Young adults dancing on a wooden floor under the open sky, in the middle of a very sparsely populated landscape, women sporting fashionable dresses, silk socks and short haircuts, most of the men smartly dressed in dark suits. Two boys and two men stand as spectators, the younger man wearing an army uniform, apparently a conscript on leave from his military service. At the very front of the picture we see an open portable gramophone, providing the music for the dancing. This picture featured as a large illustration in the mid-November 1930 issue of Suomen kuvalehti, the most widely circulated Finnish magazine of the time. The caption reads: “‘MODERN TIMES’ IN LAPLAND. Jazz dancing to gramophone music. The youth of Torvinen village in Sodankylä ‘stomp away’ in their special ‘house’”. This article discusses exactly such “modern times”; non-urban, alternative modernities, by looking at the ways in which rural Finns used the gramophone from the 1920s to the 1940s as part of what I call “self-made modernity”.

Figure 1: “MODERN TIMES” IN LAPLAND. Jazz dancing to gramophone music. The youth of Torvinen village in Sodankylä “stomp away” in their special “house”

  —(source: Suomen kuvalehti, 15 November 1930).

Sodankylä is an extremely sparsely populated area in mid-eastern Lapland, far from urban centres, with long distances and a subarctic climate; in many ways the opposite to the capital city Helsinki, where gramophone music had become a sensation just a year earlier. In 1929 gramophone sales in Finland peaked dramatically, enough to produce a collective experience of so-called gramophone fever in Helsinki. The gramophone altered the city soundscape, and in the public debate it was viewed as one of the technologically produced sounds or noises typical of urban, modern life, often pictured as the opposite of a traditional, rural life-style that was supposedly slower, quieter, less technical and not subject to fashionable changes.

1Tiina Männistö-Funk, “Säveltulva kaupungissa. Gramofonimusiikki uudenlaisena kaupungin äänenä ja makukysymyksenä Helsingissä 1929,” Ennen & Nyt 3-4 (2008),, accessed 24 November 2013. 

Typically, in the 1920s and the 1930s the public discourse on modernity was strongly urban and technologically oriented.

2Jaakko Suominen, Koneen kokemus: Tietoteknistyvä kulttuuri modernisoituvassa Suomessa 1920-luvulta 1970-luvulle (Tampere: Vastapaino, 2003), 30-37. 

In hindsight we tend to equate modernity with industrial and urban centres, but some historians have argued for the importance of rural populations in the shaping of modern societies since decades.

3Matti Peltonen, Talolliset ja torpparit: Vuosisadan vaihteen maatalouskysymys Suomessa (Helsinki: SHS, 1992), 307-308; Barrington Jr. Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). 

Rural populations were active participants in many of the central disputes in which modernity was defined during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

4Elizabeth B. Jones, Gender and Rural Modernity: Farm Women and the Politics of Labor in Germany, 1871-1933 (London: Ashgate, 2009). 

In terms of modernity, the rural areas of a country in the Western sphere’s periphery are, to a certain extent, comparable to some colonial areas. Postcolonial research on modernity has produced such terms as “contra-modernity”, “alternative modernities” and “multiple modernities” that challenge the idea of modernisation as westernisation and focus on diverse local modernities that have run alongside or across the Western variety of modernity.

5Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 236-256; Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar (ed.), Alternative Modernities (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt, Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003). 

The relationship to technology has also been studied from this perspective. For example, research on Western technologies in colonial India shows that the Indian histories of these technologies were much more than extensions of their Western histories and that the local self-image of technology users and developers made a decisive impact on these histories.

6David Arnold, Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013); Simon Werrett, “Technology on the Spot: The Trials of the Congreve Rocket in India in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Technology and Culture 53 (2012): 598-624. 

The term used in this article, “self-made modernity”, relates to such research, but shifts the focus to the most mundane, repetitive and unspectacular connections and interactions of rural inhabitants with modern consumer technology – and claims that their role in building modernity in Finland was transformative, continuous and far-reaching.

This article will show how the gramophone became part of the principal practices of rural leisure and social life, especially dancing, which had consequences for Finland’s entire music culture, making rural modernity audible even in the cities. It suggests that the rural and peripheral use of such modern technologies as the gramophone created its own modernity. In the following pages I will study the co-production of modernity and tradition through unique source material consisting of personal gramophone memories of 36 Finns, and concentrate on the ways in which the different elements of gramophone practices were linked to other rural practices, constituting what I call “self-made modernity”.

Looking at “Self-Made Modernity” as Practice

In Finland, folklore survey materials are valuable sources for studying everyday practices in the past. I had the opportunity to prepare a cluster of questions on gramophone use as part of the folklore survey on consumer habits carried out by the Finnish Literature Society in 2006 and 2007. The consumer survey was sent to a network of respondents all over the country and a wider public was encouraged to respond through media publicity. Of the 81 people who submitted their personal memories, 36 partially or solely described the gramophone. These gramophone memories amounted to 257 hand-written or typed pages from all over the country.

7I refer to the survey responses using an abbreviation whereby “SKS” refers to the Finnish Literature Society, “KRA” to the Folklore Archives, and “Kulutus 2006” to the consumer survey, followed by the consecutive number of the individual sheet of responses in the archive. 

Most respondents described their youth in the countryside, only nine responses included urban memories.

The questionnaire contained three groups of questions. The first set of questions was “materialistic”: about what kind of people had gramophones; how did these look and sound; when, where and why the machines were purchased. The second set was more anthropologically oriented: It addressed questions on why gramophones were used and the music was played. Thirdly, cultural opinions people had on the gramophone were probed. In preparing the questionnaire, my aim was to allow respondents to provide their own interpretations, without steering them to write about only specific use. This proved successful as respondents recalled their personal gramophone memories quite freely.

Thematic writings produced in response to surveys have in Finland, and for example also in Sweden, a tradition of more than a century old. They form large archival collections that contain information about many subjects which in other archival materials or printed sources remain marginal or invisible.

8About the term “thematic writing”, see: Satu Apo, “Teemakirjoittaminen. Perinteentutkimuksen ‘näkymätön’ aineistonkeruumenetelmä,” in Naisen väki: Tutkimuksiasuomalaisten kansanomaisesta kulttuurista ja ajattelusta, ed. Satu Apo (Helsinki: Hanki ja jää, 1995), 176. 

Written memories differ in many ways from oral history materials produced in interviews. Jyrki Pöysä has argued that the folklore surveys give their respondents more freedom to express their own opinions and also to contemplate on these, compared to interviewing situations. Whereas interviews can be used to gain understanding of certain eras, places and phenomena, the problem of thematic writings is often their lack of such shared points of reference. Due to their sporadic character they are not well suited for establishing exact data, but rather for recognising the spectrum of different opinions on the subject under consideration.

9Jyrki Pöysä, ”Kilpakirjoitukset muistitietotutkimuksessa,” in Muistitietotutkimus: Metodologisia kysymyksiä, ed. Outi Fingerroos, Riina Haanpää, Anne Heimo and Ulla-Maija Peltonen (Helsinki: SKS, 2006), 239. 

