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.

Music and its contrary?

(Originally posted here, 11 October 2012)

More and more I believe that if you want to understand something, you also need to explore the opposite of whatever it is you want to understand. And since music is about sounds, I think it’s important to explore the silence. In many ways, silence is a very rare thing in our world. And somehow also something that many people find provocative. But to me silence is necessary, not only because I need to rest my ears after hours of (loud) music making, but to be able to understand what the sounds we produce actually do with us. What difference they make in the sonic landscape.

I will probably come back to this at a later time. In general, this semester has produced lots of new thoughts, pushed my mind in new directions, and I’m only gradually finding out where I am or where I’m going. Sometimes it’s good with thoughts from people who’s been in the game a bit longer:

(Thanks to Suvi for directing me to this video)

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.

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.

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.

Archaic Music/Long Aesthetics

Early on when we began studying in Finland, we were introduced to the idea of Archaic music and long aesthetics. I was puzzled by it and it really took some time for me to begin to grasp what it is.

It was fascinating, to realise that there is a type of music, a musical universe, that somehow sounds so familiar and yet so strange. It was there, and that I liked the sound of it, but I didn’t understand anything of it. That provided a challenge that was very intriguing. I wanted to understand, wanted to grasp it, and wanted to try to make music on an archaic basis.

This is very much still a concept, an approach, an aesthetics, that I’m in the process of learning and understanding. This text is an attempt to describe how I understand it today, and how I’ve been using it so far.

 In short, archaic music can be described as music building on the oldest layers of Finnish traditional/historical material. Common features are short repetitive phrases, a limited tonal material, persistent repetition with constant, small-scale, variation, improvisation and an aesthetic built on slow development over long time. The ‘Tune’ as we know it, is not really present in archaic music: melodies are not considered to be defined, closed units, but rather starting points for music making, variation and improvisation. The slow development and long time perspectives creates both possibilities and challenges. The musical dramaturgy as we’re used to it gets dissolved and a completely different musical world emerges.

The performance praxis is based both on factual knowledge about how these tunes and songs have been performed in the past, and by ideas developed today. As I have understood it, a lot of today’s playing of archaic music is heavily influenced by the thinking (and music making) of Heikki Laitinen.

Another aspect of archaic music is how it relates to the development of music over a long period of time. What does it mean that we today play music that has its roots thousands of years back in history? And if we ask about the history, then why not ask what this music will sound like a thousand years into the future from now, as well? What does it mean to play music in a culture which is memory based and orally transmitted over thousands of years? Finnish language only existed as an oral language until the middle ages, the music was probably mainly memory based even longer than that, so the question is very relevant if we want to understand the music in a historic/cultural context. These thoughts and questions are very integrated in the idea of archaic music: to me they were completely new, and opened up exciting doors to new ways of relating to music.

(Random anecdote: during my stay in Helsinki, I read a book called Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban. I got my hands on the book in a quite random way, had never heard about the author before, and didn’t know anything about the book before reading it, but it turned out to feature exactly some of these ideas.)

To get a starting point in understanding archaic music,  I was told to listen to music by Hiite, Trepaanit, Arja Kastinen, Antti Paalanen and others, and slowly, I began to grasp what archaic music can be, and what the consequences are of this long aesthetics.

As it began to grow on me, I realised that there are several aspects of archaic music that touch on ideas I’ve carried with me for a long time. With some of these, the concept of long aesthetics provided a new way of understanding and developing these ideas, and a deeper understanding for the (artistic) consequences.

 Archaic aesthetics provided a completely new approach to variation. My variations of tunes before, had been based on the idea of keeping the shape and form of the tune. Changing one note for another, maybe mirroring rhythms or melodic figures or turning scale movements into triads or the other way around. But almost always keeping with the structure of the tune, not adding beats or bars and not changing the harmonic structure.

With an archaic approach to variation the result is quite different. Instead of approaching the whole tune (or a whole part of the tune) at the same time, I will divide it into much smaller sections, maybe one or two bars, maybe even just a few beats, and then loop these elements and create small-scale variations in rhythm, note sequence etc. If it is a tune with very elaborate character (e.g. a lot of semi-quaver figures) I might also try to scale it down to a more skeletal version, before I start making variations. When I feel that I’m ‘done’ with one element I move on to the next one and do the same with that one.

Treating tunes like this, provides a completely different way of understanding them. When I’ve been doing variations in this way, I have been able to find patterns and structures in the tunes that I otherwise wouldn’t have found. I have also frequently found similarities and connections between different tunes that were hidden when I treated them in a more conventional way.

I have been using variation as a method of challenging myself, both technically and musically, but also as a way of challenging the music itself. By exploring different ways of making variations, I have challenged my own idea of where the limits of the tune are.

Another aspect of playing which is closely related to variation is improvisation. This is also an important feature in the archaic music, and making archaic improvisation has both been a way of exploring the idea of archaic music itself, but also a way of developing my own musicality. Exploring the small-scale, down to earth, ‘simple’ aspects of archaic music making has opened up my mind to musical qualities that didn’t use to interest me very much. Tone quality, and making use of variations in tone quality, intonation and rhythmical details are some of the aspects of my playing that I feel have developed by doing (archaic) improvisations and using improvisation as a tool for development. It has also lead to a greater feeling of artistic freedom.

In the end, perhaps the most inspiring concept within the world of archaic music is the idea that there are no tunes.

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.

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.

Extensions

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: http://vimeo.com/54763818