ReSurge; The Soul in the Machine
PART 1 of 2

Lisa Ullén

ReSurgeThe Soul in the Machine;
an urban interaction between spirits and machines,
where free improvisation meets computer-generated structures.

Participants: Lisa Ullén [piano] – Ulf Åkerhielm [double bass] –
Jonna Sandell [violin] – Lars Bröndum [guitar, electronics, composition]

Musikarkivet MuArk 021.
Duration: 79:41.

1 - 5. The Soul in the Machine
1. Static [1:59]
2. Touch (cadenza) [0:56]
3. Spike [1:23]
4. Gate [0:43]
5. Diod [3:09]

6. Twittering Machines [4:39]

7 - 8. Surge
7. Sporadic [2:14]
8. Serene [4:00]

9 - 11. Ictus
9. Infernal Machines [2:35]
10. Shivering Souls [6:03]
11. Pendulum [5:05]

12. RePulse [7:58]

13. Flux #1 [7:16]

14. ImPulse [10:58]

15. Impromptu [1:32]

16. Premonitions [4:48]

17. Circuit [11:16]

18. Elegy [3:07]

Jonna Sandell & GLO friends

The word that comes to mind with immediacy and force is CLARITY. There is a clarity throughout this CD that normally is reserved for Morton Feldman or Stockhausen, who – albeit their extreme differences – have CLARITY in common; musical and intellectual clarity. Despite the obvious complexity of Stockhausen’s pieces and the hidden complexity inside Feldman’s simplicity, light and transparency is a common trait for those cultural gurus.
The next word that comes tumbling out of my ReSurge listening is inspiration, piggy-backing on the word beauty, or vice versa! It is easy to feel the joy and creativity of the members of this ensemble, which, paired with a talent that doesn’t hold back, makes this one of the most important Swedish releases in quite a few years.

I’m told that parts of the music are notated, while others are fully improvisational. This is also a clue to the richness of sound and the brilliance of musical thought.
One might think that free improvisation would constitute the best possible breeding ground for original music to blossom, but if one thinks a little further, this is hardly ever true. In free improvisation it is very hard not to fall back on learned behavior, habits and secure tricks. It’s usually hard to arrive at something truly new or original whilst improvising fully. The music tends to either rely on earlier experiences and sort of sum them up or present a medley of those already scanned methods, or else the music becomes incoherent and falls apart into pretty worthless and uninteresting shreds.

If, however, one mixes notation with improvisation – which it seems ReSurge have done here – or inserts certain rules into the improvisation, one soon sees that the result becomes much more interesting and original.

I and pianist, cellist, composer, producer etcetera Robin McGinley once discussed this issue at a session with The Great Learning Orchestra at Fylkingen, both of us maintaining that some set rules which made you do things you never voluntarily would do, greatly enhances the musical quality and complexity – and certainly originality.
It’s a matter of doing things you wouldn’t do; thereby forcing yourself into new ways of thinking, new ways of playing, while, of course, still drawing on all your experiences and musical love stories.

John Cage used his methods of indeterminacy to free the music of himself as much as possible, thus forcing the players to do things that are almost impossible, since Cage used, for example, the I Ching to determine the values of the music (nota bene; strictly noting what I Ching decided!), thus sometimes, naturally, arriving at unlikely combinations, like in
the Freeman Etudes for Violin or Etudes Australes for piano (though Cage also – consolingly - said that the interpreters didn’t have to play all the notes!).

Stockhausen also, often, inserts certain instructions or rules into his thoroughly notated works, making the outcome of the music finally arrived at unforeseeable, like in
Kurzwellen, for example, where the players are to react in certain manners to unpredictable sounds coming out of several short wave radios. Stockhausen inserts several more refined and complex instructions into many of his compositions, which always make each performance very different from any other (even though, on the other hand, many other compositions of his are strictly notated in a completely set and decided way, not to be varied).

This shows that the greatest of the contemporary or semi-contemporary composers have seen the need for notation as well as improvisation, and their various combinations, and both Cage and Stockhausen thereby found wildly creative methods to further develop the art of music.

Another contemporary composer, Walter Thompson, has addressed this issue from another point of view. He has developed a method of conducted improvisation that he calls SOUNDPAINTING. He has worked with an orchestra in America for a long time, developing hundreds of different signs, which he signals to the musicians. He can sign anything out of his collection of signs, thus improvising with the orchestra through conducting! I have connected Thompson with The Great Learning Orchestra, so hopefully something can develop in Stockholm along those lines.