I argue that they are also well suited to recognising and studying past practices that often existed within large geographical areas and through lengthy stretches of time, like the appropriation and use of everyday technological devices.

In addition to their sporadic character, thematic writings represent a multitude of viewpoints also characteristic of oral history sources.

10According to Allessandro Portelli, this leads to different partialities and conflicts of these partialities, both inside the source material and between the material and the historian. Alessandro Portelli, “What makes oral history different,” in The Oral History Reader. Second edition, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (New York: Routledge, 2006), 41. 

To make these manifold perspectives work for a study of common practices, I have used two kinds of approaches. The first one bears similarities to grounded theory, as I have used the points of view presented in the material to guide my own research questions, but at the same time I have looked for things left unsaid or taken for granted by the respondents. My second approach has been to look for details that microhistorians call “exceptional normal”.

11See Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It,“ Critical Inquiry 20 (1993): 10-35. 

For example, intriguing stories of gramophones being secretly carried around the countryside made me aware of the tremendous social importance of forbidden war-time dances and induced me to focus on the role of gramophones in this context.

During the period under consideration, Finland was one of the most agrarian countries in Europe, notably less urbanised than for example Portugal or some Eastern European countries. The proportion of Finns relying on agriculture and forestry for their livelihood was 61 percent in 1930, dropping from over 80 percent in the mid-nineteenth century. The urban population accounted for 16 percent in 1920, rising to 27 percent by 1940.

12Kari Pitkänen, “Väestönkehitys,” in Suomen taloushistoria 2, ed. Jorma Ahvenainen et al. (Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Tammi, 1982), 193, 200. 

In the 1930s the share of industrial workers grew rapidly in Finland, but the most important Finnish export industry remained the wood industry located in rural areas.

13Timo Toivonen, “Rakennemuutos ja kulttuuri 20- ja 30-luvulla,” in Muutoksen pysyvyys: Sosiologisia näkökulmia yhteiskuntaan, ed. Osmo Kivinen (Turku: Turun yliopisto, 1990), 155, 156, 158-159. 

In the period from the 1920s to the 1940s the young Finnish nation also aimed for self-sufficiency in farm products, and the incomes of farmers increased more rapidly than in any other societal group.

14Satu Apo, Viinan voima: Näkökulmia suomalaisten kansanomaiseen alkoholiajatteluun ja -kulttuuriin (Helsinki: SKS, 2001), 198-199. 

The period from the 1920s to the 1950s has been characterised as the heyday of the Finnish countryside, one manifestation of which was the rise of rural co-operatives. However, while being dominated by its agrarian and rural characteristics, Finland was also rapidly modernising. The single most effective moderniser of the countryside was the elementary schooling system that Finland aimed to provide for all children from the early 1920s on, but similarly important were the manifold associations and organisations founded and supported by rural inhabitants. It has been argued that nowhere else in Western Europe the social and technological transformation of life was as rapid as in Finland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

15Laura Stark, “Johdanto: Pitkospuita modernisaation suolle,” in Modernisaatio ja kansan kokemus Suomessa 1860-1960, ed. Hilkka Helsti et al.(Helsinki: SKS, 2006), 9. 

Gramophone survey respondents did not directly comment on modernity or modernisation, but the changes of everyday life, the role of technology and the differences between rural and urban regions are present in their written memories. According to the respondents there were fewer gramophones in the countryside than in cities,

16SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 220. 

but there were also differences in musical taste: Rural gramophone users favoured dance music more strongly.

17Ibid: 806. 

The relationship between rural and urban regions in the gramophone memories is multifaceted. Gramophones were used in the countryside, in places like schools, hospitals, cafes, factories and shops, that typically introduced novelties originating from outside the rural sphere of life. They were also often brought to the countryside by friends or relations living in cities or as immigrants in America. However, gramophones were also an integral part of rural, agrarian life managed by the local rural inhabitants, and were adopted by for instance lumber workers and loggers, local peddlers or providers of different services. The private owners of gramophones in the countryside, according to the survey, represented all kinds of rural groups: big and small farmers, tenant farmers, farm workers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, teachers and forest workers. Included were rich and poor, respectable members of rural society and suspicious outsiders, persons on the political left and right, and everything in between. Gramophones were used at gatherings of the village community and for the dances of the village youths. In these practices we can observe the kind of vernacular innovativeness rooted in the local circumstances that is in this article meant by “self-made modernity”.

Mikael Hård and Andrew Jamison have, in their call for alternative narratives in the history of technology and science, pointed to the coexistence of modernity and what they call “the vast range of nonmodernities”. They argue that one needs to understand the key role of cultural appropriation in the development of technology and science. This can be studied on three analytical levels: discursive, organisational and practical.

18Mikael Hård and Andrew Jamison, Hubris and Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology and Science (New York and London: Routledge, 2005), 13-14. 

In this article I consider the coexistence of different versions or interpretations of modernity on a practical level, not as internalisation, domestication and habituation as Hård and Jamison suggest, but rather in the form of practices as outlined in practice theory.

Theories of practices are a heterogeneous group of theoretical approaches. As Theodore Schatzki has put it, a practice is “an organized nexus of actions”, consisting of sayings as well as doings and giving form to all social existence.

19Theodore R Schatzki, The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2002), 70-73. 

In the practice model proposed by Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson, practices emerge when three kinds of element are linked: material elements, competencies and meanings. Practices are always anchored in time and space, making sense through their relation to associated practices. In contrast, elements can travel through time and space and become linked to new practices.

20Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson, The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How It Changes (London: Sage, 2012), 21-62. 

The gramophone and its accessories were linked as material components to several different practices. This article follows the model of Shove, Pantzar and Watson by studying the material elements, competencies and meanings constituting gramophone practices. In the following I will examine how the gramophone as a material element was linked to other material elements, competencies and meanings and how the rural users of the gramophone produced “self-made modernity” by combining these elements of different origin and age.

In the distribution of ideas, materials and competencies related to modernity, unequal resources of central and peripheral areas have played an important role. Still, peripheries have not passively copied the centres, but the communication has been bi-directional and appropriations varied.

21Eugenia Roldán Vera and Marcelo Caruso, “Introduction: Avoiding the National, Assessing the Modern,” in Imported Modernity of Post-Colonial State Formation, ed. Eugenia Roldán Vera and Marcelo Caruso (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2007), 27. 

In this study I perceive the modernisation process as based in practices where new and existing elements are combined through human agency.

22Shove, Pantzar and Watson, Dynamics. 

With the concept of “self-made modernity” I am outlining a set of practices involving modern technologies, but strongly linked to rural and traditional elements, often boiling down to vernacular innovativeness.

Material Components: A Gramophone on a Bench

Igor Kopytoff introduced the perspective of cultural biography in his anthropological study of things as commodities. This perspective includes recognising different ages or periods in a thing’s life as well as considering things in a specific society from a technical, economic and social point of view.

23Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 66-68. 

