Reel-to-Reel Tape Loop Ensemble
Fylkingen 19th December 2003
All photos: Ingvar Loco Nordin

Lise-Lotte Norelius & Leif Elggren looping away!

A tape loop concert brings on reminiscences of the 1960s, happenings and a kind of freethinking and experimenting, that seemed to well forth out of a desperate, happy need. Does it feel the same today? Maybe not. I don’t know what the young part of the small crowd at Fylkingen on the evening of 19th December 2003 felt, but probably something else than the young tape loopers in the 1960s. The main difference, of course, is that tape recorders, reel-to-reel recorders, were modern in the 60s. They were at the fore of new technology. The things you could do then was done for the first time, thus truly fundamental research.

The 19th December 2003 loop session might, to some, have felt more like something of interest only to museums or historians, those dusty (yes, not even cleaned) reel-to-reels spread out around the room, a magnetic tape running in a circle around the perimeter of the Fylkingen hall. It was more than that though, visually as well as spiritually. Perhaps it felt like a rite for the participants, to bring back the feeling of the 60s, and sure, some of us present indeed had been around the first time around, in those golden days. Myself, I had one Philips and one Tandberg reel-to-reel, but I did little more than record off of Radio Luxemburg (Eden Kane, Billy Fury; that kind of stuff), while the already initiated could attend rites with John Cage or Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Museum of Modern Arts or indeed Fylkingen in the 1960s.

Leif Elggren and a Nagra

However, Cage and Stockhausen experimented with tapes and reel-to-reels in the prime of those dealings, even though Stockhausen worked this as an exact science, not at all looping per se, and not at all like the American tape loop experimenters Terry Riley or Pauline Oliveros, who approached this much more intuitive, in an easy rider manner, though Oliveros also could work more orderly. Riley and Oliveros let long stretches of magnetic tape run between tape recorders, producing feed back and all kinds of layered effects, for example at The San Francisco Tape Music Center. Many others worked like that in those days.

Kent Tankred

Folke Rabe gave an interesting and humorous example when I talked to him at Java Hava the 28th of November 2003, in connection with his cult cut What?? from 1967, which has been so successful in its recent Dexter’s Cigar re-issue in Chicago. Rabe’s statement is presented here in a very much abbreviated and a little edited version:

Folke Rabe at Java Hava demonstrates how he
and Mauricio Kagel fooled everybody in 1968...

With reference to What?? I come to think about a collaboration I had with Mauricio Kagel in the summer of 1968 at the College of Music in Gothenburg. There was a course there, and Kagel was artistically in charge. A piano pedagogue from Germany was there too, and a singer called William Pearson, plus a few others. I was a kind of technical assistant, seeing to it that the machines were in working order and so forth, while I also conducted some tuition.
One night we were supposed to play a Dozenten Konzert,
[i. e. a concert with established participants], and I set up a feed-back system with a tape running between two tape recorders; the right, or later, tape recorder feeding the recorded stuff back to the first tape recorder. If one sings into the first recorder and has this feedback running, one can start to sing in polyphony with oneself. I started to sing a G, which What?? begins with, much like overtone singing, and then I imperceptibly mixed over to What?? from tape, i.e. the recorded, finished What??, but Kagel and I sat through the whole time it took to play back What?? at our respective grand pianos and stroke strings and pointed portable microphones with which we seemingly picked up the sounds, faking that we did it all live! Everybody bought it! We worked diligently with the mikes, pretending to pick up resonance from the strings etcetera. We also had a (fake) chart with wiring diagrams for the electronics, you know… with an array of incomprehensible graphic symbols and letters and figures and arrows… They’re drawn on stationery from Park Avenue Hotel in Gothenburg, because Kagel stayed there…

Kent Tankred & Johannes Bergmark

One thing that was sure about the recent Fylkingen tape loop adventure was that no fake was involved, though! The sounds heard were the sounds produced.

Where else but at Fylkingen can you
scratch CDs on a reel-to-reel?!

I talked about Pauline Oliveros, and I said that she worked intuitively, as opposed to Stockhausen’s minuscule scientific calculations with tape, but she also had a plan for what to do, and how to do it. Here is a quote from her own liner notes of a CD that came in 1997 on Paradigm Discs, containing some of her early electronic works:

