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.

Body as method

When asked about how the movement from function towards art had been done I realised that bodily experiments had been an important part in the process. In general there has been a synergy between several different processes that has worked paralell, all involved with breaking my learned patterns and expanding my action space within music, expanding my personal stage. A lot of this took part during the semester in Helsinki, even if it had been started during the preceding semesters in Stockholm and Odense.

I started to play [include hyperlink to text about playing] with the instrument, experimenting with what sounds I could get out of it but I also started to play with my body and with my voice. And I think it was very important as an opener for me, that I got bodified experiences of my increased personal stage to aid me in using that also when I was playing the fiddle.

A lot of it started in Kunkkula and the Kandiakatemia week we had there, quite early in the semester.

The week provided musical-physical inspiration in many ways

  • Starting every day with yoga-like excercises, creating a physical state of being that very obviously improved my ability to work, create and develop.

  • Doing contact improvisation – which is also something I had been doing a bit of before, but not in a context that created such an obvious connection with musical activities.

  • Doing various forms of physical/body/dance-improvisation, that always showed very clear paralells to different aspects of music.

  • Doing voice/body-sound improvisation.

  • Just being surrounded by other people who did ‘weird’ stuff with their bodies and voices also served as an inspiration.

Among other things, that week resulted in the physical experiment described shortly here.

I also got further input (lessons) the that gave a lot of physical experience, especially within the masteriakatemia course. We had quite a few hours with a dancer (Giorgio Convertito) who provided the idea that dancing/movement and music/sound is different aspects of the same thing. Where musicians are concerned about organizing and making impact on time, dancers are concerned with space, but in the end it is the same thing. Phrases in space and phrases in time are different expressions of the same thing, and time and space is the same thing. These lessons provided a very interesting perspective on how the body can be used to develop various aspects of music (e.g. phrases) without using the instrument.

After the week in Kunkkula, and spurred further by the Masteriakatemia lessons, I continued using my body as a tool for development on my own. I gave time to starting the days with various forms of body warm up and I used body/movement-improvisation as a way of opening up body and mind. All this ended up with the idea that by challenging my body’s habits, I can move outside my normal boundaries, my comfort zone, and this gives experience that I can use in my playing as well. For me this became a method of approaching the Art. This is also something I intend to explore more, and definitely something I will make use of more in my future musicianship.

Embodying Knowledge – the Power of Experience

One of the major things I’ve experienced during my NoFo-studies is the power that lies in embodying knowledge (See Mark Johnson Embodied Knowing Through Art in Research in the Arts, Ed. M. Biggs & H. Karlsson). How physical experiences affect my thinking and my feeling and thus influences my (artistic) possibilities. Having experienced things like what we did in Kunkkula (walking 50 meters in one hour) has deeply affected me as a person and as an artist. Furthermore it has also introduced me to a new way of artistic development work. While I’ve previously seen eexercising (conscious repetition of certain exercises, patterns, passages etc.) as the main way to improve myself as an artist and a musician, I now see experiencing as another means, by which it is possible to improve my skills and abilities. For me, the main difference is that while exercising demands numerous repetitions (with gradual development) of the same exercises, experiencing doesn’t need to involve repetition in the same way. Experiencing offers a strong and direct effect and makes an instant difference, even if it sometimes takes some time to digest the experience, and really understand the implications and effects of it. With experience, the major difference is between before and after, between not-having and having the experience. Between having not having done something, and having done it. With exercising the effect comes with time, gradually. With experience, the important thing is not how experienced you are, but that you are at all experienced. Having done something once means the knowledge about it is actually in your body. In this sense experience becomes body instantly, experience is embodied knowledge. This also means that doing something (e.g. music) becomes a way of thinking about it, and more so than talking about it would be. The act of doing becomes a cognitive act.

Repetition in itself, can of course also be a kind of experience. Playing the same tune 200 times in a row is a very different experience from just playing it 20 times, or twice. Playing without stopping for one hour is also a very different experience from having one hour of effective playing time spread out over an hour and a half.

