Illustrative image with city soundscape showing different sources of sound in a built environment.


Different Routes


Different Routes: When the factory whistle fell silent for good, it was as if the whole village had died


Different Routes


Different Routes: When the factory whistle fell silent for good, it was as if the whole village had died

Sounds affect people in a fundamental way. What happens to a village’s soundscape and the identity of the villagers when a whole industry is closed down due to restructuring? In journalist Kati Kelola’s article, Taina Saarikivi, a docent of sound studies and a sound artist who studies the changing soundscapes and silences of rural villages, talks about her field trips to the village of Lampinsaari.

Tuula Saaranen, 72, remembers how sounds used to punctuate the day in the Lampinsaari mining village when she was a child.

Every weekday at 11 a.m., the fire department would test its emergency alert. The wail of the siren could be heard as far as the swimming pond, where Saaranen spent many summer days as a child.

“When you heard it, you knew it was time to go home for lunch,” Saaranen explains over the phone.

At the end of the work shifts, just after half past one in the afternoon and at half past nine in the evening, blasting operations were carried out underground in the mine. You could hear a boom, followed by the rattle of the dishes on the shelves.

But it is the sounds of the hustle and bustle of life in the village that Saaranen remembers the best. There were a lot of children around. They played games in the yard, such as Finnish baseball and other outdoor games.

“I can’t tell you how many hundreds of us there were. There was even a signpost on the side of the road that said: ‘drive with caution, we have so and so many children and they are all dear to us.’ The number on the signpost changed depending on how many children there were at that time.”

That was before. These days, Lampinsaari sounds quite different. It’s quiet.

“It almost makes me jump when I hear a car driving past down that road,” Saaranen says.

“Even now as I sit here by the open kitchen window, the only sound I can hear are the drops of water dripping off the roof.”

Structural change shakes up the soundscape too

Researcher and sound artist Taina Saarikivi is currently collecting material on the sound memories of the Lampinsaari villagers and the sounds of the village. She is studying the changes and silences in the soundscapes of Finnish rural villages in the project Muuttuvat hiljaisuudet (Changing Silences), which is funded by Kone Foundation.

Lampinsaari in Vihanti, near Raahe, is one of many small Finnish localities that have experienced major structural changes. Saarikivi knows one of them very well herself. She grew up in the former copper works town of Harjavalta.

“I’m interested in places where a large branch of industry has been closed down. It’s a huge change for the whole locality, both psychologically and in terms of sound,” Saarikivi says.

The big change in the village of Lampinsaari took place in 1992.

That is when Outokumpu’s zinc mine in Vihanti was closed down after being in operation since 1954. It was a death blow to the vibrant mining community.

The community’s life was built around the mine. It had brought along with it a railway line, a road, work and housing for 250 families. People had moved there from all over Finland. In its golden days in the 1970s, Lampinsaari had about 1,200 inhabitants. There were three banks, three shops, a post office and a comprehensive school for children between 7 and 13. It had a skating rink, playground and a man-made lake for swimming. There was a cinema and a bowling alley in the Kaivoshovi multi-purpose building, where young people could earn pocket money by acting as pin boys and girls. There were village balls, featuring popular singers of the time, such as Ami Aspelund and Leo Lastumäki.

When the mine was closed down, Lampinsaari became a depopulated rural village. Today, there are fewer than 300 inhabitants. Almost all working-age people have moved somewhere else. Most of the remaining villagers are in their 70s. Services have also disappeared. There is not even a shop anymore, and the comprehensive school has been closed down. The closure of the mine was a blow to the whole municipality of Vihanti. In 2011, it was declared a municipality in crises and in 2013 it was annexed to Raahe.

Illustration: Teo Georgiev

Saarikivi has been making field trips to Lampinsaari since the autumn of 2020. So far, she has made three trips, and the fourth will take place in May. During her travels, she conducts ethnographic interviews. She visits the villagers at home to ask them about their sound memories and the changes in the village’s soundscape.

One of the villagers Saarikivi has interviewed is Tuula Saaranen. The first street in Lampinsaari, Pyykatu, was only built halfway through when Saaranen’s childhood family moved there in 1953 when Tuula herself was four years old. Her father worked in the mine, as did her late husband.

