Folke Rabe at the interview in 1991
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)

Part 2 of the interview with Folke Rabe conducted by Ingvar Loco Nordin in 1991 in the presence of Guido Zeccola, Ingmarie Hulterstam and Ivan Nordin. It was originally conducted in Swedish, and is translated here by the interviewer.
The interview reflects the circumstances of those days. No attempts have been made to update the information, except for some later insertions pertaining to certain compositions and some concert tours. These days (2003) Folke is retired from his employment at the Radio, but he still produces programs on a looser leash and is heard ever so often on the air waves, while also being more active than ever composing.

Folke Rabe in his Stockholm studio
with an early Macintosh
on the afternoon of the interview in 1991
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)


San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 60s
From left: Tony Martin, Bill Maginnis, Ramon Sender,
Morton Subotnick & Pauline Oliveros

In 1965 I finally arrived in San Francisco, to work at San Francisco Tape Music Center, where I met lots of people and spent many a night at Terry Riley’s place. I also participated in performances of his works, like, for instance, In C. We have stayed in touch over the years, and met when we’ve had the opportunity.
During the years I’ve succeeded in arranging guest appearances by almost all of the folks out of that group; Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley and Stuart Dempster.
Dempster was here as early as 1967, mostly at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. We played together then. We performed a quintet piece with Stuart Dempster and our old Culture Quartet;
Ricercare for five trombones by the late Robert Erickson.


Pauline Oliveros circa 1966 at Mills College
(Photo: Mills College)

In this context I might allow myself a little anecdote from the time in San Francisco: Both Jan Bark and I had an affinity for saké. When I was in San Francisco in 1965 Jan came in on a round-the-world trip from the west across the Pacific on Nippon Airlines. He had gulped this beverage, which was served free of charge on the aircraft.
Pauline Oliveros had borrowed a house from a priest; a stately old mansion in Berkeley Hills on the other side of the Bay with a grand view and lime trees in the garden.
The last night I spent in the house before heading back to New York on a Greyhound, we arranged a little saké party. A number of magnum bottles were acquired and put in a water bath on the stove. Unfortunately, the last bottle was forgotten on the stove, and in the morning, at breakfast time, we heard a roar from Pauline, who had descended to the kitchen, finding it completely candied! All across the kitchen a thin layer of something sticky was sticking! The bottle had cracked during night, and the saké had gasified and stuck to the walls… It was a tedious process to get it off, but it was due time for my bus to leave, so I simply had to leave… Pauline viewed that all as pretty trying, but supposedly Jan was the one who was delegated the chore of rehabilitating the house! Furthermore, we had borrowed the house when it was up for sale. The priest was gonna sell it! It was an awkward situation! A candied kitchen! Later Jan said that he finally understood why the Japanese build their houses from paper: After Saké parties you simply crumple up the house and throw it in a waste-paper basket!


I interviewed Edgar Varèse in New York in 1965. He passed away the same year, around 80. He was, of course, a legendary figure, and in Sweden he had a great friend in Bengt Hambraeus. I guess that was, somehow, in opposition of Darmstadt. Varèse embodied a kind of primordial force, which I think the typical music of Darmstadt lacked, which made Varèse a guru, but he was old, and, by the time I met him, a little scatterbrained, I have to declare…
I have read much on him afterwards. He seems to have been a charming and fantastic, but also a problematic, character, and very bitter, periodically, and destitute. For sure, he was a composer who was restrained in his development by the fact that the times not yet had the technical equipment that he needed to realize his ideas!

(In 2000 Folke Rabe produced a Swedish radio series on Edgar Varèse)


Karl-Birger Blomdahl
(Photo: Ulf Stråhle)

When I returned home from my stay in the U.S.A. in 1965 Karl-Birger Blomdahl, who was the new Head of Music of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, asked me what I deemed the most interesting occurrence I’d come across in America. We sat in my apartment talking, and after a short moment of consideration I said that the most startling phenomenon I’d come upon was Terry Riley’s music.
Let’s have him, Karl-Birger said! That’s how things were conducted during the golden years of the 60s!
Terry obtained a month’s residency which embraced, among other things, a modern music concert, for which Terry rehearsed a piece of his own –
Olson III – with pupils at the Nacka Music School. This soon raised a lot of fuzz and anxiety, but it was epoch-making and bewildering for many, not least then rock musicians of the day. Träd, Gräs & Stenar would hardly have sounded the way they did and do, hadn’t Riley spooked them.

