Heikki Laitinen

During my NoFo-studies, no other person has managed to present so many interesting, inspiring and thought provoking ideas in so little time, as Heikki Laitinen did in our ca 90 minutes seminar in Helsinki.
For me, Heikki is more than just a real person. He has become an icon, a bearer of some key concepts or ideas that I find inspiring and interesting. And to be honest, some of the ideas that I ascribe to him, actually doesn’t origin from that seminar, and were actually not presented by him at all, but by other people (sometimes, but definitely not always, refering to him). I am less concerned with the living person Heikki Laitinen, even if I find it incredibly inspiring to know that he exists and to know that these ideas actually can become real music: for me it is the Idea of Heikki, the Heikki that exists in my head, that is important.

I don’t really care what ideas came from him, and what came from other people, and what comes from myself. Heikki Laitinen represents a state of mind, a vision, and an approach to music making and folk music. For me, he is the free-thinker, the one that spurs development; inspiration and development incorporated. It might sound very much like old-fashioned adoring of a (old, white, male) genius but I don’t think of it that way. As I said, Heikki Laitinen in this way is not a person, but an idea. The idea of possibility, inspiration and questioning of conventions. And the inspiration lies as much in what I know that other people (like Kristiina Ilmonen, Kimmo Pohjonen, Trepaanit and others) has done with these ideas, as it does in the ideas themselves.

Tradition

Prelude

In the autumn 2012 I wrote:

Searching through old manuscripts, there is plenty of evidence that music and musicians have always travelled and moved around. As I’ve been travelling in Europe, meeting musicians and music from different traditions, I’ve found a lot of inspiration seeing how many similarities there are between different cultures. I try to steal the best ideas from every person and tradition I meet, and incorporate that in my music. That’s my way of extending the meaning of tradition.

 I thought it would be good to add some lines to this thesis about my thoughts about tradition. It is difficult, since it’s a complex concept and it is a word which is being used extremely much within the folk music world, but with so many different meanings and definitions

———–

When I was studying at Malungs Folkhögskola with Jonny Soling, I asked him about his thoughts on tradition. What is it and how should we relate to it? The thing I remember most clearly from his answer is that “tradition is often being used as a hammer to beat someone else’s head”. There are so many things present in this short answer.

 Tradition is, within the world of folk music, a word of power and status. To have (know, be) the tradition is to have status and power. When people tell someone else that ‘that’s not tradition/al/’, that is saying ‘I know more than you do’, ‘I know how it should be’ and ‘I have the authority to tell you what is right’ all in one sentence.

Still, it often seems like there is no common definition of what tradition is, what we mean when we say tradition, what we include and what we exclude.

 For me, the most problematic aspect I think, is that we often tend to use the word traditional when we really mean historical or historically informed (as in Historcially Informed Praxis, the idea behind the modern day playing of what is called ‘early music’). But tradition to me is not something that exists in the past. Tradition is something that exists today and is moving forward. Tradition is moving, living, evolving culture. I like to think of tradition as a verb in present tense (heading for the future), rather than a (historical, fixed, defined) noun.

Another way of expressing it is a quote I also found somewhere in my notes:

“Tradition is keeping the fire burning, not worshipping the ashes”. (Google kindly informed me that it supposedly comes from Gustav Mahler.)

 I try to use the notion of tradition as a source of inspiration. As such it is easy to connect it with the idea of archaic music: if music is memory based, what does that do with tradition? And what inspiration can we find through thinking the music 1000 years back in history? And what if we think about the music 100 or 1000 years into the future? What ideas do we get from that? But tradition can be inspiring in so many ways. When I think of the music of Skåne, I get inspiration to ‘new’ ways of interpreting tunes, when I search for a more traditional (in the sense of historical) way of playing them. If the dancing and playing of some sertain tune type, like kadrilj or engelska hadn’t died out more or less completely before it was being revived in the 20th C. what would the music have sounded like today then? And what would the dancing have looked like?

 In the end, I don’t have a good definition of tradition. It is a word I think about a lot, it is an idea I am constantly relating when I am doing folk music, it is an important part of some of the ideas I have presented in this thesis. Even so, I am constantly revising what I think of it, how I use it, what I think about it and how important it is to me.

