reSurge at Fylkingen
20 September 2008

reSurge at Fylkingen 20 September 2008

Duration: 74:21

Lisa Ullén [piano]
Emil Strandberg [trumpet]
Lars Bröndum [acoustic guitar / live electronics]
Yann le Nestour [contrabass clarinet]

1. Parabolae (Lars Bröndum) [4:32]
2. Grain (Lisa Ullén) [7:26]
3. reTransient (Lars Bröndum) [13:20]
4. Setz die Segel zur Sonne (Karlheinz Stockhausen) [7:33]
5. The Redistribution of Light (Bröndum) / Improvisation (reSurge) [12:41]
6. Flux (Lars Bröndum) [6:46]
7. Distilled (Lisa Ullén) [6:56]

Ensemble reSurge has appeared in various guises over the years, but the core of the group seems to stay in place, consisting of Lars Bröndum and Lisa Ullén, who also work in a duo setting called exSurge. Lisa Ullén, in addition, runs her on jazz group; the Lisa Ullén Quartet, and plays in yet other constellations, touring internationally. Lars Bröndum also plays shifting company. In fact, the various headings under which the four artists at Fylkingen on 20th September 2008 appear, can perhaps be regarded as shifting points of focus, or as a drifting in and out of phase, in and out of view, each time expressing themselves a little differently – but the bottom line is these people’s great creativity and lust for music.

Track 1. Parabolae (Lars Bröndum) [4:32]

Lars Bröndum, who works his computers and his electronic gadgetry - as well as the recording process – during the concert, also finds time during all this to sit down an play his acoustic guitar, which, of course, is miked and amplified, redistributed through loudspeakers with the other instruments. An observation is that Bröndum chose to place the instruments in the recording differently than at the Fylkingen concert – but that is no strange thing as recordings go; just a mixing decision.

Parabolae begins in a cautious mode, Bröndum’s acoustic guitar hitting the first note, immediately followed by Yann le Nestour on contrabass clarinet and then Emil Strandberg on trumpet, working up a crescendo within the minute, up to the point where Lisa Ullén on Fylkingen’s grand piano is initially heard.

It’s a rather traditional chamber piece, as far as modern ensemble music goes, with few surprises, and completely acoustic – but that doesn’t rule out it’s interest, and it’s quite lively, changing tempi, shifting focus within the group, sometimes, it feels, having the moment stand on its toes, reaching over some invisible edge.

The mode is searching, to begin with, and then more eagerly sniffing, like a dog through piles of leaves in autumn. The trumpet at times gives off glary, jubilant and triumphing fanfare-type emissions, clear as sunny October day noons.

Ullén’s soft piano remark evidently gives Le Nestour and Bröndum something to think about, so in the absence – or should I say silence – of Strandberg’s trumpet, they do think out aloud, talking in each other’s sonorities; a quite pleasant weaving of the deep growling of the contrabass and the twanging rubber band dance step lightness of the acoustic guitar.
The contrabass clarinet gets some undisturbed rolling-tongue moments, until the piano falls in on a rapid series of notes, the Diaz-Infante Solus style, smiling mischievously in the midst of the action. The guitar and the piano now have the scene to themselves for a little while, talking in pitches and timbres that are almost identical; a jolting, jumping hoquetus passage; a theatrical playfulness; a close chase ‘round the kitchen floor, holding on to each other’s sweaters!

Ullén gets on her feet and leans into the hull of her instrument, playing directly on the strings of the grand, emitting one sharp, piercing harp tone, causing Le Nestour and Strandberg to join in on their wind instruments, the trumpet cutting its golden sword through the evening, while Le Nestour flies another sonic corridor in a more withheld pitch below Strandberg. Ullén comes back with a sound as far distanced from her on-the-string piercing as can be: a fat rumble way down to the left on the keyboard of her mighty instrument. The rumble isn’t allowed to die out, but is cut short, just the way many cliffs look in Sweden, soft and rounded on one side, and abruptly cut off on the other, because of the mighty weight of the icecap that ground the rock down during the last ice age, the ice retreating in one direction. The guitar and the contrabass clarinet take off together on a meandering flight low across the terrain, not fully in agreement on where to head, but with a strong lust for flying. Yes, they fly like kites in the sky, two little children running down there with the cords in their hands, white faces turned upwards.