I believe ReSurge has used a method of mixed improvisation and notation with an uncanny skill, producing a set of pieces which has given me a truly revealing and musically as well as intellectually adventurous afternoon!
Lisa Ullén – pianist in the ensemble – makes sure to clarify to me that the parts that aren’t strictly notated of course change and transform at each performance. I say that this guarantees freshness and longevity! The music never stops! It keeps on keeping on, changing, flowing like life itself through these lands of matter and spirit…

All four members of the ReSurge Ensemble are highly skilled, educated and talented artists.

Lisa Ullén has done time at The Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm and at Chapel Hill University, North Carolina. She is a frequent participant in performances and workshops with The Great Learning Orchestra in Stockholm, and is a member of Trio Inner Out. She also works within FRIM (Föreningen Fri Improviserad Musik: The Society for Free, Improvised Music), where she is on the board. Lisa Ullén was recently elected member of Fylkingen.

Jonna Sandell – a medical doctor by trade – is a classically educated violinist. Like Lisa Ullén she is a member och The Great Learning Orchestra, and she also works with a free improvisation group called Yxoid as well as with the performance group KEL, together with Elisabeth Hansson.

Ulf Åkerhielm – double bass - comes out of the jazz groups Brus-trio, Miljövårdsverket and Kvickrot. However, he has also played with The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra for eight years.

Lars Bröndum – guitarist and electroacoustician – has a Bachelor Degree in Classical Guitar, a Masters Degree in theory/composition (both at Youngstown State University) and a PhD in composition and music theory (University of Pittsburgh). Bröndum is a member of Fylkingen.

When a set of personalities with these qualifications come together in a free-spirited, yet intellectually coherent and structured setting like ReSurge, wonders do arise.

It is no mere coincidence that two of the musicians – Ullén and Sandell – come out of The Great Learning Orchestra. GLO is a main breeding ground for all kinds of creative musical occurrences in Sweden that take play seriously and become absorbed by new ways of musical expression and fresh methods of improvisation AND notation (
The A4 project is the latest effort in this vein, asking for scores of any kind from anybody with the sole restriction that the scores must fit onto an A4 page of paper; traditional notation, graphical scores, verbal instructions, drawings – yes, virtually anything that can make the orchestra sound and behave!)

The Great Learning Orchestra is probably the healthiest thing that has happened to the musical – and in a broader sense widely cultural – scene in Sweden the last couple of decades. Not only do professional, skilled musicians from many of the established ensembles and orchestras of Stockholm take part in GLO’s meetings and workshops to renew their minds and dip into uncensored creativity, but the orchestra also encompasses musicians from all kinds of more obscure antecedents, even of a less professional kind, who bring in thoughts and dreams from a wilderness of riches that flourish in the avant-garde of the periphery.

The orchestra also invites international composers to come to Stockholm and conduct workshops. This has happened with, for example, Gavin Bryars and Dave Smith. Even Terry Riley has visited the orchestra, rehearsing and performing his
Tread On the Trail with GLO.

Some have made comparisons to Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra, but that is true only in part; mostly in the spiritual and free-thinking make-up of the ideology of art that both orchestras represent, since the Scratch Orchestra also to a great extent included non-musicians from other art forms who none the less played instruments as best they could while attending Scratch Orchestra events.
The Great Learning Orchestra consists of professional musicians and other musicians or at the very least very musically inclined and at least in some way musically talented people – but the truly decisive aspect of GLO is the openness to ideas, trials and practical experiments that is the hallmark of the orchestra; everyone becoming an expert at really, really LISTENING.

I believe this way of thinking about music has carried over a great deal to The ReSurge Ensemble

The group’s own definition of this collection of works (“an urban interaction between spirits and machines, where free improvisation meets computer-generated structures”) may be one possible, over-arching way of approaching this music if you need one, but any number of definitions would apply. It’s all in the frames of reference of the listeners, and trying to brand the imagery and imagination of this prolific flow of musical ideas can only serve an unnecessary limitation of the boundless dispersion of personal or archetypical associations – so myself, I let those lines pass for what they probably are: a dutiful go at compact liner notes…

Lisa Ullén

1. The Soul in the Machine, tracks 1 – 5: StaticTouch (cadenza)SpikeGateDiod.

Lisa Ullén kicks things off with a distinct, withheld Feldmanesque piano note – absent-minded in its Bröndum electronics environment, immediately spreading an elastic transparency of refracting forest daylight in my mind.
The piano is playfully but cautiously feeling its way in a circumstance and a state that is very much defined by the sweeping, bulging and wheezing colorings of the electronics, which themselves are so gently and diligently applied that they loose their character of electronics and instead appear as an atmosphere, a hue of a landscape of inner qualities, that could well stem from the workings of the subconscious in the visions of someone’s sleeping dreams.