Terry Riley in New York City 1966

(In Volume 6/7 of Nutida Musik 1966/67 an article by Terry Riley is found, where he describes his work with Olson III and the renowned, even precedential piece In C.
A CD with a recording from the performance of
Olson III in 1967 has been released on Cortical Foundation)

In a Stockholm restaurant in May 2002:
From left: Folke Rabe, Terry Riley, Magnus Andersson,
Peter Schuback, Staffan Olzon, Henrik Björlin
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)


You have written quite a bit of choir music too, haven’t you, for Bromma Kammarkör and The Bel Canto Choir?

Yes, in part they share members. Bromma Chamber Choir may be considered as sprung out of The Bel Canto Choir. We often presented all-evening programs with the old trombone quartet, linking choir pieces with the trombone parts. It moved in one sweep, like some sort of continuous performance, like they say in the U.S.A.
I wrote
Joe’s Harp directly for The Bel Canto Choir. In the beginning of my career as a composer choral music was almost my main idiom, but nowI’ve got a few more strings on my lyre.


When I look for electroacoustic pieces you’ve composed I find Was?? from 1967 and To The Barbender from 1982. Was?? is clearly a piece with many overtones and long, stretched modalities, in a hypnotic, enchanting style, which, similarly with the overtone singing of Joe’s Harp may serve a sharpening, a fine-tuning of ear and mind, and one might wonder if you’ve been influenced by Zen, the American minimalism or, pray tell, the Asian throat singing of Mongolia? It seems you haven’t done all that much in the purely electronic or electroacoustic realm?

No. Was?? was a commission from the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. We were invited to attend a course at EMS, and this was a kind of examination piece. It was meant to be a short incident, but it became the longest work I’ve done, about 25 minutes.

And To The Barbender was composed for John Cage on his 70th birthday. It’s more of a downright Musique Concrète piece, isn’t it?

Yeah, right. Then there is a piece called
Cyclone, which I’ve done later, in 1985. It is a rather strict electronic piece. The intention was to integrate it with the repertoire of The New Culture Quartet, and it had the temporary title of Stormen (The Storm). It was an attempt by me to show that, for example, an environmental disaster doesn’t appear with thunder and lightning, but that it creeps upon you, and suddenly you realize that it’s been brewing for ten years. Cyclone is a piece through which I try to depict an ongoing collapse, which is very slow. I meant it to be a very nasty piece, and I think it is. It’s a little darker than I should allow myself, really.

(Cyclone is released with other works on Folke’s portrait CD on Phono Suecia, called Basta)

The original reel-to-reels for Cyclone
In Rabe's studio of 2002 in Stockholm
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)


During the last decade a bead of new compositions have emerged; Escalations for brass quintet, All the Lonely People for trombone and chamber orchestra, the inter-media performance Narragonia (a collective production by the New Culture Quartet), Tintomara for trumpet and trombone, The Sardine Sarcophagus for trumpet and sinfonietta, Jawbone Five for trombone and percussionists and Nature, Herd and Relatives for French horn and string orchestra, to name a few. Could you explain the title of the last one?

Yes, the three items mentioned are the three most common subjects for yoiks. That horn concerto almost entirely builds on yoiks that I have taken down from a couple of records. North Saami men are yoiking on those records; among them Jonas Edvard Steggo.
It so happened that I wrote a lot of music for brass instruments in recent years, and it, naturally, has to do with me being a trombone player, and so soloists and ensembles have asked me to compose something for them.

(Phono Suecia has done a portrait CD with my music in their series. The trombone concerto All the Lonely People and the brass quintet Escalations have come out on the BIS label.)


Folke Rabe in the Nya Timmen Studio
at The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, 1988
(Nya Timmen - now discontinued - was a request show for contemporary music on Swedish radio)
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)

How do you value your role in Nya Timmen? Are you a guru, a headmaster or a fairy (granting impossible requests)?

Hehe! Might be a little of all three, possibly! I try to compose a repertoire, which becomes interesting and meaningful, and I like the pieces to somehow connect. I get excited when there are requests that might shed some light on each other. Sometimes I am asked to relate something about a piece, and perhaps it gets too pedagogic at times. I try to watch myself, but on the other hand, I seldom get any letters complaining about too much talk; on the contrary, I’ve been told it’s educational.