The second half of the research project involves collecting and archiving the sounds of the village of Lampinsaari, as well as the silences that are the result of the village becoming depopulated. Saarikivi takes sound walks in and around Lampinsaari.

“I listen to different parts of the village at different times of the day and record the sounds.”

We listen with our whole body

“Sound affects people strongly and very holistically,” Taina Saarikivi explains.

We don’t just listen with our ears, but with our whole body. Even if our sense of hearing grows faint, we feel sounds as vibrations in our muscles and tissues.

“A point sound researchers often make is that you can’t close your ears to sound.”

According to Saarikivi, sound can be compared to another sense, the smell. If someone next to us is wearing a strong perfume, it wraps itself around us.

“Even your own voice you hear through the bone. The skull resonates when we produce sound.”

Sound is connected to our sense of touch. The subject has been explored, for example, by anthropologist Steven Connor in his work The Book of Skin.

“He talks about how a baby feels the sound they are creating in their mouth as they babble. There is a connection between sound and the sense of touch. The skin feels all the sounds.”

In addition, sound is tactile. It can touch things even before we reach out to touch them with our hands.

If we hear a baby crying in the next room, we instinctively start to soothe them with our voice even before we have reached the room. In this way, we touch the baby with our voice even before we are physically next to them,” Saarikivi explains.

Sounds form a physical soundscape that is in constant flux. Sounds disappear, some forever, like the noises of closed down factories, and sounds are also created.

“Sounds are linked to events and create strong audio memories. In the same way that a smell can immediately bring up memories of your visits to grandma’s as a child, sounds bring memories to the surface so quickly that we don’t have time to choose our response to them beforehand,” Saarikivi says.

The story continues after the sound samples.

Saarikivi has collected sounds from dilapidated buildings, peeling paintwork and lifeless spaces in Lampinsaari.

Sample above:
Sounds inside the abandoned community house Kaivoshovi. In the past, the building hosted dance and movie nights, and it also had a bowling alley. Nowadays it has no owner. The windows are broken and the building has gotten moldy.

Sample below:
Walking in Lampinsaari in November. The street is quiet. You can only hear a dog barking, an air source heat pump humming, and the footsteps of the person walking. A car drives by. The weather is cold, the ground is frozen.

What does depopulation sound like?

The crunch of broken glass from shattered windows under the soles of your shoes. A guard dog barking. The tiny chafing sound of conifer needles in the breeze as you leave the houses behind and the road turns into a forest track surrounded by spruce woods.

These are some of the sounds that Saarikivi has collected from dilapidated buildings, peeling paintwork and lifeless spaces in Lampinsaari. Sometimes she just stands in a deserted office area belonging to a former mine and listens to how the wind or rain moves through the building.

“The village is surrounded by a large area of marshland, which gives it a special echo.”

Saarikivi’s background is in classical music. She was previously a professional flautist. The other half of her background is in musicology, for which Saarikivi completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Helsinki in 2005.

Her work in Lampinsaari ties in with both Saarikivi’s research and her work as a sound artist. She is interested in what is at the margins or the edge, things that are vague.

Saarikivi often carries a small portable recording device with her. If she hears an interesting sound, she records it for a few minutes. She has done so, for example, in the cosmetics department of a Sokos department store, where a sales representative was describing the various radiant and maximizing effects of lipstick in a honey-tongued voice, as well as by the Hanasaari factory in Suvilahti, Helsinki.

“The factory has a grand, statuesque rumble.”

For her sound piece called Lumi sulaa (Snow Melting), a commentary on climate change, Saarikivi recorded the sound of melting snow in a bucket for three hours using a hydrophone, that is, an underwater microphone. In the work, she also included the world’s northernmost language, the endangered Nganasan, spoken on the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia. The speaker explains how new plants, such as birch trees, have appeared on the Yenisei riverbank due to areas of ice melting.

The melting of snow was almost silent on the surface, but Saarikivi reworked and stretched the sounds to reveal new, interesting levels.

“It creates an exciting murmur. If you stretch the sound of ocean waves, for example, you lose the wetness of the water completely, and it starts to sound like wind.”

Saarikivi’s interest in the study of silence stems from her personal experiences, as is often the case when selecting a research topic. It is founded on Saarikivi’s sadness at the lay-offs and cutbacks at universities resulting from the cuts made by Sipilä’s Government, or the death of the university, as Saarikivi calls it. From 2015 to 2016, Saarikivi engaged, in her own words, in ‘a lot of university activism’.

