Erik Peters; Envoi and other works

Chesapeake Bay, near South River outlet, October 1974
(Photo: Larry Learner)

Erik Peters (1970) - Ensemble-, orchestra- & text-sound compositions
Participants: The Kroumata Percussion Ensemble [track 1] - Annika Fredriksson [bassoon on track 1] - The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mats Rondin [track 2] - Stefan Lakatos [text & voice on track 3]
Erik Peters Private Edition. Duration:39:21

Erik Peters
(Foto: Benjamin Staern, Kopavogur, Iceland 4th September 2002)

1. Nu ska jag berätta hur det egentligen var [10:24]
2. Envoi (first performance)[16:14]
3. Allt som ligger under snön är gratis [12:43]

Track 1 on Erik Peters’ CD – Nu ska jag berätta hur det egentligen var… (Now I Will Explain How It Actually Was), is scored for bassoon, 3 tam players, a signaler and a sound projectionist. The title sounds like something Arthur Dent or Ford Prefect could have expressed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I’m certain this is just sheer coincidence. Peter’s naming of his pieces is sometimes startling, though, which I enjoy very much!

A section of Erik Peters' beautiful, transparent, ascetic score
of "Nu ska jag berätta hur det egentligen var..."
("Now I'll explain how it actually was...")

Erik Peters’ score is a wonder of clarity, with fastidious and discriminating graphics and a thinned-out transparency, which sends you right into an atmosphere of Japanese calligraphy on rice paper and smoking hot tea by the rock garden.
The performance instructions are very detailed and particular, and the set-up of the performing space, with the instruments and all the positions of the players, reminds me some of Stockhausen’s way of expressing himself through his scores.

It might be interesting to look a little at the instructions before going into the sounding music itself. I translate freely from the score, which is printed in Swedish, with my own comments and small deviations from the original text, including some small or large omissions:

The instruments etcetera are determined as follows:

1. Bassoon with amplification, electronically treated. The player hears the result through headphones at all times, enabling him or her to affect the sound.

2. The 3 tams are specified as a small tam, a medium tam and s big tam. The tams are also amplified, so that even very minute sounds are audible.

3. The signaler uses 2 double-bells and 1 big woodblock.

4. There are special instructions for the sound projectionist, albeit not present in the score available to me.

Concerning the positioning on stage, Peters determines that the tams are facing the audience in the back of the stage, or at least not directly up front.
The big tam is at the left from the view of the audience, and then follows the medium tam in the center and the small tam to the right. The tam players stand in a straight line, side by side.
Each tam player is standing to the left of his tam, again from the audience’s point of view.

The bassoonist stands to the left, closer to the audience. The signaler stands to the right, similarly closer to the audience. The bassoonist and the signaler face each other.

In the performing instructions for the tam players (extended and detailed), Peters clarifies that the tam parts are graphically notated through 5 different motives and subsequent variations of these.
Each motive consists of a symbolic representation of a tam, with a diagram of the movements that the player is to make across the tam with his club.
The motives actually consist of musical objects, which unfold across the duration, since each player, with a set of simple rules in mind, repeats the motive at will in some of its variations.

In this way successions of motive variations unfold in the three tam parts. In the variations the players can move backwards or forwards in the diagram of the movements of the clubs.

Ending my free translation of the text above here, I must add that Peters then supplies the players with a detailed description of each motive and its possible variations across a few pages of the score. If you acquire this score you will also receive a CD with the motives recorded, for better insight into the intentions of the composer.

I simply have to make the comment here that Erik Peters must have been inspired by his knowledge of Stockhausen’s methods when achieving this score. There are too many properties in common for that not to be a fact. I have worked closely around Stockhausen on several occasions, and I’m also in the process of reviewing his entire output, having already reached more than half way through
the Stockhausen Edition, and I am happy to see that younger composers pick up a few ideas from the Maestro. This is in fact the first time I see this so clearly, and I have to congratulate Peters on picking good role models!
One of the very healthy sides of composing in a Stockhausen vein is that an interesting outcome is assured! Inside these very strict and detailed instructions, pertaining to Peters and Stockhausen alike, are possibilities for an innumerable number of variations, keeping the composition at hand alive always, in an ever-changing guise inside the framework of the concept. This is the true advantage of this way of composing.

