Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

Posted by jerry on April 17th, 2004 — Posted in Journal, Music

Who would have thought that my hardanger fiddle would end up being discussed in Norway eh? Well, my good friend Enok in Norway asked me in 2000 about my music so I sent him a couple of photos – and within minutes they were on his website :-0

I thought I might share them with you too …

So, what is a hardingfele? Basically it’s a violin with eight strings (don’t try this at home folks) – it has the normal four strings tuned the Australian way (G-D-A-E – which spells “G’day” – the classic Aussie greeting) plus there are four sympathetic strings that run beneath the fingerboard, through the middle of the bridge, and these are tuned various ways – my favourite is D-E-F#-A. The effect is like having a delay pedal – accoustically. When you play strings normally dampened by fingers, the sympathetic strings keep vibrating, giving a haunting echo-like sound. There are some sites with recordings of hardanger fiddles – one of my favourites is this one: Hardingkvartetten – the hardingfele quartet which has some mp3 downloads of hardanger music.

So how did these amazing instruments come about, and when?

The story I heard is this: Back around 1750 music was undergoing a revolution – Bach was playing with the new well-tempered scale which allowed fixed tone instruments to change keys without too much clash; and, due to government cut backs, orchestras were being scaled down – the problem then was to make the same amount of sound from fewer instruments. The solution went in two directions:

* firstly, the whole music scale was raised by nearly a semitone – “A” went from about 360 cycles per second to 440
* and secondly, instruments grew more strings and better sustain – like the hardanger.

Urban legend has it that the hardingfele (named after the Norwegian town of Hardanger – already famous for its distinctive white-work embroidery) was invented by a Norwegian schoolteacher from that town. Whoever invented it, there is some debate about the dating of the oldest known hardingfele – the “Jaastad” fiddle (allegedly 1651) with subsequent hardingfeles known only from the mid-1700s.

And so to my hardanger, eight years in the (partial) making (in South Australia), and subsequently expertly rebuilt properly (with larger internal structural blocks) and beautifully completed by Scott Wise of Perth (now Margaret River), Western Australia.

The first photo is from the Canberra Times newspaper of Easter 2000:
Jerry at National Folk Festival 2003

And now the hardingfele:
Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

Hope you enjoy – I may put up some sound files later
In the meantime here are some music samples from the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America

National Folk Festival, Canberra Australia

Posted by jerry on April 14th, 2004 — Posted in Journal, Music

Easter weekend – I know I haven’t been blogging for a few days – here’s why:

National Folk Festival Four days of fiddling, concerts, guinnesses (guinnaeii?), and *ahem* recording…

You see, it was like this… I met up with some old mates, including ex-Mucky Duck Band (like myself) and now poet extraordinaire, Roger Montgomery – who won this year’s recitation trophy; John Angliss of Dingo’s Breakfast fame (and also ex-Mucky Duck Band and Ten Pound Tourist Band (like myself), and a raft of other West Aussie and South Aussie mates. Much sessioning in the Bar (with the likes of Billy Moran, and Scott and Louisa Wise (Scott made my hardanger-fiddle about 20 years ago!). More sessioning until about 4.00AM. Sleep.

Dawn (well crack of noon actually). Analyse reason for headache… it wasn’t the two bottles of wine; nor was it the five pints of guinness; nor was it the three cans of Fosters Light Ice… but perhaps the combination of these? Better put the mute on the fiddle – at least while I tune up…

*Carefully* began learning a new reel – Star of Munster – and met my neighbour from the next tent – a New Zealand fiddler.

concert highlights: Wongawilli Band – Jane Brownlea’s excellent fiddle playing was truly outstanding – awesome. Finnish band called Jepokryddona and you can hear some of their music here. Other highlights included the Toe Sucking Cow-Girls, a guy with a two-metre unicycle! and a recording offer…

A what?? Well… I was checking out the market stalls, and stumbled (can’t think why) into a stall full of bodhrans [Irish frame-drum played with a single, double-headed stick] (okay I was a champion player once – many years ago) and the stall owner said “Maaaate, have I got a deal for you!” – I thought hello, he’s going try to sell me a bodhran – next thing he’s saying that he saw me and me guitarist mate for the last couple of National festivals in the session bar and was wondering if we’d like to record some instrumental tracks so he could market a CD for aspiring bodhran players to play along with… I hesitated for, perhaps a millisecond bfore saying, er… okay. The upshot was that we ended up the following day recording some preliminary live tracks courtesy of some borrowed equipment (thank you National Festival) so we could test the concept. The real work still lies ahead – I’ll blog you later on that little project.

More sessioning, some concerts – some great young talent and a whole new repertoire of classy musicians. And so to sleep…. Or try to… Canberra’s freezing nights saw me awake more than asleep.

Up at the crack of noon (again!) Argh the frustration of finding all five volumes of Brendan Breathnach’s Ceol Rince tune collection – at fifty dollars apiece! Missed a blackboard concert slot by about three people… back to the session bar. A short afternoon nap – in the van this time – much more comfortable, and ready for a Kranski German sausage moment. More wonderful concerts, more sessioning with my daughter (who plays mandolin) then retiring early (about 2.00AM) for the first full night’s sleep

Awoke refreshed – finally after a good night’s sleep. Greeted the early morning sun with some spirited tunes (other happy campers provided some vocal accompaniment with lyrics like “shurrup!” “b*gger off” and “what tha?”) A truly good start to the day 🙂

A little light rain settled the dust a bit and took the edge off the mild sunstroke – I was glad we brought the tarp for some cover. Got a bit more of the Star of Munster reel down – I hope whoever was recording the radio interview on the sportsground just ahead of me enjoyed the backing track of me playing the Star of Munster over and over and over…

