attempts in spectral listening

by Anastasia (A) Khodyreva in a virtual conversation with Taru Elfving and co-listeners

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Anastasia (A) Khodyreva in a virtual conversation with Taru Elfving, a co-founder of Contemporary Art Archipelago and co-listeners Yvonne Billimore, Jaana Laakkonen, Anu Pasanen, Nina Vurdelja, Kari Yli-Annala - all guided by Jasmin Inkinen, a biologist at the Archipelago Research Institute who care-fully listens to and with Seili and guides others to do the same.

In early May 2023, a small group of artists and researchers momentarily retreated to the island of Seili while gently guided into the milieu by Jasmin Inkinen, a biologist at the Archipelago Research Institute and rigorously gentle facilitator of the group’s bird-listening endeavours. Dwelling in the Turku Archipelago, the island had already been a kin for some in the group and became a new invigorating acquaintance for others. The group gathered for the Spectral Listening, an event that pre-echoed the second edition of the Listening Biennial. It landed invested in listening-sensing the perpetual movement of agentially absent glaciers that carved and wrinkled the terrain of Seili. The group landed, arguing that the glaciers do not cease to carve the regional—geological, political, economic—(imaginaries of) landscapes here—even if they are not melting at the very time the Spectral Listening lands on the island. Neither do they elsewhere on the planetary scale.


The group landed to notice intra-connected, that is, mutually co-constitutive (Barad 2007 & Jaana Laakkonen as we walk together) presence of other bodies of and in water, including plankton, apple trees, sauna steam, migrating birds, the weather on the day and the whole coastal but also inland socio-environmental milieu of the island and the Turku Archipelago. To notice here does not stand for an act of seeing per se, nor does it stand for “an ability to read “codes” or “pin down … meanings” (Moisala, Leppänen, Tiainen and Väätäinen 2014, 74). Instead, to notice might be to intentionally be attentive to oneself situated in dynamics of ever-nascent relations with human and non-human others and one’s fluctuating agency in a specific context. To notice is a full-bodied project of being in a specific material, physical, bodily, affective, geopolitical, cultural, historical and socio-environmental spacetime. To notice is to put one’s imaginaries to check and trace their effects in co-forming a milieu: imaginaries are never abstractions but consequential political matterings (Neimanis 2017). 


Invested into listening as a practice of consistent, situated and multisensorial attention-paying, we wonder what might the post-glacial rebound of Earth, that is, land rise in the aftermath of glacial retreat sound like. Especially how may it sound in the conversations outside of geological discourses? How may one listen for its corresponding dynamics when conceptualised as a terraqueous socio-environmental process? What to listen for in the rebound’s sonic and multisensorial situated dynamics? Who hears-senses its workings viscerally and how?


Listening-walking and sensing-climbing with Seili, this text learns a writing technique from the archipelago. The text disperses-connects a group of notes that scratch the surface of these questions providing a solid fertiliser for other archipelagic spectral listenings. It does so when revisiting the insular experiences of intentional collective listening and every time wonders what spectral might stand for in the context.




ghostly; of, relating to, or suggesting a spectre


Listening with Zoom recorders sheathed and phones pocketed, however, with full-bodied alert nuanced by our individual bodily capacities, knowledge, the experience of being-with the island and concomitant economies of attention to the insular milieu, we climbed. We climbed-listened to/through the island that used to be two. It is due to the glacial rebound in conjunction with the overall rising waters in the rapidly dissolving world that Seili is now known as one island. In 1619, it conveniently used to be two bridged islands that secured the infrastructure for a leprosy asylum but also—entwined with the political climate in the region—for all the unruly souls that the Swedish Empire and King Gustaf II Adolf rendered objectionable.


One cannot hear the glacier here, but if one decelerates in the shallow gully on the way to the church, one cannot but feel (more or less sharply) the piercing damp coldness. Here, with her nuanced attention to the island that harbours Contemporary Art Archipelago she co-founded and curates, Taru Elfving slows us down. She asks us to listen to the vegetation, the waters of the sea folding over the shore, and the swampy fridges of it, to sniff. We are invited to stand where the glacier might have pressed harder, where its carving work is showing off, especially now as its siblings are melting with the pace accelerated by the capitalist extraction and the island reemerges as one from under the brackish Baltic waters.  


