Surrealist Training Circus: a little known Bard College tradition in which all the trash and last-minute scurf of the campus is assembled into show and burned up within 90 minutes, all to the glee of the drunken half of the student population watching it all go up in flames. Due to the hasty conglomeration of set, actors, stilts and fire, a coherent plot is usually presumed to exist prior to showtime, shouted from a bullhorn at both rehearsals, and then flouted during the actual show. Any conceived of story proves itself just to be a series of strange sights interrupted by the occasional inferno. Nonetheless, people make connections, see things in the effervescent hunk of spectacle. Maybe what seems to be a futile attempt at storyboarding does help a little, giving the show just enough order and pattern to entice the audience into creating some meaning.
Language: symbols with arbitrary reference juxtaposed according to grammatical rules, often times expressing meaning. Sometimes these words are put into song though, where they often play a different role. While they hold their own semantics, they also tell the listener where he/she is in the song, mixing the words’ prosodic elements with the song’s melodic ones, cementing each melody deeper into the grey matter of the listener’s brain. This fusion of language and song is more prevalent, if not expected, in modern pop music, as lyrics play an ever more important role songwriting and composition. As this element becomes more expected, however, so does the structure of the song themselves, hence the common complaint about pop music: the accessibility of melodic pop songs has given way to homogeneity.
Although when the language barrier is crossed and pop music is composed with something other than the standard issue English, the homogeneity is not so obtrusive, indeed, nearly invisible. The words that pinned down meaning and melody are suddenly sounds from a strange instrument that produces word-like wails, phonemes sung out an obscure sort of oboe with a tongue and lips sticking out the bell. Such are the Swedish vocals of Anna Järvinen to me, my only knowledge of Swedish being that the female name “Karin” is pronounced “Korrin.” The structure of the usual pop song is lost to me, as I haven’t reflex knowledge of the meaning behind the words sung, nor even Swedish phonotactics, from which I might pick up some simple elements like rhyme or reason. Regardless of my inarticulate grasp of structure, I am told by my PR packet that this album, Jag Fick Feeling, is meant to harken back to the nostalgia of pop music, back to Elton John and The Carpenters. It’s more difficult to see than I would expect, especially with my ears. I might get some rhymes here or there, but the tune is ephemeral to me, drifting like cigarette smoke, through one ear and out the other, my brain unable to inhale and ingest the familiar song that goes pop.
This elusiveness may just add to the music. With the subtraction of familiarity, the homogeneity cannot be recognized, and I am left not only listening, but searching. This Swedish kind of pop music allows me to do more than just listen, something most of us Americans stop doing mid-way through one of our own pop songs. Anna Järvinen, just through the use of a different language, has made the American pop song different. She has released the genre from its homogeneity not into heterogeneity, but into something too wispy to categorize. Her gossamer strands of classic pop are hard to bunch together when they are stringing through my ears. I can only search the music a note at a time, processing each atomic sound and creating whole new schemata and stories for each sounds as it comes, rarely being able to take the whole song and call it “this” or “that.” It is an entirely present experience, free from the binds of stereotypes and prior knowledge. In this respect, Anna Järvinen’s Jag Fick Feeling produces the same sort of experience as the Surrealist Training Circus, where the audience is given just enough semblance of order to do something other than watch the fire spin round and round. It’s a feeling of something so familiar, so close, it pulls listeners out of their passive seats; it’s a feeling of something new and exciting without the danger of the uncharted avant-garde: it’s a feeling, a Jag Fick Feeling. I don’t know what that means, but I can make it mean something.