NORTHERN WINTER READ:
Her musical journey is for sure an adventurous one, and on the way, she has created a musical universe with plenty of space for Estonian folk melodies, epic electronic soundscapes and mythical storytelling. Meet Maarja Nuut in the third issue of NWR.
by Mikkel Brandt
”I started to play the violin when I was seven years old. A few years before, I had already composed my first piece on the piano… For my rabbit.”
Maarja Nuut’s music doesn’t let itself define easily.
Drawing on inspiration from Estonian folk music she’s not afraid to bring its melodies and playing style into contexts which it has never been put in before. Both as a solo artist and during her continuous collaboration with the experimental electronic musician Ruum.
“What I do musically, is constantly changing and evolving. I do a lot of very different things at the same time.”
At this year’s Northern Winter Beat she will perform a solo set, in which her beautiful and transcendental compositions are brought to life by voice and violin together with various electronics.
“With traditional music, we tend to think of it as something very holy, you know. That we need to keep it in a certain way. But I was more interested in finding out how this language works and how to reach an intuitive way of using it.”
Maarja Nuut has a background as a classical violinist, and even though she grew up in Estonia, it was not until her early 20s she started to give her own take on her home country’s traditional music.
She describes how she after a period of studying Indian music in New Delhi came back with fresh ears. And when she was introduced to archival recordings of Estonian folk musicians, playing traditional village music, she was instantly hooked.
“The sound world, that I discovered there, was really psychedelic and mysterious. In some ways, it can be compared to Indian music. It’s a musical language filled with rules, grammar, semantics, and so on. And maybe because I had been to India, my ears were so open to microtonality and all the small details. So I think, I had a different view.”
This music had a huge impact on her. And even though the old recordings are nowhere near hi-fi and often are quite short (because the sound collectors didn’t want to waste too much recording wax), she was very fascinated by what she heard.
“I was interested in why it was sounding so captivating and so interesting, because this old music is rather minimal, and there’s a lot of repetition. But then at the same time, it’s constantly changing in details. It’s constantly evolving. So it’s, in a way, a kind of transcendental music.”
“It’s so full of details, I would say. Different players have their own style, their own character. You can really hear, especially with string instruments or with vocal, how much they play with their own voice. That they want to tell something.”
This musical discovery was followed by an intense period of studying the recordings closely.
“I knew, I could mime the recordings. And just always play exactly the same. But then it’s not living music. It’s sort of dead. It’s just copying someone’s moment from 100 years ago. But if you learn all the basic things, and if you’re lucky, you might one day be able to talk in your own way.”
“It took some time to get to the moment, where I got the satisfaction, that okay, I can now play all those little ornaments and thrills, the way I hear them, and then I asked yourself where to go next. Because I couldn’t just stay here playing exactly those twenty seconds the same way.”
Since then Maarja Nuut has taken the style to new places in her own compositions, and she has – among many other things – brought modular synth sounds, field recordings, and hypnotic vocal looping into the mix.
At the end of the interview, Maarja Nuut presented two of the songs, we can experience as part of her performance at Northern Winter Beat.
The first one is called “Haned kadunud” (meaning “Lost geese”). A rather macabre story originally passed on as a folk song.
“There are different versions of this story, and it’s very mysterious, in some ways. It’s about this young woman, who’s keeping some birds. Geese. But then a big wind comes and takes the birds away. So she goes home and asks her mother to bake some bread and make her hair nice, so she can go and look for the birds. But then, while she’s on her way, she meets all sorts of different creatures and people, hidden behind ordinary names. And in the end, she’s led to an old country house, and there’s a big party. There are food and drinks, and she’s asked to sit behind the table. And when she sits there, she realises that everything around her, the furniture, the drinks, the food, are all made from her own birds and that she’s actually ended up in the underworld.”
“Haned kadunud” / “Lost geese” (lyric excerpt):
“A seat of goose bones is brought to me
I am given goose meat to eat
I am given goose blood to drink”
“There are different interpretations, and if you read the story, it sounds like an average story. So what’s so interesting about those songs and stories is that you really need to know some context, and there are so many layers. Because those songs have been passed on for hundreds, hundreds, hundreds of years. So you read a simple story, but there’s actually something a very deep layer underneath it. And we don’t really know, what’s the moral of the story. Everyone can think of their own. Sometimes there’s no moral. Sometimes things just go bad and that’s it.”
Another song, Maarja presents, is “Kurb laulik” (meaning “Sad singer”).
“Kurb laulik” / “Sad singer”:
”He who hears me sing
Will think all is well
He will believe that my days are filled with joy
I sing through my sorrows
I sing through my mourning heart
Tears stream from my eyes to my chest
From my chest to my heart
From my heart to my knees
From my knees to my feet
From my feet to my toes
From my toes, they flow to the ground
Then the village herd will get to drink
The parish foals will get to drink
The manor horses will get to drink”
Maarja Nuut is playing at Northern Winter Beat 2020 January 31st at Huset in Hasserisgade.