The biographies of rural gramophones reveal differences right from the start compared to the typical development of consumer technology. Where the origin of a gramophone is known and mentioned, it has usually not been purchased as new from a store, but has come to its owner as a second-hand item. Respondents mention gramophones being bought at auctions,

24SKS, KRA. Kulutus 2006: 49, 201. 

purchased from previous owners,

25Ibid: 113, 335, 992, 946. 

or, for example in one case, exchanged for calfskins.

26Ibid: 951. 

Gramophones were also received as hand-me-downs and inheritance from relatives.

27Ibid: 80, 186. 

Used gramophones were sold due to lack of money,

28Ibid: 6. 

personal moral reasons,

29Ibid: 52. 

or in order to buy a radio.

30Ibid: 9. 

In contrast, urban residents mention gramophones being bought new,

31Ibid: 798. 

or coming to the household as a wedding gift.

32Ibid: 248. 

One rural respondent, born in 1936, writes about her father buying a new gramophone in the late 1920s from his first wage earned in forest work, resulting in his older brothers getting angry with him and telling him to start buying his own bread too.

33Ibid: 1068. 

The second-hand gramophones were common due to the economic circumstances in the Finnish countryside where most people earned their living from low-profit agriculture and animal farming. In Finland, the working classes achieved living standards above the existential minimum around the 1880s, enabling them to purchase some mass-produced consumer goods.

34Sakari Heikkinen, Labour and the Market: Workers, Wages and Living Standards in Finland 1850-1913. Commentationes Scientiarum Socialium 51 (Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica,1997), 177, 183. 

Mass-consumer culture in Finland started in this period, but rural areas were still far from being part of a consumer society.

35Roberta Sassatelli, Consumer Culture: History, Theory and Politics (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore: Sage Publications, 2007), 2. 

People were aware of consumer products as novelties, but they did not necessarily value mass-produced novelties very highly.

36Kati Mikkola, Tulevaisuutta vastaan: Uutuuksien vastustus, kansantiedon keruu ja kansakunnan rakentaminen (Helsinki: SKS, 2009). 

As the rural economy was only partially based on monetary exchange, cash purchases were often financed by side jobs or selling property.

37Peltonen, Talolliset ja torpparit, 200-208. 

A gramophone was a sizable investment. By the late 1920s, the portable “His Master’s Voice” models cost the equivalent of two months’ wages for a male farm worker.

38“Average daily wages of agricultural workers 1924-1953 according to the Bureau for Social Research” in Suomen taloushistoria 3: Historiallinen tilasto, ed. Kaarina Vattula (Helsinki: Tammi, 1983), 410. According to newspaper advertisements in 1929, portable “His Master’s Voice” gramophones cost 1800-2500 Finnish marks, depending on the model. Significantly cheaper models existed, but “His Master’s Voice” was a leading brand often mentioned in gramophone memoirs. See: Männistö-Funk, “Säveltulva kaupungissa.” 

Moreover, the availability of consumer durables was relatively scarce in rural areas. Therefore gramophones were often purchased on a trip to town if the opportunity arose.

Some of the gramophones remembered by the respondents were constantly or occasionally used over long periods of time, until they were replaced by record players after the Second World War. After this, they could continue their lives in the attic or in the summerhouse, both typical dumping grounds for fossilised consumer products.

39SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 220, 248, 806. About the dumpsters of fossilization: Mika Pantzar and Elizabeth Shove, ”Kulutuskäytäntöjen ja objektien fossiloituminen,” in Innovaatioiden kotiutuminen: Kuluttajatutkimuskeskuksen vuosikirja 2006, ed. Petteri Repo et al. (Helsinki: Edita Prima Oy, 2006), 17-18. 

Some gramophones remained in the living quarters but were no longer used.

40SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 276, 398. 

One respondent remembers in great detail the gramophone owned by his working-class parents in the 1930s and 1940s, but which he never once heard or saw being used.

41Ibid: 686-710. 

Such abandonment partially points to the fact that some gramophone practices typically belonged to the youth.

In the purchase and use of gramophones remembered by the respondents, one can detect patterns typical of the old peasant culture, where the village community was a central controlling power and a source of group identity as well as the main arena of economic activity. The reorganisation of the fields in the early nineteenth century had loosened up the tight village structures, and the enhanced infrastructure of transportation as well as the on-going industrialisation and public education were continually diminishing the power of the village community as the main reference of any rural individual. Also the rural production was integrated with the market of commodities.

42Leea Virtanen, Suomalainen kansanperinne (Helsinki: SKS, 1988), 90-93; Peltonen, Talolliset ja torpparit, 35-39. 

However, in the responses, the village community still appears as an important appropriator and negotiator of the gramophone.

According to the respondents, the gramophone was a rare object in rural households, so that at most, a handful of families or individuals owned one at any given time in one village or rural area. However, gramophone ownership was no longer limited to the upper classes nor functioned as a marker of class boundaries; those of limited means might have owned a gramophone at some time, but most households never owned one, not even the wealthy. The gramophone was a possession that kept its monetary value over years or even decades, and functioned as a continual attraction. Although the ownership of a gramophone was private, the users mostly included the entire village community, making one or two gramophones in one village a sufficient amount. The gramophone was used in many gatherings and festivities, for example during the dances after communally shared building or farming work, thus reinforcing a sense of community.

43SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 51, 113. 

Studying the modern choices ordinary people made in their everyday lives can help us grasp the power and speed of the modernisation process in Finland’s inter-war period.

44Kari Immonen, Katariina Mäkinen and Tapio Onnela, ”Kaksikymmenluku – oliko sitä,” in Vampyyrinainen ja Kenkkuinniemen sauna: Suomalainen kaksikymmenluku ja modernin mahdollisuus, ed. Tapio Onnela (Helsinki: SKS, 1992), 16-17. 

In his work on the rural use of automobiles, electricity, telephones and radios in the United States, Ronald Kline shows modernisation as a fractured process, and rural consumers as actors in their own right.

45Ronald R. Kline, Consumers in the Country: Technology and Social Change in Rural America (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000). 

Sociologist Laura Stark proposes a similar approach by looking at actions at grass-root level and at individual experiences.

46Stark, “Johdanto,” 18-19. 

We can understand technological change and new technologies resulting from such negotiations, as David Nye describes them: “part of an ongoing conversation between generations and between social groups over their differing conceptions of what is desirable, possible or even real.”

47David E. Nye, Narratives and Spaces: Technology and the Construction of American Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 3. 

Also, the everyday use of technology makes sense as an example of what Alf Lüdtke calls Eigensinn, the certain kind of stubbornness of actors in relation to structures, and their ability to make things their own by diverse small acts.

48Alf Lüdtke, “Geschichte und Eigensinn,” in Alltagskultur, Subjektivität und Geschichte: Zur Theorie unf Praxis von Alltagsgeschichte, ed. Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt (Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 1994), 139-153. 

Studying the gramophone one can observe how modern elements could rather seamlessly get incorporated into the material reality of rural life and how they could be purchased, shared and used in the pre-modern or modernising rural economical system, differing from the industrial, consumerist system that had first created the gramophone. This is true for many technologies, but the gramophone also had some material characteristics that specifically encouraged Eigensinn in a rural context.

