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.

The Beginning

A bit more than half-way through my master studies I realised something had happened. Something had changed in how I looked at folk music, what I thought it meant to be a folk musician and how I saw myself as a (folk) musician. At the same time I discovered that, without feeling that I made any technical progress when it came to playing the violin, I still developed a lot in my playing. A development that had more to do with what I did with my ability, rather than with increasing my ability. I realised that what had happened was a development in my mind. I allowed myself to do things that I hadn’t allowed myself to do before, even if I had the technical ability and the musical ideas. Somehow I had opened up some of my mental barriers.

Before I started studying at music academy, folk music for me was strongly connected with social events. It was music that belonged in a social context, and the social context provided its meaning. For me, doing (playing, listening to, dancing to etc.) folk music was a social act, something I did together with friends. Also as a performer, I strongly acknowledged the power of the context, and took pride in considering myself as a tool for a greater purpose, to provide the music that was right for that occasion, be that a dance evening, a wedding or a funeral.

 In the third semester of the NoFo-studies came a turning point. That’s when I really started to be comfortable with the label Artist (for myself) and Art (for my music) and that created a great feeling of freedom: If what I’m doing is art, and I am an artist, then I can do whatever I like. I don’t have to feel constrained by the idea of tradition and ‘traditional playing’. Not that I dismiss the idea of tradition and traditional playing as a source of artistic knowledge, inspiration and material, but rather than seeing it as goal I started using it as a spring board, a point of departure. In the end, this left me with a completely new feeling of freedom in my playing. For me, the shift from Function to Art was what I needed to free myself from some of my inner limitations.

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.

Art = Freedom (function/art within myself)

 “For me, the movement from Function to Art was what I needed to free myself from some of my inner limitations.” From: The Beginning

In my notebook, I find this, from October 2013: “If I become more artistic – does that mean that I’m moving away from my roots, from the amateur community that I still strongly identify with? And if so: why? And what do I get instead?”

The answer I give myself is that I get freedom. In me, Art and Freedom means very much the same thing. What I experienced when I started thinking about myself as an artist, was an increased freedom. I would allow myself to do new things, to make musical experiments that I didn’t dare to do before. I started playing music in new ways and I started thinking of music in new ways. And when I realised that seeing music as art increased my freedom, of course that perspective became even more interesting and appealing. As I felt it, I made huge developments, and increased my action space greatly, just by changing how I think of my own musical practice. The feeling was really powerful, like I had found the key to a new world.

At the same time, attaching the lable art to my own music created a distance between myself and my past, a distance between myself and the ameteur community where I come from. When I was making use of my art-connected freedom, I had a strong feeling of moving away from the way music is being made in the community of my past. Since I have been physically, geographically and socially removed from that community most of the time, while studying at NoFo I still don’t know anything about the long term consequences of this distanciation.

Dichotomy or Duality? (And a Whole Lot of Other Questions)

Why do I do this division between Art and Function? Does it have any meaning? Do I really need this polarization? What does it do? What does it do to me and what does it do to my art and what does it do to other people and my relationship with them? Does it help me in my development or in my understanding of the world? And is it really a dichotomy where the one excludes the other and everything has to be put in one of the categories (and hence has nothing to do with the other), or is it rather a duality, like the two sides of a Janus-mask, or the two sides of a coin?

A short answer is that I didn’t ‘do’ this division. It occurred to (or maybe in) me without me asking for it. However I accepted it and used it as a way of describing my own development. And in that way it became extremely useful. It provided me with a way of describing my past, present and future. I could put words to what was happening inside me, and it was easy to explain the connections between my changed way of thinking and how that affected my playing. As a way of describing the world around me however, I think it is rather a bit dangerous. There is a risk of projecting values to the different concepts, and then judging people for being too much of the one or the other. When I think about it, it makes a lot more sense to think about it as a duality, as two sides of the same thing. The two sides are always present, whether we want them to or not. The different aspects of them might be stronger or weaker in different contexts, but to me it makes a lot more sense to talk a bout an Art-Function Duality (like the Wave-Particle Duality of Light) rather than an Art-Function Dichotomy.

In many ways, both in my own thinking, and when I’ve been writing this text, I tend to create an oposition also between tradition and art. In the end this is not what I want to do, but in some ways I think that in order to really explore the idea of art and what it is, I have had to leave some of my older perspectives and ideas (like funciton and tradition) behind for a while. In the future, I think the two ideas will move closer to each other again, merging into a useful perspective that provides me with concepts and tools from both sides. At the moment, the idea of art for me is very much an idea of freedom.

