Thursday, 31 May 2012

Kimmo Pohjonen and accordion wrestling

My brother-in-law Andrew (who now clearly knows the combination of weirdnesses that tend to grab my attention) sent me a link to a Guardian piece I didn't spot, Accordion wrestling – squeezy does it (Stephen Moss, 29 May 2012).

This concerns a current show on world tour, a "a sport, theatre, dance, music performance art piece" by the Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen, who has been nicknamed ""the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion", which combines accordion with choreographed acrobatics and grappling by Helsinki wrestlers. The concept, he explains, derives from a genuine historical scenario:
How did he get the idea? "Around 15 years ago, I was in the north of Finland and an old accordion player told me he used to play for wrestling matches. I thought it was a joke – but I discovered it was true. It started in the 1920s and was common in the 40s and 50s, when wrestling was the most popular sport in Finland. That was also when accordion players were stars."

Finnish wrestling has little of the camp theatricality of the sport ITV used to show on Saturday afternoons. It is very serious. A bout can take hours as the two competitors grapple for an advantage. The accordion player entertained the crowd the whole time. Another important function, he says, was to cover up the farts emitted by the wrestlers. "One of the old players said he was told to watch the eyes of the wrestlers, and when you see the fart is coming to produce some special effect to cover it." Not something you are taught at the Royal College of Music.
There are several other YouTube examples - search on "accordion wrestling" - and the official site for the performance tour is here. UK performances are:
6 June Manchester Royal Northern College of Music, 7.30pm, £15.00 (£13.50 conc), / 0161 907 5555
8 June, London York Hall promoted by the Barbican, 8.00pm, £20, / 020 7638 8891

I'd run into Pohjonen a while back, and find his music exciting as another example of where accordion fusion is going. Much of his work is hard to classify, spanning folk fusion, rock, modern jazz, contemporary classical, and avant-garde. Check out, below, Regenerator, a track from his Earth Machine Music Symphony, which combines accordion with raw and percussive sampling from farm machinery.

Again, there are plenty of further tracks on YouTube. For example: Routa and Vala (from Pohjonen's soundtrack pieces for the Kalevala-inspired Finnish-Chinese film Jade Warrior); Emo (part1) played by Pohjonen along with the Kronos Quartet; Animator, a dark solo multimedia performance; Genesis, an initially atonal piece with the Tapiola Sinfonietta; Sumo, a moody piece by the accordion / guitar / percussion trio K Cube; and Keko, a kind of accordion / folk fusion / beatbox improvisation that builds to a frenetic climax and collapse (the implication seems to be that the accordion is finally playing the player until it kills him - it reminds me of  HP Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann).

See the Kimmo Pohjonen website for background:

Switching from the sublime to the mundane: I am, by the way, scheduled to play an accordion spot on Topsham Quay on the afternoon of June 2nd - provisionally at 2.45 and 3.30.

Addendum: it went ... acceptably. I got very distracted at one point in mid-piece when the T bus backed, beeping, into its parking bay adjacent to the stage, and the ensuing mistakes flustered me for the next two pieces. But the audience reception was very good: clearly it didn't seem as bad to them as it did to me!

- Ray

1 comment:

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