumi, polanne, avanto, jotos, rannio, latu, nirskua, narskua…

Sound artist Mikel R. Nieto from the Basque Country worked at the Saari Residence in November and December 2016. He was drawn to the residence by the sound of snow. While staying here, Nieto worked on his project A soft hiss of this world, recording the sounds of snow-related phenomena. ‘As you know, the Finnish language employs over 40 terms to refer to different states of water, ice and snow in the landscape. I’ve taken these words as a starting point for my research. I was looking for them in the field during the recording processes. The absence of some of them, or the impossibility of recording them because of their non-existence in the present day or extinction, point directly to climate change, but also to a vivid language which is changing’, Nieto explains. The project was inspired by the changing language of the Anthropocene epoch: for example, expressions related to snow disappear as different manifestations and states of snow cease to exist as a result of the changing climate.

Photo: Mikel R. Nieto

To record the sound of snowflakes, Nieto had to develop his own recording methods: ‘In order to obtain this tiny and fragile sound, as well as the possible sound differences between each snowflake, I developed special and specific recording processes and materials, such as hydrophones or electro active polymer transducers.’

For Nieto, sound is not just a medium. It is a tool that we can use to understand what we hear and how we listen. Perception is entwined with our existence: ‘Listening to others confirms our own existence. So, we’re sound and the world is sound.’ Through his work, Nieto aims to expand the meanings of sound. ‘I prefer to describe my work, especially in site-specific installations, as sonic situations; that means they’re not only physics and time, but also space and meanings’, Nieto continues.

In 2016, Nieto published Dark Sound, a collection of sound, essays, photographs, poetry, and reports of the environmental impact of the oil industry. Thanks to the collection, Nieto has lately been busy with exhibitions, installations, concerts and lectures. In addition, his near future holds theatre sound design, a trip to Kurdistan to study the freedom of the listener, and a joint project with a dancer and choreographer from Berlin. One of the dance pieces under work is based on the snow project Nieto carried out at the Saari Residence. Snow finds a new way of expression in dance. ‘Let’s keep dancing like snowflakes!’


Listen to Mikel R. Nieto’s recordings during his residency period in Saari: (underwater / hydrophones) (hydrophones as contact microphones) (air microphones) (air microphones) (air microphones) (underwater / hydrophones)

Photo: Mikel R. Nieto