Again returning to the text of the score, a few pages ahead, Peters notes that a strong choreographic aspect of the composition is evident as the tam players execute the determined movements of the clubs across the tams. Peters notes that it may look like the players are indulging themselves in some abstract chore, perhaps of scientific properties, as if they’re scribbling signs or mathematical formulas on the tams.

The choreographic aspect has – from the very beginning at the start of the 1950s – been a true characteristic of Stockhausen’s works, so again I feel the intense gaze from the eyes of the Maestro!

Tarfala Valley, Northern Lapland, Sweden
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin, August 2002)

Continuing through the text of the score, Erik Peters points out that the bassoon functions like a timeline through the piece, to which the other parts relate, by which they orientate themselves in the gross-form of the composition. The bassoon, by virtue of certain positions along its time line, emits cues for the tams, individually, to perform a certain instruction of its part. At a decidedly few points the bassoon also picks up cues from the others.

The composer describes that the electronic treatment of the bassoon serves to merge its timbres with the timbres of the tams. This again, like the giving and taking of cues above, is a clear echo of Karlheinz Stockhausen, who has transformed sound in this and other ways in many of his works, with an astounding effect of perfection. Even the famous “Rückkopplung” idea, so interestingly applied and worked out in, for example, Stockhausen’s
SOLO (which I was fortunate to hear at the Stockhausen Courses of 2002 with the American trumpeter William Forman, who also conducted a seminar on the methods of Rückkopplung [feed-back] in connection with SOLO), is present in Erik Peters’ composition Now I Will Explain How It Actually Was, in the bassoon part, as the bassoonist is able to hear herself in the electronically treated result, through earphones, thereby creating a situation wherein she interacts with herself in a dynamic, flowing, ever-changing Rückkopplung; feed-back.
This has been mastered to perfection by, for example, Terry Riley, who has been known to interact simultaneously with 16 discrete organ voices in his piece
Desert Of Ice from the album Shri Camel, where the electric organ is also tuned to just intonation.
Again, it is important to point out how much the composition has to gain from these different Stockhausenesque or Rileyish methods, by which a sort of controlled chance is set free to work within a given set of rules, achieving a varying result each time. It’s very exciting!

The feedback experiments with gigantic tape loops and different contraptions, like the Buchla Box (100 Series), were going on at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the middle of the 1960s and also at the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio and the Tape Music Center at Mills College. Folke Rabe was visiting there in those days, and in 1988 he aired a by now cult status retrospective radio series in Swedish Radio Channel 2 about these immensely exciting times The series had the title
From Hopefulness To What?, and contained the music and the voices of the people of those hopeful times, and Folke mixed 1965 interviews with interviews of much later origin; hence the title of the series. I treasure my tapes of those radio programs (of course transferred to CD now!)

Pauline Oliveros worked extensively with the methods of feed-back, and subsequent CD releases of those experimental compositions have been issued of late, just a couple of years ago, on Pogus Productions P 21012-2 (Alien BogBeautiful Soop), Pogus Productions P 21023-2 (No MoSomething ElseBog Road) and Paradigm Discs PD 04 (I of IVBig Mother Is Watching YouBye Bye Butterfly).
Interestingly, over in Europe, Stockhausen was experimenting with creative feedback those same years, resulting in, for example,
SOLO. I asked William Forman at his seminar in Kürten in August of 2002 if there was any interaction going on between Stockhausen and San Francisco Tape Music Center, but surprisingly, Forman had no knowledge of the San Francisco institution!

Erik Peters explains the different kinds of treatment that is applied throughout the work. In the part called
Intonation, the manipulation is a bassoon shadow dance, while in the part Contrast it develops into an elastic extension. In the part entitled Development the treatment is more of an echo, while in Recollection, finally, it plays with shadowing figures once again.

Peters is careful to stress that the bassoonist is to play everything non-vibrato unless instructed not to.
There are several other modes of performance instructions that I do not have any possibility to dwell on here, as I should move into the act of listening now.