Skåne

The idea of Skåne is probably one of the concepts I’ve been using the longest time in my music making. In its simplest, original, form it is just about playing the tunes from the area of Skåne, which is something I’ve been doing throughout my musical life.. The idea has developed and grown more complex through time though. Some ten years ago I started searching through manuscripts and music books myself, to find ‘new’ (i.e. old tunes that are not in use within the folk scene at the moment) tunes I began to realise the problems that occur when you are to create an interpretation of a tune, based on a written source. The idea got even more complex when began questioning the contemporary (20th/21st C.) style of playing these tunes.

When looking through available transcriptions of older players (a lot of them made in the 1880’s) and texts describing their style, it is obvious that there was extensive use of microtonality and a lot of rhythmical variations and details that transcend the (imaginary) evenness of the regular quavers or semi-quavers you find in written music. However this has been very little explored and used by contemporary players of that repertoire. Rather, the main style is quite straight, and in my opinion there is not really any of the key players who make (or have made) conscious use of microtonality. (This doesn’t mean that then necessarily play with even-tempered intonation, but that’s a different question.) And so I’ve made it a task of mine to try to bring those elements back in use when playing the tunes from Skåne, which is the tunes that I’ve grown up with, and consider to be my repertoire.*

I haven’t done any proper research into they question, but I believe a lot of the explanation is to be found by looking into the fact that some of the key players in the first folk music revival, in the first half of the 20th C. came from a background in classical music, and either way had adopted the musical ideals of the classical world. Another part of it may be that Skåne is a region where the older layers of repertoire (e.g. polskas) had gone out of playing, before the majority of field recordings were made. Thus today’s playing of polskas (which, in Skåne just like in the rest of Sweden, is considered to be the tune type with the highest status, the most ‘genuine’ tune type within folk music) is based more on what is found in manuscripts, rather than repertoire learned from recordings, and in most of the manuscripts there is no information about rhythmical or intonational details.

On a greater level, the idea of Skåne is one concerned with identity, tradition, the history of Swedish folk music and the mystical/mythical connection between geography and style (discussed here). By playing the tunes from the region where I was born and still live, I fulfill many of the stereotypes of Swedish folk music, which I sometimes find a bit problematic, as many of them build on ideas I don’t believe in, or want to question.

On the other hand, it makes it easy to explore and get inspired by some of the ideas contained within these stereotypes. Like the connection between landscape and musical expression. I don’t really think this connection exists in an ‘objective’ sense, but the idea can be used for inspiration. What happens if I let my playing reflect the landscape around me? What does it mean for the music?

By fulfilling the stereotype (playing the tunes from my own region), and at the same time questioning the praxis for how it is being carried out (in this case by playing around with intonation and rhythmical details), I can get the best out of two worlds. I maintain my musical integrity and can still get accepted by the community. This is not an outspoken or thought-through strategy of mine but I think the image is not too far from the truth anyway.

*Sometimes this results in comments from the local folk music community about anti-social playing style, or that microtonality (‘quarter tones’) is something that doesn’t belong in the music of southern Sweden. When it comes to the ‘historical correctness’ of using microtones in southern repertoire, I could prove the critics wrong by quoting for instance the transcriptions of Lorens Brolin, Ola Lans and Jöns Andersson Ryberg (all found in Svenska Låtar Skåne, together with descriptions of their use of varying intonation/tonality). The critique about anti-social playing style is a bit different. It becomes a matter of individual vs. community and performing culture vs. participating culture. An example of the function/art-dichotomy at work.

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 my artistic research (method for development)

The overall work I’ve been doing during my Master studies can be described as Artistic Research. In this work, I have used several different methods. Some very conciously chosen to aid development, some chosen just out of curiousity, and some not even considered a method until I look back at them in retrospect. Some of the methods are described in this thesis, like how I’ve been using playing and the body to move outside my comfort zone. Or how the contrast between text and music (concrete and abstract) provokes me, forces me to think and in the end also develops me. There is also a section on how I have been using ideas and concepts like origin, tradition, archaic music and the thought that there are no tunes as a source of inspiration.

During my studies I have also had great help from discussing with teachers, friends and colleagues, who have provided new perspectives and asked useful questions. I have also received a lot of inspiration from reading books and listening to music. Writing lots of notes has also helped me in processing information, reflecting and taking care of ideas. This has been helpful both in my artistic research and when processing my development.

Ideas

As a starting point for artistic development I have often used ideas or concepts (some people would maybe call it images, but for me that is a slightly different things). Sometimes the ideas are closely connected with, or obviously applicable to, music; sometimes they are more abstract. For me, an idea is expressed in words. If it is not expressed in words, I tend to think of it more as a feeling. And the tension (frustration) that exists between the words of the ideas, and the sound of the music is something that drives the development.

