We in the developed West live in a highly individualistic and competitive world. Everything from aged and disability care to scientific research and road building is put out to tender, often with a view to using competition to drive the cost down. Our cut-throat politics is even worse. Political culture and processes are often quite damaging and abusive to women and minorities, as recent examples demonstrate. In contrast, music making is, ideally, a collective and collaborative activity. Continue reading IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO MAKE ART – JENNY ERIKSSON’S VIEW ON MAKING MUSIC
Although populated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for at least 50,000 years, post 1788 Australia is a nation of immigrants. My family is no exception. Knut Axel Eriksson, our Swedish grandfather, was a working-class merchant seaman from Stockholm. He stepped off a ship in Melbourne in the 1920s where he met and married my cockney English grandmother. He never went back to Sweden.
My grandmother was a milliner (hat maker) by trade, and an amateur pianist in her spare time. She loved Chopin, English music hall songs and much more! My grandfather played the harmonica, perhaps learned during the long weeks at sea. Music was in my blood.
In developing my career as a viola da gambist I had not thought much about my Swedish musical heritage until about 8-10 years ago. Swedish-Australian lutenist and guitarist, Tommie Andersson, has been a friend and a member of my early music ensemble, The Marais Project, since its inception in 2000. We talked for years about doing a concert of Swedish music until we finally got our act together. This led to a CD of Swedish baroque, folk and jazz music titled ‘Smörgåsbord.’ This off the beaten track recording was an unlikely hit, spending 3 months on the Australian Top 20 classical charts. It was even launched by the Swedish ambassador and featured on Swedish national radio.
Scandinavia and the electric viola da gamba
After Smörgåsbord I thought I had exhausted my Swedish musical roots, but it was not to be so. In 2015 I formed ‘Elysian Fields’, Australia’s only electric viola da gamba ensemble. Members included leading jazz musicians, classically trained musicians like me, and others with deep experience of world and folk music. We also span different generations. I have somehow ended up being the oldest, an achievement I do not particularly want to celebrate. Two of the founding members were in their 20s and another in their early 30s.
Soon I became aware that most of us had links to Sweden. Singer/violinist Susie Bishop’s partner is Swedish. She speaks Swedish and visits the country regularly. Our young bass player Siebe Pogson has Swedish heritage and saxophonist Matt Keegan spent a year studying in Sweden. As to the others, we have made them honorary Vikings!
Scandinavian music started creeping into our set list. In 2018 Elysian Fields launched a Scandinavian Project at Sydney’s Foundry616 jazz club. In January 2020 we hit the studio to record the most interesting and beautiful of the Swedish and Scandinavian music we had arranged and composed.
Iso hits hard
As we moved into post-production in February, the world was already under the grim shadow of Covid – including the shut down and isolation of whole sections of our society. Complete industries came to a halt. Our gigs started to get cancelled. The music industry joined tourism and hospitality in ‘falling off a cliff.’ Venues closed, tours were put off, cashflow dried up. I personally have had 60 performances cancelled or postponed. Our Producer/sax player Matt Keegan expected our CD project to be suspended or cancelled. Instead, I made decision to dig deep financially and finish the job. That is what artists do – we make art, even in a crisis. Even when money is tight and the future unknown.
Fika – more than a coffee break
The CD was always going to be titled Fika (pron. ‘fee-ka’). What, many will ask, is fika? Fika is a Swedish term that is often translated in English as a coffee break. In reality, it means more than that. Fika is about making time for friends and family, to share a cup of coffee or tea and a bite to eat. You cannot do fika alone although ironically, as I write this, many people remain isolated or separated from those they love. Melbourne has just closed down for a second time. Long before the current crisis Elysian Fields wanted to create a beautiful recording that would bring people together, as fika does. This is our offering to a world in turmoil.
Blurring the lines – is it classical, is it jazz or is it world music? (And who cares…)
Genres help us name things, to categorise what we see, hear, and do. Order is a good thing. It is also a bad thing. In art, being given a label, or not being easy to label, being allocated or not allocated to a genre, can accelerate, or slow down your career. If critics and audiences do not know how to categorise an artist, or struggle to describe what they are doing in conventional ways of thinking, they sometimes leave you alone. Worse still, they write you off by putting you in an awkward box.
