Instruments can say so much about their culture of origin. Their sounds often express the key qualities of a folk, as well as the reason they come to such an important place in their society. Finland’s kantele creates a dark and mysterious magic that has long been associated with the country. The bodhràn is the heartbeat of Ireland’s raucous jigs and reels. And through the fjords and mountains of Norway, the droning sound of the Anne Hytta’s hardanger fiddle coasts on the breeze.
Norwegian native Anne Hytta is a student of this instrument and other schools of medieval and chamber music. She has played different stringed instruments in several folk ensembles, including Slagr, Tokso, and Padik. Draumsyn is her debut recording of original pieces written for the hardanger fiddle. Unexpectedly—at least to me—the music on this album was originally written to be played alongside a strangely modern projection and light show. This is perhaps a deliberate fusing of old and new, but is seemingly at odds with the explanation of the music’s genesis.
The album, recorded in a spacious church, has a very deep sound. It is a pleasing result of these kinds of single-instrument recordings that the listener can feel the space in which the fiddle was played. The natural reverberations of the church create a lush environment that sounds more expansive than an indoor environment should allow. Describing the album, Hytta says, ‘The music on this recording came to me by imagining landscapes without people.’ She has indeed succeeded in the goal of re-creating that atmosphere.
Draumsyn is a Nordic word meaning ‘dream vision’, and the title is appropriate. The music is desolate, beautiful, spacious, and calm. The music is far from the jigs and reels one might think of when hearing the word ‘fiddle’. It is something much more somber, and certainly much more Scandinavian. It hints at a past of sparseness and humble nature, yet there is an underlying trace of a faint madness that permeates the entire sound of the instrument. The pieces create visions of a Norwegian landscape in a different sense than the country’s black metal obsession with the grim and icy. Draumsyn has more of a late-summer or autumn feeling. It is neither celebratory nor downtrodden. It is a space in between: meditative and contemplative, as sitting on a mountaintop with only the input of the landscape below you—calmly transcendent, but wary of the dark places that lay inside.
As a student of folk music, I started off listening to many accessible folk-rock bands. For a while, I dwelt happily in that world of traditional mixing with modern rock-and-roll before delving deeper into the more experimental side of folk music, especially neofolk and psych folk. Study of pure folk traditions has only been a recent development in my journey, and yet it is one that has yielded many pleasing discoveries. It teaches you to listen to music in a more active and studious way. There is something to be learned from such music, about a culture, about a place, about the self.
It should be mentioned that this is not a traditional album in the sense of ‘rock music’. It is more a collection of classical pieces, with each track being singular and the mood they create being the through-line across the record. The songs are fairly similar in composition and execution, besides the short ‘En Stille’, which breaks from the long, droning strokes of notes to be gently finger-picked with a lilting and fairytale quality. The listener will soon realize that the focus is not purely on the songs as it is on the instrument itself; this album, Draumsyn, is a study of the hardanger fiddle.
The album is packaged very simply, with a slipcase containing the cover art (which, unfortunately, is not very evocative—in fact, it borders on incomprehensible) and a plain-text booklet with a few simple photos and explanatory liner notes, which looks to be standard of Carpe Diem Records’ releases. This lack of aesthetic is somewhat disappointing to a listener who is a fan of grand packaging, art, and presentation, but in this case such images might interfere with visualizing whatever the music evokes in you. It seems Hytta would rather you visualize whatever comes to you than tell you what to see, and that is a good summary for this record. It is not something I would listen to for entertainment, but it creates a space to be used as the listener sees fit. To me, such creations are valuable in a completely different way than popular culture currently engages in with music.
02) Undrestille I
03) Undrestille II
04) Undrestille III
05) Prelude in Light Blue
06) A Light Blue Rondo
08) Mørk Blå
10) A Rune Tune
11) The Blind Door
12) Ved Árinn
13) En Stille
14) Den Stille Hagen