Contemporary Perspectives

Performer and Composer

Naomi Cumming states in The Sonic Self that performer identity can be understood as a personal ‘style’: 

Something of the musician’s own ‘character’ will be heard in the choices he or she makes ... Identity could be thought of ... as having an outward and an inward face. ... The ‘outward’ identity, of choices audible in sound, reflects a pattern of belief, desire, and inhibition that constitutes an ‘inner self’ - what it is to be ‘me’. ... On its ‘inward’ side, self-identity is minimally a reflexive awareness of one’s own patterns of choice, and the beliefs that govern them. For a musician, it includes a knowledge of the self as having the effective power to answer the expressive demands of different stylistic genres, entering imaginatively into new worlds (Cumming, 2001, pp. 9-11). 

In addition to such interactions of inner and outer aspects of the self, the performer’s voice is expressed in the co-work of body and instrument, as Gorton and Östersjö point out: 

We may, following Merleau-Ponty, think of the function of the instrument as an extension of the body similar to a blind man’s stick [Merleau-Ponty, 1945, pp. 175-176]. The human body is multi-layered. ... The body image is an intentional state made up of several modalities: perceptual experiences of one’s own body, conceptual understandings of the body in general and emotional attitudes toward one’s own body [De Presteer, 2007, p. 355]. ...  A musician’s voice, then, emerges from the interplay between the affordances of an instrument, one’s habitus, and the natural body (Gorton and Östersjö, 2016, p. 585).

The listening and playing experiences that my playing derives from stem from the fields of folk music, classical music and contemporary music. Together, these experiences are a body of language to me, they are situated in my fingers and in my ears. The project A Play of Traditions has been an investigation of the deeper intertwining of these traditions in my playing. 

At the same time, through the project I have initiated dialogues with other artists, to reach out to find more perspectives showing what folk music inspiration might be. By initiating new piano works which follow the line of art music inspired by Norwegian folk music, what new answers or reactions can emerge from this dualism today? How would the collaborations affect me and my playing, and the other way around, how would my participation affect the works that were composed? 


I have collaborated with three composers: Asbjørn Schaathun, who has a background as pianist himself and writes computer based, modernistic music; Øyvind Torvund, who works more conceptually, and has done extensive work connected to folk music and constellations of traditions; and Erik Dæhlin, who is interested in the performativity of the performer, as well as having interests in the relation between past and present.


Asbjørn Schaathun and Øyvind Torvund were each commissioned t0 write a piano work inspired by slått music. Asbjørn Schaathun’s composition became Nations for piano and live electronics, lasting approximately 20-25 minutes (Nyhus, 2015a, track 3). I premiered the piece at the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival in September 2014. Øyvind Torvund’s work was premiered at the same concert, with the name Det abstrakte i folkekunsten (Abstraction in Folk Art). The piece is approximately 15 minutes long, with piano, cassette players, electronics and slideshow (concert video recording). Nationswas later revised in a new version, as a piano concerto, which I premiered with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Christian Eggen in March 2016. Det abstrakte i folkekunstenwas also revised later, and an edited form without the element of the slideshows  was prepared for an album (Nyhus, 2015a, track 1), , named Abstraction in Folk Art. 

The collaboration with Erik Dæhlin started as a dialogue on a project involving archived recordings of fiddlers, and became a work based on the sound archive of the Norwegian Collection of Folk Music. The performance was a three hour long concert installation, also premiered at the Ultima Festival in 2014, at the National Library in Oslo, Avstandsriss (video excerpts).

Hayden and Windsor identify three different forms of relation between composer and performer, in a study on collaboration within contemporary music (Hayden and Windsor, 2007, p. 33). The first relational form is called ‘directive’, with a hierarchical relation between composer and performer when it comes to decisions. The second form is ‘interactive’; with discussions between the two parties, but with the composer still having the last word. The third form of relation is ‘collaborative’: here music is created together, and there is shared decision making.

Gorton and Östersjö describe two phases in collaborations between composer and performer. They are initiated with a’pre-compositional joint invention’, followed by the development of instrumental techniques and proto material; then a score is composed and ‘post-compositional negotiations’ follows, where adjustments in notation and ideas of interpretation are discussed (Gorton and Östersjö, 2016, p. 581). 

The three works NationsDet abstrakte i folkekunsten og Avstandsriss all started with pre-compositional discussions between each composer and me as performer, about the relation between folk music and art music, and with a joint consideration of which aspects of slått music it would be interesting to search for in the creation of new art works. Common to the three processes was that my performer’s voice, my playing self, became part of the works and affected their formation, though in different ways.