The gramophone did not necessitate changes in rural home interiors. According to the respondents, in many rural homes (portable) gramophones were stored under a bed or in a cabinet, and only taken out to play records.

49SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 113, 992. 

One respondent remembers the portable “Homocord” gramophone his father purchased in the late 1920s and which the family used in the 1930s and 1940s when they lived on a small, isolated farm in south-eastern Finland: “The gramophone and the two cardboard boxes of records were taken from under the bed and placed on the big table in the tupa. My father played records and we children sat listening on a bench.”

50Ibid: 1069. 

In farmhouses, the gramophone was used on the big table or on one of the long benches that were the main pieces of furniture in the tupa, the large room where food was cooked and eaten, but where other activities also took place.

51Ibid: 305, 945. 

By way of comparison, in urban homes and in those of the rural gentry or wealthier groups, the gramophone was often part of the furnishings, typically placed on a small table of its own in a sitting room.

52Ibid: 14, 276, 398, 798. 

Also gramophone records could be kept on a table on display at all times. This habit is revealed when one respondent remembers how the sun shining through a window melted the records on a table,

53Ibid: 14. 

and another recollects an incident when a family acquaintance broke a record of a worker movement’s march by either accidentally or deliberately leaning on it.

54Ibid: 267. 

Although the gramophone was often used at home, portable gramophones provided much more scope for places to listen than the large horn gramophones. Only a few respondents mention horn models, portable models were prevalent. When closed, they resembled a small suitcase, typically weighing six to eight kilograms. Although heavy, they were compact enough to carry around. Even horn gramophones had been taken outside on picnics and trips, but portable gramophones strongly encouraged such use.

55James J. Nott, Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 40. 

The urban middle class took advantage of the gramophone’s mobility by taking it along on picnics or when visiting summerhouses and the countryside.

56SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 161, 798-799. 

To rural respondents, such forms of summer leisure were uncommon, but the mobility of the music was central nonetheless; so much so that a farmer’s son born in 1927 comments on the gramophone his father bought at an auction in the early 1930s and used throughout that decade: “The gramophone sounded good, but it had one serious fault: it could only be transported by a horse and cart.”

57Ibid: 50. 

Portable gramophones could be carried on a bicycle or by hand.

Rural gramophones were often borrowed and carried from house to house,

58Ibid: 53, 282, 999. 

or taken outside when young people gathered on summer evenings in a yard or a field, on the waterside, or in the woods.

59Ibid: 51, 113, 950, 983. 

Rural inhabitants who had to move around for their work, such as forest workers, also carried gramophones. Some individuals played their gramophones in exchange for some money, adding it to their peddler services,

60Ibid: 825. 

or took it to various celebrations and parties.

61Ibid: 113, 276, 1032. 

Respondents recalled rural gramophone owners letting others visit them in order to listen to records for a small fee.

62Ibid: 201, 156, 335. 

Heike Weber, who has studied user-influenced forms of mobile music technologies from the 1950s onwards, points out that the uses promoted by advertising had very little to do with most people’s everyday life and leisure. Consumers did not restrict their listening to situations planned by producers, but put mobile technologies to uses that made music ubiquitous.

63Heike Weber, Das Versprechen mobiler Freiheit. Zur Kultur- und Technikgeschichte von Koffferradio, Walkman und Handy (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2008), 28, 98-102, 323-326. 

In the case of the gramophone, advertisers promoted urban upper and middle-class picnics and sailing trips, but the actual mobility was shaped by the everyday practices of the users, including those from rural areas.

The easy maintenance and mechanical technology of the gramophone proved to be an asset especially in the countryside. By the mid-1930s, large areas of central and northern Finland and around 1.2 million Finns, a third of the whole population, still did not have access to electric power.

64Heikki Waris, Muuttuva suomalainen yhteiskunta (Helsinki: WSOY, 1968), 49. 

This meant for example having to make do with battery-operated radios. Respondents mention the hassle of having to charge radio batteries at the nearest town.

65SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 821-822, 943-945. 

A farmer’s son born in 1929 remembers: “As we only had a battery radio, listening was very restricted: we hardly listened to music, just the news and weather forecast.”

66Ibid: 999. 

The gramophone was so easy to operate that even children were allowed to put on records. The vulnerable part of the mechanism was the spring that could snap or stretch, and then had to be repaired or replaced. Additionally, a supply of needles and records was needed. There seems to have been quite a variation of records: some gramophone owners had very few records, whereas others had plenty and regularly added new ones to their collection. Records were relatively brittle and had to be handled with care. Used records in good condition could be traded for new ones in stores or with other gramophone owners. The choice of music and the image of different music styles had very much to do with the meanings linked to the practices of gramophone use, which I will discuss next.

Meanings: The Amusing, Sinful, Uncanny Gramophone

The history of the gramophone has been studied more from the producers’ and musicians’ than from the users’ perspective. Often, sources of actual user behaviour are difficult or impossible to find, and the knowledge about use is limited to record choices. For the USA, William Howland Kenney has included users in his work on the gramophone as media of popular memory,

67William Howland Kenney, Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). 

and Lisa Gitelman has considered the cultural creation of the gramophone as it made its mark on the existing tensions of music and home and in such practices as shopping and public amusement.

68Lisa Gitelman, “How Users Define New Media: A History of the Amusement Phonograph,” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2003), 61-79. 

James J. Nott has studied gramophone use for his research on popular music and dance in inter-war Britain.

69Nott, Music. 

The gramophone use described by these researchers is mostly home and family focussed, and forms a continuum with the earlier bourgeois home music practices.

70See: Gitelman, “New Media,” 69-70. 

This use features only marginally in my gramophone survey memories. Opera recordings as gramophone music were part of the educative home music culture but are only mentioned by urban respondents from well-off, educated families.

71SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 14-15, 161, 220, 

Dance recordings formed the overwhelming majority of records mentioned. This dominance of popular dance music represented the total number of records produced, imported and sold in Finland from the late 1920s on,

72Kukkonen, Emma; Einari Kukkonen, Isoisän gramofooni: Suomalaisen levyiskelmän vaiheita 1929-1939 (Saarijärvi: Kustannuskolmio, 1980). 

and the time of the Second World War was in this sense a direct continuation of the pre-war period.

73Vesa Kurkela, “Integroiva moninaisuus vai erilliset kulttuurit? Näkökulmia populaarimusiikin historiankirjoitukseen,” Musiikki 1 (1997): 96-114. 

The period from the late 1920s to the 1940s established recorded popular music as part of Finnish life and culture.

74Sakari Pesola, “Tanssikiellosta lavatansseihin,” in Rillumarei ja valistus: Kulttuurikahakoita 1950-luvun Suomessa, ed. Matti Peltonen (Helsinki: SHS, 1996), 107. 

This happened later than in such big gramophone countries as the USA, where the years of the gramophone’s greatest influence lasted from 1890 to the late 1930s.

75Kenney, Recorded, xiii. 