If to listen is to tell and share stories, then the one that whispers in this shallow gully is of all the islands being a single chain of submerged mountains. An island is never lonely. An island is a trickster of separation, an agent of an inevitably contagious withness with differentiated stakes of being a part of it. The separateness has been believable for some only. 



a ghost of separateness and linear temporal remoteness



We leave the gully and pass the church and the cemetery. It does not harbour the inhabitants of the leprosy asylum but of the mental one that opened on the island in the 1700s. Operating on the island until 1962, the mental asylum stood as yet another facility of medicalised, classed, and gendered violence relying on the island's conveniently remote location. Conveniently, as DeElizabeth DeLoughrey reminds one, remoteness is always relative (DeLoughrey 2018) and political. Convenient remoteness here solidifies as close enough to the existing postal and trade logistics web and far enough from the shores. Convenient remoteness is ready to serve as a perfect infrastructure for marginalisation and exile in the context of the norm-building politics enacted by intersectionally specific forced medicalisation. Is medicalised care possible at all?


The unruly presence of the souls enclosed in the asylums can be, however, heard-noticed if one is skilled in reading the landscapes. One comes across the plants used as sedatives, stumbles upon apple trees, black currant and raspberry bushes nurtured and harvested by the exiled to sustain their bodies and souls and to add to their herring-heavy ration. Relatedly, as the other half of CAA, an artist, filmmaker and herbalist Lotta Petronella and her SjalöThe Island of Souls (2020) might be suggesting to us, listening is learning to read plantscapes in the context of a history of a place.



accumulating potentialities for both destruction and their subversive alleviation   

This silence felt like an ultimate saturation of our sensorial milieu. Not at all nothingness. Sharp awareness of the island buzzing with communication inaccessible to us.


of, relating to, or made by a spectrum, especially: relating to or derived from the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light or a representation of a sound—usually a short sample of a sound—in terms of the amount of vibration at each individual frequency


Since 1962 when the mental asylum facility ceased its operation on the island, Seili has been knotted anew into the regional nets of politics—this time, of academic knowledge production. The Archipelago Research Institute (University of Turku) was opened. The Research Institute, which used to be led by Professor Emeritus Ilppo Vuorinen and is now steered by Professor Jari Hänninen, is known for its research on herrings, ticks, and plankton. But it has been overall focusing on time series research concerned with the environmental changes happening in the Archipelago Sea and, by extension, the planetary waters and the knowledge of the environmental crisis that the waters have been accumulating, dispersing and reaching as, on other occasions, some of us had listened to Ilppo and Jari telling the stories of their kinship with the island becoming data.


While the institute has been documenting the regional dynamics, it has been listening to the sea becoming further and tighter entangled in the trading and cruising globality. With several thousand ships en route daily, the Baltic Sea is among the world’s busiest maritime and adjacent riverine traffic. It is entangled in the range of structures of extraction and production with their subsequent mechanics of multispecies violence. While the Baltic Sea and Finland specifically are proudly developing carbon-neutral maritime transport corridors, the already existing entanglement into the said webs of logistics has been ‘soundly’ contributing to the bioacoustic milieu of the Baltic Sea and all the planetary waters that the Archipelago Research Institute cares for. The underwater vibrations disorient and pierce sharp through the bodies of marine inhabitants. To hear their disorientation, one listens to the bioacoustics of Seili’s ecology, heavy not with salt levels (they are falling!) but with the waters saturated with neocolonial politics of transportation.  


This time and with Jasmin’s thoughtful guidance to which we are gratefully indebted, we attempt quietness of limbs and muscles to hear birds singing in alarm, in flirt, in noticing us, in their other daily chirpings. We attempt to meet Seili in its relatively quiet moods, too. That is why we land on the island two months prior to the main events of the Biennial—with an intention to listen to the island with birds that migrate through the milieu and pause here for a night (as we did, too) but before summer tourism swirled the island.


