Inspiration

During the autumn 2012 (while studying in Helsinki) I began thinking more about what inspiration is. I started to talk about it with friends, and it turned out that there were a lot of different ways of describing it and relating to it. I don’t know how much wiser I got from these conversations but at least they were really interesting, and at least I got some sort of idea about what I think inspiration is, and where I get it.

For me, inspiration is a thought that spurs me into creativity or into action. Inspiration is an idea that leads forward, suggests new ways of seeing things or suggests a possible development. Inspiration is open ended, never finished. It’s more about asking questions than delivering answers. Inspiration is pointing in a direction saying, ‘go there and have a look, you might find something interesting’ (instead of saying ‘go there and you will find this’). Inspiration is an open door or a window, not a signpost or a map.

I often find inspiration in stories, broadly defined. It can be a traditional story, like what is presented to us in books and other types of fiction, or stories from real life. Riddley Walker is a good example of the former, as is Moon Palace by Paul Auster, which contains some interesting thoughts on the quality of wide open spaces (which can easily be seen as a parallel to silence) as well as an interesting experiment about getting to know a work of art. Real life ‘stories’ that have inspired me during my NoFo studies is for instance the performance artist Marina Abramović and her work The Artist is Present, where she sits down in a chair, just silently looking into the eyes of whoever sits down in front of her. I’ve also been greatly inspired by hearing about singers today learning thousands of runo-meter lines, to somehow enter into the world of that music/poetry/language and see how it affects them. To me, the idea of doing experiments with yourself, like consously confusing your mind and memory by overloading it, or exploring your endurance, presense and openness in ways like Abramović, is an extremely powerful idea; an idea that shows that it’s mainly our curiosity, imagination, determination and our will to let go of conventions and things that doesn’t matter, that sets the limit for what we can do, as artists and as humans.

The idea of curiosity has radical implications also when it coems to practicing. The idea of practicing is normally that a set of exercises is going to develop a set of skills and that is the aim of practicing. But with an open and curious mind, there doesn’t have to be a known goal with the practicing. It’s possible to just do things, over and over again, and then see what happens, what the outcome is. This is something I learned from Jonny Soling at Malungs Folkhögskola, who spoke fondly about it. If you do an exercise for a period of time, something will happen. You don’t necessarily know what, but you know that.

Other stories doesn’t have to be as drastic. The Polish fiddler Jan Gaca, who at 80 yers of age is still playing for weddings and dances, and has become a super star of the present folk revival in Poland, is a source of inspiration by himself, serving as an example of energy, presence and rough skill. Or the German weaver and musician Küster, who lived in Skåne in 19th C. and started each day with drinking a ‘kaffegök’ (coffee mixed with alcohol) and then composing two tunes. This persistant composing, the continuous search for the perfect tune, shows the power of endurance. For me, these are great images to have at the back of my head, while I go about, evolving my own music.

What to do with the Freedom

If I wouldn’t have used the Freedom, I wouldn’t have felt it. It was through doing things, I realised I had increased my freedom.

One of the things that happened to me was that I started playing.

Another effect was that I started to trust my ability to play music that was purely for listening. Previously that was something I didn’t really dare to do, and also something that didn’t really interest me. But with the new view on my own playing that affected both my confidence and my interests. This led to the composition I väntan på Krilon (Waiting for Krilon), a tune type I wouldn’t have dared to perform earlier. It also led to some experiments in my fiddle lessons with Finnish herding tunes.

I also allowed my solo in the Tranotra tune Krokodiltårar (by Mats Edén) to take new directions. I became less concerned with playing ‘the right notes’ and thought more aout dynamics, over all musical lines and began to appreciate, and search for, rougher sound qualities.

 The freedom also made me change focus for my musical research. Where I previously had had my main focus on groove I now began interesting myself for other aspects of fiddle playing too, like tone and dynamics but more importantly a completely different aesthetics and idea of what a ‘tune’ and what to do with it. One of the main ideas that started to grow during the semester in Finland is how to combine the ideals of the archaic, or long aesthetics with pellimanni repertoire. One of the key ideas I’m using to try to do this is the thought that there are no tunes, but I’ve also become really inspired by what I learned about Norwegian hardingfele music and how the hardingfele tunes are built up, while studying in Voss. Another suggestion for how to combine the two different musical worlds was provided during a trip to a Polish folk music event in the autumn 2012. There I experienced a way of playing tunes that differed quite a lof from how I’m used to it, and that definitely showed some clear aspects of archaic aesthetics. The musicians often played for 15-30 minutes without a break, using only a small number of tunes (one tune could easily be used for at least 10 minutes) and the tunes were often very short but got repeated over and over again, always with variations, both in the melody and in the number of repetitions of parts and phrases.