The Finnish production and sales of gramophone music had started in the early twentieth century, but suffered a ten-year low around the First World War, with practically no recordings and very low sales figures. In Finland, one can observe a relatively widespread use of the gramophone and a lively recording activity from the late 1920s on.

76Pekka Gronow and Ilpo Saunio, Äänilevyn historia (Helsinki: WSOY, 1990), 78-81, 144-148. 

Sales peaked and many Finns purchased their first gramophone as low-priced portable models became available. In the 1910s, only hundreds of gramophones were purchased annually, but now the sales figures reached a record high: in 1929 alone over 20,000 gramophones and over a million gramophone records were sold in the country with fewer than 3.5 million inhabitants.

77Einari Kukkonen, Oi muistatkos Emma: Suomalaisen levylaulun vaiheita 1920- luvulla (Saarijärvi: Kustannuskolmio, 1998), 107-110. 

The world-wide economic depression reduced sales, but these rose again towards the late 1930s. During the Second World War there was a demand for gramophone records, but the supply was hampered by the lack of raw materials.

78Jaakko Lind, ”Sointu ja Sonora: Kansallisten levymerkkien yhteistyötä 1930-luvulta 1950-luvulle,” in Saanko luvan? Iskelmä-Suomen ilmiöitä 1900-luvulla, ed. Leena Rossi (Turku: K&h, Turun yliopisto, kulttuurihistoria, 2005), 39-41, 48-52. 

Although the advance of the gramophone in Finland was unexceptional, only somewhat later and quicker than in leading industrial countries, the large proportion of rural residents allows us to study the meanings given to this music technology in surroundings different from the standard stories of gramophone use in urban and suburban families.

Kenney sees the 1940s as the time when the gramophone lost its predominance in American homes to the radio.

79Kenney, Recorded, xii. 

In Finland, as in Britain, this was not the case, as the radio was already highly important and popular from the 1920s on. However, these two music technologies served different goals and differed technologically in many decisive ways. The Finnish public broadcasting company programmes could be heard throughout the country from 1928 on. The broadcasts were steered by the ethos of popular education, and although more than half of the broadcast time was filled with music, in 1930 only 5.5 per cent of the program time included dance music. Listeners’ opinions highlighted the collision of educative goals and popular tastes as well as the contrast between the countryside and the cities.

80Vesa Kurkela, ”Kiljuvat sopraanot ja ihana Markus-setä: Varhaisten radioäänten kulttuuriset ristiriidat,” in Vampyyrinainen ja Kenkkuinniemen sauna: Suomalainen kaksikymmenluku ja modernin mahdollisuus, ed. Tapio Onnela (Helsinki: SKS, 1992), 98-100, 112-113. 

The advantages of the gramophone’s mobility, the option to choose whatever music you wanted to hear and not being dependent on daily programming schedules, presented owners with an unparalleled possibility to listen to the music of their own choice.

In newspapers of the gramophone-fever year 1929, the gramophone was mainly discussed along the lines of taste, education and class. Negative connotations of the gramophone were based on the fear or experience of gramophones spreading bad taste and promoting a careless, uneducated relationship to music.

81Männistö-Funk, “Säveltulva kaupungissa”. 

From the mid-nineteenth century on, the educated classes had on the one hand been interested in “original” folk culture, in the wake of the Finnish national movement and as part of the all-European national revival,

82See: Peter Burke, “We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe,” in Modernity and Identity ed. Scott Lash and Jonathan Friedman (Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992), 295. 

but on the other hand had shown great concern for the poor cultural taste of the common people.

83See: Tuomo Olkkonen, “Rekiviisuista rillumareihin,” in Rillumarei ja valistus: Kulttuurikahakoita 1950-luvun Suomessa, ed. Matti Peltonen (Helsinki: SHS, 1996), 23. 

A similar discourse of gramophone music as bad music is visible also in some of the survey responses,

84SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 822. 

but another frame of thought appears to have been much more powerful on the grass-root level use of the gramophone. The meaning of the gramophone most clearly articulated in the survey responses is that of the “sinful gramophone”. Respondents generally have a very positive view of the gramophone, which is not surprising as they took the time to think and write about it, but several remember certain other people disapproving of the gramophone, calling it “the instrument of the devil”, “the box of the evil”, “the megaphone of the Beelzebub” or “the tempter to sin”.

85Ibid: 49, 881, 984. 

The role of vernacular Christian rhetoric was central to the Finnish modernisation process in the countryside.

86Mikkola, Tulevaisuutta vastaan, 308. 

Christian discourse could have a drastic impact on the use of the gramophone. One respondent recalls his brother’s wife becoming very religious and consequently selling the gramophone the brothers had inherited from their father.

87SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 52. 

Another remembers as a child in the 1930s having been worried by the talk about the gramophone’s sinfulness. She mentions that the record players after the war no longer had this same stigma.

88Ibid: 878-880. 

One respondent, whose parents never used their gramophone, believed the reason was her mother’s religiousness.

89Ibid: 705. 

Sinfulness could become an attribute of the entire gramophone technology due to the dance music it provided. In this sense it was comparable to the violin and accordion music that in some circles was deemed sinful because of its associations with dances.

90Ibid: 878. 

The influential Finnish Christian revivalist movements highly disapproved of dancing. In the nineteenth century the revivalists had aimed their concept of sin especially against dancing and other entertainment practices by the gentry and the clergy, but this developed to encompass all secular amusement and pleasures.

91Lehtonen, Säätyläishuveista, 146-154. 

Even the majority of people who did not perceive the gramophone as sinful, associated it with grown-up sexuality and a certain lack of inhibition, making some of its music unsuitable for children and giving it a frivolous aura. One Karelian respondent recalls that her father did not want to buy a gramophone when she was a child, as it would have disturbed the peace and quiet on Sundays and could have harmed his status as village elder.

92SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 943-944. 

Even the urban respondent whose parents received a gramophone as a wedding gift, remembers them joking about how their common journey had been given a light-hearted start.

93Ibid: 220. 

There was a strong link between the gramophone and the idea of pleasure or amusement, which made the gramophone very alluring, but could also cause clashes with Christian morality and the peasant ethics of hard work and frugality that condemned luxury and waste.

94See: Visa Heinonen, Talonpoikainen etiikka ja kulutuksen henki (Helsinki: SKS, 1998). 

As one respondent remembers: “Many thought the gramophone was a vanity of vanities.”

95SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 1106. 

In the memories the gramophone is often also linked to the alcohol consumption of adult men that was accepted as an important element of rural manliness but should be controlled by the village and house community – and also by the ideology of the temperance movement that in the early twentieth century had an important role in the Finnish modernisation process.

96See: Apo, Viinan voima, 164-168, 199, 209. 

Some respondents remember gramophone music as an integral part of evenings their fathers or men they knew spent drinking with others.

97SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 49-50, 983-984. 

Gramophone music was also a fitting addition to the card-gaming of men.

98Ibid: 804. 