Emil Strandberg

Strandberg kicks in with a Stockhausenesque blare, loud and clear and proud, the way the trumpet was played in the Sülztalhalle in Kürten up to recently. The trumpet slows down, spinning thoughtful, introverted bands of flytrap tape (as it hung from the ceiling in 1950s’ kitchens!) that get caught in our hair. After a breathless pause, the trumpet exhales triumphantly, while a pointillist contrabass clarinet and the acoustic guitar move in time with a beautifully dampened piano, which, all but the trumpet, play rhythmical sequences in a staggering, limping progression: one of the highlights of this composition. The rhythmic sequence goes on for a while, surely catching the ears of the audience, while the trumpet repeats an upward glissando a number of times, like a sheep bleating inquiringly.

The contrabass clarinet and the trumpet merge for a long sequence; about as extended as one breath can hold, the volume increasing along the way. Lisa Ullén, once again on her feet, almost climbs into the grand piano and feverishly rubs some of the strings with some object. She sits back down and moves trough one of her major piano passages, in an incredibly fast motion of almost Nancarrowish emphasis up the ladder, up the scale, left to right in a wavy motion, the contrabass clarinet, the trumpet and the guitar joining her for the ride into a cackling crescendo that stays with us longer than expected, until an exhalation of alleviation goes through contrabass clarinet and trumpet, staying close until the music comes to a calm conclusion.

Lisa Ullén

Track 2. Grain (Lisa Ullén) [7:26]

Ullén first composition opens in a considerably canine atmosphere, the wagging of tails intense! Lisa Ullén rubs the strings of the piano softly at first; then more feverishly, and Emil Strandberg moans like a fawning dog on his trumpet (if it isn’t Lars Bröndum on electronic devices?). Yann Le Nestour growls abstemiously, like a dog with saliva running out the corners of his chaps. Lars Bröndum’s electronics appear distinctly in a buzzing, rhythmic incident that recedes and returns. The high-pitch moaning diminishes and dissipates in a kind of echo that could indicate electronics or live electronics, where after Emil Strandberg – without the shadow of an electronic doubt – takes the scene in a duck statement, prattling precociously, while Lisa Ullén continues her in-the-hull rubbing.

The piece feels conversational, like we’re listening in on the instruments talking among themselves. Lisa Ullén’s continuous rubbing and Emil Strandberg’s quacking causes me to imagine a yellow rubber duck bopping away on the music.

Beautifully ringing prepared sounds rise out of the piano, which evidently has been prepared by Lisa Ullén. Some notes are highlighted by the ensemble, when piano, trumpet and contrabass clarinet say the same thing, utter the very same note in their particular timbres – before they again diverge and soar out across the musical possibilities of Ullén’s score.

Yann Le Nestour groans and growls, while Lisa Ullén keeps her string rubbing going, simultaneously letting go of some crisp, polished preparatory, full piano tones, which rise like soap bubbles. The entire ensemble gets into a densely populated area, thrusting themselves through – until a sudden relief is felt, a spacious room fresh with air, in which calm abidings release some tension, slowly and surely. Lars Bröndum’s electroacoustic art is given some leeway, and Emil Strandberg plays fiery, flaming statements up against the horizon, soloistic for a while. The prepared grand, in turn, speaks in a well-deserved, brief solo majesty, and the careful electronic treatment mixes well with the mix of the instruments.

Emil Strandberg; Yann Le Nestour; Lars Bröndum

Track 3. reTransient (Lars Bröndum) [13:20]

Lars Bröndum presents the longest piece of the concert here, with his reTransient.

Even though this piece begins purely electronic, it retains the careful distance to the material that this ensemble seems to take for granted. They seldom break out into unsuspecting spaces, or really unexpected tonalities. Rather, they tend to be investigative, exploring their sounds, testing them out, usually reaching some kind of consent. In this sense they’re more intellectual than raw, speculative instead of intuitive: rather more Wittgenstein than Deepak Chopra. reSurge works the fine-meshed modes.

