The new subsea Eysturoytunnel in the Faroe Islands will be officially inaugurated on Saturday, December 19, 2020. It will not only feature the only Roundabout in the Nordic Ocean, but also expresses the unique space through art — interpreted by Faroese artists. The “Giant Jellyfish” installation at the round-about has been part of a recent article already.

The second unique art piece will be a soundscape, specially composed for the new tunnel. We talk about the creation, the idea behind it and the production of a “voice”  for the Eysturoytunnel with the Faroese composer and musician Jens L. Thomsen.

2 years ago, Jens came back to the Faroe Islands from living in London for a long time — he now uses his home nation as a canvas for composing a very particular kind of music : he creates spatial “voices” of foreign surroundings — non-traditional places to create music for and from. Doesn’t a tunnel soundscape seem to be the perfect ecosystem for his work!

What made you think of creating a soundscape for and in a tunnel, Jens?

Well, I am fascinated by foreign surroundings for sounds and music. Actually the idea for the soundscape came from when I first heard that they were building the tunnel, so it sprung from my love for creating music in unmusical spaces, I was simply intrigued by the idea of creating a soundscape sub terra and even subsea and the first idea was to suggest a music installation for the opening — speaker-based.

When the pandemic set in and the plans for the public run or walk were cancelled, I had to think differently. All my past projects had a lot to do with sound expressing vastness — dealing with different space backgrounds — like the Faroe Islands, The Nordic Countries and now the tunnel.

In discussions with the management of the tunnel, we came upon this idea of transmitting a soundscape through radio wave. Driving through the tunnel in the comfort of your car and listening to the Voice of the Tunnel helps to be aware of where you drive, of the amazing construction and the sense of subsea presence. I think this is a unique project, and I was really excited to be a part of it.

As much of all innovation initiated through the pandemic, this project came from the necessity to find an alternative to the previous plans. So it is also a reflection of this so very different year 2020, when the tunnel opens.

What kind of sound will we hear when entering the tunnel and how do you get your ideas?

Usually I create on the spot, spend time in the surroundings to “get a sense of the space”. I listen and identify elements which make the specific sound of the place and record different elements. For the tunnel it was e.g. the drilling, the silence, the reflection of the walls, acoustic resonance and more. A site-specific soundscape also needs a corresponding structure.

For the new tunnel, I took the lights on the ceiling and their rhythm of reflection when driving in the permitted speed — this for me is the tempo of the tunnel and the distance between the notes are relative to the distance between the lights because they’re actually syncopated, the tunnel kind of plays with the piece. Notes can be derived from taking different snippets of interval samples which are then repeated to create a sound as basis to define single tones. That is how the tunnel gets a voice!

The dramaturgy of the structure then follows the different phases of the journey:  Entering the tunnel, the longer drive to the round-about when coming from the Steymoy /Tórshavn side and then the decision, which direction to take at the round-about. Right or left — followed by the rest of the journey towards the “light” or exit.

The underlying narrative compliments Tróndur’s art piece at the round-about.I had already made most of the soundscape and the white noise/light images before we met and spoke, but the images became stronger after we discussed, Tróndur and I. His idea is built along the ring dance tradition of the Faroe Islands, but with a second meaning it expresses that those dancing people move toward the light.

Hence, that “search of light” definitely is a strong element for the soundscape as well. To visualize the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, I used white noise in different tonalities (White noise sounds like a radio tuned to an unused frequency or the TV program end jitter …) as a symbol for light. So by entering the tunnel, light is softening the deeper you go and, when exiting the tunnel, the same happens in revised order.

Tróndur’s working mantra is to make “visible what is invisible”. And mine is similar — using sub-consciously underlying sounds to create a voice for the space.

The pull towards the light is part of the voice of the tunnel, and it is similar to the basic structure of fairy tales: leaving the comfort zone of a home to stand a challenge, travel the necessary way and then, at the deepest point, take a decision and move to the light. A transition that is, in double sense- here travelling from one island to the other, and the “spiritual” meaning.

A tunnel does something to the people travelling through it — it is affecting everyone in one or the other way. By travelling through this new tunnel you have a choice whether to be distracted and entertained (listening to music or the news in the radio that grab your attention), or if you want to focus and have space to think.

As Jens explains:

“The composition is generative, meaning that no two bars are alike, there is no repitition. The soundscape is insinuating and doesn’t try to grab your attention, rather it leaves room for thought and allows the listener to be a present and aware while driving through the tunnel”

The Voice Of The Tunnel can be received on FM by tuning in on 97,0 frequencies when entering the tunnel.

About Jens L. Thomsen:

JENS L THOMSEN is an artist and musician from the Faroe Islands. He has a BA in Music Technology from University of West London as well as an MSc in Acoustics from London South Bank University. His work often explores the relationship between art and technology. Notable sound installations include NORÐ which was commissioned by the Southbank Centre and exhibited at Royal Festival Hall in London, and Føroyar 5.2 which with the use of seismic technology allowed him to play on mountains as if they were instruments. His main artistic outlet is through the project ORKA which he started 10 years ago by building homemade instruments out of found objects on a farm on the Faroe Islands. ORKA has twice been nominated for the Nordic Council Music Award. Jens spends a lot of time producing in the studio and is credited on close to a hundred releases. At the moment he tours as part of Yann Tiersen’s live band.

Past Projects

NORÐ is a soundscape that was created especially for the interior of Royal Festival Hall in London. The work is an ambient representation of the stunning and diverse Nordic landscapes. Jens collected the different sounds via an open call for sample sounds taken from Nordic countries and used them to create the composition. The piece references current issues such as global warming and is a reflection on the fragile ecology of coastal regions.

FØROYAR 5.2 is an audio-visual installation piece commissioned by the European Researchers Night and created by Jens and geologist Uni Árting. Jens and Uni asked themselves, What do the Faroe Islands sound like? In order to answer the question they recorded themselves with geophones playing on mountains and bedrock and converted the seismic waves into soundwaves.

ORKA The origins of ORKA date back more than a decade, when Jens began crafting handmade instruments out of agricultural tools on a small farm in the Faroe Islands. From those humble beginnings, ORKA has created a bold electronic sound that has earned two nominations for the Nordic Council Music Prize. Still based on those homemade instruments, the sounds are largely broken up into samples. The music remains distinctively ORKA, while ushering in an exciting new twist in sound, morphing into hardened, cathartic techno with a Neanderthal sense of pace.

Sound’s Hidden Journey Under Nordic Waters. Jens is currently collaborating with the Between Music collective on capturing underwater reverbs in the oceans around the Faroe Islands. The reverbs are captured with impulse response technology which produces a sonic cast of the underwater reflections of fjords and caves. Jens will then write a sound piece for the reverbs which will tour the Nordic countries.


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