JUHO MYLLYLÄ - Approaching the new with the historical: new music for early instruments?

JUHO MYLLYLÄ - Approaching the new with the historical: new music for early instruments?

In autumn 2014, while embarking my studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory, I begun a collaboration with two colleagues of mine. This trio, to be called Ugly Pug, devoted themselves to the performance of new music on “early” instruments: recorders (Juho Myllylä), viola da gamba (Miron Andres) and harpsichord (André Lourenço). From the beginning we had an ambition to dive into the fascinating contemporary repertoire written for these instruments, in combination with improvisatory techniques and a taste for electronics. Now, where does such a fascination to fully focus on the contemporary side of our instruments come from?

It goes without saying that the concept of playing new music on old instruments is a very natural one. The versatility of these instruments traditionally conceived “historical” carries on to providing fresh and surprising sounds in today’s context, and has inspired numerous notorious composers over the last decades to abolish their preconceptions and write for them. Thanks to the tireless work of the pioneers on the field and existing ensembles such as The Roentgen Connection, there is a great deal of fantastic repertoire that has been generated and is just waiting to be picked up and played. Yet, on the path we’ve taken there is still so much more to create and discover.

The history integrally linked to these instruments can be seen both as an advantage and a disadvantage from the perspective of today’s performer. It creates certain expectations, mostly related to common associations on how these period instruments should and should not sound like. The most usual way to hear these instruments being played is of course in baroque music, rightfully so. In the meantime, paralleled with the discovery and development of period instruments in contemporary composition, the level of historical performance has raised higher and higher around the globe. Therefore, regardless of how revolutionary we falsely think we are, what we do might not be anything special after all. However, I believe there is an element of surprise to be found when the pure combination of old and new manages to really “hit the spot”. It is exactly going against these expectations that is intriguing and at the end of the day, perhaps the most rewarding part of the whole process. At best it comes across as inspiring to both the musicians and the audience alike.

The three musicians of Ugly Pug come from international and diverse musical backgrounds, which adds its own distinctive flavour to the mixture. Besides our early music training, we all have come a long way exploring our musical selves in a great variety of contexts. For instance, our harpsichordist André is an electric bass player and singer in various metal bands, our gambist Miron has delved deep into the world of free improvisation, and I myself am also a guitarist and singer in a rock band. These ingredients put together, we aim to shed new light on this golden combination of instruments - recorder, viola da gamba and harpsichord - that have belonged together for centuries.

That being said, while paying respect to the history of these instruments, what we strive for with our setting is its emancipation from the chains and conventions of early music. These may feel like opposite thought models, but in the end you can’t ignore either one: very often when looking at a new composition, for instance, we are confronted with idioms based on early music in one way or another. Sometimes it means deriving from the sound idea of historical performance, perhaps vaguely referring to it or even completely destroying it. This juxtaposition of “old” and “new”, “historical” and “modern” is built in the nature of this instrumentation, and the contrast between these worlds that is always present is what keeps the concept ever so interesting.

That our trio came to be called Ugly Pug, might at first seem to have absolutely nothing to do with what we’re doing. What do you mean “Ugly Pug”? “Pugs are not ugly!” Our source of inspiration here was the pug of our gambist, Sabba, whose debated ugliness or attractiveness we couldn’t reach a consensus on. Thus the name illustrates the very contradiction and aesthetic problem in question: wrecking the specious standard of beauty that this musical fusion is essentially about.

Juho Myllylä is a recorder player, studying at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He feels passionate about earlier repertoire - medieval and renaissance music, yet is especially interested in the recorders’ countless possibilities in the fields of contemporary music, jazz, fusion, rock, prog, experimental, electro-acoustic and live electronic music. Juho is also active as a rock musician, and the guitarist-singer-songwriter for the Melodic Progressive Rock band Burntfield.

More about Ugly Pug at www.uglypug.net

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