|The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
|3333-4331- Timp -3perc – pno/cel – strings
As we stand on the verge of the sixth mass extinction, the Holocene Extinction, I find myself reflecting on the profound history of our planet and the earlier five major extinction events that have shaped life on Earth. The piece explores the creation of life on earth, it’s evolutions and extinctions through different sound worlds.
Life is believed to have emerged about 3.7 billion years ago. There are several different theories about how life originated, and I have chosen to base my work on the theory that it arose through immense pressure. The first entities that emerged were single-celled bacteria, which we can hear in the strings with the pizzicato and col legno tones of D, soon to be heard also dividing into two-celled organisms. During the Cambrian and Ordovician periods (around 541 to 444 million year ago), there was the first explosion of life with forms including worms (fast runs in the clarinets), jellyfish (slow clusters in the trumpets) and trilobites (the bass clarinet). The Ordovician-Silurian extinction around 443 million years ago, which probably happened due to global cooling as well as volcanism, wiped out around 85% of all life forms.
During the Silurian and Devonian period (442-359 million years ago) the first fish with jaws appeared (to be heard in the bassoons making mirroring movements) as well as the first forests (to be heard as growing whole tone scales in the strings). The Late Devonian Extinction is believed to have happened due to plants and algae overgrowing, algae using up too much oxygen and suffocating up to 75% of all species (to be heard as a cluster in the strings filling the whole spectrum).
During the Carboniferous Period (359-299 million years ago) the amphibians (like for instance frogs, represented by the clarinets) were dominant and the first reptiles (bass clarinet together with contrabassoon) and insects (violas) appear. These life forms continued to spread during the Permian Period (299-252 million years ago) up until the Permian-Triassic Extinction also called “the Great Dying” around 252 million years ago, which wiped out up to 96% of all life forms. It is believed to have been caused by volcanic activity in Siberia causing the oceans and rain to become acidic and hence evolving to a highly toxic environment for life.
The Triassic Period (252–201 million years ago) was a relatively brief period between two major extinctions with the lowest number of different species since after the Cambrian explosion. Hence the music is scarce and soon followed by the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction caused by volcanic activity, wiping out up to 80% of all species.
Finally (at around 13 minutes) we have arrived at the period everyone has been waiting for: the Jurassic Period (201–145 million years ago) with dinosaurs dominating the field (chords or fourth in the trombones and tuba as well as chords of fifths in the trumpets and rubber ball rubbed on the bass drum for added dinosaur sounds). During the Cretaceous Period archaic mammals and birds begin to replace dinosaurs already before the famous asteroid hits earth and causing enormous amount of debris to rise into the atmosphere and tsunamis to cause the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction around 66 million years ago, wiping out up to 75% of all life on earth.
This is followed by the Cenozoic Age, the age of the mammals, forests and flowers, which we are currently living in. During the past 66 million years the number of species existing has expanded very rapidly to the largest amount in history, an estimated 8.7 million species of which only around 1.5 million have been identified. During our current Holocene Epoch, the past 11700 years we have entered into a new mass extinction. According to the species-area theory, the present rate of extinction may be up to 140,000 species per year. On the time scale of this piece, the Holocene Epoch is approximately 0,02 seconds, hence the piece ends where we stand today: at a peak of biodiversity and an open question to all of us: where will we go from here?
Cecilia Damström: Extinctions, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Chloé Dufresne – Watch on Yle Areena
A gorgeous rendition from the orchestra and Dufresne, Extinctions was given a flying start upon its premiere. Regarding the overall organic form, Damström’s orchestral designs bear some family relationships with those by Anna Thorvaldsdottir – without imitation – whereas her way of leading each instrument their own sonic narratives is something quite unique. Figurative without resorting to mere Mickey Mousing, Damström’s scoring serves as story-teller par excellence, as resoundingly demonstrated by the inspired accounts of the FRSO players. Shaped and balanced with keen attention and organic sensitivity by Dufresne, Extinctions was received with rousing enthusiasm by the sold-out hall.
Jari Kallio, Adventures in Music 27.1.2024
Damström has created a fascinating score, full of exciting sounds, captivating colors, and evocative orchestral effects. “Extinctions” represents Damström at her most modernist, simultaneously maintaining a highly expressive approach that is by no means devoid of dramatic pauses or tonal landmarks. The lion’s share consists, in fact, of meditatively charged, almost mysteriously vibrating, and quietly probing passages, lending the few discharges all the more effective relief. This is a relatively rare case of imaginative tonal painting in domestic contexts, emphasizing the stark but dramatically resilient rather than the sensually inviting.
Mats Liljeroos, Hufvudstadsbladet 28.1.2024
Damström’s music is like a spontaneously ignited and rich soundscape of life. If her Teosto Award-winning composition “ICE” in 2022 reflects the ethereal soundscape of icebergs, “Extinctions” is characterized by the earth’s resonant rumble.
The composition cleverly utilizes different instrumental groups and colors in depicting evolution, from dense strings in the forest to the clarinets’ erratic frogs and the Jurassic brass. Pressure waves and dust clouds come to life in the percussion section.
The music is colorful and visual but never merely illustrative. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra executed the piece excellently under the confident direction of Chloé Dufresne.
Nuppu Koivisto, Helsingin Sanomat 28.1.2024
Interviews and articles
Cecilia Damström talking (in Finnish) about Extinctions on National TV – Watch on Yle Areena
2024 January 26 – World premiere by the Finnish Radio Symphony conducted by Chloé Dufresne – More info