A little further into the piece the air pressure bears down on you with a tighter intensity, the piano picking up density and the electronics working up some aggressiveness – but always in emotional phase with each other, much the way a poet like Vilhelm Ekelund (1880 Stehag – 1949 Saltsjöbaden) in his early poetry from 1900 – 1906 lets the landscapes in his texts reflect and amplify the inner state of the poet or the subject of the poem at hand, or even render a downright portrait of those feelings – or indeed, how the external landscape would affect his inner state of affairs, like in the poem
Havet from the collection Dithyramber i aftonglans (1906):

O tillflykt, säkra ro!
Hur själen än har tröttnat,
du ständigt, dock, o hav,
i härlighet är nytt.
Hur månget hjärta glömt
vid denna djupa syn,
hur mången själ har stillnat!
Och mänsklighetens ädle, tankens
och sångens väldige, ha mättat sina
o heliga, av dina brus, som sjunga
i morgonbrus ur Pindaros och mörkna
med Psaltaren till väldigt aftonbrus!

My attempt to interpret the poem in English:

Oh refuge, steadfast peace!
No matter how the soul has tired,
you, Sea, in splendor; always new!
Many a heart forgot,
in this deep gaze,
many a soul was stilled!
And the noble out of Mankind, the mighty
of thought and song, have nourished their
oh, Holy, at your surge, which sings
in morning surge out of Pindar and darkens
with Psalms to mighty evening surge!

One German poet which perhaps to an equal or even higher degree embodied this soulifying of nature and vice versa was one of Vilhelm Ekelund’s favorites; Nikolaus Lenau (1802 – 1850), of which Ekelund quoted this fragment as a motto for one of his own poems:

Ein tiefres Heimweh hat mich überfallen,
als wenn es auf die stille Haide regent,
wenn im Gebirg die fernen Glocken hallen.

My try at an English interpretation:

A deeper longing has befallen me,
like when it drizzles on the moor,
when, in the mountains, the distant bells
do toll.

Yes, in this very first ReSurge entry on this CD, the ensemble – here just Lisa Ullén and Lars Bröndum – has already sent me on a literal, poetic journey into the books of my youth. Needless to say, there is power and might lurking in these sounds, in this eclectic merger of piano and electronics, and in the way these constituencies seamlessly fertilize each other into grand visions of my mind, wherein I weightlessly hover…

The second part of the first piece –
Touch (cadenza) – enters on a grander pianistic note, a grand piano note, as out of one of the great, romantic piano concertos; a cadenza out of it! Lisa Ullén rumbles freely, in pitches and timbres that remind me in some unaccounted for way of late 20th century piano concertos by Sven-David Sandström or Johan Hammerth; that fruitful adaption of old ingredients in new recipes! It’s a very short story, which, anyhow, gives me time to marvel at the history of grand pianism!

The third section of piece number 1 –
Spike – is wilder, but still mysterious and age-old. Ullén bears down on the keys of her piano in erratic staccato attacks, while the electronics (perhaps in its sound-surge also implementing other acoustic instruments) swing sounds around that mimic the old Bronze Age instrument vinare (bullroarer), which has been utilized not only by the North European ancestors, but by many cultures, including the Aborigines of Australia to signal across great distances; a pebble or a piece of bone or wood attached to a string that one rotates in the air.

It is vividly described at the website Sacred Sound Tools: (quoted here by permission)

The bullroarer is known as the 'voice of God' to the Australian Aborigines and given to the males of the Clan at naming ceremonies or other auspicious occasions. Used as a 'talk back switch' to the Creator. To sound a Bullroarer it is swung lasso style, which causes it to spin and make a 'humming type' sound. It is called by several different names including 'Burliwarni','Ngurrarngay', and 'Muypak'. They were used to display sacred symbols and sounded to warn the uninitiated that they were being shown. They were also used to send animals into ambush, and to alert one tribe of another’s presence, and in rainmaking ceremonies.
This type of instrument has been used all over the world. To the Maori it is called ‘Purerehua’ (butterfly), and it was used by North American Native Cultures from the Athabaskan, Nootka, Yokuts, Pomo, Hopi, Aztec and more. The Navajo call it the 'groaning stick' (tsin di'ni) and use it to drive away evil or drive out illness. Made from pinewood that has been struck by lightning, covered with yucca pitch, and attached to a cord made from bighorn or buckskin. During Navajo sacred ceremonies, the medicine man uses the bullroarer to slice through the air, creating an opening that allows the Yei B'Chei (deity) to enter the physical world. In New Guinea it was placed inside humanlike effigies in the throat area symbolizing the spirit voice of the effigy and was sometimes used in ceremony.
A smaller version of the Bullroarer was used by the Maori known as 'Porotiti', and was used for healing by spinning over areas of rheumatism or arthritis, the sound vibration massages joints in a similar way to modern ultrasound.

