Two talented young musicians, one playing nyckelharpa, the other guitar. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than that to make a beautiful album. The Swiss duo Emilie Waldken and Pascal Rüegger, together known as
did just that and we at
are more than happy to introduce their music!
Emilie Waldken studied classical violin, after which she was introduced to the nyckelharpa and Scandinavian music and it was love at first sight. In her own words; ‘the discovery of the nyckelharpa was key in my life.’ She eventually went to Sweden to study Swedish folk music on the
Eric Sahlström institutet.
Besides KNEP she plays in the medieval/fantasy band
which she founded. She also does a lot of solo performances and teaches.
Pascal Rüegger studied music on the
Zürcher hochschule der kunste
in Zurich. He also went to Sweden to study Scandinavian folk, although his focus was more on dance. He now gives workshops in traditional Nordic- and Balfolk dances. He is also busy with quite a few jazz- and theatre projects.
Together Emilie and Pascal form the duo KNEP. Their first album
came out on the 13th of February 2016. When asked how KNEP was formed Emilie said:
“It was a bit before heading to Sweden that Pascal and I met during a Balfolk ball. First we jammed, slowly a common repertoire was created and one day we stepped on stage and KNEP was born. So our duo is really a classical violinist having a passion for Scandinavian folk fiddling and nyckelharpa who met a jazz guitar and bass player and them ending up together! We like to stick to the Scandinavian style, using the tradition we both studied as much as possible.”
(The complete interview we did with KNEP can be found here)
With both Emily Waldken and Pascal Rüegger loving Swedish folk-, Balfolk-, classical- and jazz music, it’s no surprise that KNEP’s sound is indeed a blend between Swedish Traditional music, Balfolk and classical chamber music with a splash of jazz.
you’ll find 11 lovely folk songs. Introducing us to different types of Scandiavian traditional music and some balfolk too. Five of the songs are Polska’s, one is a Circassien Circle. There is a Waltz, a Scottish and two Mazurka’s. Five songs are traditionals, Pascal wrote four and Emilie has five to her name. For the fast mathematicians, yes that adds up to more then eleven, but some songs are actually two tunes blended together. Something you will surely notice reading the song-titles. All arrangements are by Emilie and Pascal. The latter is also responsible for recording
The first song
MCP + La verte
shows all the duo’s strong points. It starts with a jazzy rhythm played by Pascal on guitar and he is soon accompanied by Emilie’s nyckelharpa. Although the first time I heared the music I mistakenly thought it was played with a octavharpa. Not true Emilie told me. Her nyckelharpa has a 4-row keyboard, which explains the deep almost cello like sound on this (and other) songs. As the nyckelharpa’s melody on MCP + La verte is in the range of a cello, you would expect these two combined compositions by Pascal to be melancholic, but they are not. It’s actually a cheerfully played Polska, especially the second part
The second song
(French for Honeysuckle) is a composition by Emilie. This song is still evolving when they play it live with Emilie adding new parts to it on a regular basis. Again, a nice cheerful song, with Pascal on low whistle. The composition has a lot of variations on the main theme and changes in tempo, keeping it interesting until the last note.
Polska från Dorothea
starts with a lovely nyckelharpa intro from Emilie, with Pascal´s guitar joining in. Both instruments blend into a beautiful, gentle piece of music. By now it’s clear that both Emilie and Pascal are excellent musicians. Although all songs are instrumental, you don´t miss vocals. As is to be expected from well composed classical music, the instruments themselves are the voices. In the artwork Knep tells that this Polska has been among their favourites for a long time. It could well be my favourite too.
is a Mazurka. It´s also a solo piece for guitar and it´s beautiful, starting real small, delicate and tender. The song shows how beautiful classical acoustic guitar can be, when played by a skilled musician. Another personal favourite of mine.