Bröndum starts the proceedings with some scattered slashing metal, not unlike some Rolf Enström sounds from the 1980s. Follows inflating spaces/sonorities, expanding fast from a center that stays rather unknown. The metal is embellished with the afterglow of receding overtones. At about 48 seconds into the piece, the acoustic majority of the ensemble makes itself heard, beginning with Lisa Ullén playing again on the strings of her grand piano. Le Nestour is playing such low pitches on his contrabass clarinet that you almost just hear a woooosh from the beautiful instrument; a paperless crumpling across tin terrain. Bröndum’s silver hammer comes down on the steel rails of reality, but not in a brutal way; just to allow us some silver sound pleasure… The context here is hard do decipher, but the latticework of the various timbres of, for example Ullén’s string plucking inside the grand, and the whooshing and groaning of Le Nestour on his contrabass clarinet make for a high end musical experience; noble, I’d say – nothing for a dirty worker or a fat housewife. You’ve got to wear tweed, drink some Highland whisky and discuss Joyce. Then this is for you!

Yann Le Nestour & Lars Bröndum

Bouncing motions in submerged metal spheres precede a continued low scraping in the contrabass clarinet and a more fondling stroke of piano strings, leading up to a swelling Chowning synthesis, which doubles and leads into a popping low frequency machinery, in turn opening the field for a clear-spoken piano, a moaning, long-breathed trumpet and soaring, ghost electronics: seriously beautiful, the Lundsten way (Horrorscope), getting in some really rough corrugations for a bit, until Ullén, Strandberg and Le Nestour show up together, in clear articulations, the trumpet suddenly giving off a Stockhausen quote. I can’t remember what piece it’s from, but it’s very characteristic. I heard it many times live down in Kürten. Right about here the instruments start taking their peculiar turns, shoving the makeshift melody around amongst themselves; very beautiful and suddenly seriously spatial. The Stockhausen citation flies around among the musicians like a boiled egg that is too hot to hold! The electronic layer practices whistling figures à la Theremin, and it is a Theremin too, played by Lars Bröndum, who signals to invisible powers in the air with his hands. The piano swaggers slowly and cautiously. A steady state is reached here for a while, in which the music turns incredibly beautiful ‘round the hot Stockhausen egg, which is expressed most clearly in the trumpet. A glary, almost blinding flow of overtones rises before your perception as the players gather around the electronics and tighten up the motion. Bröndum excels in his Theremin gestures, which he mixes with pre-recorded electronic parts, in part similar in pitch and character to the Theremin, in part as deep, rumbling bass expressions. Like veils of fear from old 1950s horror movies or early sci-fi films, the Theremin winds and un-winds, in my mind transforming into vast clouds of winged insects; perhaps bees or swarms of unnamed winged ones accompanying the legendary Mothra.

In an absurd change of atmosphere, someone whistles insecurely, while the music, by way of piano and contrabass clarinet turns relaxed and jazzy in a repetitious little figure, laid-back and smoky. Even the electronics seem more peaceful, and piece-by-piece the ensemble disassembles and rests.

Track 4. Setz die Segel zur Sonne (Karlheinz Stockhausen) [7:33]

Before I heard a non-specified quote from a Stockhausen piece, but here it’s official; a Stockhausen work. It’s one of his so-called intuitive pieces, though, and can therefore sound quite different in different ensembles and at different times. It’s from the collection of works assembled under the title Aus den sieben Tagen, and it’s Setz die Segel zur Sonne, which is dated by Stockhausen May 9th 1968.

Karlheinz Stockhausen
11th September 1969, Teatro La Fenice, Venice
performing Setz die Segel zur Sonne
(photo: werner scholz)

Each of the pieces of Aus den sieben Tagen has its text, which also is a verbal score, or simply performance instructions. Stockhausen’s text on Setz die Segel zur Sonne goes:

Play a tone for so long
until you hear its individual vibrations

Hold the tone
and listen to the tones of the others
- to all of them together, not to individual ones –
and slowly move your tone
until you arrive at complete harmony
and the whole sound turns to gold
to pure, gently shimmering fire

Stockhausen comments: “Thus there is a process which happens for each player in four stages: listen to a tone – listen to the tones of the others – move one’s tone – achieve harmony.”

