My Musical Background

I will make a brief account for my musical background, with special attention to some key events and periods that have shaped me as a person and as a musician.

I grew up in a folk music environment in Skåne (southern Sweden), and from early age my parents put me in the children’s section of their folk dance team. I started playing the fiddle at the age of five and about a year later I attended my first folk music summer camp. Throughout my school years I was playing classical music with my teacher in the music school and folk music in summer courses and from time to time I would also have a folk music teacher ‘on the side’, or participate in different kinds of folk music groups for youths. I was also playing in orchestras and singing in choirs, something which has taught me a lot about making music in a large group, ensemble discipline etc. When I reached my teens I also started playing the guitar and for some years I was singing and playing in different pop bands and projects.

In the summers I was always going to music courses and camps and when I was 15 I started going to folk music festivals together with my friends from these camps. In the folk music environment I was able to be someone I liked to be and folk music became a strong part of my identity. Some years later I went to the Ethno camp in Falun, a folk music camp for youths with participants from all over the world, and this was a really life changing experience. Between 2001 and 20011 I have visited 8 Ethnos in 3 different countries (Sweden, Belgium and Slovenia) and it has really had a huge impact in my (musical) life. Getting to know people in other countries and learning about different types of music has given a lot of perspectives on ‘my own’ music and the musical experiences I’ve made at the different Ethno-camps are an important reason behind me choosing to become a musician.

When I graduated from school I went to Newcastle (UK) to study British folk music for a year (another thing Ethno is to blame for) and then moved back t o Sweden to study engineering physics. After about a year and a half I needed a break in the engineering studies and instead got involved in a project to create a year of folk music in my region. This gave me a lot of contacts and engagement in the local folk music community, and I began to think that this was a context where my knowledge and skills were of use and could make a difference and a contribution. Around this time I also got involved with the band Chokladfabriken, and we started to perform at various folk music events in Sweden and Denmark (the band stopped playing in 2012). One thing led to another and eventually I decided to become a violin teacher instead of an engineer. In 2007/08 I spent a year at Malungs Folkhögskola and then went on to the Music Academy in Malmö.

During my second year at the academy in Malmö I began to feel a bit shut off from the rest of the world and started questioning if what I was doing in the practice room actually meant anything in ‘the real world’. Also I felt that the teacher’s education didn’t really allow much time for musical development. I decided to prioritise any opportunity to get out and play, something which resulted in, among other things, a week at a mazurka festival in Poland and a collaboration project in Denmark. I also started playing with the fiddler Reine Steen, one of the foremost tradition bearers in Skåne today, in his eponymous trio, creating a musical platform for him, together with a double bass player.

In my third year in Malmö I spent one semester as an exchange student in Newcastle, coming back to the folk degree there, 6 years after I was there the first time. After three years of studying to become a fiddle teacher, I changed path and joined the Nordic Master in Folk Music, focusing on performance rather than pedagogics, something which has greatly changed my perspectives on music in general and my own musicianship in particular.

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)

What to do with the Freedom

If I wouldn’t have used the Freedom, I wouldn’t have felt it. It was through doing things, I realised I had increased my freedom.

One of the things that happened to me was that I started playing.

Another effect was that I started to trust my ability to play music that was purely for listening. Previously that was something I didn’t really dare to do, and also something that didn’t really interest me. But with the new view on my own playing that affected both my confidence and my interests. This led to the composition I väntan på Krilon (Waiting for Krilon), a tune type I wouldn’t have dared to perform earlier. It also led to some experiments in my fiddle lessons with Finnish herding tunes.

I also allowed my solo in the Tranotra tune Krokodiltårar (by Mats Edén) to take new directions. I became less concerned with playing ‘the right notes’ and thought more aout dynamics, over all musical lines and began to appreciate, and search for, rougher sound qualities.

