A destructive perspective.

Today: the first tests of the recording and archiving system. Everything has to work perfectly before we take it into the field in a couple of months. The informants will be filmed in their home surroundings looking into the camera. The words of the dictionary will appear on the screen before them and they will read them aloud one by one. Each word will be stored as a separate video file on the computer.

A dictionary is in essence artificial. Only some rare kinds of poetry can bring life into a list of words starting with the same letter, and even then it is seldom systematically alphabetical in its construction. The alphabet and written language in general has a stench of death about it.

The choice of the dictionary as the image of language is the complete opposite of language-as-life. If languages are organic and alive by nature then the Language Memory Project would seem to spell out a death sentence for the Skolt Saami language.

To make matters even worse I am asking 30 representatives of the language in question to become dictionary robots reading aloud only the individual words – the atoms of their living language – in a room with no listeners. On the Finish side this will involve about 10% of the Skolt Saami community – on the Russian side it will involve 100%. In effect they will be atomizing their own language into a list of dead, alphabetized items.

All the while I will be there silently filming the spectacle – this burning funeral pyre of a self-destructing language.

30April2008 Alog dates

Here are some dates for the summer:

31.May.08 Landmark Bergen, Norway
06.Jul.08 Expo Zaragoza, Spain
19.Jul.08 Jazzjuice Aarhus, Denmark

Hope to see you there!

Tags: alog


Phonetic alchemy

The metaphor of dying and living languages is based on a dated romantic conception about languages being organic in structure. Thus there is a need to revisit the dialectic of the death and life of languages to view the language-image from a fresh angle. The philosopher Walter Benjamin writes in the introduction to his essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities:

– The history of works prepares for their critique, and thus historical distance increases their power. If, to use a simile, one views the growing work as a burning funeral pyre, then the commentator stands before it like a chemist, the critic like an alchemist. Whereas, for the former, wood and ash remain the sole objects of his analysis, for the latter only the flame itself preserves an enigma: that of what is alive. Thus, the critic inquires into the truth, whose living flame continues to burn over the heavy logs of what is past and the light ashes of what has been experienced.

Replacing the concept of “work” with “language” in this quote one can perhaps glimpse a more complex dialectic at play. According to Benjamin’s idea of a critique and the work of the critic it would follow that the critic does the exact same historic and linguistic analysis as the history scientist, or “commentator”. But still their aim and result is vastly different. The critic use the detailed analysis as a means to destroy and dismember the wholeness of the work. This is made more potent by the history that has gone before. The more obscure and forgotten the work, the better suited it is for a philosophical and artistic critique. The resulting destruction-through-analysis is comparable to an archive of language: a dictionary or database of language samples, each analysed into every last miniscule phoneme. The archive kills the living language in order to preserve it, but at the same moment creates its potential alchemical transformation into new life.



– The amount of words in Skolt (as in all other living languages) is infinite, explains Michael Riessler, head of the Kola Saami Documentation Project in our first email conversation.

– And besides this every speaker of Skolt has its own stock of words in her or his mind. If you restrict to the word stock found in the existing dictionaries of Skolt (and ignoring that not all words found in the dictionaries are representative of all the single speakers' Skolt Saami language) you end up with approx. 10000 recorded words multiplied to more then 30 letters of the alphabet. Every linguist will envy you for such a collection of recorded words!

The facts are not very uplifting: There are 4 Saami languages spoken in the Kola Region (including northern Finland): Skolt, Akkala, Kildin, and Ter. Akkala is now extinct. The last speaker of Akkala passed away in 2003. Ter Saami in the Murmansk region has about 30 speakers, all age 50 and above. The Kildin Saami has about 300 active speakers. Likewise the Skolt Saami has around 300 speakers on the Finish side of the border and only a handful of old people left on the Russian side (speaking the special Russian dialect of Skolt).

But Michaels comments make me rethink my melancholic impression of Skolt Saami as a dying language. Infinity is a powerful concept to bring into any reflection. If every speakers vocabulary is potentially infinite or to be regarded as a “part” of infinity (that in itself would be infinite), then a dying language is not ceasing to exist by slowly shrinking in size as one would expect (due to forgetfulness, language shift or some other kind of deterioration of the collective memory). It is still present and alive in its vibrant infinity even with only one speaker left on earth (or maybe two? Does not a language need a listener? Or maybe it is sufficient with only one subject speaking to him- or herself? I guess that would be the perfect communication: The last speaker of a dead language muttering to himself).


The beauty of totality.

By now I probably own the largest library of Skolt Saami to Finish language dictionaries in the world. Except for a few Skolt - German ones from the 1800 century that I found visiting the Humbolt University Library in Berlin last month, I have gathered all I could find.

The sum total is 4 books and 1 bad photocopy from the 80s.

They all vary greatly in size and quality, and I have tested my way through them all in the hopes of finding a candidate for scanning and optical character recogniction.

