Heather Stebbins “Maarja Nuut: Beautiful Simplicity”

On Wednesday, 22 April, fiddler, vocalist, and recent winner of the Tallinn Music Week Wire Prize Marja Nuut performed at the Tallinn Art Space. The space is a small yet bright and welcoming venue with vibrant artwork hanging on the walls. Nuut’s violin hung on a stand at the front of the space as concert-goers began to take their seats. Nuut took the stage, equipped with a second instrument, a more folk-style violin. Her opening song began with only her voice singing a simple melody. After a few repetitions, she began to use her looping pedal to layer her voice. The result was a haunting and beautiful polyphony. This quiet and peaceful first song set the tone for the whole evening. It was her way of telling the audience to relax, just breathe, and revel in her music.

Nuut performed about an hour of songs blending traditional tunes with original material, all with the help of her looping pedal. While the combination of elements she used for each song was roughly the same – voice, violin, and loop pedal – each piece had its own character and meaning. In some songs she layered dry plucked violin to create a metallic and rhythmic foundation for her voice. Other songs blended active, folk-style violin playing with energetic vocal lines. Others still were more introspective and slow, like a lullaby for adults. No matter the song, though, Nuut had a large smile on her face. It was clear to the audience that she thoroughly enjoyed playing for them and for herself. Seeing this joy was a powerful and refreshing experience.

At one point, Nuut incorporated dancing in a song. She created rhythmic patterns with her feet that became new layers in the music. By the end of the song, she was spinning in circles while still playing her fiddle in time. Such a feat of coordination, stamina, and musicality was dizzying just to watch. In between each song, she spoke to the audience, telling stories with a confidence and ease beyond her years of experience.

Nuut’s music is difficult to classify, as it is not quite pop music yet not quite folk music. Her singing style and fiddle-playing are heavily influenced by folk traditions, yet her use of looping gives it a fresh and unique sound. It is as if she is creating something simultaneously minimal and complex, simultaneously bare and tightly-knit. Her music is deeply personal yet reaches a wide audience. It exudes a calm and nostalgia that is difficult to explain, and I left her concert with that rare feeling that I had just witnessed something very special and unique. There is something beautiful in simplicity, especially in today’s overly complex world. For just over an hour, Nuut held the audience transfixed with only her voice, her instrument, and clever layering. The musical lines were simple, the patterns were easy to hold on to, and the special minimalism she created was mesmerizing. She will return to Tallinn to perform on 30 April and 2 May.