The cover art

Gerd Tinglum and I once discussed portrait painting. As a direct response to my suggestion to let one colour constitute the portrait she returned after a while and said that my portrait was ready and I could come and pick it up.

The painting, measuring 47x47 cm. is by no means made with "only one colour" but darker tones are partly diffusing and blending in with the orange main field.

Thus I have been no less shyer than to let the cover art of the album contain a full portrait of myself. 

Gerd Tinglum describes the painting "Portrait of Hans Knut Sveen":


The artistic methods I base my work on are based on limitations and systems of coincidentiality. 

The limitations are constituted by choices specific for this portrait.


Material: Linen canvas on wooden frame.

Proportions: Defined proportions with the body as point of departure.

Medium: Acrylic paint.

Tools: Brushes


The colours are used in a system based on conincidentiality, liberated from what might be cultural associations and visual preferances.

The number of colours is limited.

The system is personal and constant, and I use it in all works with colour. 

When the colours are glazed, new coulours occur, for instance bluish brown or greenish red, colours which are not named in daily language.


On the side of the canvas one can see which colours which blend into each other in the glaze.


The music

The recording Significant Meaninglessnesses contains pieces from Girolamo Frescobaldi's first and second books of Toccatas and other pieces (Toccate e partite d'intavolatura, Libro 1 & 2) published in Rome.

Most of the programme is chosen from the second book published by Girolamo Frescobaldi in 1637. The collection of dance movements is not among the most known or used when it comes to music recordings. That notion basically was the motivation to letting the galliards and correntes frame other pieces like toccatas and canzonas. The whole programme contains one piece from Frescobaldi's first book, the "Cento partite sopra passacagli", literarily meaning "100 variations on the passacaglia" (probably meant as a metaphor for "many variations"?). 


Along with his compositions, Frescobaldi offers in his preface to the books, some descriptional advises on how to approach and perform the pieces.

This is an interesting thing. 

Did he he or his publisher feel that such instructions was needed? 

Was it the musical style which was considered to be new to players, were the books intended for less experienced players, or was it the reception of Frescobaldi's musicianship that gave reason for a certain politically motivated or an artistic statement?


Anyhow, by studying the pieces we notice a line between how verbal instructions and musical graphic notation works on our considerations and choices. There is furthermore differences in time, practice, place, aesthetics and human values that eliminates much of the idea of place or time based universality in any music practice. This, concurrently with our acknowledgement of us being able to enjoy any music from other times or places. We could then ask what we are actually enjoying if not our own perception of all that, alternatively that we also recognise what we do not enjoy.


Since Frescobaldi chose to publish these pieces, did he regard them as more important than other pieces he did not publish, and did he consider some pieces in these collections to be more meaningful than others since some of them are treated more thoroughly in his preface and they are set in the beginning of the books? If those pieces not given so much attention are less meaningful, what made them significant enough to be considered valid for being included in the collection?


The piece "Cento partite..." mentioned above is certainly a significant piece, at least we tend to think so when performing or listening to it (besides it has been quite much performed and recorded), its length and character calls for the listeners attention and focus and for the performer it is hard, or even impossible, to think of following Frescobaldi's opening for leaving out parts of it if wished for. It simply isn't wished for. That piece is nevertheless almost hidden among a series of other "meaningless" pieces, further back in the book and with no big title initiating it.


Thus, as indicated above, we are dealing with something that might be considered placed in a certain meaninglessness, however significant character which it may show. Such meaninglessnesses might be spaces for our minds to ponder about. Such meaninglessnesses might give us reasons to consider whether /meaning/ (as in carrying meaning or in being important) actually is valid property at all when discussing music. It is we who project such meaning eventually through music, - music is not capable of being meaningful or important in itself, even how significantly characteristic it might be. 

Significant Meaninglessnesses

Music by Girolamo Frescobaldi

Performed by Hans Knut Sveen, harpsichord

Cover art by Gerd Tinglum

Recording notes

In his preface Frescobaldi offers advises as to how the pieces, especially the toccatas can be played. The notes contains instructions like one may start the pieces slowly and to consider the playing speed as they develop, or he mentions that the variation pieces (the passacagli and ciacconas) may be played more according to the wishes of "whom it will please most". This might explain how Frescobaldi intended his publications to be a guide to less trained organists who needed music for liturgical contexts. The fact that he compares the toccatas to the style of madrigals which grew popular in his time, may also indicate his view on musical idioms and thinking around that specific compositions. Anyhow, verbal descriptions can not explain more than limited and technical aspects of how to perform and perceive the music. This is valid whether we deal with "old" or "new" music. However much information we may gather on a certain practice, the practice itself always opens for personal understandings or varieties. Any performance of a musical composition will never be equal to the one that is done any other place or time. 