Le Troll du Chateau de Joux + The Gallowglass
brings us to another Balfolk dance classic. The Circassien Circle dance. At this point I noticed another strong point of the CD. Its variation. I am taken from dance tunes to delicate solos. One moment the guitar will lead the way, the next song the nyckelharpa takes center stage. From open chords to rhythm, from Polska’s to a Waltz, the songs are never the same. I really have to compliment KNEP on the song choice and the placement of them on the album. It is so well balanced, so well thought out that it keeps being interesting.
Not all songs are Swedish folk inspired.
is a Waltz Emilie wrote when she heard about the
a special fiddle from Poland. Maybe it sounds Polish, maybe not, but it’s definitely a nice Balfolk song.
is a solo piece for nyckelharpa. And here I have to compliment Pascal on his recording skills. The whole album is recorded with minimal usage of effects, giving it a direct, pure and honest sound. In this song it works so well. You can really hear all the ‘clicks’ of the nickelharpa keys being touched. If you close your eyes you can just imagine Emilie sitting next to you, playing you this wonderful instrument.
The last song I want to mention is
a delicate duet between guitar and nyckelharpa. A worthy end to this beautiful album.
nicely fills in the gap between Balfolk, as played by the likes of
and Baroque style chamber music. It’s not an album that will make you jump and run through your house dancing. It’s an album you want to play to calm down and forget the stress of the day. It leaves you feeling positive and relaxed. A great value nowadays.
A Swiss band, playing Scandinavian music, on a Dutch radiostation, broadcasting worldwide. Now how is that for “international”? 🙂
Wondering what band that may be? Well, allow us to introduce you to
! We first saw them at one of
in Alphen a/d Rijn and we instantly loved them and wanted to introduce them to all of you! So
went all out! Here are two ways to get to know them: an interview and an album review!
So if you want to know more of the backstory of this lovely duo, you can read the interview at
If you want to know more about the music itself, check out Cliff’s review of their album Bestioles at
The artwork shown here was made by the very talented
KNEP – Interview
KNEP is a young Swiss duo formed by Emilie Waldken and Pascal Rüegger. Their first CD, Bestioles, is a beautiful piece of traditional Scandinavian folk music, with a lovely pure, natural feel to it. Promoting the music they both fell in love with in a beautiful way. The CD came out early 2016. So it’s high time we finally introduce KNEP properly. Starting with a cheerful Emilie.
Emilie Waldken (EW): ‘Hey CeltCast. Thanks for your interest! Who am I and what is my background? Well, I held a violin as early as I can remember. learning classical music at first. Then specializing more into baroque and growing a strong interest in folk music over the years. First I started to pick up some Celtic and medieval favorites by ear. Eventually, I discovered the nyckelharpa and Swedish folk music. Love at first sight with both! After some years of playing folk music on my own and getting my Certificate in classical violin, I went to Sweden to study nyckelharpa, Scandinavian fiddle and Nordic tradition with masters. Two years which left me being totally passionate about the subject.’
What would be your favourite instrument? EW: ‘Hard one! I’d say nyckelharpa of course, although fiddle and its relatives like viola d’amore, hardingfele and viola da gamba I love as much. Oh and I have a total fascination for cello.’
And Pascal? Are you also classicly trained? Pascal Rüegger (PR): ‘No, I started making music at age 6 with violin. I didn’t stick to it for a long time though and switched to guitar and drums. Soon I started to mess around with a lot of
different instruments (singing, piano, percussion, saxophone, cello, mandolin…).
At some point I did a Bachelor and a Master in jazz on electric bass and double bass, which is probably where a good bit of my approach to music comes from. That is also where I got most of my musical training, so I’d say I’m “jazz trained”, though I have also been playing some classical music as well. I somehow ended up getting more and more into Celtic- and then Scandinavian folk during my studies, which now is kind of my main focus.
The instruments I currently play seriously are guitar, Irish flute, double bass, percussion and mandolin. And I’m definitely not able to pick a favorite.’
How did KNEP start as a duo? EW: ‘It was a bit before I went to Sweden that Pascal and me met during a balfolk ball. First we jammed, slowly a common repertoire was created, until one day we stepped on stage. KNEP was born. So KNEP is really a classically-trained fiddler having a passion for nyckelharpa, who met a jazz guitar and bass player, and them ending up in a duo!
