Music-self integration

(This text is partly built on a reflection over Free Play and In I Musiken, written autumn 2011 for the FFK-course @ KMH with Sven Åberg.)

Experience is a key in creating a strong music-self integration. I have no knowledge of the psychological or cognitive factors involved in this, and the term is completely my own (though I would be surprised if no-one else has had similar thoughts) and I don’t make any claims that this has got any scientific value. It is, however, slightly based on reflections done after reading Free Play and Into the Music (In i musiken).

Autum 2011, early in the NoFo education I wrote this text for a course we did in Stockholm with Sven Åberg. (Translated spring 2013.)

I’ll try to do a small summary of my own development over the last years, with special regards to music and consciousness.

When I decided to go down the path of professional music making, it was mainly because I experienced that the Music gave me experiences I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was not about a feeling that ‘music is everything to me’ or ‘I have to express myself through music in order to survive’, but at the times when I was making music, especially with others, I could get a feeling of content, peace and satisfaction. Sometimes I would enter the world of music completetly, forgetting everything about time and space, sometimes it was just a comfortable feeling of connection and a strong sense of context.

Since I started studying music, these moments have actually become less frequent. There is more focus on the craft, on developing technique, style, expression etc. And the moments when music really captures me has become less common, and they never occur within the frames of education, but always outside it.

I have been interested in, and spent a lot of energy on acquiring various musics, styles etc, and much less energy on (consciously) developing my general relationship with music and my instrument.

But I have also started thinking a lot more. When I now have re-read the both books (Free Play and Into the Music) I realise that some of the thoughts they contain is stuff that has been present in a latent mode, below the surface, since I read them last time (which was before I started studying at Music Academy). They contain many thoughts that has helped me along the way, above all with getting a grip on the education as a whole (since I often experience music education to be very fragmented).

I experience that there is a long way to go before I reach ‘nirvana’ through music, but over the last years, I have been thinking more and more about how my musicianship affects other sides of life, and how it would be possible to use some sort of ‘spiritual’ development, to also become a better musician.

I’m on my way back to a state of being where music actually gives me transcending experiences, even if it’s a slow process.

At the same time: Does one have to have experienced nirvana to be a full-fledged musician? Is it first then, that music becomes divine? And does the music has to be divine? Always? Everywhere? Could it not just get to be some simple dance music sometimes? Or something which is in the background when you’re eating dinner or washing up?

Now, about a year and a half later, a lot of these thoughts are still relevent, but I have also moved on a bit. To begin with, it is no longer true that I haven’t had any transcending or capturing moments of music making within the frames of education. I would still say that there is something in the imperative of the education, that doesn’t help towards creating a good environment for music making. Something which, most of the time, limits the engagement of most people, limits how much of themselves they actually put into the music making. But during NoFo I have experienced capturing and transcending moments of music making, also within the frame of education.

But more importantly, I have been thinking more about, and also experiencing some aspects of, the connections between the music and the self, the ‘inner’ aspects of music making. And I am even more convinced now, that there is something to gain from developing the ‘spiritual’ side of myself, to develop as a musician. A strong, open and relaxed mind, confident and in contact with itself and in contact with the body, is a good start for making music. For me, there is actually a strong link here to the power of experience, which for me is an idea that in the end is about how body and mind gets connected. And since music making, in the end, is a physical activity (since it involves, and depends on, movement of the body, at least when playing the violin) that aims to express somtehing that begins in the mind, I feel it really helps to have a good mind/body connection.

Music/self, mind/body, feelings/movements. It seems to me like a perspective that is based on the whole, rather than splitting things up into pieces, is beneficial.

The two books, Free Play and Into the Music, has been very influential for me. I’ve read them at least twice each, at different stages in my musical development and education, and I always read them differently, relate to them in different ways. Apart from inspiring me to a lot of the thoughts presented in this text, they have also been very influential in leading me to the belief that ideas, however abstract and far fetched (in relation to music), have direct impact on how you make music, and what kind of music you are making.

Method for writing (method for processing knowledge)

Writing this thesis is very much a matter of processing the knowledge that I have gained during my two years of master studies. To do this, I have had great help from making notes, in lessons, when practicing, when traveling or just any other time when I have needed to put my thoughts down in words to make sense of them, or just to see them in text. This thesis builds very much on these notes. I have also had great help from reading books, both fiction and non-fiction. I have tried to list all the influential texts here.

