Name: Ingfrid Breie Nyhus
Occupation: Pianist, composer
Current release: Ingfrid Breie Nyhus's Slåttepiano II is out via LabLabel.
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Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
My instrument is the piano, and as I work mostly with folk music material, I have been searching into how the grand piano can transform into a folk music instrument.
To me, the piano awakens when it is allowed to be dry and near (as opposed to pedalled and grandoise), to be simple, and when focused toward timbre (rather than harmony). Then I can experience playing the piano as something akin to natural singing.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
In Slåttepiano, I work with improvisation, composition and tradition. The process can be both all of these three, but also none of them. There is a cloudiness to this that I like.
The slått traditions have an embedded variability, where the performer may create new forms from the building blocks in a performance. I take this principle into my work and take it to an extreme. When do the building blocks cease to be themselves, when do the forms become something else?
The longterm process of working out the ideas in thought and body is the composition part of it. The listening and activity of the moment bring out the choices, which create the ephemeral form, that is the improvisation of it. The motives, sounds and rhythms are reminiscences of other individuals, which is the tradition of it, at the same time as the performance is creation of new reminiscences for others to pick up.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
The material, sounds and rhythms of the Norwegian slått traditions.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
Both solo and in groups, listening is crucial. There needs to always be a listening contact with the silence of the moment, also when there is a lot of sound produced.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
When the ears are fluently connected to the body, to the instrument, and to the basic sound state of the room, I am in a good place. Some calmness inside is good to have, for the fluidity of these connections. And to me, it is really important to sit by an interesting and inspiring piano.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
The decision process is a negotiation between the hands and body, the inner and outer listening and the analytical mind.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
To me, the piano, the room and the people in the room are what create the situation. The most important tool for working with them, are the ears.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
An audience makes it all more vulnerable. A live situation is also ephemeral and disappears, which can be both a sad thing and a good one.
Making recordings is more of a dwelling activity, as the material will be listened to again and again in the production process and after. The challenge in the studio, is to have the vulnerability and nerve that comes natural to the live situation.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
It was a breaktrough for me to find a more personal world at the piano, in the process up to the first Slåttepiano album in 2014-2015. It also marked a turn from playing only other people's music to create and cocreate myself.
It was a long journey up to it, as my training was classical for many years. It was not so easy to unlearn ideas and pianistic strategies from the classical tradition that I realized I didn't really believe in. My interest in contemporary music and in folk music was there all the time, but it was first when I managed to merge those musical worlds into my own, at the piano, and to use that to compose and improvise with my own voice, that I felt I was in the right place as a musician.
Fantastic musician Misha Alperin was my mentor in that process, we discussed a lot how (and if) folk music might be played on the piano.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Definitely. It would be contradictive to answer that in words, so I would say; listen to the album Slåttepiano II, there might be a possible answer there.