Folke Rabe in the radio studio with a technician, 1988
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)

In believe interviews are important, because I think it does the program good to hear another voice now and then. Sometimes I have to ration the material. Once I played Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis in Nya Timmen. I mentioned that the recording I used had received the Koussevitzky Prize. I could have submitted an anecdote, but it was a fraction too private, and doesn’t really say much that is adequate, but the funny thing is that the last time I went to see Edgar Varèse, he had me for dinner at his place, and Madam Olga Koussevitzky joined us, i.e. the wife of the famous old conductor from Boston, and during dinner she confided to me that she had a pleasant piece of information to deliver: “We have just issued the Koussevitzky Prize to one of your fellow-countrymen; Ingvar Lidholm!”
A day later I called the newspaper Dagens Nyheter from Reykjavik and forwarded the happy tidings. Later I found out they received the news through other channels too, because they ran it two consecutive days

(In line with his almost unbearable humbleness Rabe here enquires, with some remorse, if this story of the last meal over at Varèse’s with Madam Olga Koussevitzky to the table could not possibly remain in the veiled realm of the unpublished, as off-the-record material, since it otherwise might be mistakenly perceived as unbecoming arrogance. With that reservation submitted I have elected, none the less, to run the piece, since it so vividly reveals the depth and width - historically, culturally and personally - which renders Folke Rabe’s experience its particular and distinctive resonance. Even Rabe’s worries about coming across as an unbecoming braggart has something essential to tell about his character and view of life, and he stretches his long legs in front of himself, gets comfortable in the studio sofa with a faint smile and looses himself in who knows what kind of learned thoughts…)


What do you decipher of importance on the Swedish musical scene of today? Do you find any special occurrence interesting or headed in the right direction?

Well, I think, rather, that is ‘s hard to head in the right direction. There are quite a few composers, and lots of music is being written, but the music reaches way too few listeners. One of the ambitions with combining The Concert by Request show with Nya Timmen was trying to reach a wider audience, which could thus get acquainted with more modern music, but it never has to do with me trying to force anything on anybody just because I happen to like the music. I frequently play music that I myself am not very fond of, or indifferent to. Since I know that many people like it, I wouldn’t dream of censoring it. I play it and present it as positively as possible, perhaps by quoting other sources rather than write my own comment. It is important to pave the way for the music the best possible way, to attune the listener for the experience. What I think doesn’t really matter all that much. It is more important that the music gets played and communicated. That is why I think that all efforts that are being made to make people more interested in new music are important.


Can you summarize your cultural standpoint?

Well, I suppose I’ve expressed it already! Like I’ve just stated, I think it is very important that the music is diffused. It’s fine that a lot of music is written, but it has to reach more than just a select few. I have, during a long stretch of years, tried to promote an interested, attentive and scrupulous act of listening. The piece Was?? almost had the pedagogic intention to sharpen the listening, and Joe’s Harp is in a way a kind of ear practice for choir singers, to make them aware of the pulsations that occur when singing in intervals placed close by each other, or when making minute deviations from a sound. This is a practical function of new music; to sharpen our consciousness and awareness. This can be developed in different directions.
There is so much, for example, to learn from other cultures. One should make oneself aware of that cultures in other parts of the world harbor completely different views on which aspects of music are important. It was a true high to experience in real life the music, which is performed collectively up on the high plateau of Altiplano in South America; a music, which can only be played in groups. It is a kind of music that cannot be played if you’re by yourself. They have two kinds of pan flutes, and to play scales the two groups have to play with one another. The dissonant, two-part singing of Bosnia functions in a similar way. Compared to a culture like ours, which is so bent on the lone pottering at the piano, it is a great rush of lust to experience hands-on that there are places in the world where one thinks that life and culture do not function if one isn’t working together with others.

(I later visit the Broadcasting House at the Broadcasting Corporation in Stockholm to record some programs with Folke Rabe as the producer. Rabe lumbered lumbago-ridden through the corridors, and the Man suddenly looked old; and old hero! However, out of the temporarily bent shape a very young and slender spirit shines through, and surely – after some chiropractic wizardry – Rabe will raise himself physically too, to the full elevation of his impressive height, and moose along through the brushwood of new music, with head high and noble intentions! A king in leaves rises out of temporal debris, raises the baton, the silence sweeping up around the conductor’s desk: all is attention, all is concentration, everything is in the balance – until the sign is given and the living music out of the fine writing in the composer’s score is liberated to stream, gush, well through time and space, and it is complete…)

Folke Rabe in his Stockholm studio on the afternoon
of the interview in 1991
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)

To part 1 of the interview