 The freedom also made me change focus for my musical research. Where I previously had had my main focus on groove I now began interesting myself for other aspects of fiddle playing too, like tone and dynamics but more importantly a completely different aesthetics and idea of what a ‘tune’ and what to do with it. One of the main ideas that started to grow during the semester in Finland is how to combine the ideals of the archaic, or long aesthetics with pellimanni repertoire. One of the key ideas I’m using to try to do this is the thought that there are no tunes, but I’ve also become really inspired by what I learned about Norwegian hardingfele music and how the hardingfele tunes are built up, while studying in Voss. Another suggestion for how to combine the two different musical worlds was provided during a trip to a Polish folk music event in the autumn 2012. There I experienced a way of playing tunes that differed quite a lof from how I’m used to it, and that definitely showed some clear aspects of archaic aesthetics. The musicians often played for 15-30 minutes without a break, using only a small number of tunes (one tune could easily be used for at least 10 minutes) and the tunes were often very short but got repeated over and over again, always with variations, both in the melody and in the number of repetitions of parts and phrases.

This idea, to search for the intersection between archaic aesthetics and pellimanni repertoire, to find out where they cross and how they interact, is definitely one of the strongest ideas I’m bringin with me into my future work and research as a musician, when I leave the NoFo. I am still very much only in the beginning of figuring out how to put the ideas togethere, and how to make it become music.

The biggest difference still is probably to be found on the inside. I think differently about music, and about my own musicianship, but I haven’t really had time to implement it all into musical practice. The last semester of the NoFo has meant a lot of moving and touring (during January-early April I ‘lived’ in six differen places, in 3 countries, rest of April I toured 6 countries in 17 days) and that has taken a lot of energy from the fiddle playing and practicing.

I have found ways of thinking where I use myself and my own ideas as a starting point, rather than the opinions of my community. I try to listen more inwards, listen to myself and my own wishes, ideas and ideals, rather than what I believe the people around me think is good. In the end it is a matter of confidence but also a feeling of need. I need to be true to myself, and I need to explore what that means.

Freedom means responsibility and in this case I think the main responsibilty is towards myself, but by being true to myself I am also taking my responsibility towards the rest of the world.

Somehow, being true to yourself, making the most out of your abilities and posibilities, for me becomes a question of moral. When you play together (or in other ways interact) with other people you have to be the best version of yourself available at that moment. If the world can’t trust that you’re doing as best as you can, how can they trust you at all? How should they know where you actually are, where your limits are? When I play in ensemble, I should give it all; to do otherwise is somehow almost rude. When I am on stage, there is no reason not to give the audience everything I am able to give and the same goes in the practicing room: why should I not go all the way there, how am I supposed to know my abilities and limitations otherwise? If I was religious I would probably say it is a way of praising god or the creation; now I just say it is a matter of morals, and a question of how we want the world to be, true or untrue?

Still: It all sounds good and clear, but of course it is difficult. I believe there is a lot in the world around us that limits us, and prevents us from doing our best in every situation. And there is a lot within ourselves that prevents us from doing our best in different situations, and our task is to get rid of that and free ourselves.

Tranotra

Together with my classmates at the NoFo proramme, I formed the band Tranotra which has been my main forum for ensemble playing and group work throughout these two years.

The group concists of
Benjamin Bøgelund Bech (DK): clarinet and bass clarinet
Olaug Furusæter (NO): fiddle
Markus Räsänen (SWE/FI): free-bass accordeon
Sven Midgren (SWE): fiddle & viola

Some of the things we have done together can be read about here. There is also some musical examples here and here.

It has been very interesting to work so closely together with one group for such a long time. We have had the possibility to do a lot of experimenting and trying out different musical ideas. Almost all the work with arranging has been done together, and we have been able to let the process take a long time, allowing the ideas to grow slowly. I think all this time together in the rehearsal room, is actually our main quality and the main explanation to why we sound as we do, and how we have been able to create music on the level where we have done it. In our case, I would probably say that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But in the end it has also been quite limiting, to only work with one group for such a long time. Working with the same people (and people you didn’t chose yourself) all the time means compromising with the same people all the time, and there is a limit as to how many different ideas you get the possibility to work with.

During NoFo I feel that I’ve got so much inspiration, and ideas going off in all different directions, but within Tranotra there is only a small section of all these ideas and all this inspiration that has had a forum to develop in. All the other ideas has had to be put on hold and kept for the future. Of course in a way, you always have to chose and prioritize between what ideas to work with and develop, but previously I’ve had several different groups and forums to develop different kinds of ideas in, so this situation was quite different.

In the end I think it has been worth it, and I have learned a lot from it. I think we have managed to create some really good and interesting music which I am actually quite proud of.

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:

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.

