In Pursuit of the Weird—Non-Geometrical Rhythm and Idiomatic Intonation in Traditional European Dance Music of the 20th Century

Over the course of the 20th century, folk music gradually spread outside the communities where it was traditionally played for dance. Several countries underwent a folk-revival. This lead to a homogenisation of styles—especially in terms of rhythm and intonation—and eventually a complete surrender to the hegemony of the Western Classical tradition. 

While several recordings of fiddlers playing in older styles exist on wax and tape, most were well past their prime at the time of recording—many hampered by severe arthritis. It is perhaps as a result of this, that most contemporary literature dealing with these sources focus on their harmonic and melodic aspects. This project, on the contrary, will explore elements of the performance itself—or, rather, imagine the spaces it could allude to. 

I have primarily explored the ways in which this performance practice bends the grid of Western music in two ways. One is individual, and consists of the transcription, analysis, and imitation of field recordings, with a focus on idiomaticism, and on finding ways for the weird to feel and become natural. The second is collaborative, and uses both the field recordings themselves, as well as my elaboration of that material, as the starting point for experimental laboratory sessions conducted in collaboration with several dancers working in the field of traditional dance. Here, intrinsic connection between the idiomatic physicality of instrumental technique and the physicality of the dancing is explored.

The goal is never to reconstruct what once was—although that is often part of the process. Rather, to use the weird elements as a catalyst for creative work, and to only reopen but in fact create new avenues for communication between musician and dancers.

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