Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dancing on Strings: Väsen and "Polska for Tom Morrow"

I often wonder how the first string instrument was invented, and who first plucked a string to notice that it makes a tune that can vary according to how tight it is wound. Or even better, who first drew something like a bow across a taut string to create that sound that we associate with the bowed instruments like violins, violas, and basses. Of course harps and lutes were the stringed instruments we most associate with antiquity, but how we went from a harp or lute to strings stretched over a box with an open hole to create a resonance chamber is fodder for the imagination as well. Did someone theorize that such an instrument, soon to become guitars/mandolins/ouds...all the myriads of guitar-like instruments.

One of the songs that fascinated me, back in my rock and roll only days, was Rush's 2112 Suite, specifically the Discovery part of the suite. In this part, a young man in another time period (presumably a future without music) discovers an ancient guitar and learns to play it, leading to the authorities to crack down on him and ending with his suicide and the fall of that civilization. The premise sounds a bit simplistic now (it is based on a very Ayn Rand-ian view of the world that doesn't really describe my views at all) but I was fascinated with the whole concept of someone finding something, having that moment of discovery, and having it open up his whole world. In a way, I feel that global music has done that for me. But that takes me back to the whole discovery process of music altogether, and the complex series of events, both planned and accidental, that have led to giant orchestras, small folk groups, electronic music, jazz, and whatever other music and instrumental arrangements that you can think of. It's astounding to me - human invention and happy accident. We truly dance on the strings of our own ingenuity and creativity and also a little luck and happenstance.

Speaking of strings, one group that we have highlighted in the blog before is Väsen, who randomly comes back up again with their Polska for Tom Morrow. Väsen is a Swedish folk band that has released 15 albums and has toured extensively in Europe and beyond. Due to the reluctance of one of their members, the percussionist André Ferrari, to tour they have been releasing more albums in a strings only format of nyckelharpa, viola and guitar. They also regularly play with Americans Darol Anger (violin) and Mike Marshall (mandolin). So here you get strings in all of their glory. Polska for Tom Morrow is from their 2013 CD Mindset.