The world of Swedish folk music – a very short, one sided, and rough description

This description does in no way give a complete picture of the Swedish folk music scene. It focuses on the amateur community and the main point is just to briefly show how the art/function-dichotomy is at work within this community (together with a lot of other Romantic ideas about music).

The Swedish folk music scene is very much a music scene with a strong culture of participating. A lot of the people involved in the scene are more concerned with playing themselves (or with dancing) than with listening to other people playing in a traditional concert setting. And when it comes to concerts, there is a great recognition of solo players who represent a body of traditional, regional, material. The ideal, for amateurs and professionals alike, is to play tunes from your own home region: there is still a very strong idea about the connection between geographical origin and musical style.

 If you can state the geographical ‘origin’ of a tune, that supposedly says all you need to know about the tune. And if you then play tunes from ‘your own’ area, you will, almost automagically, play them more or less in the right way, whereas if you play tunes from some other area you’re bound to fail. This idea gets stronger in some certain ‘high status’ areas like parts of Dalarna and Hälsingland, where you ‘should’ preferably have lived in the village for generations, to be able to play the tunes in the right way.

Another of these mystical (romantic) ideas is that the music is something you must have ‘in the blood’. And you either have it or you don’t. Even among some groups of musicians, there is little recognition of the power of practicing.

Of course these ideas are duly questioned, and most people would not agree with what I just described, but parts, and left overs, of this thinking keeps popping up everywhere and all the time, both within and outside the folk scene when talking about folk music.

In the amateur millieu there is also a great deal of scepticism towards musicians who educate themselves. Even among people who could be considered more liberal, and more open towards the educated folk musicians, their openness is often built on certain criteria. It demands that the educated musician doesn’t move to far away from what could be considered ‘real’ folk music. The music must follow recognisable patterns (e.g. 32-bar tunes with AABB-forms) and shouldn’t deviate too much from familiar tonality and harmonisation.

In general, as an educated folk musician, in the folk community, you are often acknowledged by your ability to follow in line with tradition, rather than by your ability to evolve it. If you move too far away, people might say ‘it’s good, but it’s not folk music’.* All this very much reflects the function/art dichotomy.

This whole scepticism is also often based on the idea that folk music is not something which can be taught, and especially not in the dry, sterile safeness of a music academy, but it is something which has to be lived and experienced. (For a great example of this way of thinking, read here. That blogpost also shows that this discussion seems to occur in every country where you allow the folk music to enter the educational institutions.)
Of course it is very different between different parts of the folk music world, how much these ideas are at work, and how strongly they are part of the communitys understanding of folk music and of themselves. And I have a huge respect and for the amateur community and the ideas present there; they are very much a part of my background, where I come from. Especially the power and relevance of experience is something I can hold as perfectly valid, and also an area where I used to see (academic) education as being quite problematic. However, my experiences at the Sibelius Academy, and in general what Ive learned throughout my NoFo studies, have made me realise that it is perfectly possible to learn a lot through experiencing also within the frames of education.

Of course, the experiences you can get within the frames of an Academy, and the experiences you can get outside it, are sometimes quite different. In the end the best way to learn a lot is to take part in both.

*This is very much based on my own experiences in my own local folk music community, but also on conversation with fellow students and how they are responded to in their own home communities.

Function vs. Art – in Context

 When I started to realise that my mind was shifting from thinking about folk music as Function towards thinking of folk music as Art, I believed this dichotomy was something I had built up myself and that it was something that existed only in my own head. Of course I could see signs of it also in my background, in comments from people around me etc. but my general idea was still that it existed mainly in my head. In a way, that was a good thought, because it meant that it would be easier to get rid of. I only had to make up my business with my self, I wouldn’t have to also take care of the outer world. However, I gradually realised that I am far from the first one to recognise this dichotomy (or Duality as I prefer to call it in the end): the conflict between Art Music and Functional Music.