We like to stick to the Scandinavian style, using the tradition we both studied as much as possible, and then to expand it with our backgrounds (baroque & jazz) and follow the inspiration we get from the vivid folk music scene in Sweden: modern, passionate, crazy and wonderful.(Pascal also went to Sweden to study the folk tradition, although his focus was more on dancing).
So, in short, we met in Switzerland, then both went to Sweden to study Scandinavian folk music, and then both came back to Switzerland. KNEP went on playing during all that time.’
By the way, what does ‘KNEP’ mean? EW: ‘KNEP’ was chosen as a name because we wanted a Swedish word, that German-, French- and English-speaking people can pronounce without problem. Also something short and easy, quite catchy. I looked up different Swedish words meaning more or less silly things and ‘trick’ appeared to be quite fitting (though we didn’t know ‘knep’ has a very different meaning in Danish which makes it a very poor choice to have when we play in Danemark. But well, if we ever get gigs there, we’ll go under “duo Waldken-Rüegger”.
You can also spell KNEP backwards : – P for Pascal – E for Emilie – N for Nyckelharpa – K for… well, Guitar.’ Emilie laughs. ‘Did I mention one of our most important characteristics is being silly and random, introducing stupid sounds in our recordings, carrots on stage and carrying a stuffed octopus around?’
So why Swedish folk, why not Swiss? EW: ‘Why Swiss people started playing Scandinavian music? Well I guess it’s just a matter of taste. There are Swiss people playing blues, American bluegrass, Morroccan traditional music…
Scandinavian music is just one of our favorite styles, and very personally, I feel totally Scandinavian at heart (I can’t decide between Sweden and Norway, so I say Scandinavian). About the traditional tunes we play on the CD. They are just tunes we heard, learned and like to play a lot. Swedish repertoire is so huge, there are so many good tunes! We just picked some. We will go on doing that. Kinda play half traditional tunes and half our own compositions.Those traditional tunes are usually known just by the melody, so then it’s our job to find harmonies, write second voices, and arrange all that into one track.’
Pascal, you were responsible for recording the songs. Something you learned at school during your jazz education I guess? PR: ‘I didn’t do much of that in jazz school. I mostly got interested in recording because of wanting to do recordings where I could play all my instruments at the same time. Then somehow I got really interested in that field and learned what I know about it today mostly through looking things up on the internet.’
I noticed you used as little effects as possible on the instruments during recording, giving Bestioles a real pure and honest sound. PR: ‘Indeed, the effects are on the discrete side. One thing that facilitates that a lot is the nyckelharpa having its own reverb due to the resonance strings. For me the process of mixing the album was a lot about finding a good balance of keeping that pure and honest sound while still using the possibilities that recording offers us, making things sound a bit “bigger” than they might be in real life. EW: ‘What Pascal says is true, we put only little effects on the recordings, because the pure, direct (honest as you say) sound of our instruments is what we are after. Folk music is mostly acoustic live music. The atmosphere we experienced in Sweden is very pure and rough. Music direct from the instruments, direct from the musicians, with a very strong link to dancing. I think we both are after that kind of “direct” sound, but I’m probably the most keen on the subject. On stage too, I always ask for the purest and most untouched sound possible. For the nyckelharpa especially. As the instrument has that natural reverb from the resonance strings, I always wish a sound with no added reverb at all – and as little as possible to none on my fiddle as well.’
Well, the CD sounds wonderful in that way. The instruments really come alive in their purest form. What I also love are the small stories accompanying the songs in the booklet. The whole artwork is really cool actually. EW: ‘Thanks about the artwork! I had a lot of fun drawing every single beastie in there.
KNEP is a lot about being direct, honest, silly (already said, but it’s important), and doing things
ourselves. That’s why Pascal recorded the album and I do all the promo drawings and such.’ PR: ‘Oh, and I don’t think that has been mentioned so far but we tend to always have an octopus with us on stage; in rehearsals and when recording. It’s called Gertrude and, as you can see, it is very fluffy.’
