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Aesthetics of "the long playing"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Kamuilija, Apr 7, 2014.

  1. Hi all.

    Here I wrote about my process of applying, re-applying and finally being accepted to study at the Folk Music Dept. at the Sibelius Academy. My first study year is approaching its end, and I'd like to write down some experiences.

    Something that's taken most of my playing and listening (and singing) time this year, has been what in Finnish is called pitkä soitto, "the long playing." It is a style that's (here) most often associated with the archaic instrument kantele, and the epic runo singing of Kalevala, then later developed to be played on any instrument(s). The long playing is described (by duo Juuri & Juuri) as "a flow that a lone old geezer would have had when playing his never-ending kantele tune in the darkening cabin: simple elements, endless variation."

    One of my first lessons in the long playing was with kantele player Arja Kastinen. The lesson was simple: "I set the alarm in 45 minutes. Play, don't stop." Of course, what I then did musically wasn't long playing. It's not easy to get in the zone, where, my teacher says, "a second is an eternity, and a whole life-time feels like a second." After the lesson, I had to start to practice to try and find it.

    I began by selecting a melody of four short phrases, and started to play them, exactly the same way, time after time, until I thought an eternity must have passed. I checked the time - 5 min. Again I did, and again, each time willing myself to go on until I felt it was too much, and then go on still, only changing what I played when I knew to. In the months, a change came in my playing.

    When I listen to my practice recordings from the beginning of the autumn, they sound, well, hasty, to me now. The space, the stillness, the concentration isn't in them, even though I felt then that it was.

    Before Christmas, there are some recordings I feel I can listen to without cringing. Arja's recipe for the lessons is simple: tone color, time, rhythmic variation, and polyphony. I worked on these, learning to get sounds from my bass that surprise me now that I listen to the tapes, because I really don't know how such sounds are made, but which in the long playing felt natural, "available", like ripe apples on a tree. My teacher told me to set aside all valuing of the music, when playing: there is no better or less good, there's just the music that you play because you have to play it. There's truth in those words. The long playing became a path for me to walk down, not consciously "choosing" what to play, but a feeling of intuitively knowing what it is I would do next.

    The long playing has changed the way I think about music. It has become a playing field, or a game, in which there may be some guidelines, how to operate when playing with less familiar musicians, but in the end, it's not about thinking of the rules as binding, but as releasing me to total freedom withing their limits. A song that I know well enough is no longer chords and melodies, it's an adventure.

    This record is from my last lesson with Arja Kastinen. We had only four of them, and at the end of the last, she said, "now I've taught you everything I can teach. The rest is up to you. Have a good rest of your life."

    I played a 5ths tuned bass at the time of this recording. I've gone back to 4ths after it, but I really feel the 5ths tuning made this kind of playing easier. I felt I was just riding on the resonance, with minimal effort of my own.

    If you listen to the recording, please don't fast forward or skip time. It won't make any sense that way (although I can't promise it will anyway). It is long, 45 minutes. It's not pretty, and it's not sophisticated; it's a fight for dear life, at sea when you know that help will be coming only when you embrace the possibility of death. And I feel that the first 20 min are what it took for me to get in the zone, beginner as I am. The links above will be easier to listen to, with less than ten minutes each.