Skallskog is a remote farm with no running water or electricity that most Swedes have never heard of. Hidden deep in northern nature, this humble collection of cattle sheds and red-haired farms may seem like a place of little importance. But this is where you will find the disappearing roots of an ancient Swedish singing tradition so intimately linked to nature that it can only be described as magic.
50 reasons to love the world – 2021
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“Because working and singing alongside the fäbod (summer farm) women, I felt such a deep connection with them both as part of our past and part of our present, I just knew that I had to carry on their kulning heritage. – Jennie Tiderman-Österberg, singer
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Kulning is a vocalization tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, where singers correlate farm animals with hypnotic melodies, attracting cows, goats, sheep and ducks to them as if each note was charged with its own gravity. This mystical ability stems from several centuries faböds (summer farms) like Skallskog, where women farmers traditionally call their meandering animals home as they graze freely during the few warm months in these frigid lands. In recent decades, as the place of women in society has changed, these sounds have shifted from the pragmatism of farmland to lyrical elegance.
Kind of a Nordic yodeling superpower meets Dr. Doolittle, modern kulning has a spellbinding quality that inspired Disney to include her haunting melodies in Frozen 2. In 2016, YouTuber Jonna Jinton posted a video of her kulning to the cows that have them. accumulated more than eight. million views. And outdoor concerts and folk music festivals featuring trained Kulning singers continue to popularize this haunting art of communicating with nature.
However, while kulning could see a pop culture revival, the average Swede would have a hard time identifying where the tradition came from. This form of flock calling connects hyper-digital Sweden to its pastoral past. Yet just as the Swedes have become increasingly detached from the farm, the origins of kulning have almost been forgotten.
I visited Skallskog at the end of September as part of my search for a summer farm where kulning was once a routine practice. After taking a three hour train from Stockholm to Borlänge, I met Jennie Tiderman-Österberg, a trained opera singer and former punk rocker. She would be my guide for the day in and around Skallskog, where she often practices kulning and studies the endangered faböd farming lifestyle.
“Kulning is a vocal technique born from function. This is happening in several parts of the Nordic countries. Norway, of course, but also historically in eastern Finland, ”she told me as she walked from the station to the farm, explaining that the musical tradition started in the stubborn soil of frozen farmland. of Scandinavia which made kulning more necessary than art. Farmers here are migratory and herd their animals in faböds during the summer months to graze on fresh grass. Unlike many livestock cultures, Scandinavian Shepherds were mostly women who employed keen animal mimicry.
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“Long, ornate and melismatic cries are often directed at cows. Goats and sheep have different sounds; often shorter, more rhythmic and more throaty, ”she said, adding that the“ magic ”that makes kulning work is a combination of controlling how the voice moves through natural landscapes and knowledge of animal calls.
Tiderman-Österberg decided to reconnect with the musical roots of his culture at a turning point in his life. In 2017, she was a depressed and anxious new mother of twins when she discovered that kulning could provide an emotional and academic outlet for her talents as an opera singer and ethnomusicologist.
This first time Tiderman-Österberg practiced kulning, her high-pitched sounds awoke something in her that shattered years of depression. “It was a huge moment. I felt the life in me, ”she recalls.
Since then, Tiderman-Österberg has devoted untold hours to a project that aims to rekindle interest in Kulning’s origins. Fäbod Landscape and Herding Music, hosted by the Dalarnas Museum, has resulted in several short films, an anthology of stories and a tour that takes visitors to hear kulning singers at open-air concerts in remote Swedish forests. Kulning concerts are usually scheduled during the summer, and visitors can attend by contacting one of the participating faböds.
I had arrived in Sweden just in time to attend one of the last concerts of the Tiderman-Österberg season. The place was a silver mine sunk in a hilly pine forest south of Borlänge which provided the necessary natural acoustics. An audience of around 20 set up camping chairs around an incredibly bright turquoise pool formed by the sunken mine, while she and two other kulning singers and a man with a cow’s horn sprawled around. us, looking outwards so as not to project ourselves directly to just anyone.
In that sense, the outdoor setting is practical: “There are sounds so loud in kulning that you might make someone deaf if you use it in a room or even in a concert hall,” Tiderman said. Österberg.
