Krummi (Krew-me) The Raven
Author: Icelandic Traditional
Date/Studio: 1978 Kaye-Smith, Seattle, WA
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Bill Tootell
Original Release: Crossover (KM308)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
It was early in the summer of 1972. The much anticipated Olympic Games were about to be held. I had an offer from the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Art Museum) to help mount an interactive children's musical instrument display in conjunction with Orff instruments. I had been working at an art school for children called, Der Kinderforum, founded by my girlfriend, Mirja, and the German abstract expressionist, Heinz Weld. Weld's believed that art had moved into ivory towers and needed to come back into public spaces and made a part of everyday life. A perfect fit for me.
My students gathered objet 'art-- any object-- and brought it to school. We brainstormed on how to turn these into musical instruments taking odds scraps of wood and metal constructing what I called kinderzithers by hammering, gluing, painting and then stretching strings across them. We marched out into the streets of very staid Munich, parading and playing. What a glorious noise we made!
I was feeling an unease in the city. I just didn't like the bustle that was changing the place as they geared up for the games. But I didn't want to go back to the States quite yet and since my Icelandic Airlines ticket let me get off in Iceland, I decided to go there. I had a contact. My neighbor in Washington DC the previous summer was the Undersecretary of Finance for Iceland.
He and his wife welcomed me. They lived in a suburb just outside of Reykjavik, across the street from the Russian Chess Grand Master, Boris Spassky. The Fischer/Spassky International Championship had just begun. I decided right away to attend a game. The one I showed up for was the famous one that Bobby Fischer did not show up for. He forfeited the second game of that match, July 14, 1972.
I wanted to stay and went looking for a job. Downtown there was an archeology dig excavating the homesite of Ingólfur Arnarson, Iceland's reputed first Nordic settler. I asked for a job and was hired on the spot. Turns out the person I was speaking to was himself leaving in two weeks to go on a musical tour of the country. He was a member of Iceland's most famous musical folk act, the Río Trío.
Over the next two weeks I learned some basic Icelandic and shoveled vermiculite. The president of Iceland was an amateur archeologist and would come down and help dig every once in a while. We all studied the daily newspapers to discuss the moves being made by the masters. In the course of these discussions they found out I played a musical instrument that was a descendent of their own langspiel and invited me on the tour. Ten days later we embarked on the first road tour ever done in the country.
Circumnavigating the island we played 14 cities in 12 days. The first leg we flew to Höfn to cross over the Vatnajökull glacier. The rest of the time we traveled by Mercedes bus. There were no bridges. We crossed the constantly changing, glacier-fed rivers by fording. The driver would throw rocks into the water and listen for the sound. Clink meant shallow. Clunk meant deep. We followed the clinks. Sometimes the water came up to the windows and you could see chunks of ice floating down at you.
The Río Trío were comedians like the Smothers Brothers. My part was to act like Jed Clampett, sing like Donald Duck and say funny lines in Icelandic with a bad accent. Since I was on stage with an Icelandic instrument they also thought I should also play a traditional tune and taught me, Krummi.
Al and I recorded it six years later in Seattle, WA done as a raga with India's master mridangam player, Guruvayur Dorai. In the studio next door Aerosmith was doing an album They came in to watch. Joey Kramer the drummer said to our producer, Bill, “I'm not a drummer-- he's a drummer.” Eleven years later they released a 49-second cut called Dulcimer Stomp. Maybe it was that day coming back.