Respondents remember several gramophone recordings with lyrics describing excessive use of alcohol in a humorous way. Beside the recordings with sexual content these were part of adult male gramophone use and added to the sinful or inappropriate image of the gramophone.

99Ibid: 305, 398, 944. 

The logging groups in the 1930s were one typical arena for uncontrolled manliness. Two respondents have largely similar memories of loggers lodging at their parents’ houses and playing gramophone in the evenings to the displeasure of their mothers.

100Ibid: 305, 822-824. 

Light dance music that comprised the majority of sold gramophone records made a major impact on the meaning of the gramophone. However, besides the almost omnipresent dance favourites, respondents remember a great variety of gramophone music from opera arias to cabaret, from socialist music to military marches and from children’s songs to psalms. The gramophone was a flexible medium that enabled the expression of different worldviews.

Even though the gramophone had become part and parcel of rural practices, its technical functions and the way it produced music remained a source of wonder and curiosity, which Nott also has noted in the case of inter-war Britain.

101Nott, Music, 38-39. 

To those not familiar with gramophones, a gramophone playing a record was an attraction and an amusement, regardless of the piece of music or the occasion, and the principles of sound recording and reproduction triggered astonishment and awe. Due to its mechanism, the gramophone was prone to repeatedly produce what Tom Gunning has called a “sense of the uncanny”. The uncanny is more enduring than the short-lived astonishment evoked by new and unfamiliar technologies. It is a sense of wonder that re-emerges from time to time with certain technologies, creating “a feeling that they involve magical operations which greater familiarity or habituation might cover over, but not totally destroy”.

102Tom Gunning, “Renewing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century,” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2003), 46-47. 

The respondents had vivid memories of moments when some typical fault in a gramophone’s functioning reminded the listeners of the amazing way in which their readily usable music was produced. Such moments included the altered or varying speed of music caused by a stretched or repaired string; bad needles affecting the sound; the sticking or repetition of a certain tune if a record was cracked; experiments to tease out music in spite of a snapped string, turning the record by hand, or using fingernails and sharp objects as substitutes for gramophone needles.

103SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 50, 157, 200, 398, 946, 1053. 

Although the mechanical automatism of the gramophone caused uncanniness, it also made the gramophone understandable and comparable with such instruments as violins and accordions. Seeing and hearing the voice produced at the same time set the gramophone apart from the radio, which was a blind medium.

104See: Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a mediated Culture. Second edition. (New York: Routledge, 2008), 15. 

Competences: Dancing to Gramophone Sound

The comparison between the radio and the gramophone is a good starting point when one thinks of the competencies needed and gained in the use of a gramophone. On one hand, the purchase of a radio could help acquire knowledge and be justified by the need to hear the news, especially important in war-time.

105SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 9, 881. 

On the other hand, the gramophone could clearly serve in many circumstances as a socially vital provider of music. Using a gramophone required more musical competencies and different social skills than using a radio. The need to play music at get-togethers after communal work and at family or village festivities could help to accept spending scant financial resources on a gramophone and moreover gave the gramophone owners a certain social prestige. The use of the gramophone as an instrument of social gatherings transformed it into a communal tool and highlighted its link to social skills and networks.

A gramophone strengthened musical skills and knowledge that were fundamental personal assets, not only for private interest and identity, but as socially important competencies. Some users saw the gramophone as an addition or an extension of their skills in playing instruments such as the violin and accordion. These instruments had formed the core of rural dance practices from the early twentieth century on, when modern partner dances had become fashionable in rural Finland, replacing older ring and group dances. Several respondents indicated that after the gramophone’s arrival, a gramophone and a musician became interchangeable, while others commented that a real musician was still valued higher than “the whine of a gramophone”.

106Ibid: 398. Interestingly, similar views were also expressed in the 1970s USA when commercial DJs emerged and a similar cultural shift in the technology of music consumption occurred. 

The majority of country people, although unfamiliar with playing an instrument, could master an extensive knowledge of music in general and different pieces of music in particular. The gramophone was an integral element in the process of accumulating and activating this knowledge. Singing was an important means of enjoying and circulating music. Several respondents mention singing along with gramophone records, often with others, sometimes complementing an instrumental version of a well-known piece of music by singing the lyrics.

107Ibid: 949, 945,1035. 

Songs that the gramophone or radio had made familiar were repeated by singing them, and listening to others sing was an important way of getting to know new music or be reminded of music once heard, sometimes giving incentive to buy the song as a gramophone record.

108Ibid: 277, 951, 953, 992. 

Lyrics of music pieces were also collected in personal notebooks or in booklets circulated among friends.

109Ibid: 881, 943. 

When writing about gramophone use, nearly all the respondents mention dancing. In some cases the interest in dancing was the main reason to purchase a gramophone,

110Ibid: 8, 878. 

but apparently most gramophones were also used for dances, even if they were bought for other purposes. From the perspective of “self-made modernity”, it is interesting to contemplate on the way the gramophone interacted with the established and rich rural dancing tradition. Various organisations were an integral part of social life in the countryside, and went back to the early nineteenth century,

111Eeva-Liisa Lehtonen, Säätyläishuveista kansanhuveiksi, kansanhuveista kansalaishuveiksi: Maaseudun yleishyödyllinen huvitoiminta 1800-luvun alusta 1870-luvun loppuun (Helsinki: SHS, 1994). 

their activities including evening parties with dancing. Alongside them existed the unofficial village dances and “corner dances” often arranged spontaneously by the youth.

112Johanna Nurmela, ”Kesäiset lavatanssit Jurvassa: 1950-luvun Suomi ja suuri tanssi-innostus,” in Saanko luvan? Iskelmä-Suomen ilmiöitä 1900-luvulla, ed. Leena Rossi (Turku: K&h, Turun yliopisto, kulttuurihistoria, 2005), 62-64. 

In the 1920s and 1930s associations and organisations were thriving in the countryside, but up to the 1940s, this organisational culture and young people’s spontaneous activities ran side by side.

113Matti Sarmela, Suomen perinneatlas: Suomen kansankulttuurin kartasto 2 (Helsinki: SKS, 1994), 109. 

In addition to these, it was common practice to organise dances at the end of communal activities such as haymaking or harvest as rewards for the participants (talkootanssit), and at ceremonies like weddings. The survey showed that the gramophone was linked to both kinds of dances, spontaneous and ceremonial, but less to the organisational dances. This highlights its role as a tool of “self-made modernity”.

Dances could be held outside during the summer, but also in barns or houses with enough space. Gramophones were borrowed from their owners for these occasions, or the owners arrived with their gramophones to provide music for the dancers. A male respondent born in 1922 to a rural shopkeeper remembers how he played the family gramophone on various dance occasions as a small child: “When I learned to play the records and it became my task, I was not yet able to read, but could tell the records apart by the pictures in the middle. I played records at dances in homes and at get-togethers. My other family members had no time to do this because of the shop and running a taxi service.”

114SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 267. 