Another aspect of experiencing is that (at least in my experience) its effects are much more unpredictable than the effects of exercising. Of course (good) practicing also gives (side) effects that you can never predict, but at the heart of exercising is the prediction: ‘I am doing this because I want to develop that.’ By contrast Experience offers ‘I am doing this to see what happens’. Exercise is guided by specific ideas about what areas (in your playing) to develop (e.g. specific technical aspects of playing, a specific melody or passage etc.), whereas creating experiences is guided by a general curiosity, or in some cases an idea, but a much wider one, about what to deal with (fear, for instance).

The drastic and direct effect of experiencing can of course not replace exercising, but it is a powerful complement that offers other possibilities for development. If nothing else, using experience as a method for musical development is a way of strengthening the music/self-integration.


Body is experience is body is experience or doing is thinking
I have found that many times there is a great difference between having done something, and not having done it. The important thing is not how experienced you are, but that you are at all experienced. Having done something once means the knowledge about it is actually in your body. In this sense experience becomes body instantly, experience is bodified knowledge. This also means that doing something (e.g. music) becomes a way of thinking about it, and more so than talking about it would be. The act of doing becomes a cognitive act.

Thoughts after finishing reading Cook: Music, Imagination, Culture
From a letter to a friend:

“[…]musicology and music analysis […] has got very little to do with how we actually listen to music and what it does with us as humans. I often tend to use books and reading as a way to understand the world around me. Somehow I want to think that ‘all’ I need to know is to be found in books (and hence in the thinking of other people). There was something in this book that made me think that there is no point in reading about people’s theories about this and that (in music). The only thing there is, is experiencing, reflecting and developing, all based on my own very subjective perception and closely connected with intuition.
 And probably that goes for life as well, even if I still believe that there is a lot to learn about life and what it means to live as a human being through reading novels.”
The book itself ends with a conclusion pretty much similar to this video:

Walking 50 meters in one Hour

(Originally posted here, 29 sept 2012)

As Benjamin wrote we’ve been to Kallio-Kuninkala for a week of improvisation together with a group of other students from the Sibelius Academy.

The surface level of what’s happened is fairly easy to describe. Lots of improvisation and contact exercises, exploring ourselves, the others, the group. A process of opening up, accepting, meeting, searching. Lots of strange stuff going on. People screaming or standing silent, crawling on the floor or on each other, running around, standing still, moving s l o w l y, making strange sounds with their instruments and voices, going on and off stage and in and out of rooms, creating beautiful music and soundscapes and horrible music and sounds. Talking about what we do, feel, think, find, experience. Sauna and party and jam sessions.

But this doesn’t really say anything about what actually happened. I’ve experienced a week of incredibly strong meetings with strong people. Opened up to others and let others in, in ways that rarely (never?) happen in everyday life. Learned about myself, life, music, artistry, focus. We have been crying, laughing, smiling, seeing. The strong feeling of being part of a group that supports you, challenges you, meets you, includes you, love you.

I tried to describe it to a friend:
love, improvisation, meetings, physical and mental exhaustion, energy, openness, happiness, time, warmth, eyes, humans, hands, bodies, moment, sounds, music, exploring, extreme, movement, contact, silence, focus, words, dissolving of time, power, non-words, sauna, food, walk, group, human, tears. 
But it probably doesn’t matter how many words I list. There will always be more to add.

Maybe another way to describe is a picture from the very end of the week: we finished with going round, looking everybody in the eyes and silently, without words, telling them what we had experienced with them, learned from them and learned about them. I ended up sitting on the floor, shaking with tears.

Another experience
The frame: a one hour collective improvised performance using the whole building.
Personal task, set by myself: to try to walk as slowly as possible, but still be constantly moving.
Result: ca 50 meters (including a set of stairs).
The tiredness after it is indescribable and had a very strong effect on my body for hours afterwards, somehow I can still feel it, two days later. I recommend everyone to try.

We’re back in Helsinki now.
Trying to digest what we’ve been through. Trying to figure out how to be in the everyday life again.
Grateful for the week that’s been.