The division between music as function and music as art is very much a division between folk/popular music and what we normally call ‘classical’ music. It is even so included in our language that another common term to refer to the latter is precisely ‘art music’. This division has not always been there though. Carl Dalhaus (1970) puts it in a historical context in his book Analysis and Value Judgment, explaining that before ca 1800 all music was ‘functional music’, music that was justified because of its genre. Music (and all other art forms as well) was recognised for its ability to fulfil the criteria (stereotypes) of whatever genre it was in: its ability to be functional. Then came the Romantic ideas of the Genius, the Artist and the Work and music would now be judged for its uniqueness and originality rather than anything else. Roughly at the same time came the idea of ‘folk music’, the genuine music of the people, and this served as a direct counterpart to the idea of art music. While art music belonged to the higher classes in society and expressed the idea of a composer-genius (and perhaps also the soloist-genius), folk music was the possession of the poor and expressed the soul of the People. Its value was in its anonymous, collective history, with unknown (and mystical/mythical) origins.

When I realised that the tension between function and art was something I had learned from the world around me, rather than something I had made up myself, I was actuallt quite relieved. It made it easier to understand myself, and it became easier to think about, and discuss, the development and change I was going through.

In many ways, the function/art dichotomy, and its folk music/art music parallel, is very present in today’s Swedish folk music scene, as are a lot of the other romantic ideas from the 19th C about folk music. For me personally, one of the most important and interesting aspects of these ideas is how they have affected the thinking of the amateur community, which makes up the largest part of the world of Swedish folk music, and which forms a strong part of my own background in folk music.

Dichotomy

The whole description of Function and Art, but in a much shorter way.

Function Art/ist/
Collective/communityHistory

Amateur

Freedom within a framework

Reproducing

Comfortable

Participating

Music for the sake of a purpose

Conform

Learned through Living

IndividualFuture

Professional

Freedom to explore

Progressive

Risk taking

Performing

Music for it’s own sake

Eclectic

Learned through Education

The list could of course be built on, with opposites like lower/upper class, low/high status, local/universal, oral/written culture but I prefer not to concider the more valuing and judging aspects of the dichotomy.

Constructing this dichotomy lead me to asking a lot of questions.

Do I really need this polarization? What does it do? What does it do to me and what does it do to my art and what does it do to other people and my relationship with them?

In trying to answer these questions, I ended up forming a Duality instead, to create a synthesis of the two different approaches to music. In most places in the text however, I write dichotomy, mostly since that is how I feel that it is most ofthen thought to be.

Archaic aesthetics and the concept of Art

The irony.

 Archaic aesthetics is in many ways one big questioning of ‘the Artwork’ as a closed, defined unit, and thus a questioning of Art as we know it. Archaic music and archaic aesthetics is built on completely different principles than the ones we use to define Art. In fact, they are much closer to the ideas of functional music, music which is more about principles and concepts than about the Work of Art. And still, I strongly associate the archaic ideas with (folk) music as an art form. I could even go as far as saying that beginning to understand archaic aesthetics was an essential part in understanding what folk music as Art could be.

Oh, the irony.

Art

The definition of Art is a difficult one, something which has been subject to quite a few dissertations on its own. As I said, I am not after a perfect and water proof definition of Art, but rather I’m looking into what does Art mean to me. What connotations do I give the word, what meaning does it have to me. In the end it is a very powerful word, that in the end changed a lot of my thinking about myself and my music making. So what do I put in to it?

 When I think about it, I have had a tendency to favour the aspects of Art that easily could be considered positive.

Art for me means freedom. It means doing crazy and weird things. It is a perspective, a process and a way of thinking, rather than a result or a concrete object. It is a way of thinking that allows me to do whatever I like. A way of thinking that allows me to trust myself, and trust that what I do is Art. It means crossing my own boundaries, breaking my own limitations – techical and mental. Art is exploring. It means following a very personal and individual path, trusting your own judgement. It means leaving the comfort zone, moving into the unknown, away from the answers provided by following someone else’s path. It means unlimited space to fill up. Art means asking questions. Art means creating connections between things that were thought or concidered to be separated. It means diversity, it means communication, it means letting out the inner voices. It means feelings.

I have tended to think less about the more (in my opinion) problematic aspects of art:
that it creates a division between performer/creator and audience. That it is elitistic, a concept that is strongly associated with the (male, white) genius, high status and upper class.

I have also conciously chosen not to define Art in any strict way. I am aware that there are incoherent and paradoxal thinking in what is written here, in how I describe Art. But what is important to me is not to have an exact definition of Art, what it is and what it isn’t. What is important to me is just the experience, that when I started to think of myself as art, and my practice as an artistic practice, I experienced increased freedom and increased space within which I could work.

Together with Function art can be said to make up a Dichotomy. Or rather: a duality.