By all accounts, in the early 1980s, Helsinki was a musical hot-bed. Encouraged by an extraordinary degree of state support, a generation of extremely talented, progressive musicians, both composers and performers, were coming of age there. Magnus Lindberg, who has gone on to become one of the most important composers of his generation, was right there in the center of things. One of the activities he was involved with was the creation of an experimental ensemble called Toimii (meaning "it acts"). The aim of the ensemble was to explore new ideas, to work on musical and aesthetic problems, to serve as a creative laboratory. Action-Situation-Signification, while credited to Lindberg, is actually one of the most important documents of "the state of mind" that was Toimii.
Created in 1982, Action-Situation-Signification is an extended suite, largely improvised (though Lindberg has written directions and signposts to guide the group's spontaneity). The movements, which follow each other more or less without pause, are: "Earth 1", "The Sea," "Interlude: Wood," "Rain," "Interlude: Metal," "Fire," "Wind," and "Earth 2." The main instrumental sonority is percussion, of all sorts, along with piano (played in a variety of non-orthodox ways, not limited to the keyboard, which include striking, scraping, and so on), cello, clarinet/bass clarinet (and occasionally, recorder), and voice (though there is no singing). The piece progresses as an alternation between instrumental sections and electronic sections which feature recordings of the elements named (sea, rain, fire, and wind). As these sonic textures are introduced, the ensemble enters, adding unusual instrumental sonorities to the mix. There are, in fact, hardly any traditional musical passages over the half-hour span of the work. The sounds are gritty, often occurring at the boundaries of possibility. The recording is close-miked, to pick up all of the details of the sonorities. It is to Lindberg's credit, and Toimii's, that Action-Situation-Signification sustains the attention, and shows remarkable imagination and sensitivity in the combinations and successions of textures. In aiming to create a piece effecting an interface between the action of the performers and the situation of the recorded sounds, Lindberg has imbued his music with considerable depth and signification.