For older boys, owning a gramophone opened up attractive possibilities, as a respondent born in 1927 remembers about his older brother: “As that [horn] gramophone was so difficult to carry around, […] in 1937 my brother traded it for a portable model, which he could take to local dances and when visiting girls; my oldest brother was a good dancer and desirable husband material as he was handsome, had nice manners and his father had a decent-sized farm.”

115Ibid: 51. 

Another farmer’s son remembers: “Quite a few young men had these so-called travel gramophones if they could not play any instrument. I remember those boys taking their gramophones around on their bicycles and playing them on various occasions, or just to entertain people.”

116Ibid: 398. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, commercial entrepreneurs started erecting outdoor dance floors for large-scale dancing, but this development was interrupted by the war, when all public dancing was forbidden by law.

117Nurmela, “Lavatanssit,” 62-64. 

Already before the war, dancing had been restricted by taxation: dance organisers had to pay a special entertainment tax, and only the associations’ evening parties with various programs and at most one hour of dancing were either exempt from tax or lightly taxed. Many associations saw it as their educative task to steer the youth away from simple amusement and the moral dangers associated with dancing.

118Pesola, “Tanssikiellosta,” 105-107, 122-125. 

The war-time prohibition of public dances further demonstrated the idea of dancing as immoral. This ban was based on religious and national principles that did not allow carefree pleasure in the midst of the sorrow, death and losses caused by war. It was also feared that dancing might increase the amount of drunkenness, disturbances, and sexually transmitted diseases, thus weakening a nation at war. Dancing was forbidden already during the Winter War in the winter of 1939-1940, and banned again in the summer of 1941, when hostilities between Finland and the Soviet Union resumed. The ban lasted until the end of the war in 1944, and in restaurants until 1948, but as the war dragged on, the ban was increasingly ignored, mostly in private realms. Small-scale private dances were not actually illegal, nor were local get-togethers related to communal work, talkootanssit, but this was not clear to the public and even to some policemen. Generally speaking, all dancing was understood as forbidden and dancers were knowingly breaking the law. This situation led to a new peak in spontaneous rural “corner dances”.

119Merita Suikkanen, “Kiellettyjen tanssien hurmaa: Jatkosodan tanssikielto ja nurkkatanssikulttuuri,” in Häkäpöntöistä nurkkatansseihin: Arjen ilmiöitä sota-aikana, ed. Jarkko Keskinen et al. (Turku: Turun yliopisto, Suomen historia, 2012), 62-67, 84. 

I argue that the role of the gramophone was decisive in this dancing practice and that it shows how the rural youth was able to combine traditional elements with modern technology in order to choose a different lifestyle from that promoted by the associations and the state.

Shove, Pantzar and Watson argue that even very wide-spread, standardised and global technological practices, like driving a car, are “home-grown” – each performance of a practice is informed by related and associated practices, and the ability of material components, competences and meanings to become embedded in meaningful practices in new locations depends on the local capacity making use of these elements.

120Shove, Pantzar and Watson, Dynamics, 38-39, 56-57. 

These practices are irreducible to the structure of society; they make things and ideas become present in the first place.

121Schatzki, Social Practices, 23. See also: Theodore R. Schatzki, The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2002), 123. 

In this sense, any and every modernity is “self-made modernity” locally produced, as the elements are modified in emerging and re-emerging practices; but inevitably such processes also alter the localities, creating peripheries but also producing new kinds of localities and translocalities.

122Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 52, 192. 

Modernity and tradition do not form two opposite poles, like in the classical developmental models of modernisation.

123Peter Burke, History and Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), 132-133. 

This is confirmed by the rural gramophone practices in interwar Finland.

Survey responses give testimonials of a strong urge to dance in the bleakest conditions. A male respondent born in 1933 recalls a war-time summer: “I was working as a farmhand […]. The cattle were grazing on the grass near the […] shore, when I heard music […] from a boat on the water. Some youngsters and a man in soldier’s uniform stepped ashore carrying a gramophone. Ignoring me, they went over the road […]. In the evening there was a barn dance in a distant field. We kids were not allowed to join in. Such barn dances were strictly forbidden during the war.”

124SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 804. 

As in this memory, young soldiers on leave were typical participants of war-time “corner dances”.

125Ibid: 949; Suikkanen, “Kiellettyjen,” 68. 

One male respondent, born in 1922, remembers his corner dance experience in 1944 when he was home on leave in Lapland: “We got a gramophone from somewhere […], there were some soldiers, five or six men, maybe four or five women, all of the men shy, going out to take shots of spirits, and one chap from southern Finland was mocking the men from Lapland for being such bad dancers: can’t you do the tango? We kept going for two hours. The Karelian Isthmus was black with Soviet tanks back then.”

126Ibid: 1037. 

Another male respondent, born in 1927, was directly involved in organising dances like this, for example once when his home lodged a group of log-floaters in spring 1944. There were women and young lads in the group: “and they suggested it would be good to dance, and my own feet were also willing to take some dance steps in the evening after working in the fields. I knew that in a neighbouring village, at our relatives’ house, a single woman was working (whom I had met earlier), who had a gramophone, so I fetched it in the evening. When we were walking down the village road, a daughter of one house wanted to come with us, but her father spotted her and chased her back home, threatening to go to the police if we carried on, as dancing was forbidden.”

127Ibid: 52-53. 

The respondent took the gramophone home via a roundabout way through the forest and the dance took place. The consequences for him were court summons and a hefty fine.

The gramophone was convenient music for the forbidden “corner dances” and an alternative to village musicians, usually accordionists.

128Ibid: 690-691. 

Merita Suikkanen, who has studied the history of Finnish war-time dancing, also came across many gramophone-related memories. These included rescuing the gramophone when the police came to disperse the illegal dances. Typically, dancers made emergency exit plans, appointing people who were supposed to take the gramophone and the records to avoid these being confiscated by the police. Newspapers reported dancers escaping through windows, taking their gramophones with them.

129Suikkanen, ”Kiellettyjen,” 79-80. 

A female respondent born in 1925 has a related anecdote: “A military policeman said that when they went to disperse an illegal dance, somebody threw a gramophone out the window, and even when it was falling you could still hear it singing: “Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry for me […]”

130SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 1106. 

Suikkanen suggests that the tradition of “corner dances” had been almost forgotten, but was recreated during the war due to the bleak conditions and the need for escapism.

131Suikkanen, ”Kiellettyjen,” 60, 66-67. 

In my opinion, there was a strong desire to continue the spontaneous pre-war dances, especially in the absence of organised dances, and the gramophone, as mobile, mechanical and already domesticated music technology was the element that enabled a widespread and homogenous secret dancing practice in war-time. Shove, Pantzar and Watson argue that a handful of so-called dominant projects steer each individual’s life and give some practices priority over others.

132Shove, Pantzar and Watson, Dynamics, 78-79. 

Without doubt, enjoyment and amusement were strong motivators of rural dancing through centuries and decades. Nonetheless I argue that the dominant project of finding a spouse was a major force giving dance practices high priority among young rural inhabitants and providing the at least partial acceptance by older generations as well. The combination of gramophone music and the old corner dance tradition that gained visibility as a reinvented practice especially during the war is a good example of rural “self-made modernity”, where old and new elements were combined in a meaningful way.

