1990 Arctic Folk Music

Ilpo Saastamoinen, Institute of Workers' Music, Helsinki. Finland.
Tarto 29. - 31.10.1990 - Folk Belief -kongressi

> Folk Belief Today, ed. Mare Kõiva and Kai Vassiljeva, Estonian Academy of Sciencies, Tartu 1995
’Arctic folk music as a healing power’ - ss.125-127



I would like to concentrate on four musical features in arctic music. These features are to be found in many "primitive" folk music cultures throughout the world.

1) Shamanistic music.
2) Improvisation.
3) Compound rhythms.
4) Game-like binary system when constructing musical material to a "pearl-string" of information.


1) The shamanistic drumming represents a zero-amount of information. Everybody knows, how the music is going to continue. The mind of the listener (and the shaman too) will turn off from the present reality to the mind's inner universe, because the music with zero-information is no music at all. It is the same as silence. [Drumming]
The same result will come out with the extremely complicated music. The music with overloaded information is - paradoxically - the same as silence, too. As a means for this purpose - the shamanistic singing can use compound rhythms or nonsense words. 
["Hurttoo-hurttuu" = Keiteleen oudompi nuottikirja 21B]

The vast possibilities of shamanistic healing are widely known.

2) Improvisation is full of information because of its unpredictability. The individual's improvisational singing associates with a strong self-identity, because no one can make exactly the same unique performance as the improvising soloist. It is the reverse side of group singing (= the tradition of the ethnic group) which associates with the group-identity.
The improvisational side of the music lacks totally from our western art music culture. A culture is sick, if it doesn't give room to both of these sides of identity. So - thus improvising can make us healthier!
[Keitele: N:o 3 "Jaakko" + N:o 5 "Yryk-yk"]

3) The western music uses mostly regular rhythms (2/4, 3/4 or 4/4). There is no information in rhythm, if it is steady. These kind of rhythms are the property of a culture, which - in a rhythmical sense - concentrates on the army-like group identity. At worst - it can make our rhythmical sense mechanical, especially if there is no room for personal improvisation.

Anyway, compound rhythms are as easy to learn as any other steady rhythm. Compound rhythms can make people free to enjoy the music in a new way. You can relax from trying to keep a certain tempo - simply because it is too complicate to follow. [Joiku]

4) When using only two musical variables the improvising composer plays a "rule-exeption" -game with the listener. In order to keep being unpredictable the player has to prove every possible combination of those variables. This method will lead straight to chaos-like result: The relation of the pair of two variables will normally ~ in neutral situation - be exactly the same as when throwing coins. The result of chance is 50/50.
The result is chaotic, because in a certain moment it is impossible to know beforehand, which side of the coin will turn on the next throw.

Paradoxically - in this kind of well-balanced game-like situation - to guess wrong doesn't mean the same as loosing the game. It can bring about a good, relaxed feeling in the listener's mind.

We can reconstruct these types of music using a binary system and thus creating musical guessing games for two or more people. My own experiences with the children prove, that these types of games will strengthen their self-identity - especially nowadays, when this side is totally forgotten in our music teaching.

So - neglected folk music can be used very well for therapeutic purposes. One should only take care, that winning and loosing are in balance. [Ex. 15, p.55: Tiki-tiki-tai-ta...]



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