The opening sounds of the tams instantly paint a horizon in my mind; a horizon of life as much as of sea, but in an atmosphere of ice, of a certain chilly situation, a circumstance of exposition and vulnerability.
Peters works these sensations in vibrating planes of emotions and mirroring flakes of thin ice, with sensual, very careful fingerings, as he lets the sounds unfold in timbres of dark luminosity, as an afterglow of something rather than a start of something… or as the state of mind of an older gentleman who realizes that his allotted time in his present body-vehicle is running out, when he sits out in his autumn garden at dusk, finding no really good reason to get on his feet to get back in – but with no feelings of remorse; just insight and acceptance, and a whimper of excitement at the prospect of next life and next body-vehicle…

Brittle, sparse percussive metallics lead over into a more active section, where the wood-block of the signaler and the feed-back trajectories of the electronically whirled bassoon rise through the sounding space, however soon giving in to a tonal light of low, golden hues.

Even though this piece is not intended for immediate commercial release, as far as I know, the recording is beautifully executed, and the players are focused and remarkably present.
I know that Erik Peters thinks very highly of the bassoonist; Annika Fredriksson, and when listening here it is easy to see why. She handles the interaction with herself and her fellow performers perfectly.
The recording isn’t a studio recording, but was done at a concert at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm in September of 2000.

The dominating color of dark luminosity prevails through these sometimes eerie soundscapes, and I sit inside this piece of music like in a wooden armchair on a porch over-looking a backyard with gravel and some sheds which surround the back-yard on three sides. At the fourth side is the opening out to the street, and a comforting lilac arbor in the corner. The resounding whine of the tams screech and squeak like iron thoughts across gravel yards of fall, and I ride these rays of dying-down whines into the night which receives me breathlessly…

Ivan Samuel Nordin: Sans titre (December 1991)

Track 2 is a piece called Envoi, for orchestra. I was fortunate to be able to attend the premier of the work at a diploma concert at Berwaldhallen (The Berwald Hall) in Stockholm on 6th February 2001, when it was performed by The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mats Rondin. It is this very same concert that is recorded on this CD. I may have a special feeling for it because of having been there at the concert, but even without that extra flavor of the actual atmosphere of that night, it is an impressive piece of music.

I talked to Erik Peters at a gathering after the concert, and he told me, albeit not in these exact phrasings, that he had strived, in
Envoi, to set out with that rare feeling of concentrated breathlessness and soaring, light-threading elevation right from the start of the piece, even though, usually, this orchestral state, when the organism of the orchestra is elevated into a higher plane of musical consciousness – effortlessly! – only very seldom happen at all, and then only after a long time of playing. Peters had, however, set his mind on composing in such a way as to make the circumstances for this spectral elevation of the musical organism as favorable as possible.
It seems to me he succeeded! The concentration is completely focused, but the unfolding of the sounds happen, it seems, effortlessly, with ease, with style and grace.

There is a poem by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf called
Envoi. I do not know if this has any bearing on Erik Peters’ piece of the same name, but the feeling of the poem vis-à-vis the atmosphere of the transparent music hints at a connection.
For the Swedish readers I quote the Ekelöf poem from his collection
Om hösten (In The Fall) (1951) in its austere beauty and introspective luminescence:


Som mareld tindrar en stjärna, släcks och tänds
och släcks och tänds igen. De dallrande djupen bär den
Så har jag stått vid hundrade Land’s Ends
och tänkt på vad jag vill och vad jag skall i världen

Det ena vore väl: att vara som man är
Det andra är väl: att mot udden spjärna
Och hade jag den skarpa udden mindre kär
så vore jag som andra, mer än gärna

Somligas väsen är: vara. Andras: att vara förutan
Vägar har inget mål. Det är stigar som leder dit
Såg du ett fönster lysa? Tänkte du knacka på rutan?
Din är en månskensväg, som slingrar sig I dyningen, vit.

I will try to translate – interpret! – this poem, which I love dearly:


Like sea fire a star is twinkling, off and on
and off and on again. The quivering depths do carry it
Like this I’ve stood at a hundred Land’s Ends
contemplating what I want and what I shall in life

One way would be: to be as others
Another way perhaps: to put up some resistance
And did I love the edge a little less
I’d be like others, not a doubt

The essence of some is: being. Of others: being without
Roads have no goals. It’s paths that lead you there
Did you see a window lit? Did you want to knock?
Yours is a moonshine path, winding in the swell, white.