We intend to listen only, away from (for many) a habitual pull to search for a bird to look at their songs. We wondered if to momentarily detach senses might be possible. We disembark on a night walk in the spirit of not looking but listening. 22:00 listening walk (for night owls). Some of us heard the owls from the yard of our overnight lodgings; as soon as the walk into the woods began, the silence dropped down onto the island or, somewhat, dropped down upon us. This silence felt like an ultimate saturation of our sensorial milieu. Not at all nothingness. Sharp awareness of the island buzzing with communication inaccessible to us. A nudge that gently ridiculed our plan to come and hear at a particular time (once again) and put our assumed agencies and imaginaries on hold … or to check.


The nudge came with an unidentifiable vibration suddenly umbrelling the island, contouring it, dispersing it higher up into the atmosphere and beyond its rocky shores, making us feel we are under a semi-sphere of unknown ontology. We shrank into alarmed bodies in the middle of Seili’s thickly dark forest. To listen is to be watched. To listen is to feel exposed. To listen is to be directed to what is to be urgently heard. As Yvonne Billimore and Jaana Laakkonen point out, to listen is to be a barrier, to inevitably implicate oneself into the vibrations that are (in) a place. Instead of the owls, we heard the rough vibration that growled from what seemed to be the opposite side of the island, but also very presently though mildly tickling through the soles of our boots. An engine? Or was it a boat? And where? We know ferry schedules; they all have already passed. I want to think that the owls nudged the group to notice that the cargo capitalism and tight mesh of leisure routes do not intensively happen in July but continuously do at night(s) (Vergès 2019) and are always underway below the sea levels - disorienting, piercing with vibrations that bioacoustics knows so well.



never fully locatable or known, but effectively present and consequential  

or knotted not to be known (as phrased by Kari Yli-Annala)







sound and subsequent haptics that saturate or exceed the confines of meaning and break the syntax of sound in an acoustic regime into strategies for disrupting but also reestablishing white, heteronormative, masculine, anthropocentric subjects (Shiga 2021)


Indeed, we disembark on Seili in May to be a pre-echo of the Listening Biennial that is taking place(s) now—in July and August 2023, nearly two months before the biennial began. Indeed, such a twist of time emerges from our intention to hear out the island “better” before it begins to be torn apart by all the ferries and summer boats that pierce the archipelago and conveniently arrive here to stay overnight or for a midday coffee. That is, we arrive before the noises of tourists overtaking the island without much attention to its histories and multiple presents, residing in the rooms jostling the institute’s researchers, activists and visiting artists in their attempts to be attentive. Was there any danger, though, in taking a stand to define what a noise is? Or are we the noise for this sonic, multisensorial, transnational socio-environmental ecology? Moreover, how does the fact that the ‘we’ that CAA has been nurturing is dynamic and not always the same make the noise sound and mean? 




Anu Pasanen




The more we walk-listen to the island, the more it might be making us feel that the shore extends up to the rocky hills of Seili. 

A rock. 

Curves of a mossy forest bed. 

Another rock. Two more. 

Lingonberry leaves enmeshed with blueberry ones. 

Roots-tentacles of pines, another rock. 


Upper, higher, and we arrive at the swamps, which explicitly queer the normative imaginaries of them being muddy folds of Earth into which one is warned not to fall. On Seili, one climbs towards the swamps: they are dormant up the rocks-carrying, holding, containing, as Nina Vurdelja has it, alternative and non-abstract temporalities of the archipelagic existence. 


We climb to stand in a perfect circle and watch needles of pines charting unknown constellations on the surface of the swamps (see Anu’s Attempts in Spectral Listening). Wrapped with the aroma of wild rosemary, the swamps lay dormant. Dormant here does not stand for passive: dormancy might be the modus operandi of a swamp. The time of a swamp is not chrononormatively straight; neither it coherently unfolds forward. Brewing-queering sticky, lumpy time is categorically different from geological, that is, extractive capitalist (perception of) time infrastructured, scheduled, supervised, and policed as a truth (e.g., Neimanis 2018). The subversive time of swamps comes at us as arrows with sticky ripplings (see Yvonne’s note). My kidneys might fathom this time more than my embrained self can—synesthesia of listening to swamps while standing on the sponge of its mosses. Swamps burbling out an alternative imaginary of timesticky, non-laborious, a multiplicity. How to listen to this swampy time if to listen is to absorb, to intentionally and committedly acknowledge and live with always-already happening saturation with relations which were foreign to a body prior to an event of listening?






