Accepted Paper:

Musical notation and non-human voices in Sámi joik  
Stephane Aubinet

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the Sámi tradition of joik. Sámi performers are able to perceive the phenomenal world as a musical notation to be followed with the singing voice. Written notation thus induces a fracture between human culture and non-human voices that Sámi singers do not endorse.

Paper long abstract:

European musicology commonly distinguishes two sorts of songs: written and oral. By means like neumes or scores, written songs can travel far away and remain unchanged in time and space, whereas oral songs are nested in local communities, undergo more variations and usually have shorter lifetimes.

In this paper, I propose to reformulate this distinction by paying attention to a Sámi singing tradition called joik. Joiks are circular songs performed to summon the presence of humans, animals or places and engage with their memories. Joik is often presented as 'the most archaic musical tradition in Europe' and thus as a quintessential kind of oral music-making.

What researchers have overlooked is the way the phenomenal world appears as a sort of musical notation to be read by Sámi performers. The line of the horizon, animal movements, and human behaviours are turned into melodic elements. The visualisation of people, places and animals serves as a mnemonic to retrieve a forgotten song in a fashion that recalls European medieval notation. Singing is then a way of becoming more acquainted with the world and its inhabitants.

Drawing from David Abram's argument in 'The spell of the sensuous' (1997), I compare the emergence of musical notation with the invention of the alphabet, transferring knowledge from the landscape to the written material and creating a new distance between human culture and non-human voices.

The presentation will be illustrated with a simple joik to be learned and performed by the audience.

Panel P042
Knowing by singing: song, acoustic ecologies and the overflow of meaning