Beth Laurin

Beth Laurin - 1984
Firework Edition Records FER 1078
Duration: 67:04

Firework Edition, headed by artists Leif Elggren and Kent Tankred, has been in the business of publishing sound art since 1995. The sound worlds they go for aren’t always, or even often, the ones I would choose, were I in their position, but since they’re still in business, I must draw the conclusion that enough people disagree with me and buy their phonograms, if they’re not completely subsidized by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, where probably no one knows anything about modern music, and where they might harbor the gloriously stupid misconception that anybody linked to Fylkingen must be worth something…

I remember the time when I was reviewing music for the magazine Gränslöst in Sweden, and Guido Zeccola – the present editor-in-chief of the Kulturen newspaper [not a paper newspaper anymore, but available on the web]– forwarded a host of Firework CDs to me to review. I was angered by what I heard, because I felt it was completely void of creativity or fantasy and imagination, and lacked any quality you might expect of anyone in the favorable position of being able to publish whatever they wished, with the financial support by uninitiated civil servants at the National Council for Cultural Affairs – so I returned the CDs to Zeccola.

However, a few years later I got these CDs again, this time directly from Firework Edition, and I gave myself another chance to listen, more in depth, telling myself I had to take it for what it was worth, without too many demands on the music, concerning what I wished to hear. That made it possible for me to start enjoying what Elggren and Tankred published, even though I know that there are so much better sound art around to release. I started to review some choice few of their many phonograms at Sonoloco, and I found that many of Firework’s releases had gained their own niche in the Swedish new music world, which – I’m sorry to say – is a very limited space.
However, I began to appreciate a few of their records very much, and found connections between their modern day sound art and a certain cultural realms of the Swedish 17th and 18th century, and some literature from those periods, and some certain attitudes. Once I’d found these connections, almost intuitively at first, I could begin to enjoy a larger scope of the Firework output.

It’s similar to some of my experiences of modern Gaia and Zero-Point Field philosophy and science. I received the 850-page volume Sex, Ecology, Spirituality by Ken Wilber through the intervention of my dear good friend, poet, painter and vocal artist Hebriana Alainentalo a few years ago, but not until much later, when I’d read a host of books by Deepak Chopra and also studied Tibetan Buddhism extensively, as well as authors like Ervin Laszlo and Olaf Stapledon, plus, concerning attitude, writers like Haruki Murakami and Andrej Kurkov, could I go back to Ken Wilber, and all his pages opened up to my mind as by magic.

Even though I still seldom completely agree with the choices that Firework Edition Records make (not at first look/listen, anyway), I sometimes celebrate one issue or other, and this is the case with their unexpected release of a CD with recordings conducted in 1984 by, for the most part, visual artist Beth Laurin. Beth Laurin made her exhibitional debut at Gallery Mejan, Stockholm, Sweden 1974, and thereafter she explored a series of expressions, like various kinds of sculpture, pencil and coal drawings, collages, photography, video art, performance and more. This CD adds to that list.

Beth Laurin reaches a more poignant actuality these days, when a comprehensive book is published with a selection of her works from 1953 – 2008 (352 pages of sketches, photographs, texts etcetera, with an essay by Thomas Millroth).

This Firework Edition CD with recordings by Beth Laurin is called 1984 for the obvious reason that she made all these recordings that year. The Firework records most of the time sport completely uninteresting covers. I don’t understand why they would want to appear so boring… but this time I like the cover, which consists of a photograph of Beth Laurin taken by her close friend Olle Mothander in June 1984. The photographer died the day after. This photo shows some of the personality of Laurin. It comes across well in this black-and-white snapshot of a lively and arguing wild lady, with hair like a hedgehog!

The cover text on the content:

“This CD […] is a composition of sequences; pieces from different […] recordings, for example parts of dialogues, concrete sounds, from a monologue by Beth Laurin, a reading, when she plays the saxophone in a loft in New York City

Some other sequences come from a trip Laurin did to East Berlin in 1984, to participate in “an international conference on pictures for the blind”.

Is there a common trait for wild women of contemporary art? Is there? Or is it a certain generation – or just a certain time, a certain period? I almost dare not ask – but one of these recordings –number 5, called At a friend’s place some hours before performing […] at the International Text-Sound Festival at Fylkingen, Stockholm, 15th April 1984 - reminds me so much of a couple of women I’ve been very close to at different stages of my current life; author Camilla Gripe and the already mentioned vocal artist Hebriana Alainentalo. The sensations these wild and creative women have given me also come across so strongly in Beth Laurin’s recording. It amazes me. It’s some kind of desperation, some feeling of a heavy urge to slap culture and society in its assuming fat faces. It also reminds me of these young, drunk wayward Saturday night girls sitting completely pissed in the gutter, stinking of urine, blurting out at passers-by who are on their way home from the restaurants to fuck one-another.

The conversations that go on – mostly of a one-way kind – are lightly treated, mostly just in short repetitions of certain passages. This works for the most part, but sometimes these repeats destroy the artistic impression and have the piece sound like something a wanna-be- sound-artist would sound like just trying out a new tape recorder. That is a pity. Those sections – just a few – should be cut out. It’s contra-productive to show un-called-for respect for what Laurin did with a tape recorder in 1984, especially when most of the recordings she’s chosen are passable, bringing on atmospheres and mental ambiences that sometimes are interesting; sometimes reminding you brutally of something you’ve gone through yourself – and certainly of a large slab of a couple of Swedish decades!

Laurin has taken to one short sound that she’s happened to get on tape, which she successfully reuses as a kind of resounding percussive entity. This returns here and there, not without charm.

The first piece is called Entrance, which is the longest track; 33 minutes.
You hear traffic outside a window, and Beth Laurin is talking to a man, who is heard deeper into the room. I often don’t hear if people are talking in English or Swedish, since I work so much in English, but after a while I realize that Laurin talks in English here. She sounds so vulnerable, but also bitchy in some way; a peculiar but not unusual mixture.
The percussive sound I described above appears here for the first time, and then the heavy swell of the sea against the cliffs.
The recording really sounds old and non-professional; the sound being thin, made on cheap consumer equipment of the 1980s.
Sudden bursts of a pneumatic drill in the street echo between the houses, and later, after some argumentative conversation inside the apartment, a street scene grows on you, with church bells ringing.
A radio broadcast – some kind of news broadcast – is cut up and repeated in short sequences, until the swell of the sea comes back… and then conversation again, about a prologue with no end… but now I realize that they’re speaking in Swedish!
So it goes on.

The piece Before going to East Berlin sounds like a clean-up act, Laurin washing up her clothes in a bucket, and then shaking a pair of jeans (she says so) with a flapping sound.

This CD is a peculiar mix of sound art, nonsensical soundscapes, echoes of a bygone era of leftist politics, and even of a country no longer in existence. In a way the modernist preferences of this CD and of Firework Edition as a recording company is East German, a little Stasi romantic, dry and desperate, with locked-up libraries filled with forbidden thoughts. It’s very interesting. I probably would buy this CD, and stack it with books by Brigitte Hamann and Jutta Ditfurth – and phonograms by Gerhard Rühm!