Finally today, a breakthrough. Mosnikoffs and Sammallahtis dictionary from 88 seems to have all the necessary ingredients: the copy is in strong black and white ink, the “c” does not look like an “e” (who would have thought that this would be the greatest of challenges for the digitizing community?) and all the special letters of the Skolt Sami language are possible to separate from each other. The ? from the d, the ? from the k, the ? from the ?, the š and ž, and å and â, not to mention the õ ö ? and ?. (Even your browser probably do not support these characters...)

I am starting to get a close relationship with these characters. Their corresponding sounds roll silently in my mouth like liquorice while I stare at the enlarged scans. Teaching the computer to understand all of them takes patience, but gives a rare glimpse into the microscopic world of the letter. The shapes of the characters are blown up and supersized until I see every molecule of ink filling up the topography of the paper.


I feel my eyes drying up. I am lost in a desert of broken letters. Literarily.

Struck by a sudden premonition I see my next two weeks before me: working day and night proofreading a dictionary that translates between two languages, neither of which I understand a single word.

Today has been a technical research day. How to digitise a dictionary. How to wield the computing power to my needs. How to teach a blind computer to read.

The first goal: to build a database of the Skolt Saami language. A dying language in the arctic regions of northern Norway, Finland and Russia.

The next goal: To travel to northern Finland and collect samples of all the words of the Skolt Saami language. To film one informant per letter of the alphabet reading all the words.

The final goal: To build an art installation for the new Skolt Saami museum in Neiden, Norway - an exhibition of the totality of a dying language. At the push of a button, one by one of the words will be given to the visitors. One word each, given as a task - for the visitor to take responsibility for and remember for the future.

31January2008 Slåttberg

A preview of a custom built musical instrument by Espen Sommer Eide, artist and member of Alog and Phonophani. The Slåttberg will premiere at the Borealis Festival for contemporary music Bergen, Norway late february 2008.

03January2008 Amateur nominated for Spellemann - Norwegian Grammy

The alog album "Amateur" is nominated for a Spellemann award (Norwegian Grammy) to be decided on the 2. February. http://spellemann.no/

Tags: alog


03September2007 New live dates

Some new dates have been added to our autumn schedule, including a surprise phonophani performance in Geneva this Wednesday.

04.-08.12.07 alog, Madeira (Dig Festival), Portugal
20.10.07 alog, Amsterdam (Bimhuis), Netherlands
14.-15.9.07 alog, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Madrid
6.10.07 phonophani w. Marius Watz, microscope session, Dresden, Germany
5.09.07 phonophani, Geneva, Switzerland


What do people in the Barents Region have in common - other than the notion of living on the periphery? What happens now when the region experiences a potential change from periphery to center? Why is everybody speaking English to each other? Is the opening of the first IKEA store in the region a major event in the history of the Barents?

USB is a performance that investigates these and other questions; questions dealing with local, global and northern identity, the power of definition, borders, similarities and differences in the Arctic, and the love of IKEA.

Welcome to the brave new world of the United States of Barents!

Amund Sjølie Sveen is an artist and percussionist from northern Norway who developed USB (United States of Barents) originally after taking part in the artistic research project Connection Barents in June 2006. USB was premiered in the Barents Spektakel-festival, in Kirkenes, January 2007. An Internet version of the USB presentation was made especially for this Region in focus.

via LabforCulture

18June2007 Alog - Son of King

Alog´s newest music video. From their album Amateur. The video is made by moscow-based painter/director Julia Zastava, and was shot in the old palace of the Orlov family. The video is inspired by the murder of the russian Tsar and his family in 1918.

Click here to see the video now! (flash 8).

Also available in larger sized Quicktime and on YouTube.

Tags: alog


This time next year, Kentucky based physicist and futurist Brooks Agnew hopes to board the commercially owned Russian icebreaker Yamal in the port of Murmansk, and to sail into the polar sea just beyond Canada's Arctic islands...

Mr. Agnew is the latest in a long line of people to peddle the nutty, yet persistent, theory that humans live on the surface of a hollow planet, in which two undiscovered openings, near the North and South poles, connect the outer Earth with an interior realm...

While he insists the journey has a genuine scientific purpose, Mr. Agnew also says the expedition will include several experts in meditation, mythology and UFOs, as well as a team of documentary filmmakers...

If the polar opening isn't there, the voyage "will still make an outstanding documentary," he promises.

more info at the national post

22May2007 Double LP now available

Finally the double vinyl edition of Amateur has arrived! Each of the four sides can be heard as a standalone musical work. Engraved with DMM quality sound made from high quality mastering by Helge Sten and enveloped by a gatefold cover designed by Kim Hiorthøy - this is how the album was intended to be heard and seen! Click on the alogshop link and place your order.

Tags: alog


April 63, needing a break after the bay of pigs invasion, Fidel Castro travelled to Murmansk. Here he is seen visiting the local pioneers.