How does the future look for KNEP. Any special plans? EW: ‘Hmm, that’s a good question. We have been talking about a new album, because there are no Halling tunes on the first one and this is really sad. So the idea of a new album is there, though not very precise yet. We are basically working on new repertoire before we plan any serious recording session. I guess a new album will feature a bit more Scandinavian stuff and less balfolk, including probably several Norwegian tunes.
We are also working quite a lot on dance teaching. We give Scandinavian dance workshops in Switzerland and abroad. It’s a way for us to create space for the music we love to be played on stage. You need dancers who know what kind of dance is played, to make it a good thing for a band to play that style on stage. Especially as we play less for concerts, much more in balfolk venues. For example, for a year now we have been teaching quite a lot of Norwegian halling in Switzerland and the Netherlands. And we are extremely happy to see this dance getting slowly known and appreciated. We wish to go on with it and, if possible, to then introduce other Scandinavian dances to continental Europe. Polskas of course, with different regional variations, but we have also started a bit with one springar style from the region of Voss in Norway, and the old Swedish menuett… We try to help Scandinavian stuff stay beloved and alive on the continent, and if possible develop it and widen the possibilities it offers.
Looking at both your Facebook pages, I can see that you are really busy in the music world. Two of those projects look especially interesting for the CeltCast listeners. First a band that has dutch members as well,
EW: ‘Knupia is a cross-project between Knep and Nubia (from the Netherlands indeed),
which was formed because the members of both bands just love to be and play together. So we created this
quintet, where Pascal was happy to let the guitar to Tim and jump to the percussion (new toys are always
more fun than old ones you know). I’m sticking to nyckelharpa, and we also have Kris on mandolin and Jolanda on bass-clarinett. Those instruments widen the sound and possibilities we get to shape our music a lot. Rehearsing and organizing can get tricky thou, as we have members spread across Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden!’
Another band I saw on your profile Emilie,
, looked interesting as well. It seems to be a fantasy band, is that true? EW: ‘That’s true. Skoga Obscura is my own new little baby-project. It’s my dream of bringing Scandinavian traditional repertoire into the world of medieval-fantasy events. The concept is to keep the music and dances quite traditional (although we add percussion to the nyckelharpa’s, because in
the streets we need something loud to carry our sound), with costumes evocating the legends of Scandinavian folklore, such as huldras, trolls, etc. We want to keep a very different atmosphere than the usual fantasy costumes, so we don’t portray anything warrior-like. Only things from the farming world. All materials are natural (no latex-ears for example) and we rarely use any metal artifact.
‘Skog’ is the Swedish word for forest, turned into a verb by adding an ‘a’. ‘Obscura’ is added to make the link to the continent and express the dark tone we stick to. So a quite proper translation of the name would be “dark foresting”.
We perform mostly music and dance, but we do add some story-telling sometimes too and I’m working on a concert-version for the winter. The members can vary a lot from one event to another (the only fixed member being me), so what we offer varies too. I am working hard on developing this new project at the moment and we’ll see where it goes! I really cross fingers for it to survive and if possible thrive!’
Pascal, your personal projects are more in the jazz style, so not what we could play at CeltCast. But they are interesting in their own right. How can one find info about them? PR: ‘Thank you, I have a website with other projects of mine on, in case people want to listen to some more things (it’s not completely up to date though, and only in German and French so far): But you can find a
With all that activity I’m starting to wonder. Is the balfolk scene that big in Switzerland? EW: ‘I would not say the balfolk scene in Switzerland is big, no. The country is tiny, and so is the scene. We have some very passionate people in there, but we all face the same problems. The scene is small, so we lack the possibility of organizing big stuff (which would be the way for musicians to make a bit of a living) and there is a strong language barrier. We have to expand to France (for the french-speaking area) or Germany (for the Swiss-German area) (and let’s not even talk about the poor Italian-speaking ones, always forgotten). Thus it’s not really a surprise that KNEP’s members are always on the road somewhere in Europe!