The players at the first performance of Setz die Segel zur Sonne for ensemble at Palais de Chaillot in Paris May 30th 1969 were Harald Bojé [electronium]; Alfred Alings [tam-tam with microphone]; Rolf Gehlhaar [tam-tam with microphone]; Aloys Kontarsky [piano]; Jean-François Jenny-Clark [double-bass]; Johannes G. Fritsch [viola with contact microphone and filter]; Michel Portal [E-flat clarinet, basset-horn, tenor saxophone, taragod]; Jean-Pierre Drouet [percussion]; Karlheinz Stockhausen [two filters and two potentiometers for viola and tam-tam].
Those were 9 players in all, comprising the Semaine Stockhausen. At Fylkingen in Stockholm 2008 the set up of the reSurge ensemble was Lisa Ullén [grand piano]; Lars Bröndum [electronics, acoustic guitar]; Emil Strandberg [trumpet]; Yann Le Nestour [contrabass clarinet]
The Semaine Stockhausen performance of 1969 lasted 34 minutes, while reSurge’s finished in just 7½ minutes. Perhaps it’s a mistake to play a piece which demands long, held notes and a lot of listening in such a short time, but within the frames of the concert situation, it at least gave a small taste of the Stockhausen magic, which I have come to know and love, like the mystic fragrance of butterfly orchis (Platanthéra bifólia) in the light, chilly June nights of Scandinavia.

Lisa Ullén opens the voyage towards the central star with one sustained, low tone of the grand piano, and Yann Le Nestour is the next musician to add a likewise sustained adherence on his contrabass clarinet, approaching in resonant timbres, before receding into misty wheezing. Emil Strandberg is the third crewman heard on this ship headed for the sun, working his trumpet in a tender, wobbling sustenance. Lars Bröndum soars very cautiously inside Strandberg’s golden thread, with his electroacoustic means. He is soon heard in a more stringent and tight occurrence, and thereafter the musicians take turns, while also coming together in wonderful timbres, in which you can rest and travel, for the all too brief journey into the center of the solar system, the light of sonorities and timbres distributed through the prism of Apollonian mindspheres.

This was one of the most valuable moments of the concert, I think – but much too brief. I would like reSurge to record an hour-long version.

Karlheinz Stockhausen
photographed after Setz die Segel zur Sonne
11th September 1969, Teatro La Fenice, Venice
(legendary photograph by florian steiner)

Track 5. The Redistribution of Light (Bröndum) / Improvisation (reSurge) [12:41]

Lars Bröndum presents his third composition for the night - The Redistribution of Light -, which merges with and transforms into a collective reSurge improvisation.

Bröndum begins this work in the most diligent way, in a circular motion on shiny metal, a rhythmic dance around the periphery of a saw blade lying in the sawdust on the floor of an old abandoned sawmill. The beginning of Stockhausen’s Sirius sounds similar, when the Sirius spaceships take off, their engines gearing up. Same circular, metallic motion. The circulation develops, as one section of the circle takes on a darker hue; a bass quality which strengthens the rhythmic expression. The speed alters after a while, increasing a bit – and squeaky, tangled sounds get caught in the motion like threads from a read sweater in a wheel of some machinery. These entangled sweater threads eventually take on vocal properties, as by magic, and more piercing sawmill sonorities penetrate your thoughts. Deep, dark bass hum is introduced in short sections, while the shrill, piercing quality grows and then recedes. A swarming feeling inside the web of sounds makes for an entomological atmosphere. Trajectories across the sonic sky feel like meteorites curving down into the burnout of the atmosphere, or like electrical discharges through your cerebral cortex.