As an ensemble we have never explicitly tried to be anything specific genre-wise, we have just written and arranged materials, played them, and worked to refine what we do. Although we fuse disparate musical elements together in new ways – including the sound of the rarely heard electric viola da gamba – we are not a ‘fusion’ band.
The great thing about the group is that as musical equals we each bring who we are to the table and don’t apologise for what we are not. This enables wonderful things to happen. For example, I am a viola da gambist specialising in French baroque music. I am most at home in the music of the Court of the French king, Louis XIV. I am not a jazz musician, but I am playing with some of the best jazz musicians in the country. This could and should be incredibly intimidating. I just don’t have ‘the chops’ that they do. I cannot improvise like they can. But rather than focussing on what I cannot do, I contribute classical music’s discipline, attention to detail, phrasing, and clarity of texture.
Matt Keegan, Matt McMahon and Siebe Pogson bring to the band what to me are exotic jazz harmonies, an amazing sense of rhythm and adventure, along with a freedom to adapt and respond in the moment. They also have a great capacity for nuance and subtlety in chord voicings and melodic line.
Drummer Dave Goodman – ‘Dr Dave’ (he holds a PhD in drumming) – is as much a musical colourist as a keeper of the beat. His subtle washes of sound define the mood of many of our songs.
Susie Bishop, a classically trained singer and violinist, has a Masters degree in opera, but is equally well-known on the national folk and world music scenes from bands such as the Aria-nominated ‘Chaika’. She is an electrifying performer who can literally bring a room to a standstill by the sheer beauty of her voice. When Susie sings a folk ballad, my heart stops. When she does so in Swedish – and you can hear her on Fika – I’m in tears.
We all contribute music for the ensemble, that is one of our strengths. Fika features several stunning arrangements of Swedish folk songs by Susie Bishop and Matt McMahon, original works inspired by Scandinavia composed by Matt Keegan and Siebe Pogson, and arrangements of music by Norwegian jazz composer and pianist, Jan Gunnar Hoff, and Swedish jazz greats, e.s.t., that I have completed.
I see Fika as one of the most important musical milestones in my life. It represents both a journey and a destination. We have created a kind of virtual pathway between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. We have also done this through art. The CD booklet features paintings by my friend Nils Gunnar Zander, a Swedish artist who for 25 years has moved between Sweden and Australia while painting the Australian outback. Of collaborating on the CD project Nils Gunnar Zander wrote the following:
‘Five years ago, an Australian musician with a Swedish background searching for Swedish music in Stockholm met a Swedish artist who had spent twenty-five years living in Australia searching for Australian landscapes to paint in an abstract way. Now we meet at FIKA! In Swedish culture, this means we have a coffee break together. Our music and our art have also come together which makes me so happy!’ (Nils Gunnar Zander)
I hope this recording project brings people together and acts to lift listeners’ spirits. That is what fika does, and not just for Vikings.
Founder, Elysian Fields; July 2020
Fika is released on the MOVE Records label. It is available from MOVE Records, Buywell Music and Bandcamp. Stream or download on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, or Apple Music. High Resolution download via High Res Audio.
“Here is a sound so disorientating it’s like dreaming someone else’s dreams…this time-bending, mind-bending project makes music that sounds modern and hundreds of years old simultaneously. (Sydney Morning Herald)
“Masterful musicians at play in the creation of new works and soundscapes that feature and incorporate Jennifer Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba.” (Loudmouth)
It’s not very often that a new instrument joins the music scene but Jenny Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba, the only one in Australia, has been raising musical eyebrows over recent years. Having spent 30 years establishing herself as a leading expert on the baroque repertoire written for her 7-stringed, fretted and bowed instrument, Eriksson and Elysian Fields are charting new territory for Australian music in blending the special qualities of the viol with elements of jazz, classical and world music. The uniquely configured line up (sax, voice/violin, electric viola da gamba, piano, bass guitar and drums) returns to Foundry fresh from the launch of their highly regarded debut CD, “What should I say.”
