Name: Erlend Apneseth
Occupation: Hardanger fiddle player
Recent release: Erlend Apneseth's Nova is out via Hubro.
Tool of Creation: Hardanger fiddle
Type of Tool: String instrument
Country of origin: Norway.
Became available in: The 17th century
If you enjoyed this interview with Erlend Apneseth about the Hardanger fiddle and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website which also contains information about all his different projects. He is also on Facebook.
Just like any other instrument, the Hardanger fiddle has a rich history. What are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
I think it´s a difference between playing the guitar, for instance, and the hardanger fiddle. The Hardanger fiddle is "local" to Norway and less connected to a "world-spanning" guitar-tradition, as for instance jazz or rock. So its sound is very much tied up to one specific tradition or geography, which of course influences the way you perceive, listen, and even write about the music that is created on it.
The instrument has changed a lot since it was used mainly for dance music in weddings and different gatherings, to the national romantic period in the 19th centrury, where the fiddle was transformed to reach larger audiences in concert halls, more like a violin.
In later years it has taken different directions, and of course the experimental part of it has influenced me personally.
What, to you, are some of the most interesting Hardanger fiddle recordings and -performances by other artists in terms of your personal development?
I could mention many, but if we take the traditional playing first: in the beginning a recording called Meisterspel, a compilation of 15-20 norwegian fiddlers was very important to me, I learned every tune on that album and had inspiration for several years. I found recordings of Bjarne Herrefoss, and of course the Hallvard T Bjørgum and Torleiv H Bjørgum-recordings had a big impact.
Later on I was more influenced by the people I learned from directly, like Synnøve Bjørset, Gro Marie Svidal, Håkon Høgemo, Daniel Sandén-Warg. Later on Egil Syversbråten and Øyvind Brabant. Nils Økland, as mentioned, influenced me more in the direction that I follow today.
But overall I think that my music is most influenced by the people I play with, meet and share the stage with, even more than what I listen to I think - and that includes musicians and composers from all genres.
When talking about electronic devices, we often think about their “features”. But the Hardanger fiddle is a complex device, too, which has grown over many years. What are some of its stand-out features from your point of view? How would you describe its sonic potential?
After exploring its possibillities for some years now, it feels like the sonic potential is almost endless. What makes it so specific are the resonance strings, the number of tunings, and the more even bridge which makes it easier to play two strings at the same time.
All of this is a very exciting starting point for exploring sounds that has nothing to do with the folk music tradition per se - because it has some really original "built-in"sound qualities which makes it stand out from experimental techniques on a violin, for example.
[Read our instrument feature on the violin]
Instrument design is an ongoing process. Are you interested in recent developments for the Hardanger fiddle in this respect?
Different things have been tried in recent years, like 5stringed Hardanger- fiddles, and explorations with different strings, tunings etc. I know there has been built a Hardanger viola also. That is very exciting, and I have tried some of these instruments, but I personally haven't used any of them in my projects.
What was your first encounter with the Hardanger fiddle? What was it about it that drew you in?
I started playing several different instruments, but where I grew up it was a strong environment for traditional music, and I liked the way it was taught.
We sat in groups, and there was no pressure to it, more of a social thing. After a while I felt that this was something I could be good at, so I started learning all the difficult stuff, often from recordings, and from about 14 years old I really started enjoying the music for the music`s sake.
Since then I never had a different plan for my life than playing, really.
Tell me about the process of learning to play the instrument and your own explorations with it.
As mentioned the learning started out in groups. I think this took place for about 2-3 years, then I had one-on-one lessons with different masters over a period of almost ten years. I first really started experimenting during my studies at the Ole Bull Academy, and improvisation was my way into expressing myself and making music later on. Nils Økland was an important contributor to that direction.
Since then I basicly have been exploring the instrument just by making lots of music for different projects, and first and foremost with my trio, which is a really free experimental playground for all three of us.
What are specific challenges in terms of playing the Hardanger fiddle?
Almost more than other instruments, I think, it takes a while before it sounds any good ... Maybe it has to do with the style of the tunes, which is quite intense, in combination with string instruments beeing difficult to handle at first. So that may have stopped some people in the beginning. But when it starts to flow, it is worth the while.
And generally, I guess it is the same with any instrument: In order to be really be good at it, it takes real dedication and a lot of time.
What interests you about the Hardanger fiddle in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals? How do you see the relationship between your instrument and the music you make?
They are inseparable I think, because I don't compose sheet music or music for other instruments per se - I compose for myself, and for creative artists who can put their personality into the music.
How would you describe your personal style of playing the Hardanger fiddle?
That is up to others to describe I think. But I guess I have been lucky enough to find my own language through my exploration of the instrument, an expression that can be recognized as me.
What does playing your instrument feel like, what do you enjoy about it, what are your own physical limits and strengths?
Big question, I will try to make it short: At best, it feels like I am not even there, just part of some flow. I think I have a rhythmical strength, and an ability to see contexts in music.
My limit is maybe that I really never have been a rehearsing monster, so as a performer I probably could have reached a much higher technical level than I’m at now. For me it was a change of priority at some point, between being a creator or performer.
I am both, but the first takes up most of my time.
Could you describe working with the Hardanger fiddle on the basis of one of your pieces, live performances or albums that's particularly dear to you, please?
An example could be the piece "Dialog" from the trio`s debut-album Det Andre Rommet (2016). That was the first time I did a piece for two hardanger fiddles, after exploring the idea for a while.
In this piece I found a rhytmical pattern that matched the tonality and finger-movements. It's not a big piece or anything but it changed some of the possibilites for me from that point on.
How, would you say, does the Hardanger fiddle interact with other instruments from ensembles/groups you're part of?
It depends quite a lot on the group.
In the trio we try to sound like one instrument more or less, it is exciting when you don´t really know what instrument is making the sounds. We use live samplings and electronics as well so the palette is quite big.
In other, more acoustic groups I play in, the sound of the Hardanger fiddle takes more of a traditional role in an ensemble, as a color or an expression used in different ways.
In the light of picking your instrument, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation vs perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I guess it depends on what kind of a musician you are, and what you want to do. As a creator finding your own voice is a key element. And if you trust your own way of expressing yourself, I think originality / innovation is often something that comes along side with that.
With the Hardanger fiddle, with such a traditional "mark" on it, there is a lot that hasn´t been explored yet, and that is a very exciting working ground for me.
But I don´t see traditional music as something I had to "break out of", or anything like that. I still play traditional music occasionally, and enjoy listening to it. For me it is just important that creative art is a free space, no matter the instrument you're playing or the environment you're playing it in.
Are there other Hardanger Fiddleists whose work with their instrument you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
Yes there are a lot of people doing exciting things at the moment, some of the younger like Helga Myhr, Rasmus Kjorstad and Selma French Bolstad use it in different ways, and they have released really original albums over the past years. Anne Hytta and the group Slagr, Benedicte Maurseth, Annbjørg Lien with a more genre-mix approach.
[Read our Anne Hytta interview]
Nils Økland was maybe the first to use the Hardanger fiddle over time in contemporary music, and has inspired many. Håkon Høgemo used it in the experimental trio Utla in the 90, and he still plays in Karl Seglems band.
So there have been and continue to be a lot of different takes on using the Hardanger fiddle in different musical landscapes.