More subdued expressions seep through the sonic space as the live improvisation merges with Bröndum’s electronics, and the entire ensemble gets a fix on things. Lisa Ullén stays within a very limited space on her keyboard, tapping absentmindedly, but also leans into the hull to touch strings. After a while she gets more expressive, traveling up and down her grand, both rumbling and trilling. Emil Strandberg gives off extraneous, toneless blowing sounds on his trumpet, and Yann Le Nestour follows suit on his contrabass clarinet. Lisa Ullén and Yann Le Nestour get into a very lyrical mode, summer-afternoon-in-the-orchard kind of atmosphere, time standing still. Beautiful!

This harmonic meditation cannot stay in place long, though, because Le Nestour starts digging through the soil feverishly, in growling and groaning wild boar grunts. Ullén comments with acrid statements of the grand, flowing out into meandering excuses.

Strandberg resorts to purely toneless passages of air, while Ullén mixes her sly lyricism with the pouring out of the transparent beauty of blue glass beads on a marble floor. Bröndum sneaks in at the very end, elastically; soft, warm toffee tones sticking to his fingers.

Track 6. Flux (Lars Bröndum) [6:46]

Lars Bröndum’s fourth entry is Flux. Full of secret wounds from a century infested with wars and genocides, fear and hate, these figures, impersonated by these four instruments – piano, trumpet, contrabass clarinet, guitar – walk with open faces through a Godot landscape, out of the mist into the fog, the great big Now the plowed field of the present. Such is this music: present but – mentally – distant. It is impossible for these impersonated ones to really smile, but there is a kind of peace of mind still possible, in the incredible velocity of the immobile moment of Now. Especially the trumpet speaks a lonely Berlin 1940s lament that stands like the white bridge over the forests of October in Stig Dagerman’s Birgitta Svit. This music circles the infinite Now, and moves ever closer to its core, by way of a sonically spiraling motion. On the way to this only hypothetically reachable destination, a gesture of appeasement is granted.

Track 7. Distilled (Lisa Ullén) [6:56]

The little lady at the big grand piano gets the honor to conclude the Fylkingen reSurge concert with her composition Distilled. The beginnings are cautious, fragmentary, and hers are the first whimpers of sound, playing the strings inside the mighty instrument, which stands with its jaws ajar, as if it was seeing a dentist, Ullén tending to its white and black teeth - or, worse; like the silent scream in Edvard Munch’s famous painting from 1893.


The proceedings are brittle, delicate, mysterious – alpine flowers on a slope high up below the glaciers, in mist – the air clean and fresh.
The very beginning is tricky, for the analyzer! The instruments take turns, speaking the same timbral language, at the risk, even, of mistaken identity! Ullén starts with a plucked piano string, but a fraction of a time unit later Bröndum reacts on his acoustic guitar, also with a short, plucked string, and – this is a tough trick – Le Nestour joins this brevity of expressional means with some toneless wind and the dampened and choking percussion of the valves of his contrabass clarinet. The short duo that follows, in a hoquetus limp of the piano and the toneless, percussive contrabass clarinet, is awesome – so clever and startling! Bröndum and Ullén also exchange similarities on the piano and guitar strings, the visual account in my head blending the instruments into a semi-Chagall that flows and flies and flies and flows against a multi-colored backdrop of autumn’s leaves. Dark and densely contoured tones rise like too heavy soap bubbles out of the gap of the grand, while unidentified creaking, as if from a Glenn Gould stool, mix in – but ah, it’s Ullén scraping a piano string!

Marc Chagall: I and the Village (1911)

If you take your time going through this work second by second, you find a host of clever and brittle ideas, expressed briefly and then passing into something else. The music is so rich, yet, simultaneously, transparent and lofty. Great art! Lively life!

Strandberg spins a soaring, skywards trumpet longing above the earthbound comrades below in the contrabass clarinet, guitar and piano – and this is where the music seriously turns into a Chagall painting!

Marc Chagall: The Fiddler (1912 - 13)

A long whistle through the contrabass clarinet leads into tonelessnesses that keep soaring upwards and away, away into the finality of it all; that silence that surrounds all these sounds, the fertile silence out of which sound is born and music flowers; the silence into which sound recedes; the attentive silence where we can rest between lives.