Nils Edvardson at work

I of IV was made in July 1966, at The University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio. It is a real time studio performance composition (no editing or tape splicing), utilizing the techniques of amplifying combination tones and tape repetition. The combination tone technique was one, which I developed in 1965 at The San Francisco Tape Music Center. The equipment consisted of 12 sine tone square wave generators connected to an organ keyboard, 2 line amplifiers, mixer, Hammond spring type reverb and 2 stereo tape recorders. 11 generators were set to operate above 20 000 Hz, and one generator at below 1 Hz. The keyboard output was routed to the line amplifiers, reverb, and then to channel A of recorder 1. The tape was threaded from recorder 1 to recorder 2. Recorder 2 was on playback only. Recorder 2 provided playback repetition approximately 8 seconds later. Recorder 1 channel A was routed to recorder 1 channel B, and recorder 1 channel B to recorder 1 channel A in a double feedback loop. Recorder 2 channel A was routed to recorder 1 channel A, and recorder 2 channel B was routed to recorder 1channel B. The tape repetition contributed timbre and dynamic changes to steady state sounds. The combination tones produced by the 11 generators and the bias frequencies of the tape recorders were pulse modulated by the sub-audio generator.
Big Mother Is Watching You was also produced at The University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio in the summer of 1966. It is another experiment using the techniques I developed whilst in San Francisco. The core of this technique is tape delay and super heterodyning. This piece utilizes a variety of sound sources including pink noise bands and some occasional voice input.
Bye Bye Butterfly is a 2-channel tape composition (with an enclosure) made at The San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1965. It utilizes 2 Hewlett-Packard oscillators, 2 line amplifiers in cascade, a turntable with record and 2 tape recorders in a delay setup.

Lise-Lotte Norelius, Leif Elggren, Kent Tankred

The Rabe and Oliveros examples may serve the purpose of putting this Fylkingen event into its historical perspective. Perhaps a sort of revival of the 1960s' spirit is gathering momentum these days. Sten Hanson recently said that not since the 1960s had there been such a surge at Fylkingen, and I've come across many young persons, i.e. in their late teens or early twenties, who approach sounding art in a 1960s' manner, for example the duo Sebastian Sjögren and Henry Rodrick who issues textsound compositions and electronic music on their Ruhr Recordings (an mp3-label), as well as some guys I just met very recently, who had approached me to copy some of my Lawrence Ferlinghetti recordings; Olle Stenbäck (in fact the son of one of my 1960s mates) and Sebastian Thyrén, who, with another friend of theirs, Erik Stenbäck, produce a blues-rock-folk kind of scratchy up-beat 1960s'-style music. The investigations into the 60s that Erik Bünger and Andreas Engström conduct also indicate that something is feverishly brewing!

At Fylkingen's 19th December loop event I talked briefly to Nils Edvardson, loop ensemble member, while photographing him, and I could fully agree with his view that the reel-to-reel is an instrument. Edvardson said he preferred to work a tape loop intuitively, and he also let on that he sensed the particular set-up of the night as some kind of cow pasture, the encircling tape being a kind of fence, thereby also placing the event into a rural imagery, well-known to all of us with a rural frame of reference, having grown up with cows and tractors...

The set-up was visually exquisite, groups of old reel-to-reels placed with other equipment at spots around the big Fylkingen hall, the tape running from recorder to recorder in a very long loop. A kind of foldout ladder was placed over the running tape, making passage possible but hardly safe. The audience could sit both inside and outside the tape loop. Inside the loop one could choose to sit in either of two blue sofas, much like in a living room, or on fold-out chairs placed in different groups. The space looked and felt quite surrealistic!

To pass over the looping tape "safely"
you had to use this ladder...

The sounds that emerged in this loop session were pretty much what you would expect, or possibly a little less. To me it seemed the variations could have been more vivid, while the sounds that actually rose out of the loop tended to be too static, with that grainy grayness that pink noise, consistent hums and pulsations easily produce. There were attempts at other and more genuine sounds, especially from Nils Edvardson, but his weak speakers made it hard for him to really spread his gospel.

Even so, it was a memorable night for as long as I stayed. The room was filled with magic, and after I had to hit the road for Shitville by bus, the show may have gone on for hours, perhaps reaching that diversity that the first part lacked, elevating the night to what seemed to be within reach.

A final thought on the Fylkingen tape loop night may be a general observation of seriousness. It seems to me that the artists of Fylkingen, of which I indeed am a (new) member myself, appear to take themselves very seriously, gravely so - sometimes. This, in my eyes, belittles some of what is going on there, making it appear in a somewhat ridiculing light at times. This doesn’t matter so much in the great scheme of things, but some humorous self-criticism and a wry smile at oneself from a standing-back point of view wouldn’t be out of place. It would raise the level of artistry considerably, and probably liberate new energies of creativity, perhaps in a not so foreseeable direction. Of course, this seriousness weighing heavily on some shoulders, isn’t unchallenged. There were some very fun sections of the Jibbolii festival for example; Sten Hanson’s Kinderspiele leading the humorous league!

Nils Edvardson working his Tandberg reel-to-reel