Doctor in sound design: ”Insects can buzz and brooks gurgle in cities”

Doctor in sound design: ”Insects can buzz and brooks gurgle in cities”

Only two doctoral theses have been made on sound design at Aalto University's Department of Film, Television and Scenography. One of them was made by TAMK's Principal Lecturer and Relationship Manager Ari Koivumäki. Now he is excited about urban planning which takes the soundscape into consideration.

– I could not imagine hating a text so much. Doctoral thesis work requires a lot of perseverance and stamina when you have to rewrite again and again, Ari Koivumäki huffs.

The principal lecturer and relationship manager carried out the decision he made at 50 years of age and defended his doctoral thesis on the relation between sound design and soundscape research in June 2018. It was the second doctoral thesis made in the field at Aalto University.

Koivumäki, who has taught the subject for a long time, established in his research how soundscape research can be applied to practical sound design. For his doctoral thesis he gathered words with which people express sounds and tones of voices they hear. He used the Finnish soundscape project results for the task.

– I collected words with which people describe for example wind, rain or forest into a tone map. This information is always needed when editing sound for films, TV programmes or games.

He tested applying soundscape research to sound design by analysing two student projects, Virtual Vyborg and the hypermedia radio play planned for Näsinpuisto Park in Tampere.

Studying throughout career

Koivumäki already worked with radio plays in the 1980s when he completed Yle's audio control course and worked as a sound designer in the house. At the same time he studied social psychology, journalism and mass communication, and musicology at university.

The young Koivumäki knew that arts and communications institutions would start at the beginning of the 1990s and need teachers. He finished his master's thesis before the teachers were recruited in Tampere and started as a sound design teacher in 1991.

– In the 1990s culture researchers became interested in sound environments, for example noise, and feelings and atmospheres created by sound. I already then networked with university researchers. As a teacher I wanted to expand sound design from technology to its wider context.

Koivumäki completed his pedagogical studies at the Theatre Academy when working as a teacher. In 2001 he graduated as Licentiate of Arts (Theatre and Drama) in sound design.

– I have always studied alongside work and I am used to combining work and studies. It is interesting and hard at the same time. I was on one-year study leave for the first time when making the doctoral thesis.

Photo: Ari used ZOOM H6 microphones to save his research material.

Cities can have a rich soundscape

Nowadays Koivumäki leads two master's degree programmes at Mediapolis but has less and less actual teaching duties. As a relationship manager he participates in many projects and RDI groups.

– I am very satisfied that TAMK has always supported soundscape projects and research.

He is now interested in urban planning which considers the soundscape. In Koivumäki's opinion, ordinary people should be included when the urban soundscape and quiet areas are developed.

– Soundscapes can be built in cities by preparing the land and adding plants – to build walks in areas where birds are singing, insects are buzzing, leaves are rustling in the wind and brooks are gurgling.

Koivumäki does however not hope more sound to be brought to cities – at least not artificially.

– Events, schools and day-care centres bring joy to the city and are a part of the urban culture. I think the thought of driving away youngsters from shopping centres by playing a certain type of music is horrible. It is mean.

Ari Koivumäki

  • born in 1959
  • principal lecturer and relationship manager at TAMK
  • doctoral degree at Aalto University in 2018
  • Licentiate of Arts (Theatre and Drama) at Theatre Academy in 2001
  • married, two adult children
  • hobbies: guitar playing, singing and reading especially history literature and detective fiction
  • last read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War from around 380 BC.

Text: Sabina Mäki
Photos: Anna Vättö


Published 21.09.2018