This sound is also briefly achieved by the wading bird Enkelbeckasin (Gallinago gallinago) when it dives across the marshes and wetlands with its quills outstretched.

Spike is ominous and shamanistic, transporting the listener into peyote and sweat ceremony states of mind, if letting go and letting happen what happens. It’s a turmoil of bullroarer, piano and a spiraling, speedy feeling, seeping through the cracks of time and reason through the blind workings of centrifugal forces, into more pristine realms of existence. In this forceful sense of velocity, the tones of Lisa Ullén’s piano are granite rocks in a foggy wasteland of remorse and bitter memories, in a flyby of the private torments one has gathered throughout this life.
Towards the end of the short piece the electronics are tweaked into gluey shortwave static shrieks of pain out of dark abysses, while a more modal hue of harmonics soothe and ease the Bardo traveler…

Ah… I listen to this in June. June is a great please to listen, after rain!

The fourth part of piece one is entitled
Gate. Here we tumble into an industrial environment, the initial electronic expressions not unlike the ones you can experience in Rolf Enström’s renowned Final Curses (Slutförbannelser). There is steel and there is smoke and there is grinding friction; metallurgic processes on atomic levels roaring at you from inside matter! Eventually, from inside this havoc (early Magnus Lindberg springs to mind: KRAFT!), bubbling spheres arise like methane out of marshes in 19th century detective stories from Britain… or like early Macintosh screen savers!
It all ends with a few seconds of homage to French acousmatique – Jean-Claude Risset – and some early U.S. computer musics - John Chowning.

The fifth and final section of piece number one is
Diod. This is a multi-faceted exploration of a slow piano-and-electronics dance, whirling like a slow-motion rendering of a spring flurry through yesteryear’s dry leaves, re-run for meticulous inspection, the piano picking its pace carefully and apprehensively across the backyard, while the electronics trickle like water out of downspouts or ring like the Stockhausenesque Antonio Pérez-Abellán synthesizers of latter-day Kürten Courses in Bergisches Land outside Cologne; the Sülztalhalle dusk opening up across the bleachers, the lit-up Mischpult towering in the midst of the dusk like a queen bee in a hive!

The synthesizerisms sometimes curve and twirl in the manner of Tuvinian Khoomei singing, and I discern echoes of breaths from an
Oktophonie oral cavity!
Sounding layers extend simultaneously, in a limping succession, strata inserted and shifted like layers of ice of a lake breaking up in spring at Öster-Graninge.

The piano provides some pointillism for the elasticism of electronic layering, like Conlon Nancarrow’s punched holes in his player piano paper rolls, meticulously measured out in a perfect geometry of rhythms and pitches.
Even the unlikely feeling of a laid-back laziness appears towards the concluding part, the piano sliding over in the direction of a 1940s’ lyricism, with the electronics playing along in an anachronistic counterpoint that ensures some absurdity right up to the end!

Piece number 2 –
Twittering Machines – occupies index point 6 of the CD.
A bead of pearls meander out from the Ullén piano, supported by Jonna Sandell appearing for the first time on this CD with her violin in short, natural cut-ups, manually played on the actual instrument!
Yes indeed, it’s Jonna Sandell entering the action, with bravura and technical finesse as usual! Her high-pitched twittering thuds of the bow above Lisa Ullén’s relentless picking and rumbling of the keys provide an ear-catching progression of refined rock n’ roll stature; a well-blended merger of rock n’ roll floor ecstasy, monolithic minimalist repetition and high-brow art music of the West! These girls have my unrestrained attention!
I think I hear Bröndum’s guitar blend in for a while, and as Sandell returns from a feverish private fiddling excursion, Ulf Åkerhielm joins in on his double bass, or if you prefer; contra-bass.