The peace-time years of the 1930s and 1940s saw dancing for a small admission fee becoming highly popular in barns and farm buildings. In the 1950s, the large-scale, commercial dances on specially built outdoor dance-floors became the main form of dancing in the whole of rural Finland, causing the popularity of local, small-scale dances to rapidly drop.

133Nurmela, “Lavatanssit,” 62-64. 

A man born in 1932 remembers from his childhood a gramophone owner in his home village playing music at corner dances. Another man in the village had a gramophone when the respondent was a young adult in the 1950s, but “for corner dances it was no longer needed, there were enough commercial dances.”

134SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 276-277. 

The heyday of small-scale rural dancing, the 1930s and 1940s, were also the time when popular music in Finland was almost exclusively Finnish, unlike in the previous or following decades. By the late 1930s, some 80 per cent of the recordings were of Finnish origin, and in the early 1950s, most popular songs were still Finnish compositions.

135Pekka Gronow, “The Record Industry in Finland, 1945-60,” Popular Music 14 (1995): 38-44. 

The end of the 1920s marked the birth of the Finnish schlager, a mixture of Finnish, Russian, German and American influences. The first big hit in Finnish popular music, “Emma”, of the gramophone fever-year 1929, borrowed its melody from a folk song arranged as a waltz with Slavic tones. Another Finnish phenomenon was so-called accordion jazz, most famously played by the band Dallapé that toured the country several times in the first half of the 1930s, even playing in Northern Lapland. During the war, the Finnish schlager gained official approval as part of the entertainment to boost morale at the front.

136Olkkonen, “Rekiviisuista,” 25-32. 

The proportion of annual recordings of dance music grew rapidly in the early 1930s. It first amounted to some 50 per cent, but from 1932 onwards to over 90 per cent. Some types of dance music initially spread in urban areas before becoming popular all over the country, typically the foxtrot starting in the late 1920s and the tango that spread in the mid-1930s and war years. However, the polka and the jenkka, danced especially in the countryside, enjoyed wide popularity as gramophone recordings, especially from the mid-1930s on, whereas for example swing remained marginal and could not establish audiences outside urban circles.

137Kukkonen, Isoisän, 73, 130, 264-265; Antti Seppänen and Matti Kauppi, “Lättähatut,” in Rillumarei ja valistus: Kulttuurikahakoita 1950-luvun Suomessa, ed. Matti Peltonen (Helsinki: SHS, 1996), 131-139. 

I argue that there was a two-way connection between the rural uses of the gramophone and how urban gramophone owners listened to music with rural themes linked to rural dance practices, although dancing to gramophone sounds was not the main use of gramophones in cities. Peripheral areas and their gramophone uses were very influential in forming Finland’s popular music culture.

Although the music culture of the period studied in this article was not characterised by a specific popular youth culture, the role of young people in the use of the gramophone was important. In Finland, the absolute and relative number of young people had been growing strongly from the late nineteenth century onwards as child mortality dropped and the birth rate remained high in the countryside. At the end of the 1920s the amount of fifteen to nineteen-year-olds was almost eleven per cent of the whole population, a number that would be reached only once more when the baby boomers reach their teens in the mid 1960s. In contrast to the 1960s, the decades up to the war were times of numerous rural youth.

138Pertti Haapala, “Nuoriso numeroina,” in Nuoruuden vuosisata: Suomalaisen nuorison historiaa, ed. Sinikka Aapola and Mervi Kaarninen (Helsinki: SKS, 2003), 67-71. 

In the light of the gramophone memories of the respondents, one could even claim Finnish schlager music, played by gramophone and used in the corner dances, to be part of a Generationszusammenhang, the participation in specific experiences and mental currents of the time that Karl Mannheim has identified as the force that forms age-groups into generations and gives them a shared identity.

139Karl Mannheim, “Das Problem der Generationen,” in Karl Mannheim: Wissenssoziologie: Auswahl aus dem Werk, ed. Kurt H. Wolff (Neuwied & Berlin: Luchterhand, 1964), 541-555. 

And in this generational experience the rural uses of the gramophone outnumbered its urban use.

Nor should one forget that many new gramophone owners in the cities, for example during the gramophone fever of 1929, were first-generation urban dwellers with roots in the countryside. A female respondent from Helsinki recollected her parents taking their gramophone to picnics, but alongside this urban summer time practice, her parents had celebrated their name days that were only one week apart by clearing the floor of the room of her mother’s dressmaker and dancing with their friends to gramophone music for hours.

140SKS, KRA, Kulutus 2006: 798-799. 

Whole families participated, taking their children with them and making this event a mixture of intimate bourgeois home dances known to the gramophone historians,

141Kenney, Recorded, 102; Nott, Music, 40. 

and village dances or “corner dances”.

Conclusion: Locally Produced Modernity

This article has discussed various rural practices that included the gramophone. We have encountered corner dances, communal festivities and get-togethers, evening leisure at home and on visits, culture of the gentry, youth gatherings, men drinking together, musical interests, children playing. The material elements, meanings and user competences of the new technology were shared with many other practices of rural life. Rural practices of gramophone use were often defined by the scarcity of available material possibilities, but this did not make rural practices poor copies of the more affluent urban practices.

The written gramophone memories studied in this article have allowed an insight into the decades that marked Finland’s most intensive use of the gramophone and formed Finnish popular schlager music. Concentrating on the rural use of the gramophone and comparing it with urban practices offers another perspective on the history of music technology than focussing on urban centres, often seen as the sources of innovation and fashion. The gramophone was embedded in the already existing forms of social life in the countryside, but also modified the practices it became part of, for example by boosting the old corner-dance tradition into a new life during the exceptional war-time circumstances.

Studying the material elements, meanings and competences linked with the gramophone, it has been possible to scrutinise different levels of rural appropriation of modern technology. At the level of material elements the economy and infrastructure of the countryside set a certain material frame for the process of appropriation. The gramophone needed to be adapted to partially pre-modern forms of possession and economical activity, but it was also part of the gradual modernisation of these complexes of practice. Material characteristics of the gramophone made it readily combinable with material culture in the countryside, as it did not require much technological infrastructure and was usable in many kinds of surroundings and situations.

On the level of meanings it has become apparent that influential vernacular religious discourse and the categories of peasant society were important in the appropriation of new technologies. At the same time, certain movements that were connected with these traditions, including Christian revivalist and temperance movements, were active participants in rural negotiations about modernity. Although criticising many modern phenomena, they at the same time helped to create alternative interpretations of modernity and to shape rural inhabitants into citizens of civil society.

The level of competencies appears as the level at which the vernacular innovativeness of “self-made modernity” is situated. Old and new skills are used to adapt a technology to the local material elements and meanings, resulting in uses that make sense locally. The moment of placing the needle on the record and waiting for a new or familiar tune was something universal, conveying an aura of modernity and uncanny technology everywhere it took place; but the whole complex and dynamic mesh of social and musical competencies surrounding it was particular, immediate and self-made.