viol related learning…
- Acquiring skill on the classical viol represents a learning model with high level material complexity and low level application complexity.
- Annette Otterstedt’s assumption that the viol has been the perfect tool for a musical discourse is very helpful in terms of explaining equality as a basic condition in systemic learning.
- Systemic learning as being described by the MIT group around Peter Senge asks for perception skills and an open attitude that can very well be trained in viol ensembles. The viol, due to its tuning, and the nature of its strings, is a very useful tool for transpersonal learning.
- The craftmenship presented in most contemporary viols brings children in contact with skilled manual labour, as a material reflection of concepts. This reflection gives insight in learning as a process of doing rather than consuming…. devices that hide their material concept (such as iPods) provoke consumption, and the learning stops with understanding the operational instructions.
- The absence of a traditionalized social structure is a strong dare to the children who go about playing the viol… It is a relatively free field of acquiring knowledge and skills, as opposed to the modern stringed instrumens, that are easily applied in traditional settings, and have strong do’s and don’ts (super-ego) in their wake.
- The viol can be observed as an instrument very fit for the acquiring of a broad learning-goal spectrum of playing techniques, reading capabilities, group-awareness, development of hearing, and the application of the instrument in contemporary musical styles, like jazz, World-music, and popular music.
- “Doing the same thing differently” as needed on the viol opens the mind to the transitional aspects of points of view, of ways of doing, ways of knowing or such fuzzy concepts as ‘taste’.
- The viol is the one instrument that stands out for its applicability in the culture of our time: being a “bowed guitar” or an “extended upright bass” makes it easy to understand, and, other than the modern recorder, it can be made electric, and is therefore able to leap into the avant garde of our time….
1) High level of material complexity: with its 6-7 strings and complex tuning, plus the complicated way to hold the instrument, and move it while playing, the viol will remain a struggle for all who play it. The instrument can never be ‘trusted’ the way a modern cello can be trusted…. on the other hand, the music played on the viol is, even at its peak, relatively simple and can in no way be compared to the complexity level of a vast repertoire of 19th and 20th century music for cello, violin and double bass. So, the complexity is mostly to be found on a material level.
2) Otterstedt describes the viol(music) in the 16th century as the epitome of the humanistic discourse, and thus as bearer of the intellectual torch in the New Era, where ‘ego’ is of less importance and equality is practiced. In systemic learning, a hierarchy (of values e.g.) is never defined ‘from above’ but emerges from the whole, as if belonging the very essence of a ‘higher being’, this being the organization, system, holon, or whatever one might call it. The learning is in connection with this whole, and is by definition open (as opposed to one-directional learning, where content is pushed into a ‘learning vessel’). Teaching in this sense is creating circumstances fit for ‘awakening to the occasion’…. learning is opening to the aspects of the larger. I have the feeling that 16th century polyphony is reflecting a strong sense of systemic thought (avant la lettre), and Otterstedt’s disappointment with the emergence of ego-music (the great players starting to show off) is genuine, and also reflects her sense of purity.
3) Tuning the ensemble… one can perceive it as a living nightmare, or as the group-meditation of the viol-band. In Indian classical music tuning is also ‘tuning into’ the heart of the music. Tuning so many strings that don’t exactly hold their tension very well seems to be the perfect way to train perception, patience, and a trans-personal sense of what is right… one might come to the conclusion that tuning the own instrument into a group of others’ instrument is a relational event rather than a physical one.
4) Being aware that hands could make what a minds can invent opens the person for a sense of craftsmanship, for quality and perhaps frailty. The relation between mind work and manual work, including the at times tedious process of actually making something, is, I feel, a very important one, for it focuses the mind, the will and the senses. This focussing is needed for the first sense of awareness of a greater whole (a system). For tuning into the greater, so to speak, one has to open up the focus, without becoming fuzzy…
5) Viol players have to be open for very different ‘roles’ they can play. These roles are relatively open. Therefore, the social learning in ensemble playing will be strong because players are less prone to correction by peers or tutors for not behaving as they should. Somehow social roles in viol playing are less codified then in orchestras, string quartets, or rock bands. Here, much like contemporary modern music ensembles, the social roles are defined on the fly, based on merit, kindness, skill and relation on a personal level. The only danger I see within the social field of viol playing is the undying habit of relating behaviour (like playing techniques, or the interpretation of a comma) to a historical super-ego….: “that’s not how they did it…” I’m afraid I would call this the sectarian aspect of early music playing.
7) One of the most beautiful aspects of the revival of early music is the fine awareness players can acquire for subtle differences in style, feel, concepts, attitudes and communicational skills that various periods have developed. It has been like getting into a time machine. This has been a very post-modern sequence of events, as understanding, deconstructing and synthesizing ‘lost essences’ of forgotten music, and forgotten techniques is a VERY contemporary phenomenon. These acquired skills of perceiving differences and react aptly on them has opend up many players, and has made them more aware for the world at large…. up to a certain point. It cannot be denied that it is tempting to relate advanced skill to ‘being advanced’…. that, of course, is a gross misunderstanding…. I think the ability to perceive difference as an essential quality allows for the learning of transpersonal skills: If one can observe ones own peculiarities as dependant of habitat, mood, state of mind etc. and that the sense of individuality varies accordingly, a person can learn to open up to a transpersonal level… where opinion, relation, decisionmaking, acquiring knowledge, etc. is the result of sharing, dancing, giving up fixed positions: of a living consciouness, a fluxus. I believe this has been a hidden agenda in the early music movement (another one of course has been a romantic, and perhaps anti-social opposition to modernism as such).
8) Much to my dismay, only a few players so far have accepted the potential of the viol as a contemporary instrument. I have heard too many times the remark that enough music has been written for the viol, and that playing new music is a disgrace of the noble viol. Bull. It is interesting to look upon the viol as a potentially modern instrument. What would one want to change to the viol to make it fit for modern ensembles? Can you dream up a shape, or application that might fulfill this potential? Can you dream up a music that calls for the viol (electric or not) to contribute to its song?
La Ravissante 2nd rehearsal Listen to this piece (2003) by Carlo Denti. You hear an interpretation for Ruby Gamba and concert harp, played by Extratemporal. Live recording of a second rehearsal. The instruments are recorded as they sound in a church. Here you hear the Ruby Gamba played through a PA monitor. Microphone at 2 m.