Still, I think that musical structure/form and setting may be used to reflect certain ideas about music and the world. Individual/group, horizontal/vertical development, tunes/no tunes, instrumental hierarchies etc. are just a few features that can be meddled with, to create different messages and let different meanings come forth through music.

I will try to describe some of the ideas or concepts I have been using, and how they have affected the music. This includes the idea of Skåne and how it relates to concepts of tradition and origin, my understanding of the philosophy of archaic music, and the idea that there are no tunes.

There are no tunes (there is only inspiration)

 Probably the idea that has provoked my thinking the most since I first heard about it, is the thought that there are no tunes. The idea was presented to us in a seminar with Heikki Laitinen while we studied ad SibA and when I first heard of it, I thought it was really disturbing. The Tune, I would say, is at the heart of Swedish folk music. I have grown up learning tunes, with teachers who have been telling me that the only important thing is the tune: we don’t need arrangements or harmonies or fancy concert clothes or anything else, as long as we have the tune and do it justice by playing well. (In a larger perspective, of course, this reflects the romantic idea of the Work.)

The idea itself is fairly simple. The tune as we know it, is an artefact without that has no (historical) validation. There simply are no tunes. There might be ideas for tunes, themes, structures, dance types etc. But the closed, defined, entity which is an A-part like this and a B-part like this and you repeat them over and over again (perhaps with small variations, but always staying true to the tune) is a falsification invented by 19th/20th C. thinking.

When I started to think about it, the idea intrigued me and I found it fascinating. Of course, I thought a bit about whether it had historical accuracy or not. (And when talking with Swedish folk music historian Magnus Gustafsson, he greatly questioned the idea of discarding the tune as an entity, but did approve of some of the implications the idea has.)
But in the end the historical (lack of?) correctness of the idea didn’t matter to me. I found the idea interesting and inspiring, I wanted to understand it and I wanted to understand how that idea could affect my playing. If there are no tunes, what can we then do with the material found in old manuscript books? If I discard the idea of a tune, but rather treat the notes as a suggestion, an idea, what happens when I play the ‘tunes’ I already know? What can I do with them? The more I thought about it, the more inspiring I found it, and the more I began to get ideas of how to turn the idea into music. It opened up doors to completely new ways of treating old material. New ways of interpreting old manuscripts and the material found there.

A lot of the methods I have been using when exploring this idea are found in the text about archaic music. In Finland they make a distinction between pellimanni music and archaic music, where the pellimanni (swe: spelman, eng: fiddler/(folk) musician) music roughly corresponds to what is called folk music in Sweden and the rest of the Nordic countries. (Denmark has a more anglified definition of folk music, including also singer/songwriter type of music (visesang), but that is again another discussion.) And it is in the tension field between archaic music and the thinking that surrounds it, and pellimanni music, that I have worked the most with the idea that there are no tunes.

My quest is to try to understand how this idea can be turned into music, if I use the pellimanni repertoire of Skåne that I’ve been playing all my life. In trying to connect the methods and features of archaic music with the pellimanni music, I have found great inspiration in Polish folk (mainly the mazurek- and oberek tradition of the Mazovia region) music and in the hardingfele repertoire from Norway. Both these traditions have similarities with both pellimanni music and archaic music, both when it comes to how the tunes are made up, and how they are being treated by the musicians. In the end, I feel that this is still very much work in progress. It is fascinating, but also frustrating and annoying to find that this ‘simple’ idea, that ‘there are no tunes’, is so difficult for me to turn into musical praxis.

To try to understand the idea, and get closer to it, I have made a lot of experiments with trying to dissolve the tunes while playing them. One method has been making variations with the method I described under archaic music. Another one has been to start with playing just a single note, and then gradually adding notes, rhythms etc. to slowly get closer to ‘the tune’ but often never really getting there.

Something I haven’t done very much yet, but intend to work more with in the future, is to treat the tunes according to principles of modal music. Somehow I feel that my sense of a ‘tune’ is very connected to my perception of (Swedish) folk music as mainly being structured according to harmonic principles. If I could find a more modal approach to playing the tunes, I think that would bring me closer to a world where there are no tunes.

I don’t know how fruitful these experiments have been, and I don’t know how good they actually are, if the aim is to understand what it means that there are no tunes, but at least it has been interesting, and resulted in some music that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

One of the reasons why I have to struggle so much with really understanding the idea, and how to make music from it, is that tune as idea and entity is so strong within me. It is what I have grown up with and it is what I have been taught throughout my musical life. This new way of approaching music is based on completely different concepts of what music is, and I suppose it takes some work and time, to get that idea incorporated in my playing. It probably doesn’t help either that this idea also contradicts conventional thinking about music in western society.