Part of this activism included a sound work called Kipeitä päätöksiä (Painful Decisions), for which Saarikivi recorded the silence at the University of Helsinki’s Collegium for Advanced Studies and the noise of the air conditioners in the corridors. She then twisted the sounds and added distortions to them until the silence turned into a painful sound. Each of the nearly 600 people discharged from the University of Helsinki during the first batch of lay-offs has one second of the work dedicated to them.

Saarikivi delivered this work as a comment to Prime Minister Sipilä’s office.

Illustration: Teo Georgiev

Silence is not the absence of sound

According to Saarikivi, the change In Lampinsaari from a loud environment to new kinds of silences has been radical. In particular, the interviews have highlighted the whistle that blew twice a day to mark blasting at the mine. It has been the key sound of the village,” Saarikivi says.

“All the interviewees mentioned it.”

The whistle sound was followed by a powerful, ground-shaking explosion.

“And when the whistle fell silent, it felt like the village had died. People felt numb and powerless after the mine was closed down.”

Saarikivi has recorded the silences of the now quiet village during her field trips to Lampinsaari. Contrary to common thinking, however, silence in Saarikivi’s research does not mean the absence of sound.

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an absence of sound. At the very least, you always hear the seismic vibrations of the earth.

“It’s not possible to create a place on the surface of the earth that has no vibration at all.”

There are sounds even in an echoless room, i.e. an anechoic chamber, where the background noise is measured in negative decibels and amounts to -2. For example, a stroke of the skin produces a strong rustling reverberation you feel in your bones. Your hair sounds like dry reeds.

“These are wild sounds. You feel them on your skin, not in the space, because there is no space around you.”

According to Saarikivi, even in everyday situations and spaces that are perceived as silent people begin to distinguish sounds. For example, the buzz of the fridge in a quiet home. Or if you find yourself in an even deeper silence, you eventually begin to hear your own heartbeat or a tinnitus in your ears.

“[The French philosopher] Jean-Luc Nancy has written that whenever a person listens very intensely and with great concentration, for example, to silence, they are actually listening to themselves listening. It’s an activity where you are wrapped up in yourself.”

For Saarikivi, silence is not the absence of sound. She is interested in silences that carry a lot of sounds. For example, electronic noise music or the steady rumble of a factory, despite their noise, can have a quiet core.

“Silence is not about sound pressure, i.e. volume. It is about form. Silence is vertical, while, for example, a piece of music proceeds in a linear fashion, meaning that we follow it,” Saarikivi says.

“In silence, everything stops. And if there are any changes in it, they are changes in register and texture that occur vertically. Silence either becomes thinner or thicker, or it becomes more intensive, or something else.”

The concept of silence needs to be broadened

By studying silence, Saarikivi wants to challenge and expand the prevailing notion of silence as just soothing quietness that makes you feel good.

“Nowadays, business ideas have been developed around silence that involve you going somewhere to experience tranquility in nature or on a retreat. Even being in nature is not automatically a pleasant experience. Many people find it distressing,” Saarikivi says.

“It may make a person a little uncomfortable because they find themselves listening to and observing themselves. Paradoxically, in a natural environment, silence can also be very loud. It can become a heavy roar that takes over a person when they can’t rest their body, for example, in the familiar drone of traffic.”

Silence also includes distortions, abrasiveness and awkwardness. It includes painful experiences, such as becoming quiet, being silenced and keeping silent.

From the point of view of sound research, Saarikivi considers it important to highlight the different nuances of silence. She explains that these could contribute to broadening and clarifying the conceptual framework of research and thus to diversifying the information available on silence.

“If the concepts used are terribly rigid, it’s easy for the researcher to start thinking rigidly through them. The concepts are then not elastic, although inevitably all soundscapes are different, including silences.”

Saarikivi talks about a study by Danish architect Jan Gehl on urban public squares and their soundscapes. Gehl has identified different types of squares in cities. These include traditional squares such as those that house a public building like a town hall, new squares built around shopping centres and other facilities, squares in pedestrian precincts, traffic squares and squares with a monument.

