For our April seminar we are delighted to welcome one of our convenors, Dr Simon Trafford (IHR, University of London) with his paper 'Tr00 kvlt? Old Norse and Gaulish songs in rock music'. The seminar will take place in the North American History Room on the first floor of the Institute of Historical
Research from 5.30 on Wednesday 25 April.
Neo-medieval pop music has many different ways of expressing its historical focus. The music itself can attempt to capture a ‘medieval’ sound, the lyrics may dwell upon themes drawn from medieval history, literature or myth, and artists’ dress and visual imagery may evoke medieval material culture and art. This paper, however, concentrates upon an especially extreme and striking practice: performing songs in medieval languages that are dead and, presumably therefore, incomprehensible to the overwhelming majority of the intended audience.
There are many reasons for taking this step, drastic and demanding though it is. Firstly it introduces a degree of difficulty into the process of consumption, distancing the songs and performers from a more mainstream music industry portrayed and stigmatised as spoon-feeding homogenised and inauthentic commercial product to an undistinguishing audience. But the bands and fans themselves generally place more emphasis on the way in which using ancient and medieval languages seems to bring the audience into closer proximity with the desired exotic medieval Other. Songs with words in obscure and occulted tongues carry a numinous significance, especially where those words are themselves taken from authentically medieval and spiritually-significant texts. Nor should the nationalist implications be ignored: some performers have explicitly linked early forms of language with a romanticised vision of primordial national origins.
To illustrate different aspects of the phenomenon, the paper will examine three examples in detail: (i) Týr, the Viking Metal band from the Faroe Islands, who make extensive use of the kvæði, the indigenous folk-song corpus, in their music; (ii) the Swiss Folk Metal band Eluveitie, who frequently deploy reconstructed ancient Gaulish in their songs; and (iii) Wardruna, the Norwegian ambient folk project, who call upon Hávamál and upon Eddic material, not least in their music for the extremely successful History Channel television series, 'Vikings'.