A piercing call suddenly erupted through the majestic silence of the desert. Beginning with a rippling melody from one of the singers hidden just beyond the treeline, the performers took turns calling their hypnotic chorus to unseen animals. The primordial force of the song seemed to awaken something invisible. The birds chirped in response, or perhaps as an accompaniment. A natural echo added to the music. The leaves of the trees were shaking; if it was the wind or the spirits, I couldn’t tell.
Long, ornate and melismatic calls are often directed at cows
When it was Tiderman-Österberg’s turn, she rang a doorbell to help visualize the animals she was summoning. “I need to hear the sound of cattle to call them out, even if they’re imaginary in an outdoor concert,” she told me later. “But I can almost smell their scent and hear their bellowing when I hear the doorbell.” They are part of the sensory landscape that creates the right feeling for me. Then I get in touch with all the women who have sung before me in these forests. It’s pretty spiritual, really.
One such woman is Alice Gustafsson, 81. She learned to walk in Skallskog decades ago, and still walks her animals there every summer, a 20 km walk from the Dalarna farm that her family uses the rest of the year.
Like other farmers in this region, she calls her animals. Sitting in his living room, I asked Gustafsson to do a demonstration for me. With care and gentleness, she sang a cow’s cry often heard on her farm: “Ko-new, ko-new dawwwww. His voice was hoarse, handy for calling animals.
Then she stopped to clarify something for me. These days, the popular perception of kulning has changed so much that even women like Gustafsson who are born into a faböd no longer see their calling as herd as kulning. Instead, kulning is seen as inseparable from art; something to be performed by qualified singers. It makes farmers like Gustafsson feel that they are not educated enough to truly be called Kulning singers, even though they are the closest heirs to the tradition.
But what Gustafsson does is kulning, Tiderman-Österberg insists, though she doesn’t necessarily call it that. Tiderman-Österberg says it’s because kulning has gone through a process of “beautification”. “A woman’s voice should be beautiful, angelic and not guttural, barking,” she said. “Not everyone wants to hear these sounds, which are more really related to the shepherds.”
However, Gustafsson’s relationship with his six cows – how she mimics their voices and takes care of them – is a rare snapshot of what kulning originally was. “I don’t practice kulning like a lot of us talk [it] today, but I communicate with animals. I call them, talk to them and sing to them, just as a way to communicate, ”she says. “They are part of my family.”
“It’s nothing we think about. It’s something we just do, ”added Lars Arnesson, one of Gustafsson’s neighbors. “We do it because we have to bring our animals home.
Tiderman-Österberg says that faböd farmers like Gustafsson who still practice herding “are dying out,” and with them the last link to the origins of kulning. This prompted Tiderman-Österberg to seek protective status for them; today, she works tirelessly to achieve Unesco intangible world heritage status for Nordic faböds and kulning singing traditions.
[It] reminds us of something very old that has been locked in our DNA for a long time
However, even if faböd farmers are protected, kulning is already on the way to evolve into something else.
“The increased interest in this fascinating use of the voice stems from the fact that kulning has changed since fäbod. [to modern society]Said Susanne Rosenberg, professor in the Department of Folk Music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
She recognizes that modern concerts and performances have an impact on restoring knowledge of her fäbod origins, but that kulning now exists largely in the context of musical art. “There is a renewal. But when it comes to kulning as a use of the voice it has never been so alive, ”she said.
Jinton admits that “kulning will never be the same as it used to be. It was from the farmers calling the animals, but maybe now it can evolve, and we can benefit from it in another way.
Jinton, who moved to the remote northern Swedish village of Grundtjärn in 2010, has developed a social following that relates to his angelic personality and passion for nature. A commentator on her channel called her the “real Elsa”. She laughs but admits that there is “something enchanting” about sharing her love for kulning.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are from Sweden or Africa, kulning elicits the same reaction regardless of culture,” she says. “I still don’t know what it is. Maybe it has something to do with this kind of sound and frequency that reminds us of something very old that has been locked in our DNA for a long time.
“This music helps people, it heals people. I think kulning will continue to be good for us in this way.
BBC Travel celebrates 50 reasons to love the world in 2021, thanks to the inspiration of famous voices and unsung heroes in local communities around the world.
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