Shapes and Sounds
“Hi VANdals,” Pekka Kuusisto writes to us in the email with this playlist. The Finnish violinist, experimenter, and artistic director of the Meidän Festivaali (“Our Festival”) in Järvenpää, will visit his home country on tour with the Minnesota Orchestra this August, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto; in September, he’ll be traveling to Germany with Ligeti’s Concerto, Jonathan Nott and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. The latter work serves as the inspiration for this playlist. Here is Kuusisto’s introduction.
“I’m doing this in some kind of strange homage to Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, because it refuses to not be on my mind. I wanted to find a bunch of YouTube links that have some resonance with different aspects of the Concerto, or that I’ve found inspiring or fun or a lovely waste of time while working on it. By now, I’ve played it enough to not be afraid of it. In the beginning, when I was learning it for the first time, there were so many violinistic challenges to tackle that a living, breathing, and singing approach to the music was hard to achieve. Fortunately, it’s a work that squeezes a better musician out of you if you give it enough love, and these days I feel like I can move inside the shapes and sounds with relative ease. It’s still a monster, but I’m riding it.”
Daniel Gonora and his son Isaac
I watched this video about 100 times a few months ago, when I was looking for African music with maximum groove to help me out with some parts of the first movement of the Ligeti Concerto. If I’ve understood things right, the blind guitar player and singer is called Daniel Gonora, and the drummer is his son Isaac. The rhythmic drive of the riff is mesmerizing, the voice has urgency and joy all at once, the showoff drum fills are hilarious and brilliant—this music presses the fundamental buttons of dance, community, love, and happiness.
Salvador Palmu - “m0R3tH4Nw0rD5”
Salvador Palmu is an alias of a Finnish artist, who had the great idea of blue-tacking vinyl singles off-centered on the turntable, thereby creating “physical remixes.” The needle reads the groove at varying speeds thanks to the off-center spinning, and the music goes straight to a very bendy kind of hell, in an entertaining and hypnotic fashion. Having an overexposed, cheesy love song like “More Than Words” go seasick is glorious and somehow very satisfying, in a way that’s weirdly related to what the ocarinas and recorders do to the lovely Aria in the Ligeti Concerto.
Beethoven’s Eroica: opening chords
You might have seen and heard this one before, but here’s an idea that Ligeti might have loved: put your headphones on, turn the volume up, and open the video in 12 different browser windows or tabs. This, I believe, is what the Internet is for. You can toggle between the tabs or windows, pausing some of the videos, restarting them, changing the volume to create a more layered mix...
Hey Exit - “Every recording of Gymnopedie 1”
Same thing as with the Eroica chords, but for a very different reason. Just open up a truckload of tabs with this SoundCloud page, press play on all of them, and float away.
Steve Reich - “It’s Gonna Rain”
I was listening to a lovely CD called “African Rhythms,” where the Aka Pygmies perform traditional music and Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs various things by Reich and Ligeti. It got me thinking about this early Reich tape piece called “It’s Gonna Rain,” where snippets of speech are looped in various elegant ways, resulting in the meaning of the language disappearing. I sometimes worry about losing the understanding of the message in pieces that I need to practice endlessly—so that when the concert comes, all I can do is focus on the technical execution of the difficult passages, instead of communicating something. Playing traditional fiddle music usually helps.
JPP in Bakkegården
My addiction to different kinds of traditional music started about 18 years ago at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, at the release gig of the JPP (a Finnish fiddle group) album “String Tease.” Having a curiosity for different ancient musics has put many things into perspective—it has helped me with the handling of my instrument, it has encouraged me to use my voice, and it has made the act of performing music less complicated for me. This video is just some random person filming JPP at a gig in Norway, but I encourage you: buy an album or go to a concert if they are playing anywhere near you.
Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now
It feels like Joni Mitchell managed to save every song, every love affair, and every heartbreak into small compartments of her voice, so that when she revisits “Both Sides Now” in 2000, 33 years after she wrote it, you can sense where she’s coming from in every phrase. The experience and skill become transparent, and you just hear the heart at the center of what’s been a wild ride. Listening to her, reading her words and studying her songwriting are pretty much all the motivation one needs to keep trying to be better, more thorough, more honest, more oneself. ¶