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Kaija Saariaho has said that one of the crucial insights underlying the radiophonic work STILLEBEN (Still Life, 1987-88) came to her while sitting in a train. As darkness falls, the landscape outside fades from view and the passenger's face begins to show in the window. This poetic experience points two ways with regard to STILLEBEN: firstly, to the gradual processes of change so important to many of Saariaho's works; and secondly, to the fundamental themes of STILLEBEN. According to Saariaho, STILLEBEN is about travelling, distance and communication between people separated from one another or from their homeland. It is easy to imagine that there is something very autobiographical in this theme for Saariaho, a Finn living in Paris and doing a lot of travelling.
STILLEBEN was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company. It received a prize in the radiophonic works category in the Prix Italia competition in 1988, and in the following year it received the Ars Electronica prize. A 'radiophonic' work is a special kind of taped work that, as the name says, is designed to be played on radio, not in concert. Its means vary, but usually it is something between a radio play and electronic music.
True to the nature of radiophonic works, STILLEBEN contains a variety of material: speech in three languages (Finnish, German, French), singing, instrumental music (including extracts from LICHTBOGEN), various concrete sounds for example from metro stations, and various types of acoustics. The texts are from letters by Franz Kafka discussing the effect of separation on communication; Saariaho has also used the poetry of Paul Eluard and artist Wassily Kandinsky. Saariaho approaches this rich and varied material more as a composer than as a storyteller. In fact, the work does not come across as a clear plot structure; rather, it involves associations awakened by various situations and moods, a sort of poetry in sound that has themes and content but not precisely defined meanings.
for performance electronics