One of the issues around such publications as Frescobaldi's concerns to what extent they represent an autonomous work or if they are images of a practice by people who mainly perform music created through playing or improvised. Does Frescobaldi primarily give us specific works, to be played "just as they are composed" or does he give us a view into how we can make music like he does? Fortunately, we don't need to choose between the answers, because it is possible to accept all of them. Frescobaldi's compositions are outstanding as they are written and we can assume they tell us about his own musical apotheosis, not to mention all those who gathered to hear him play at several occations. The compositions also triggered the idea to make this album. 


They also initiated an urge to play along with them, to embellish, vary or reorder. Hence, this recording does not aim to document the pieces but represents a way the performer is moved by the music found on print. Such could be claimed about most recordings and of any performance of repertoire although not all performers would necessarily agree with it. 


If a musical recording is a documentation, the question rises what it is documenting. Some natural points of departure would be to think of it as documentation of a specific music, a specific performance or a specific instrument or voice. However, as most music recordings are and have always been considered as productions we have reasons for regarding the outcome as non-documentations. As press photographers have guidelines as to how little they are allowed to manipulate and enhance their photos, sound recording serving as documentation are governed by the same. If they are not, they are also something else than documentation.


An artistic sound production aims for an artistic result, yet we might ask if they are still considered by their listeners as documentations of a specific performance.

0:00   Gagliarda seconda

1:51   Gagliarda terza

3:35   Toccata prima

7:10   Gagliarda prima

8:05   Ancidetemi pur d’Arcadelt (passaggiato)

13:51  Canzona quarta

17:43  Gagliarda quarta

18:50  Gagliarda quinta

19:59  Toccata settima

23:02  Corrente prima

25:06  Canzona prima

28:53  Corrente seconda & variation (alio modo)

31:28  Corrente quarta

32:46  Corrente quinta

33:37  Cento partite sopra passacagli

46:05  Corrente sesta

47:24  Partite sopra ciaccona

Recording technique and process

The recording is developed by the use of sampling and MIDI technology. The sampled instrument is built in 1999 by Joel Katzman, Amsterdam, and is a copy of the supposed original state of the Alessandro Trasuntino instrument of 1531 in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London. I purchased the copy from Philip Pickett in 2010 and recorded  the samples in 2013 in a sound studio in Grieghallen, Bergen. The samples were produced with kind help from Sindre Sortland. 


Using standard proprietary software (Native Instruments Kontakt and Ableton Live) and a Studiologic VMK 188 I started recording the music in 2018. The editing material thus was stored as MIDI-files. All editing was done through those, before the production was exported into sound files which in turn were mastered by Jørn Lavoll in Draum Studio, Bergen.


The use of technology and recording method opens for several discussions. MIDI technology is rarely or close to never used in recording productions of classical repertoire and acoustic music. A relevant comparison and resembling project might be found in the early 20th Century Welte-Mignon  recordings of piano repertoire. The difference from then till now in recording experience and development, however, makes ground for a substantial difference in reception and motivation for such projects of their kind. As Welte-Mignon and their likes were introduced in a time when recording technology had existed for just a few decades, they brought forth a close-to-live reproduction of performance as well as it represented the latest step in the development of mechanising musical instruments, an occupation we can trace back in time through ingenious variants of automated organs and musical clocks.  


My main motivation for choosing the MIDI method for recording harpsichord pieces lies in two fields of practice and aesthetics:

1. Through some earlier experiments with MIDI I noticed that in playing back the audio (harpsichord sound) on my home stereo the appearance had more of an intimate and space present character than I often hear in conventional solo harpsichord recordings. This encouraged me as a player to perform the pieces with more space and lower pace than I often felt like urged to when making a usual musical recording.

2. The other part of the motivation was how or if it was possible to act as both performer and producer through the actual recording situation. The MIDI offers a possibility to manipulate timing within the recorded material on a much more detailed level than working with the audio tracks. That way the player can make adjustments in the placement, length and velocity (dynamics) of single notes in the recorded performance. That way, the player can perform something close to a real time monitoring and adjustment of the recorded material.


We observe that keyboard instruments seem to be the most practical remedies to be used for musical reproduction through mehcanical or software based machinery. This might be caused by their setup with sound production controlled through mechanical action. Tracing the development of keyboard instruments back in history we might find reasons to consider the keyboard mechanism as a way to facilitate performance on plucked, hammered, bowed or wind based instruments, without needing to know how to play i.e. the lute, the dulcimer, the viol or the flute. An interesting perspective on this can be noted in how Arnaut de Zwolle in his ca. 1440 manuscript submitted his suggestions for keyboard constructions recognised by John Lester as “Musical Mechanisms”