Driven by the ongoing creative efforts of band members, Elysian Fields brings to the table an ever shifting and expanding set list. This gig will feature the second ever performance of bassist/composer Siebe Pogson’s specially commissioned song cycle “The Tragedy, The Journey, The Destination” along with original charts by Matt Keegan, Matt McMahon and Jenny Eriksson. Tickets https://foundry616.com.au/ticket/10-october-thursday-elysian-fields/
What: Elysian Fields plays Foundry616
When: 8.30pm, October 10, 2019
Where: Foundry616, 616 Harris St, Ultimo
Tickets: From $20 at Foundry616
Sydney Arts Guide has two double passes to give away to the concert. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with Elysian Fields Promotion in the subject heading. Winners will be advised by email.
Editors Note : This promotion has now closed and the winners have been advised
Master and Pupil: Philip Pogson interviews James Fraser – actor, writer and director
The interaction between master and student is a complex and fascinating one. The famous French novel and film “Tous les matins de monde” (All the mornings of the world) is an acutely sensitive, fictional exploration of the relationship between two great artists: the famed viola da gambist and composer, Marin Marais and his distinguished mentor, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, along with Sainte-Colombe’s two daughters.
Never one to stand still, The Marais Project’s founder and director, Jennifer Eriksson, has put together a collaboration with leading young Australian actor, writer and film maker, James Fraser (The Water Diviner, The Devil’s Playground and The Turning). Together, they have created a series of reflections on Tour les matins du monde in words and music. James answered a few questions in a recent interview.
Q: James, your favourite Actor?
A: This changes frequently, but right now – Tom Hardy.
Q: And your favourite movie?
A: Mmm…that also changes frequently, but today I’ll say “Seven Samurai”.
Q: What was it like working with Russell Crowe?
A: Russell expects 110% from himself and everyone around him, always. It can be exhausting if you’re not totally prepared but it’s also inspiring. Whatever it is that drives him, I want some.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your appearance in the film version of “The Turning”?
A: Tim Winton’s book “The Turning” consists of 18 short stories from 18 different directors. Making the film was therefore a massive project! Being the lead in my segment, I was treated with the same narrative significance as those characters played by Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and Rose Byrne – all idols of mine. So that was amazing – to be given the same story-telling responsibilities they had.
On top of that, my piece, “Big World”, was directed by Warwick Thornton. Warwick also directed one of my favourite Australian films, Samson and Delilah, so working with him was a privilege in itself. Plus they ended up taking a still from our part of the film for the poster. So that back you see on the DVD cover, that’s my back!
Q: What has been interesting for you about getting to know the book and film about Marin Marais, “Tous les matins du monde”?
A: The book argues two sides to a debate about art that I’ve often mused over myself. Is it wrong for an artist to want recognition? Are the rewards of art in the execution or the reception?
The younger Monsieur Marais wants his music to reach people. He wants to touch an audience and be respected for it. He wants people to know his work. The older Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, Marais’s teacher, believes music should be kept between the musician and the supernatural, he plays almost exclusively in solitude and feels that sharing it with people tarnishes the magic of its expression.
In a society so obsessed with turning artists into celebrities, it can sometimes feel like the only way of maintaining integrity is to keep it to ourselves. On the other hand, engaging with an audience is the point of art. I guess the trick is finding the right viewers.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the upcoming performance of “Master and Pupil”?
A: I haven’t performed on stage for a couple of years now. It’s going to be great to act for a live audience again.
Q: What is the next project you are looking forward to?
I’m currently writing my next short film which is a mockumentary called “Batboy”. It’s a metaphor for what it means to be an actor caught in the limbo of pursuing work. It’s about the craziness of this pursuit, the powerlessness, the monotony, the struggles, but also why we stick at it despite all of that. It’s a very personal project and I’ve already shot some of it while in LA earlier this year – I even bought a $600 leather Batsuit! It’s great to be able to explore your thoughts and struggles through art, turn them into something tangible and of worth. I think Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe would be proud. Provided I don’t show anyone when it is all done!
Details : –
Concert: Master and Pupil
Date: 3.30 pm Sunday 29th May
Venue: The Independent Theatre, 269 Miller St, North Sydney
Tickets: $45 adult, $30 concession, $20 student, and $15 child; bookings ph 02 9955 3000; on-line at: http://www.theindependent.org.au/ Afternoon tea is included in the price and available from 2.30pm.
- James Fraser – actor and writer
- Belinda Montgomery – soprano
- Tommie Andersson – theorbo
- Jennifer Eriksson and Catherine Upex – viola da gamba