Krokodiltårar

Krokodiltårar (Crocodile Tears) is a tune composed by Mats Edén, featured on the Groupa CD Månskratt.
This is one of the first tunes we arranged with the group. We learned the tune from fiddler Mats Edén in one of our ensemble lessons in Stockholm, during the first semester of NoFo. The bass-riff which is being played by the bass clarinet and the accordeon is featured on the original recording with Groupa too. Somehow I got the idea to contrast it with something a bit messy and annoying in the treble register so I invented the pentatonic loops that are featured in the ‘epilogue’. Originally it was only intended to be some sort of interlude, but in the end it became more or less a part of its own.

To create the ostinato I used pentatonic material, which is an easy way to make sure that there will be no clashes, whichever notes get played at the same time. I also used the idea of overlaying different rhythms to create an effect of multitude and a bit of chaos. Both these methods I actually learned from Mats while I was studying at the Music Academy in Malmö.

Krokodiltårar Ostinato

As soon as we started playing it to an audience, and made a recording available on the Internet, people started making references to Steve Reich (and esp. his Music for 18 Musicians) which is a bit funny since none of us in the band had listened to any of his music. For me, the inspiration came from the English group Spiro and their tune The White Heart, which I had heard on a compilation of contemporary English folk music. However this constant comments about Steve Reich made me check out his music, and I did find it quite inspiring.

The Solo

Here are two versions of the solo, one recorded spring 2012, while we were studying in Odense, and one recorded in february 2013, after the semester in Helsinki. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a version of the later solo without the effects, but in a way that doesn’t matter: the effects only enhance the overall idea of the solo.
I would say that the difference between the two solos is quite big. The Odense version is very concerned about playing notes that fit,trying to play in tune and not really taking any risks. The CD version is a lot more powerful, risk taking and concentrated. There are a lot of the same ideas and patterns present in both the versions, but they are performed in quite different ways.
For me, this is a clear result of the development that happened during the semester in Helsinki and more concretely, an effect of the playing.

Bonus: the Stories

This is probably one of the tunes we have played the most live and there has developed two quite different stories about it. One is the ‘real’ story of how and why the tune was composed: Mats Edén used to have a fiddle called Krokodilen (the Crocodile) (since it had so many ‘teeth’ i.e. tuning pegs. Mats was a pioneer in Sweden using fiddles with sympathetic strings) and it got run over by a train. Luckily Mats also plays the melodeon so he could compose this tune as a lament for the lost fiddle.

The other story began developing when we were doing a set of concerts for children and needed some funny stories to tell them. The original joke goes:
– Why should you not be in the jungle between 2 and 3 in the afternoon?
– ?
– Because then the elephants are practicing parachuting.

– So, do you know why the crocodiles are so flat?
– ?
– Because they were in the jungle between 2 and 3 in the afternoon.

The kids thought it quite funny (even if they always protested against the idea of parachuting elephants) and somehow we began to tell the story in our other concerts as well, and gradually it has evolved into a real fable where Benjamin tells about how the crocodiles used to be in the shape of a pig (there are even fossils found in Denmark) but then unfortunately they began hanging out in the Danish jungle in the afternoons…

Playing

Perhaps the most obvious method for artistic development is practicing. There is a lot that could be said about different methods for practicing, how to get the most out of the hours you spend in the practice room, how the practice sessions should be laid out etc. but this is not the main topic of this essay so I will just conclude that I have been practicing a lot, both with very focused attention to technical development, and with the aim to learn a certain stylistic features and tunes.

Moreover, I have been playing a lot, both in the sense of playing my instrument (swe: spela fiol) and in the sense of playing games (swe: leka). Sometimes I have felt bad about it, that it was just a waste of time in the practice room to let the bow, fiddle and fingers play around without any certain goal, but in the end I think it has been a very good thing to do. It has lead me to find new sounds and to get a more relaxed physical relationship with my instrument. It has helped me move away from the all-too-comfortable melodic/harmonic areas I used to be playing around with(in) and served as an opening to (for me) new fields of melodic and harmonic structures and movements.

It also lead me to finding completely new sounds on the fiddle and trying to make use of the ‘ugly’ as a contrast in my music. An example of this is my solo from the term concert in Helsinki:

It is worth to notice that this idea and method of play and playing emerged more or less simultaneously with my change of perspective, towards folk music as Art.