Duologue on Avstandsriss1
Erik Dæhlin: The archives freeze traditions that actually are dynamic. This was where it began.
Ingfrid Breie Nyhus: We came into the sound archive of Norsk Folkemusikksamling, The Norwegian Collection of Folk Music, with different backgrounds and roles, with two different views, that informed each other (see also Part II: Avstandsriss: Multivoicedness). For me, it was interesting to be able to both study the collection’s archive of performer traditions, and to be able to explore the archived musicianships in a creating and experimenting situation. My father worked at this archive before I was born, and he is one of the voices to be met in the recordings. Performers and slåtter that had been an inspiration for me earlier, led me into the searches, zooming into the large number of archived recordings. I listened to different recordings of the same slått, to the same fiddler at different times in his life, to the same slått in different valleys' versions. The history of performance manifests itself in the meeting with the archive; lines of different directions in tradition on the inherited material.
ED: My entry to the project was works I had composed earlier containing old recordings of Edvard Grieg. These were wax rolls, and I was fascinated by how the recording technique influenced the meeting with the material and the traces of memory that remain. That you stand in between the contemporary classical tradition and the folk music tradition, that you are a musician working in quite different traditions, that makes an interesting dialetic and creates a ‘stereophonic’ attitude in you as performer. Before I visited the Norwegian Collection of Folk Music for the first time, I had an expectation and a wish that the archive would have a specific materiality. I visualized a room full of dust, stacks of paper and stacks of wax rolls. But when I came into the archive, I experienced it as somewhat poor: the folk music archive was a computer with mp3 files. I was also surprised that the archive was so difficult to grasp. Much of the material was neither registered or indexed. Some was on wax rolls, each taking 1-4 minutes, depending on the original recording speed. Why did the archivists collect the material? What choices did they make? How do they meet the sources, the musicians, in different ways? How has the archive played a part in forming our history and our view of our national identity? Which parts of the archived material do we still have access to, and what is about to become incomprehensible, too distant, a ‘mythos’? In parts of European art music history, including the work of Grieg and his contemporaries, folk music material was transformed, becoming part of another art work, often in a historical relationship where the agenda was to build a nation by constructing an image of shared identity. There are ideological perspectives which apply to an archive like this, that make connections when we meet it. The archive starts asking us questions as we step into it.
Playing as Listening
IBN: I wished that the old recordings, the performers that we met from another time, in a way could find room within the piano. Letting the performers and their expression and attitudes influence how I was thinking while playing, what choices I made at the keys. That the memory of another person's expression could find room within me and be stretched out in another light, in another situation.
ED: I listened to the musicians; how they played, what they told, how they connected to a time, a storytelling and tradition. We wanted to create a situation by what we made, where playing was like listening. And vice versa.
IBN: After having listened to large amounts of material, some recordings started to stand out. They remained in my head, sang and played there. Sound memory relates to time in another way. It is not a stretch from a to b, but appears as moments, places, events. There can be only one or two sounds remaining as the essence of what I have heard. A particular ornament, a particular interval, a rhythmical motif, the memory of the timbre of the voice, a breath.
ED: I experienced a crash between the bourgeois grand piano and the hardanger fiddle that was fierce and together with your playing was creatively generative. The piano lid went off in the first workshop. The grand piano is a furniture that you lock. Like a coffin. From there the idea arose. The idea to open it up!
IBN: In some of the recordings it was as if the human, the fragility of the performer, came forward particularly and grasped me. The unschooled or the everyday, that sometimes can open up for an even more direct expression. The image of this performer by the kitchen table in between hard work, a cup of coffee and a song. A soundwise proximity to a difficult life.
ED: I tried to melt vinyl. It didn't work. Tape worked better. But since I couldn't find tape in the archive, I used some that I found privately instead, outdated VHS tape of American sitcoms. It was a challenge in terms of form that the folk material exists in such short pieces. It was not so easy to find a larger musical form in which they might be incorporated. I thought early in the process that there wasn’t any point to work with a conceptual idea as a coherent or firmly composed entirety. Why and how could we combine different shorter pieces into a greater narrative? The link for me became the tapes that you, during the three hours of the performance, pulled continually longer down into the grand piano. This slow action pointed out and took care of the gradual, stretched out time.
IBN: In the intense listening to the archive material, it was as if another room was enlarged, the room between the performer and the litsener; the sound recording. In the oldest recordings, there is at times a great deal of hissing and chopping. The nearer we come today, the room of the recording itself is gradually more transparent. But it is still fully present, as a veil between the person that plays or sings, and to whom we are listening. The documentary comments of the collector are part of filling and expanding this room, this veil. When I speak of soundwise memory from having listened to a slått, it is not only the slått that is in this memory, but also this veil. They float together.
ED: Musically, we made our own ‘live archive’, where we chose some of the material for the performance. Different versions of the same slått were for instance laid on top of each other or were played against one another. Where the form also reflected the archive, entering different rooms. It was in a way like making a necklace with a line of elements, hanging intertwined or paired in chains.
IBN: During the performance of Avstandsriss, the piano was gradually filled with magnetic tape. Towards the end of the performance, the tapes fell freely, filled the inside of the grand piano completely, the strings became more and more covered, until I couldn't play anymore.