The last thing my bodymind registers and still viscerally remembers is a listening exercise by one of the very few easily approachable shores of Seili (no wonder it was chosen to be asylums). We pause under the sun, feel the squeaks of our rainwear, and face another island that rests far enough not yet to become a part of the rising Seili. With the church behind our backs, the group sits and lays on and by the rocks to listen to the milieu of the island connected to other islands and query one’s terrestrial bias (for those who live with one). I marvel at how a single exercise of listening to birds communicating over multiple elements and not living water between the islands as a gap. But it’s not birds that my bodymind still holds to; it is listening to Anu Pasanen. Anu’s voice speaking from her sensitive and powerful place of a listening body, rigorously speaking of exhaustion with (possibly) well-meaning (or are they ever?) but binary narratives about disabled, chronically ill bodies that suffered on the island. Boring, tiring! her voice rings matter-of-factly. With my chronically leaky body that cannot filter its liquids as a normative one might be able to, I listen and want to give rather than pay attention to Anu speaking. Attention as a soft yet thick blanket that I wish I could send towards Anu as she speaks. Hands off of our agencies and capacities to relate. I hear her speak and listen with my kidneys and all the liquids burbling, getting stuck and flowing in my fissures. Watching the waves lick and foam the terraqueous spacetime of the shoreline by which we are standing, I hear-see or, perhaps, wish-imagine a way of resistance to the binary well-meaningfulness in attunement to Anu’s affect, voice, and body dovetailed into the intertidal resilience of all the creatures that inhabit or rather make this shore. No such thing as non-agential bodies. Bodies are brilliant (Serres 2011, 12), but politics of bodily normativities is not. 


We embark on another ferry which will take us to Turku. As The River Aura begins to hold us receiving from the brackish Baltic Sea, I wonder if spectral listening means staying in the troubled loop, persistently in search of ways of listening ‘better,’ listening for nuance and resistance. Listening as aligning differentin our group, feminist, chronically sick, migrant, economically precarious, gender nonconforming - knowledges. Listening as an agile state of searchy commitment to synesthetic resistance from one’s situated position reaching out to other bodies-in-search. 

Attempts in Spectral Listening - Nina Vurdelja
Attempts in Spectral Listening - Nina Vurdelja
Attempts in Spectral Listening - Nina Vurdelja
Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Duke University Press (2007).
Elizabeth DeLoughrey. “Revisiting Tidalectics: Irma/José/Maria,” Tidalectics. Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science, ed. Stefanie Hessler, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press (2018).
Pirkko Moisala, Taru Leppänen, Milla Tiainen & Hanna Väätäinen. “Noticing Musical Becomings: Deleuzian and Guattarian Approaches to Ethnographic Studies of Musicking,” Current Musicology No. 98: 71–93 (2014).
Astrida Neimanis. Bodies of Water, London: Bloomsbury Academic (2017); ‘Water, a Queer Archive of Feeling,’ Tidalectis. Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science, ed. Stefanie Hessler, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press (2018).
Michelle Serres. Variation On The Body, trans. Randolph Burks, Univocal series, University of Minnesota (2011).
John Shiga. “Sonic Saturation and Militarized Subjectivity in Cold War Submarine Films,” Saturation: An Elemental Politics, eds. Melody Jue and Rafico Ruiz, Duke University Press (2021).
Françoise Vergès. ‘Capitalocene, Waste, Race, and Gender’, e-flux Journal #100 (May 2019).
CAA Contemporary Art Archipelago organised the Spectral Listening retreat in collaboration with the Archipelago Research Institute, Taru Elfving, an artistic director CAA Contemporary Art Archipelago, curator and writer focused on nurturing undisciplinary and site-sensitive enquiries at the intersections of ecological, feminist and decolonial practices, and Anastasia (A) Khodyreva, a Turku-based researcher and writer, and serves as one of the pre-echoes to the second edition of the Listening Biennial. The retreat continues the series of events How do you know what you know? Exercises in Attentiveness produced by CAA as a part of the project Spectres in Change.