In addition to these, Gehl has identified what he calls restorative squares in urban spaces. They can be very busy and noisy places, with a quiet courtyard, a short stretch of road or an alley in the middle. These are places where the spirit of place, genius loci, is subtly present in the silence.

“You can hear the silence there and sounds that tell you that you are now in Rome or Helsinki, for example.”

According to Saarikivi, there is also a kind of restorative square in Lampinsaari. It is located at the end of two long streets in the village. People used to walk through this square to get to the mine area.

“The mine no longer exists, but the square is there as a monument to the past.”
Saarikivi has developed the concepts of register and texture in her research on silence and changing soundscapes.
Texture is often used in colloquial language to refer, for example, to the way a fabric feels. In Saarikivi’s research, it refers to the shape of a sound perception, to the shape of the sound surface that seems to rub against your listening skin.
In Lampinsaari, for example, the marsh surrounding the village created an echo, a texture, characteristic of the sounds of the village.

The register, on the other hand, refers to how sound is created. The way the sound is produced. The human voice, for example, has four registers: the modal voice (or normal voice), the vocal fry (a creaky tone), the falsetto and the whistle register.

“For example, experts often speak in a creaky tone when speaking in front of an audience. It gives the speech a sense of authority.”

In Lampinsaari, one kind of sound of silence, the register, is produced when fir needles rub against each other in the wind.

Sounds can strengthen village identity

We are usually so used to the sounds of our environment that we don’t pay much attention to them. Yet sound is one of the sensations that anchor us to a place.

In Saarikivi’s opinion, by making place-related sounds audible – and thus visible to people – we can strengthen people’s connection to a place and the identity associated with it.

The soundscape of Lampinsaari is characterised, for example, by the forest and the marsh surrounding the village. In the spring, for example, you can hear the loud mating displays of black grouse. The sounds surrounding the village and their echoes are different in an environment like this than, say, in the middle of a field.

“Local peculiarities arise, for example, from geological sounds. If there is a cliff in the locality, it will reflect sounds in a particular way. The same goes for a flowing river or rapids. On top of that, there are the different dialects people speak and all the other sounds people use to communicate,” Saarikivi says.

“I think it’s a good thing to be aware and proud of being in a particular corner of the world that has a particular, unique combination of sounds, echoes, surfaces and language.”

For Saarikivi in general, the diversity of soundscapes is important. We should make sure to preserve as many different kinds of places in the world as possible.

This means, for example, that it’s important to allow cracks, distortions and irregularities in built environments. Cities, she says, should not be built to be too compact, too perfect and too tidy, but instead non-productive land should be preserved in them to make room for random sounds.

“There may be some sporadic sounds that come about on the corner of a particular plot of land. Someone might kick an old beer can, causing a rattling noise. A single bird might come and sit on a branch.”

For Saarikivi, such non-productive land also has value as political counter-thinking. It lacks the sounds of efficiency, planning and regularity. For Saarikivi, there is value in this in today’s efficiency-oriented society.

“I think it’s liberating for people,” she says.

“It might help you to break away for a while from the performance and competitiveness prevalent today, and help you to face your own distortions, cracks, fragility and imperfections.”

Life continues in Lampinsaari

Gradually, the village of Lampinsaari became more and more desolate, Tuula Saaranen explains.

“The change and transformation happened almost unnoticed. There are very few of us left here who share a history with the mine.”

Some of the houses are empty, some uninhabitable. Yet some new families have also moved to the village. Housing is affordable there.

Saaranen is confident that the summer will bring more life to Lampinsaari.

“Everyone comes out of their houses like bears waking up from hibernation, and people bustle about their gardens, shouting a cheery hello across the road.”

Saaranen expects life in the village to continue more or less along the same lines as today.

“Life is quiet here, but we keep on going. After all, we have the old school that offers accommodation and restaurant services, and the village association is lively. The flea market was recently renovated and the next renovation project is the youth club,” she says.

“Although I did joke that I hadn’t realised we had young people here.”

Taina Saarikivi is a docent of sound studies and a sound artist. She is currently conducting research in her own research project called Muuttuvat hiljaisuudet – maaseutukylien ääniympäristöt ja monisukupolvinen kuuntelu (Changing Silences – Soundscapes of Rural Villages and Multigenerational Listening), which is funded by Kone Foundation.