[As soon as I get hold of the recordings here will come a musical example from the exam concert in May 2013, of what kind of music all these ideas have resulted in.]

Meta

My thinking about this idea is also interesting on a meta-level. One of the things that occupy me, and that puzzles me as an artist, is how to incorporate theoretical ideas into musical practice. This is a very concrete example of how it can be done. Of course, this is something which is based on an idea which is already about music, but it has other implications (about originality for instance, and the right of the artist, any artist, to make their own decisions) and it is possible to derive ideas about the world in general from it, the same way that it would be possible to derive the no-tunes idea from ideas about society and the world.
For me, this question illustrates very well the possibilities and power of combining musical practice and theoretical ideas, and through that, I find it very inspiring not only for the music that can be created straight from the idea itself, but from all the other music it suggests could be created from other ideas.

Postlude

The idea that there are no tunes is for me deeply connected with the whole way of thinking at the KaMu-department at SibA. It seems to me that it is at the root of much of the artistic work that is carried out by teachers as well as present and former students. For example I put this idea together with the concept of “the three-day wedding musician” (first presented to me by harmonica player Jouko Kyhälä at a seminar during the Nordtrad conference in Helsinki april 2012): In order to be able to play for dancing for three days in a row, the musician didn’t actually (or necessarily) have a repertoire that covered that much material, but instead had concepts for tunes, musical skeletons and themes that were used for variation and to create “new” “tunes” on the spot.

Duo with Benjamin

In our term concert in Helsinki, me and Benjamin were doing a duo. Early on when we started practicing for it, we decided that we wanted to somehow show that we both had been exploring the idea of archaic music. We started doing collective improvisations, sometimes setting up simple rules and sometimes without rules. In the end, we decided to play with the one rule that there should emerge some sort of theme sooner or later. This is the result:

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.

Phrases in Space and Phrases in Time

Excercises done under the supervision of Giorgio Convertito in the Masteriakatemia course @ Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, autumn 2013

Warm up:

Lay down on the floor, breath normally, close your eyes and just let the body relax. Feel the floor against your body. Where is contact, where is space? Go through all parts of the body in your mind, and feel them, feel how they are. If there is some parts of the body that doesn’t feel so good, places where there is pain , tension or ache, try to project the breathing there, like a beam of light and heat.

Slowly, beginning with the toes, start moving your body. Make believe that you’re floating in water, that the body is being carried by the water rather than by your own muscles. Go on with feet. Knees and lower legs. Thighs and hips. Your body is floating in water, the air is carrying it so you and providing just a tiny bit of resistance, just like water.

Then start with fingers, hands, arms, shoulders in the same way.

Open your eyes if you like.

Start moving your whole body. You’re still floating, like in water. Rocking, wabbling, stretching. Laying down, sitting up, standing up. Walking.

To end: stand. Feel the balance in your feet. Where is your wheight? Loosen up the ancle joint, knees, hips. Feel that your wheight is always shifting a little. You’re balancing, not fixed. You breathe and you move, even if you’re just standing.

Phrases (group exercise), very rough description:

Let each part of the exercise take time. A lot of time. The whole process can be divided into several sessions.

Create phrases in space. Phrases can mean small or big movements, positions, or changes in positions.

Explore them. What happens if you move them to a different place in the room? What happens if you change the level of them, if they are high or low, big or small?

Explore.

Pick up someone else’s phrase.

Explore the memory of the room. If a phrase has existed in one part of the room, it leaves a trace there, a memory. How can you explore the memory of someone else’s phrase. Or the memory of your own phrase?

When a phrase moves through the space it leaves a trace along the trajectory. Explore the trajectory. Your own. Someone else’s.

Always: Follow the phrases. The end point is present already in your starting position. The end is present in the beginning. When you throw something you can always tell where it is going to land.

Comment: This whole thing might sound very weird, strange and far fetched. Especially the idea of the memory of the space and the traces of phrases. However, my experience (and I have a background with a very square science-based approach to understanding the world) is that if you just accept these premises and ideas, they make great sense and the whole exercise becomes very useful for developing a sense of phrase and understanding various aspects of phrase, development, division of space (or time). Furthermore it becomes a great example of the benefits of inter-disciplinary collaboration within the arts.