Emilie, Pascal thank you for your time! Any thoughts you still want to add? PR: ‘Yes! Knep will be back to Balfolk Dansstages in the spring 2018! For sure! We are very much looking forward to that!’ As are we. When Knep is in the neighbourhood, go check their music out. It’s well worth it!
Emilie and Pascal gave this interview at the end of 2017. At that time the were thinking of a possible new CD. Just when I was about to publish this interview, Emilie emailed me to tell KNEP díd record some new songs. Better yet! That the CD would be released at Dansstage on the 13th of march. I am now allowed to tell you it has become a mini CD called Hallingrr. And that it contains four really nice Halling songs. Featuring, amongst others, the beautiful sounds of the Guitar, the nyckelharpa, the fiddle and ….a Goat???
KNEP will keep surprising us with good music. Ánd with funny twists
Photo’s 1 & 2, Knep at CaDanza 2017 courtesy of
Photo 5, Knupia at CaDanza 2017 courtesy of
Meidi Goh – Heartstrings (2018)
The autumn queen came home again,
she flew with geese by starlight.
Acorn and chestnut called her name,
as did rain and flame and twilight.
This is part of the poem The Autumn Queen which opens
first solo EP Heartstrings. Meidi wrote the poem herself and to her it is a portal into her work, her music. After some years studying classical and baroque violin, Meidi started playing with the baroque ensemble Kolibrie. After that she joined the Dutch jazzy folk band
The last year Meidi devided her attention between the Dutch historic folk band
and her first solo album.
“After many years in bands I wanted to share my own musical ideas and my own personal stories.” Meidi told me: “This is how Heartstrings was born. I wanted to make music that was a bridge between Elisabethan baroque music and folk. I wanted it to have as pure a sound as possible. I wanted the listener to hear every stroke of the bow over the strings we played. I also wanted the music and my voice to sound as honest as possible. With my perfections but also imperfections, everything as pure as possible. The lyrics straight from my heart, hence the title Heartstrings.” Well I can tell you, she absolutely achieved that.
Heartstrings contains 7 tracks, one poem, one traditional, two covers and 3 original compositions written by herself. Lovelorn is the first of Meidi’s own compositions and it’s a beautiful ballad. It is, obviously, a love song, a bit melancholic in text and music as most of the songs on Heartstrings. It tells about a love that is not to be. The string section in this song is already lovely, but what really jumps out are the voices. Meidi has a wonderful skilled soprano. When she goes into the heights of her voice she hits the notes perfectly in what I would call ‘classic’ soprano style, but in the lower regions she returns to her ‘normal’ voice, giving the song so much more personality. Her voice has this youthful fragility and purity that make the hairs stand up. So beautiful. From the beginning I had to think of some of the top young boy sopranos, hearing her voice. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.
Everybody who has seen the musical Oliver Twist for instance, will remember young Oliver singing Who Will Buy This Beautiful Morning. There is this youthful innocence when he sings that song, one we all know will disappear when he gets older that makes it so touching. Somehow Meidi managed to keep that young and pure quality in her voice, although she is an accomplished singer. And somehow Jacco de Wijs-van Gorcum has managed to capture that while recording the vocals. Of course we know him as one of the frontmen of the Dutch folk metalband
but here he proves he is just as talented behind the mixer. Especially in the chorus, where
Hanna van Gorcum
joins Meidi in a call and answer that is as pure as crystal. Stunning.
After I asked Meidi about her singing style, she explained more about it:’ When I was young I grew up with ‘old’ music. Music from the renaissance and baroque era. One of the stand out features of these periods is the different use of vibrato in the music and in the singing. A lot milder and totally different in intensity from how we use it today. In those days people were more interested in purity of sound. And indeed that is just how the boy sopranos sing. That style actually originates from this early period. the heavier use of vibrato started to appear in the 18th century, with the first operas from the classical time period which followed the baroque, and even more so in the romantic period.
Hanna van Gorcum is much more classically trained. You could call my voice an ‘old’ or baroque music voice.’
