„It would be great to hear wolves howling. I've never heard it.”

A tuneful look at the Evening of Sounds in Finland

Soundcode: Wolves howling, small pack, frost snapping

We received this message during a live radio broadcast.

Fortunately, a recording with the definition of ”Wolves howling, small pack, frost snapping” was found in the sound archive.

We played the recording live on the radio with some unpredictable consequences. Suddenly we started getting messages from the listeners. Cats considered brave by a listener were frightened and rushed from window to window. Elsewhere a one and a half year old child frightened thoroughly. She was accustomed to dogs and their barking and howling, but wolves caused a primitive reaction, told one of the listeners.

”The radio had to be shut down”, she wrote, ”but she was still scared. Maybe the genes of the ancestors told her to be on the alert? ”

This happened during our live radio show called Evening of Sounds (Äänien ilta) in Finland. Later we found another recording of wolves, with the same definition: ”Wolves howling, small pack, frost snapping”.

That was also music to our ears, like a piece of modern music from ancient times. Of course we played that in a live broadcast too. And of course some listeners or their children and their pets were afraid again.

That was the power of sound. Sounds can affect us in many ways. And they do it, whether we like it or not. That is the idea behind the Evening of Sounds.

The Evening of Sounds is a radio show broadcasted since year 2012 by Finnish Broadcasting Company (FBC) / Yleisradio (YLE). FBC is Finland's national public service media company, founded in 1926.Evening of Sounds is a live radio show, usually lasting for 3 hours. By 2022 we have had total of 13 radio shows, and more will be coming in 2022 and 2023. The basic idea of the radio show is to play emotional and conversational, varied and interesting sounds to the listeners, and thus to pay attention to everyday sounds as well as to already lost sound environments.

The aim has been to highlight the basic material of radio, that is sounds, and trust in what is the most characteristic and historically essential thing about radio: how the sounds create imagery, speech, stories and conversation. On a practical level, this all was done by playing the sound requests of the listeners and the sounds chosen by the host and expert guests, discussing and reflecting on their cultural meanings, and popularizing scientific knowledge about sounds and the study of soundscapes.

Based on the interest generated by the first program in 2012, it became apparent that the sounds and soundscapes evoke emotions and memories for listeners. But our perspective of sounds was broader. The topics covered in the Evening of Sounds radio shows will be located in the areas of sound landscape research, cultural history, ethnology and folklore.

The basic idea is simple and very natural to the radio. Listeners are asked to request for sounds and to share their experiences and memories of the sounds. This all is discussed with them during a live show with the host of the show and expert guests present in the studio. Requests were carried via e-mail in advance as well as during the live show by incoming phone calls.

One important point of the show is that we are dealing only with sounds and soundscapes. No music, no songs, no poems! This restriction is also due to copyright issues.

One of the aims is also to have fun with sounds: presenting sound riddles and brain-teasers, and sometimes funny compilations or collages of sounds.

The individual Evening of Sounds radio shows are planned in advance, but the final dramaturgy of the broadcast is determined during the show by the listeners’ calls and their requests. Only the first fifteen minutes of the three-hour live broadcast is scripted in advance, prepared in collaboration with studio guests.

The show is hosted by Jukka Mikkola and the most usual expert studio quests have been professor Helmi Järviluoma-Mäkelä and research director Heikki Uimonen, usually with senior researcher Meri Kytö and sound artist Simo Alitalo.

From the third show onward, a real-time retrieval of sounds from the FBC radio archive's effect database has been used during live broadcasts. This is done by transferring digital audio files within the intranet web of the radio company.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company holds a large audiovisual archive. The archives also contain a great amount of sound effects which have been recorded during the last 70 years using various techniques. That is the archive we are using.

The sound requests have been varied and imaginative: from all areas of life and history, from old agricultural sounds to modern mobile phone sounds, from sounds of the nature to city soundscapes. The most popular sound requests are related to the listeners’ personal memories: childhood, youth, lived life, and often to past: a time and a world that no longer exists.

One of the most requested sounds is a horse-drawn mowing machine at work going round the field.

One popular example of the yesterday world is 1960’s landline telephone, dialing and alarm signal.

Contrary to memories, there have been many challenging requests, which in some cases have been impossible to fulfill: soundscapes produced by the imagination or interesting but unreachable sounds. Sometimes a request can really surprise the studio people.

Like when a listener allergic to cats asks to hear purring of a kitten.

Or when a woman asks us to play the inside sounds of a sauna for her husband. He is a hearing-impaired person who has to remove his hearing aid device before taking a sauna.

One of the most interesting and rare sounds is the sound of an aeoliphone, a manual ”wind machine” producing sound of wind when rotating a wooden cylinder against a canvas. The machine was used in radio play productions in pre-digital era.

There are some sound requests we have not been able to fulfill. We have quite a lots of different animal sounds in the archives, but when this request arrived, we were clueless: “My child practiced animal sounds from the animal pictures on the pages of a book. Everything else went smoothly, but the giraffe caused a headache. Can you help? Does a long neck make the voice low or high?”.

Unfortunately we did not have such an exotic animal sound in our archive. We only had something very Finnish: reindeers. And we still do not know what a giraffe sounds like.

All sounds from Yle (Finnish Broadcasting Company)/freesound.org.

Used under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC-BY 4.0)

The European Evening of Sounds radio program is based on different European sound cultures. Sound artists, radio staff and renowned sound researchers work closely together to produce the radio programs. The radio show will highlight new aspects of the diverse, changing European sound heritage.

Before the radio programs are produced, radio presenters and sound scholars have led workshops and artist residencies for the creative team. Particular attention is paid to the inclusion and promotion of the agency of older, "third" and "fourth" age groups. Workshops on sound art and sound remembering will be organized for them in care homes. Sonic memories will be collected from Slovenia, Serbia, Finland, Italy and France. This will create a collaborative link between the intangible sonic heritages of the Forum's different countries. The uniqueness of the concept arises from the polyphonic dialogue that it offers between on one hand shared, common sound heritage in Europe and on the other hand the entirely original sound heritage of the different countries.
Jukka Mikkola