Erik Peters – in his appearance and in his musical, artistic attitude – comes across as a sophisticated, noble person; austere, with a particular candidezza or shyness about him. His artistic character, as it is revealed in Now I Will Explain How It Actually Was and in Envoi reminds me of the feeling I get when I read Gösta Oswald or Walter Ljunqvist or listen to the music of Bo Nilsson, while he also makes me associate to the particular charisma of composers like Bo Linde and Göte Carlid. Leif Peters – probably unintentionally and for sure completely naturally – picks up, on a certain artistic level at the focal point of attitude and artistry, the plight of these distinctive predecessors, who, like Erik Peters himself, were ruthlessly true to the particular shades and nuances of their individual talents.

Another association that my dealings with Erik Peters and his music presents to me is the atmosphere in Vilhelm Ekelund’s (1880 – 1949) writings; especially in his many books of aphorisms, like for instance Elpidi (1939), Atticism – Humanism (1946), and the posthumously published Ars Magna (1955), In Silvis Cum Libro (1957) and Campus et Dies (1963). In Peters’ music visions of Vilhelm Ekelund’s kick-sled rides way out on the snow-laden ice fields of the Baltic Sea at Saltsjöbaden in the 1940s open up inside my mind, and I stretch and breathe!

Quality and distinctiveness are rare characteristics, and paired with talent and definite individuality and personal edge, almost impossible to find… but I feel that the works of Erik Peters – though he is still comparably young at 32 – do reveal such a personal stamina. This is indeed very promising for the development of music in this northern land of ours and for music as such, in our time.
In these pieces I discover a soaring breathlessness, a light across the horizons of Halkyon qualities…

Envoi opens in jingle jangle gleanings, carefully, inconspicuous but definite, like winter light seeping over the icy horizon, or like an old-timer talking to himself down "the stations of the breath", the flesh of his body vehicle surrounding his skeleton just a little longer … and I sense an Eastern wind through these notes, across the pages of this score, bringing thoughts of Bardos and Karma and Mongolian steppes into these successions of timbres and pitches…

Erik Peters’ music is not only for listening, but also for contemplation, introspection. His music is not a pastime; it’s an endeavor, a task, albeit not an unpleasant one. I feel anyone will be highly rewarded if taking the time to live in the atmospheres of
Envoi for a while.

I get the sensation of an elves’ meadow of silvery bells and the brittle beauty of dewdrops and a sparse spruce population of Regulus regulus in these misty progressions of musical layers. It’s a wonder that a symphony orchestra can achieve this transparency, even through the louder sections – and I think about Morton Feldman and his piece
For Samuel Beckett here and there in Envoi, but only momentarily, for this is Peters’ composition in his own right!
There is a magic moment – quite prolonged – when everything dies down and only the triangles keep tingling; yes, this passage is a tingling, tinkling sensation through your fingertips and your toes! Everything stands completely still, just listening to this tingling, like the sound of the stars on a clear winter’s night in Lapland, or like the inaudibility of snow crystals across the fields in the moonlight!

The silver-spun layering which condenses out of the spatial silence opened up by the tingling triangles towards the conclusion of
Envoi, at about 11:27 onwards, filters down into the audible like rustling Northern Lights. It’s a moment of total and complete awareness, when your nerve ends are connected directly to the energies of the Milky Way, stretching across the winter sky in unfathomable bliss; your consciousness freed of the interference of the noise of daily life, bathing in the clarity of these tones, these elastic layers of musical transparency…
This section of
Envoi is one of the peaks of Western art music of later years; one of those moments that doesn’t appear to be composed, but simply conveyed through the composer…

Erik Peters received an honory mentioning
at the EMS Text-Sound Competition at Fylkingen in 2001,
for All That Lies Under The Snow Is For Free

The last piece on this CD is a stunning example of Erik Peters’ versatility. It’s a text-sound work called Allt som ligger under snön är gratis (All That Lies Under The Snow Is For Free).
The text that Peters has worked with is written and spoken by Stefan Lakatos.