I have also learned about the importance of making thoughts possible. Gradually I began to realise that my thinking and reflecting worked better sometimes and in some places, and not so well other times and in other places. When I realised this, I started making use of it, which for one thing led me to making sure that I get some moments of solitude every now and then, since that seems to be necessary for me to gather my thoughts and understand my situation.

While working with this thesis, I have been writing more or less simultaneously on lots of different parts. Instead of following a straight line of thought, I have allowed my writing to go in the direction that my thoughts lead me. I have been adding bits and pieces under various headings, constantly starting new paragraphs while trying to capture my thoughts. After a while I realised that this probably reflected how the knowledge was organized in me, and in the end that lead to the creation of this hypertext thesis.

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.

I väntan på Krilon

The story behind the tune.

Some time before I started my studies at NoFo I read a trilogy of novels by the Swedish author Eyvind Johnsson, called ‘the Krilon trilogy’. The were written and published 1941-1943 and in short, they form an allegory about the small (good) man’s fight against the evil in the world. Krilon is fighting a sort of war on his own, against evil powers who turn his friends against him. And he never loses his faith in man, and he never stops believing in the power of words and the power of being human towards each other. I got really inspired by the books, and the main character, Krilon, became some sort of hero for me.

 The composing

After a while I thought I wanted to compose a tune in honour of Krilon, and I gradually worked out an idea for what kind of tune it should be. I had the image of Krilon being a quite short and sturdy, with a good heart and a gentle mind, though a bit stubborn. In the end I thought I would capture that in the shape of a schottis in g minor.

This idea was growing ans slowly developing in my head for quite some time, and then one day in Helsinki I sat down to compose it. Since I had this quite strong idea about what I was aiming for, I thought it would be quite easy, and to begin with it was. To reflect the stubbornness of Krilon I wanted an ostinato to go underneath the tune and that came to my mind quite fast.

Krilon ostinato

I recorded the ostinato on my Zoom H2, created a loop of it and started to play on top of it.Out came a tune, but not at all the tune I was aiming for.

When I realised what had happened, the tune got its name quite naturally: Waiting for Krilon (Swe: I väntan på Krilon).*

More story

After composing the tune, I tried to describe what is in it:

“Krilon represents the good in mankind. Not because he is without faults or in any way perfect, but because he is always striving and believing. He believes in the good in humans; he helps them being good just by believing in them. He is the one that forgives us when we do wrong and who guides us to road we really want to walk. And it’s not about religion, about any god or salvation. It is plain damn human compassion. Krilon is the friend who is there when we need him.

And so we are waiting for him. It is a waiting full of hope, but also a waiting filled with reflection, thoughts about our faults and failures, but filled with hope, trust and belief in ourselves.

Krilon is the honesty, openness and trust we need in our lives. The tenderness, sensitivity and firmness.”

This has developed over time, as we have been playing it live and I have been telling parts of the story to the audience. I am still searching for the best way to describe the story behind the tune, the story of Krilon, and why he is such an inspiration, but for each concert I think I’m getting a bit closer.

Playing the tune

The tune is interesting, since I think it’s the first time that I’ve composed a tune that is so obviously a tune for listening. And it provided a good challenge for me, since I really had to work with other aspects of music than I was used to. First of all, I got to play lead throughout the whole first half of the arrangement, and most of the time being the only one playing the melody. This in itself was quite new to me, since I tend to play a lot of harmonies, second voices and accompaniment otherwise. Gradually, I also began to understand that this type of tune, which doesn’t build on a dance groove, but rather on long melodic phrases, demands a completely different approach to playing it. Had it been a year earlier, I think I wouldn’t have dared to play the tune, thinking my playing wasn’t good enough for this kind of tunes, but now I thought it to be a good challenge.

Still, having played it now for about half a year, I still feel I am very much in the beginning of understanding how to do it justice and I still feel there are a lot of things I need to develop and work with. Tone is probably the main thing, since I am not too happy with my tone on the fiddle, especially not in the higher registers. Intonation is another aspect which I also need to work a lot with.

However, this kind of tunes does not only provide demands and challenges, but also possibilities. Having the constant, steady, ostinato going underneath, the beat of Time as we like to think of it, there is a lot of freedom to really shape and stretch the phrases, dynamically as well with the timing. When it works, I get the feeling of floating, being carried by the others in the band.

Video from a performance during the Nordtrad Conference in Vilnius, april 2013

*Those familiar with 20th C literature will easily understand where I got the inspiration for the title.