Dead Traditions?

(Originally posted here, November 27, 2012)

I’m reading parts of a Ph.D dissertation about the Folk Music Department in the Sibelius Academy and I stumble on this quote:
“The most fundamental ideological point of departure for creating contemporary folk music is that folk music should be a living tradition.”
(It’s on p. 190 in the linked document, for anyone interested…)

I wonder: Is not the being alive part something which is of essence for a tradition? Can it be a tradition if it’s not alive (and thus moving, changing, developing etc.). If it’s dead, is it not then just an artifact, an object to admire (or dislike) but not something you can use? I wonder only because it seems like it’s often required within folk music to state that what we do is part of a living tradition. There are no dead traditions. There are only dead objects.

If it’s tradition it’s alive and kicking. If it’s alive and kicking it’s probably part of a tradition (i.e. part of a chain of thoughts, ideas and actions that humanity is resting on). If it’s dead, we would best bury it. It probably stinks.


Notes on traveling

(Originally posted here, October 22, 2012)

I’m in a friend’s house in Estonia and was just served a cup of tea. And somehow the taste of it opened up a link to so many parallel’s in my life. All the other times I’ve been in friends houses and been served a cup of tea. Especially it reminded me of England, where I’ve been going a lot during parts of my life. Going there, visiting people I know or people I know-but-don’t-really-know, getting a bed, a cup of tea, some music, friendship. Always the cup of tea.

The thing is, it really works. The tea makes me feel comfortable, at home, even if I would be surrounded by complete strangers. There is something about getting a warm drink and somewhere to sleep which I think opens up the trust in me.

I really like traveling and meeting people, but I don’t really like being a tourist. For me it’s completely different if you go somewhere and stay in a hotel, eat at restaurants and go to museums or if you stay in someone’s house, share their dinner and go for a walk in the park with them. And it’s far more inspiring, challenging, opening, instructive to meet people like that. People who have a life which is not about serving strangers. Even if it’s sometimes hard to talk with people when you hardly have any language in common, it’s still a way to learn, meet and understand.

After a fantastic, inspiring, great week at Womex it’s nice to be in Estonia. I’m here to teach at the Estonian SügisEtno (a folk music course for youths) and do a couple of concerts together with Johanna-Adele Jüssi releasing her solo debut album. I’m really looking forward to a week that is actually filled with real live music and music making, as opposed to Womex which is a week that kind of circles around music but mainly without actually touching it. Womex is so much more about business, marketing, networking, talking, drinking and maybe listening and it’s all nice and great but it’s nothing like feeling the vibrations of the fiddle.

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)


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.

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.