Jacco is not the only talented musician involved in Heartstrings. I already mentioned Hanna van Gorcum
(TDW & Dreamwalker inc,
former AmmA) on voice and nyckelharpa. There is also Coca Román
(Kelten Zonder Grenzen,
on harp, Hester de Boer (Violet) on cello and quinton, -a 5 stringed violin that was build and played between early 18th century and the French revolution, you could call it a viola and a violin in one instrument-, and Imbue colleague Tim Elfring on davul. All but Tim join Meidi on the next song, Waltz For The Little Mermaid, written and partly arranged by Meidi. The other musicians where all given room to arrange their own parts on this song, giving them all a chance to shine.
Meidi insisted that all the songs would be recorded as an ensemble, in one take, keeping with the pure natural feel that she was after, only the vocals were recorded separately. And I can only say, it worked. The songs just sparkle. Jacco did wonders catching it all on tape, and after that, mixing engineer
Fieke van den Hurk
and mastering engineer
Sander van der Heide
made the most of all the quality that they were given.
My favourite track on Heartstrings is another original composition, Foxskin. Balfolk people will love this song, I’m sure of it.
This cheerful fun song brings together all the elements that define Meidi Goh’s classical folk style.
It’s the perfect blend between the baroque music that she started out with and the English folk she fell in love with later on in her musical career. English because of the pronunciation of the lyrics.
It is as if
Johann Sebastian Bach
did a baroque minuet / folk CD together. Sounds odd? Maybe but believe me it so makes sense when you hear the songs. The two worlds just blend naturally together in Meidi’s compositions.
The song itself is about a young lady who, at night, turns into a fox to dance with the elves and other magical creatures in the dark woods
My Love Came To Dublin is the first cover I want to mention. It’s a song originally co-written and recorded by
And it fits perfectly within Meidi’s own songs. I once called
a storyteller, well Meidi is a poet. And her songs are poetry in music form. The Lyrics of My Love came To Dublin fit right in, with that slight old English feel. It’s a melancholic song full of longing for an absent lover. The deep sound of the seven stringed bass viol enhances that sad autumn feel and is a lovely contrast to Meidi’s angelic voice. Coca’s harp then enhances the purity of it. Again a lovely song. Recorded and mixed so well.
Konungen Och Trollkvinnan, is another cover. It was originally recorded by the Finnish folkband
As Gjallarhorn hail from the only part of Finland where Swedish is the main language Trollkvinnan is a Swedish song, based around the sound of violin and nyckelharpa, this in contrast to the other songs on Heartstrings. This reminds me more of
‘s music or that of the Swiss duo
on Bestioles. A CD I reviewed a few months ago.
The last song on Heartstrings is a traditional that goes by the name, Once I Had A Sweetheart. Hanna starts this song with a lovely nyckelharpa solo. And Meidi once again pours out her melancholic heart on the low tones of her bass viol. She sometimes affectionately calls her bass viol ‘my muse’. This Viola da gamba -the Dutch name for it- was specially made for Meidi’s mother many years ago. -Meidi herself even drew the design of the head- and her mother asked Meidi:’You will play her after I’m gone won’t you? And needless to say Meidi did just that to this very day.
This is a mini CD that will appeal to open minded classical people as much as it will people that enjoy the lovely folk ballads of bands like
Rosemary & Garlic
or the more traditional songs from
and the German band
(whose new live CD I’ll be reviewing later this year) . Don’t expect fast dancing songs on Heartstrings, they are all slow to mid tempo ballads. But there are some nice balfolk dances on it. Trollkvinnan can be used for a Swedish halling, Waltz For The Little Mermaid off course is a waltz, My Love Came To Dublin is a muzarka and the most complicated one is Foxskin, this song combines a scottish with a waltz.
Meidi, together with all the talented friends that she invited to help her, has made a wonderful CD, that she can be really proud of. I have only one complaint with it. For such beautiful music, it ends way too soon. So here’s hoping that the next album will come soon, and that it will be a full length one. ‘Till then Heartstrings shall make many a turn more in my CD player.