Here is my free translation of the program notes written by Erik Peters:

Stefan Lakatos has, during a few recording sessions, read his text All That Lies Under The Snow Is For Free. While recording he has read in various intonations, emotional states, dialects etcetera. The stereotyped roles of a priest, a radio announcer, a drunkard and a doomsday prophet were also improvised.
From the more than two hours of reading I have chosen the sections that I found most interesting. With the aid of these I have tried to shape a dramatic form, wherein the various states of emotion and the varying intensity of the recitation constitute the source material of the composition. The original text is thus not appearing in its entirety or in its right sequence.
You could say that the work deals with the things you might find under the snow, and under what circumstances they are most likely to be found.

Stefan Lakatos

At about the middle of the piece Stefan Lakatos is let loose in a two minute solo cadenza, allowing him the opportunity to parade his different vocal expressions!
Here I try to confront the different states of emotion with each other in a contrapuntal section containing superimposing layers, imitations and canon techniques.
Throughout the piece I have utilized many forms of abstract sound painting, like three snow storms, the last of which is the most powerful, wherein the screaming doomsday prophet is blown off the premises…

This work was entered into the EMS (The Electronic Music Studios of Stockholm, formerly The Electroacoustic Music Society in Sweden) Text-Sound Competition of 2001, where it was honorably mentioned. The judges were Lars Gunnar Bodin, Anders Blomqvist and Ulf Stenberg, and though I hold most of these guys in high esteem, I disagree on their choices for the prizewinners. In my view, Erik Peters’ piece was clearly superior to anything else presented, and when you consider his homage to the Swedish text-sound composition tradition while simultaneously creating something fresh and new and, frankly, irresistible, it’s a mystery to me that he wasn’t awarded first prize. However, I believe his piece will be released on a coming commercial CD.

As my comment above establishes, there is a strong tradition of text-sound composition and sound poetry in Sweden, existing since the 1960s. Stockholm has hosted a number of Text-Sound Festivals, of which some have reached phonograms of various types. The latest Text-Sound Festival staged in Stockholm, entitled Hej Tatta Gôrem, was held in 1993 at Fylkingen, presenting such hardcore text-sound artists and sound poets as Bernard Heidsieck, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Ilmar Laaban, Valeri Scherstjanoi, Jerome Rothenberg, Charlie Morrow, Sainkho Namchylak, Trevor Wishart, Gerhard Rühm, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Jaap Blonk, Christian Ide Hintze, Sten Hanson, Henri Chopin, Åke Hodell and Jonas Söderberg.
Of course, since those three days of Fylkingen grandeur Sweden has received individual visits by sound poets, like Jaap Blonk, who has toured here a few times since then.

A number of important text-sound CDs have been issued too, like
Fylkingen RecordsÅke Hodell triple box; Verbal Brainwash (FYCD 1018), Phono Suecia’s double-CD The Pioneers; Five Text-Sound Artists (Phono Suecia PSCD 63) and Caprice Records’ triple box Bits and Pieces; EMS 30 years (Caprice CAP 21471). These are the most important collected Swedish efforts of text-sound phonogram releases, whereas other labels, like Firework Edition Records, for example, also keep up the good work.
Internationally, a couple of very important sound poetry issues have emerged of late. I’m thinking about the Russian box
An International Anthology of Sound Poetry; 4 CDs and a thick book in English and Russian, compiled and edited by Dmitry Bulatov in Kaliningrad, and Henri Chopin’s collected OU Magazine issues on 4 CDs with a book and prints on Italian Alga Marghen label.

The significance of the peculiar and striking creativity of the vocal deliberations of sound poetry and text-sound composition is obvious, and the importance of these art forms for the development of contemporeana across a vast field of activities is immense.
Therefore, to hear a new, fresh text-sound composition emerge out of the workshop of Erik Peters and Stefan Lakatos is very enjoyable indeed.
Peters handles this special art form brilliantly, taking the best of the Swedish tradition of, for example, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Bengt Emil Johnson, Ilmar Laaban and Staffan Olzon, adding his own personality and whim, and delivering a masterly work with humor and wit and the senseless flair of the jester!
Erik Peters also reveals himself to be an excellent composer of electroacoustics in
All That Lies Under The Snow Is For Free.

This sample – or demo – CD from Erik Peters has earned a very special place in my collection of art music and sound art. Peters should have a brilliant future as a composer.