This develops into a full-blown, full-fledged 21st century chamber piece, as a drooping glissando in the double bass spills out into a trickling mountain stream of the piano, forming a thick and dense mudflow of sounds inching its way across a score which is sometimes unwritten and void, sometimes full of jotted-down notes.

The violin reappears in an itching Walter Fändrich mimicry, eagerly rubbing away at the circumstances as the intensity heightens and thins out at the same time, until Lisa Ullén takes command and gets the urge to hammer away at opposite sides of the keyboard, rumbling and tickling in an Ullén tour-de-force that all but deafens her ReSurge comrades.

However, the guitar picking – also very ticklish here – reappears as Ullén diminishes her efforts, and as she falls back into loud and clear silence the double bass takes hold of the situation, rubbing dark feelings out of a Hanne Darboven likeness (
Opus 17a) frenzy, eventually making common cause with the other players, shaping and re-shaping a beautiful and exciting chamber view on existence, wherein everyone is needed as part of the whole, though allowed some personal bits and pieces of expression that may tantalize the moment!

At the final part a window opens up on the sea, salty air and a cool breeze resulting in crystal clarity, the instruments of the ensemble talking in sharply articulated morphemes with each other, the canopy of the sky a planetary Louvre wherein thoughts and dreams and language of you and me transform into light as the worlds breathe…

Piece number 3 is
Surge, on tracks 7 and 8. The first part is titled Sporadic.
Once again the bullroarer in disguise is glimpsed through the electricity, as the piece commences in brittle brutalities, erratically finding their way in numerous different flows around sonic obstacles – until, in solitary bliss, Jonna Sandell cuts in with sharp violin incisions out of nowhere!
Her violin is extraordinarily recorded, very closely miked and delivered in a dryness of sound that I enjoy immensely, hitherto only found in Feldman and Cage recordings on the
Musical Observations label and on Malcolm Goldstein’s recordings, as opposed to the many overly reverberated violin recordings that do exist in destructive quantities…

In fact, much of the attitude that Jonna Sandell reveals in this piece is related to the visionary, shaman violin fiddling of Quebec and Vermont sage Goldstein, who has visited Stockholm stages, including Fylkingen, on several occasions; these short, curving, clawing figures, like insects on your summer cottage window or floaters in the vitreous body of your eye.
Lars Bröndum partakes in this ceremonial clawing with expertise electronics, carefully plastering his auditory visions on the dry surfaces of Sandell’s virtuosity and witty humor.
Highly stereophonic blurs of vision set in, mingling the pure violin with electronic violin manipulations and pure electronic audio painting, achieving a fascinating texture; a tapestry of intricate sound, fit to hang anywhere around the premises of our listening!

Bröndum pours a bucket of icy electroacoustics over a hot Jonna Sandell lyricism, and vapor rises through the soundscape. Yes, the musicians blow hot and cold in a most fascinating gesture of musical artistry, in a moment of timelessness akin to a June night at the pirti (sauna) at Viitasaari
Soon the electroacoustics are stabilized and drawn out in a shivering grayish drone, serving as a backdrop for Jonna Sandell’s exquisite sketching in violin tones sharp as the razor blade of the suicide; tones that rise towards a silky sky like the barren branches of winter oaks at the island of Visingsö.
At the very end the violin retreats into an enchanted state of mind, receding into silence through a trembling fairytale motion that is seen only through the corner of one’s eye, and then… silence…

The second part of
Surge - Serene - whines in like a swarm of bees, tangible, elastic, soaring, frantic…
The sound recedes only to come closer again, stronger, as layers echo layers, in a sense of warp speed…
It’s a feeling of space, of soaring light year trajectories, of silent travelers through the ages, through the quantum mechanics contradictions of the space-time continuum – and yet the music shines and glitters like dew drop spider webs against the evening light on remote insect islands of Lake Båven in the Valleys of Doris; a secretive peace in the middle of a landscape splintered by the coves and bays of the outstretched body of water in June… in nature’s patient round-the-clock vigil… and out of this
2001 Space Odyssey atmosphere Sandell descends like a messenger from Asclepios with her violin threaded with the shrill tones of fragility, which she gently winds around our worries, soothing the loneliness in our bodies with the essence of the light of a billion stars, balanced on the fragile meeting of string and bow, endlessly emitting a hope that defies the despair of our Aniara predicament, right here in the NOW, traveling our goldonder Earth between macro and micro; shadowy illusions on a backdrop of endless expanses… Thank you!

Lisa Ullén & Jonna Sandell

to part 2