All too soon it was time to pack up and leave – my daughter was to stay on for a couple of days as she was a volunteer so we left the camp site up. I took my leave of many good friends and and new – until the next festival! it was adieu and back to the day job. Great festival – well worth it if you are in Canberra over Easter

Wongawilli Band
Wongawilli Band


The Edwardians Exhibition

Posted by jerry on April 4th, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal

Yes the Edwardians have come to town – an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. It is quite a varied exhibition, including paintings, clothing, and furniture. What was special about this period just prior to the first world war? I’m guessing it is two things:

Firstly, there was an emerging new aesthetic – impressionism was around since the 1880s – and paintings were taking on a new light. Part of this might be ascribed to new paint technologies – paint tubes allowed painting from nature, and watercolours were very portable. But the Victorian period appears to have been quite conservative and resistant to the new aesthetic. When Britain’s Queen Victoria died in 1901 it was like a new birth for the new century, and there was a much more rapid uptake of new ideas in the sciences as well as the arts. The invention of photography meant that painting had to find a new role or be relagated to the dinosaurs. So the sense that painting could capture something more than a photograph was pursued with a passion. Hence much of the exhibition is taken up with portraits of various kinds.

The emergence of Japan on the Western developed world’s stage provided an exoticism that stimulated the Edwardian arts – there are many painted fans in the exhibition and some portraits of Japanese superstars, including the best known of the Geishas. In the decorative arts lacquer work was strongly in vogue, and there was a Japanese influence in the ‘arts and crafts’ movement.

Secondly, and related to the first is a new scientific approach to health – it was considered healthy to spend time on the beach in the fresh air. This was the time of several social experiments with improving working conditions so that workers would be more productive and would be fitter to take on the responsibilities of arms at the peak of the British empire. So there are images of people at the beach, bathing or generally pursuiing healthy outdoor exercise. There are also images of locals who made good as colonial administrators – new wealth and all that. Alongside this was also a sense in which Victorian prudery was being challenged, and the number of nudes attests to a new relationship with the body.

Finally, there are hints of a pre-figuring of later styles of futurism and social realism as seen in the work of Eric Kennington (1888-1960) whose 1914 painting “The costermongers” with its vibrant colours and a flat perspective could have been painted in the 1930s or even the 1960s. And the vibrant geometrics in the Ballet Russes costumes also points the way to the later work of the Bauhaus, such as Kandinsky and Klee.

Overall, this was a good exhibition – well worth taking a look if you happen to be in Canberra 😉

The Costermongers
“The Costermongers” – Eric Kennington

Joining the Roman Public Service (Caeser familia)

Posted by jerry on March 27th, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal

Friday 25 March 2004: A fascinating talk by Paul Weaver at the Australian National University’s classics program.

He began by talking about an off-hand reference in the Oxyrhynchus papyrus to a person called Herminos travelling to Rome …”and became a freedman under Caeser so he can get official jobs”. This seems to have caused something of a controversy among Classical scholars. After describing the Roman civil service hierarchy, Weaver described the various means by which a person could join the Roman civil service – primarily through being born into Caeser’s household as a slave or acquired as a slave and subsequently freed.

Essentially, where freedmen claimed to have joined the Roman Imperial civil service, it appears most were simply making fraudulent use of the appropriate titles. Basically there were three routes to the civil service:

* be born to an Imperial slave;
* be a slave acquired through bequest or conquest; or
* be a freedman (Pallas appears to be the only known case of a freedman having transferred into the Imperial civil service)

Herminos appears to have been a Roman Egyptian writing home to say he had made good. But it is likely that his claims to be working in various (unspecified) positions in the civil service in Rome seem to be either wishful thinking or big-noting himself to preserve his pride (eg rather than admit to being a garbage collector). In short, this fellow appears unlikely to have made a successful entree into Caeser’s Imperial Civil Service.


Terra preta – Amazonian soil

Posted by jerry on March 24th, 2004 — Posted in History, Travel

I’ve just watched a fascinating TV program syndicated to Australia by the BBC on the ‘search for El-Dorado’ in the Amazon rainforest. Following Spanish explorer tales, the progam described how the myths of a large civilisation were debunked on the strength of soil fertility – or lack thereof. Rainforests may look fertile, but the amount of rainfall means that nutients are quickly leached from the soil leaving infertile clay substrates. We have a similar problem in Australia – since most of our land mass was once sea bed and hence below a thin layer of sandy top soil we have a layer of salt – which through over-cropping of the soil, quickly rises to the surface, causing ever increasing desertification of our farmlands.

Enter some persistent researchers who allow their curiosity to be drawn to seeming ‘islands’ of rainforest in otherwise barrren land. It turns out that beneath these fertile islands is a huge legacy of pottery shards – of pots that would be far too large for nomadic people scattered thinly across the landscape. The secret? The black soil – which appears to be artificial. Amazonian small-croppers, like those in Malaysia and Indonesia, clear land by slashing and burning. But by burning on the surface, all the nutrients get burnt to ash leaving only a small amount of added fertility value for farming. The difference appears to be that the Amazonian people of the past also felled trees and burnt the vegetation, but they did so by covering it with earth and producing, not ash, but charcoal. Charcoal is highly absorbant and would retain nutrients in the soil. As one researcher has noted, terra preta soil (black soil) enriched with mineral fertiliser gave 880 percent more yield than the same substrate enriched with the fertiliser alone. In other words the fertiliser was not being leached form the soil.

Now, if only we in Australia could apply that kind of process to our own soil – how much more productive could our land be?