This idea, to search for the intersection between archaic aesthetics and pellimanni repertoire, to find out where they cross and how they interact, is definitely one of the strongest ideas I’m bringin with me into my future work and research as a musician, when I leave the NoFo. I am still very much only in the beginning of figuring out how to put the ideas togethere, and how to make it become music.

The biggest difference still is probably to be found on the inside. I think differently about music, and about my own musicianship, but I haven’t really had time to implement it all into musical practice. The last semester of the NoFo has meant a lot of moving and touring (during January-early April I ‘lived’ in six differen places, in 3 countries, rest of April I toured 6 countries in 17 days) and that has taken a lot of energy from the fiddle playing and practicing.

I have found ways of thinking where I use myself and my own ideas as a starting point, rather than the opinions of my community. I try to listen more inwards, listen to myself and my own wishes, ideas and ideals, rather than what I believe the people around me think is good. In the end it is a matter of confidence but also a feeling of need. I need to be true to myself, and I need to explore what that means.

Freedom means responsibility and in this case I think the main responsibilty is towards myself, but by being true to myself I am also taking my responsibility towards the rest of the world.

Somehow, being true to yourself, making the most out of your abilities and posibilities, for me becomes a question of moral. When you play together (or in other ways interact) with other people you have to be the best version of yourself available at that moment. If the world can’t trust that you’re doing as best as you can, how can they trust you at all? How should they know where you actually are, where your limits are? When I play in ensemble, I should give it all; to do otherwise is somehow almost rude. When I am on stage, there is no reason not to give the audience everything I am able to give and the same goes in the practicing room: why should I not go all the way there, how am I supposed to know my abilities and limitations otherwise? If I was religious I would probably say it is a way of praising god or the creation; now I just say it is a matter of morals, and a question of how we want the world to be, true or untrue?

Still: It all sounds good and clear, but of course it is difficult. I believe there is a lot in the world around us that limits us, and prevents us from doing our best in every situation. And there is a lot within ourselves that prevents us from doing our best in different situations, and our task is to get rid of that and free ourselves.

Inspiration and Expression

 In a lesson in Artistic Research in Odense we were asked to describe what inspire us as musicians, what we’re trying to express with our music. I realised that I often get inspired by things I read. And that it is a source of frustration when I think about my musical/artistic practice in a larger perspective that it’s hard (or, frankly, impossible) to express words and sentences when you play an instrument. I read a lot, news papers, magazines, books, and that inspire me and it has a huge impact on my view of the world. And I would like my world view, my ideas about society and mankind, my ideals, my fears and hopes for the world, to come across in my music. And since I feel that a lot of this, within myself, is based on my experiences of written text, it is not obvious for me how I can make it come across in my music. Almost all the music I’m involved with, and have been involved with in the past, is instrumental. So there is a large gap between how I feel that my own world view is shaped (that is, through written text) and the means I have to pass it on to the rest of the world (which is by playing the fiddle).

This conflict, between what I perceive as the direct communication of written text, and the abstract reality of music, frustrates me, but also works as a motor in my artistic and musical development. In the end, I hope to make something good out of it. How to make my music reflect myself, my ideas and my opinions is an artistic ‘problem’ that can lead me on to new musical and artistic solutions, ideas and processes.

Playing

Perhaps the most obvious method for artistic development is practicing. There is a lot that could be said about different methods for practicing, how to get the most out of the hours you spend in the practice room, how the practice sessions should be laid out etc. but this is not the main topic of this essay so I will just conclude that I have been practicing a lot, both with very focused attention to technical development, and with the aim to learn a certain stylistic features and tunes.

Moreover, I have been playing a lot, both in the sense of playing my instrument (swe: spela fiol) and in the sense of playing games (swe: leka). Sometimes I have felt bad about it, that it was just a waste of time in the practice room to let the bow, fiddle and fingers play around without any certain goal, but in the end I think it has been a very good thing to do. It has lead me to find new sounds and to get a more relaxed physical relationship with my instrument. It has helped me move away from the all-too-comfortable melodic/harmonic areas I used to be playing around with(in) and served as an opening to (for me) new fields of melodic and harmonic structures and movements.

It also lead me to finding completely new sounds on the fiddle and trying to make use of the ‘ugly’ as a contrast in my music. An example of this is my solo from the term concert in Helsinki:

It is worth to notice that this idea and method of play and playing emerged more or less simultaneously with my change of perspective, towards folk music as Art.