R A G G A G Í S L A
Welcome to website of icelandic composer Ragga Gísla.
Chamber Music Piece for Studs is a piece where the composer plays an electric bass guitar and an acoustic guitar with so-called studs. The studs used in this work are of different coarseness and three different sizes. This kind of musical instrument is untraditional, but in her work “Underseas” which Ragga Gísla composed as part of her M.A. project at the Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2012, she used a stud for the first time.
The musician sits with the instrument on a guitar stand in front of her as if she were playing the cello and strokes the strings with a stud or a threaded rod which she holds in her right hand. The rod is threaded all the way and thus pulls the strings when it strokes them. The left hand mutes the strings between the strokes and also controls the sound by touching the strings on either side of the stud. The dynamics and accents are controlled with different pressure on the strings. Sometimes both hands are on the stud and in that way the volume increases.
The Master’s Thesis, Tonal Sensation in Silence is based on Ragga’s research on the way hearing impaired people sense music. The impact of that experience can be found in this work as it interprets the atmosphere in a way too small lifeboat where 9 families are cooped up. The uncertainty regarding where and if they will ever reach shore is total. The silence is loud.
The Dandelion Symphony consists of 4 movements composed by Ragga Gísla as she records her own performance on dandelions. Each instrument is allowed to keep its unaltered, original characteristics, and the pitch is not changed either. The only effect on the sounds are different reverbs, or recordings of environmental or regional sounds, either indoors or outdoors.
Ragga was introduced to this unusual instrument in the year 2006 by violinist, Sigurður Rúnar Jónsson. Consequently, she started recording her own performance on dandelions each spring. When blowing into the stem of the dandelion it emits a sound similar to that of double reed woodwind instruments, such as the bassoon or oboe. Each dandelion has its own sound, pitch, and note according to its growth, height, width and age. When more than one dandelion are played simultaneously, unexpected sounds are created, even the same note in all at the same time.
Not all dandelions emit sounds and all years are not equally good for producing these musical instruments. It was e.g. difficult to find a dandelion that emitted deep tones in the year 2015, whereas the years 2012 and 2013 were generous in this respect and the stems emitted great overtones, amplitude and strong sounds.
Each dandelion has its own “personality” or characteristics. They interpret different feelings such as sorrow, anxiety, romance, joy, love and worries. Some of them are pissed off, hard-working and fun; also aggressive and arrogant. They play together, but others are soloists and also egoists with a great need to exhibit themselves. They are gentle and innocent, but they possess such power that they blow away all consensual restrictions. They are both signs of spring and bundles of joy, but also very unwelcome and a great effort is made to uproot and destroy them. The dandelion smiles to the sun and closes itself up at the end of the day. It transforms into a blow ball and the seeds are like parachutes searching for a place to land. It possesses healing powers and potent chemicals which are effective for cuisine and winery. Moreover, it can certainly make its voice heard.
Ragga Gísla on the creation of the Baby music: I wanted to bring out the sincerity and warmth in the conversation between an infant and an adult where there is no room for sarcasm, destructiveness or evil. Each time that we talk disparagingly to one another, or to ourselves, we are going against what is best and most beautiful in the world.
Whenever I hold a little baby I change. The most sincere feeling that I possess comes to the surface effortlessly. When I look at the lack of deceit in the eyes of the little baby and feel how it changes me, the last thing I want to do is to inhibit, deceive and shame it. On the contrary, I want to treat this child as well as possible and hold on to this feeling as long as I can. I tune my voice into another waveband, speak gently and skip the words. This is where we feel good and this is how this music was created.
The music is intended to increase happiness, enthusiasm, play and positivity in the minds of the listeners. It was improvised in the studio from an idea of an environment and situation in each respective song. That is where conversations with babies begin. The words are made up simultaneously and the language is a complete fabrication.
This research involves an observation of the way in which people with an inoperative auditory system perceive music. A study is made of whether they distinguish between music and other sounds and a comparison made between their reactions. Their reactions are also compared with those of hearers who are presented with the same sound clips.
The possibility of approaching the intent of the composers in writing these pieces of music is also examined, as well as their thoughts and emotions, by using different methods in listening to music. Inflated balloons, on the one hand, were used when the sound clips were presented to the participants, and sound boards on the other. An effort was made to avoid deep and heavy percussion with an even beat, to the extent possible, in chosen pieces of music. The majority of the compositions were well known and covered a wide range of musical history. Their selection was based on their revealing a broad scale of emotions and their being known for that characteristic. The analysis of the experience of the sound clips is based on interviews with the participants; a comparison of their answers, and how these answers conform to the defined description of the music pieces.
The conclusion of the research indicates a consistency in the deaf participants’ perception of the music pieces and that there is a concordance between their experience of music and that of hearers. Thus, it appears as if deaf people make a distinction between music and sound. The latter part of this thesis is a musical composition rooted in the above-mentioned research.
Clearly drawn and strong descriptions of the emotional reactions of people, who are normally not considered able to perceive music, aroused both curiosity and promise of new musical dimensions. The descriptions opened a door to the cultural world of deaf people; the deaf culture that is based on perception in silence. Its form of expression is often more direct than that of hearers and contrasts are more definite. It is the opinion of the undersigned that music has a definite part in this world and with the composition an effort is made to juxtapose positive and negative impressions in order to reflect the participants’ descriptions of their musical perception.
The full paper from 2012 can be read here
Ragga Gísla (Ragnhildur Gísladóttir) completed an MA degree in composition from the Iceland Academy of the Arts in the spring of 2013. RG has been an active musician for a number of years. She has also composed music for films, theater and dance. Ragga has participated in Dark Music Days, Nordic Music Days, Reykjavik Art Festival and Reykjavik Dance Festival.
Composition was part of Ragga’s MA project which is about they way in which the hearing impaired sense music. Their sound world inspired the composition and in the work “Underseas” she uses so-called studs to interpret this tonal sensation in silence. Pursuant to that composition Ragga composed Chamber Music for Studs in 2015. Parallel to that composition she composed the work Dandelion Symphony where the musical instruments are also untraditional, i.e. the stems of dandelions.