Kjetil Myklebust
Electric Tuba

Kjetil Myklebust - Electric Tuba
Works by Blomdahl / Hansson / Hjorth / Klaverdal / Lundén / Staern
C-Y Contemporary CY0904
Duration: 46:59

I have undeniably become very particular when it comes to modern art music, to a degree that even makes it hard for me to listen at all to new music, since 99% of it is completely uninteresting and dreadfully boring - but every once in a good while something comes along that pleases my dainty demands. This is the case with Kjetil Myklebust’s recordings of some new compositions written for him by various Swedish composers of a semi-young generation on the new label CY (Contemporary) from the city of Malmö in southern Sweden.

This CD has a certain atmosphere and personality to it that makes it quite original, and I do mean original to the core. This is the first time I hear something like this, and that must be almost a miracle, when one thinks of the ease at which new music is recorded and published these days, overflowing our means of perception.

It is very certain that the instrumentalist has changed the way we think about the tuba!

His attitude is amply demonstrated in the CD booklet:

Electric tuba, try it! No, a tuba is not electric, you say? Wrong!! You just have to ask some composers to twist their minds. Ask them to put some ideas down. Thoughts. A statement. Maybe just a thought. Wait! Don’t ask anything of them. Don’t give them what they want. Make them search. Ponder. Why give them what’s visible?
Take your predispositions elsewhere. You are the instrument, not the tuba. It’s just an extension. Why stop there?

Kjetil Myklebust shows a candid frame of mind, and the music that has been written for him falls well within this inquisitive and explorative mood.

Track 1. Tony Blomdahl: HiLoHi (tuba & electronics) [2009] (4:32)


This piece is not meant to be played live. There is no written music. I just sent some rhythms to Kjetil, where the only specifications were to play the highest or lowest possible notes. I have used those recordings, cutting and layering and adding new sounds, primarily from an old spring reverb and a vibrator, and then mixed [them] together. […] Oh yes, you can play it at a concert through two guitar amps set at the highest volume setting. That is the best way to do the piece justice.

You might deduce from this statement that this music is blaring, loud and downright punk offensive, but this is by no means the case. It was this work at the outset of the collection that raised the intensity of my listening quite a few marks, since I heard something that sounded new to me; a situation that is very rare in the so-called new music!

The onset is industrial, but on a poetic level; a brain inside a skull passing through a cloud of metal dust in a vast hall of a steelworks, approximately 180 centimeters above the floor, noting the goings-on. The dream is made up of harsh, gray machine sounds, the blistering but somehow mitigated noise of a pneumatic drill, plus the inquiring wet balloon friction whimpering of an Ural owl.

Of course none of the above is true, but for a possible resemblance. Some of the sounds even have me recall the purring of my late cat Izzi.

Now, what really gets me off on these sounds is that most of them come out of a tuba. I can identify the methods of calling these ingenuities out of the instrument, since I have heard what people like for example Horacio Vaggione have done with wind instruments. Still, Kjetil Myklebust surprises me with his inventive usage of the tuba. It’s not only surprisingly investigative, but also, in a pretty twisted way, beautiful!

Track 3. Benjamin Staern: Endast luft och brus (But Air and Hiss) (tuba & electronics) [2007] (8:24)


Pre-study for Sacrificio, a concerto for tuba solo, live-electronics and orchestra. The solo tuba performs a ritual that goes from noise to pitch, and the live-electronics forma link in between.

Benjamin Staern is one of the most prolific composers of contemporary Sweden. You can find new titles by him in the New Acquisitions section of almost every issue of the Swedish Music Information Center publication Svensk musik. He’s almost on the level of Rolf Martinsson when it comes to being busy composing! Benjamin also is one of the most original and fearless of our modern artists.

In this collaboration with Kjetil Myklebust, Benja has found a worthy co-worker in his investigative plight. But Air and Hiss – or Only Air and Noise – is, like the first track on the CD, an “impossible” combination of the brute and the beautiful; a faint and misty wish come true, by following the bloodstained guideline of a musical barbed wire through an obscure situation between dream and death. It’s a Bardo journey that Benjamin and Kjetil brings you through, in a frightening whiteout where all of your own hidden or denied voices come close and whisper dark truths straight down the core of your self, without the hindrance of ears. You have nowhere to hide when it’s the essence of your own life that haunts you, that hunts you!

Yes, I get the feeling that this music is heard without ears, through a more sensitive and more profound form of perception. Benja and Kjetil are the shamans that deliver these unforeseen impressions.

Like the title indicates, the basic sounds may be likened to the rushing of air, of breaths, and other ambiences out of oral cavities. The resounding of tuba valves banged shut like the mountain troll’s heavy slab of a door are relieved by dreamlike military tattoos, smoothened by a gluey sense of time, sticking to your feet, making it feel like you’re walking in water, slowly and heavily drifting forth, fighting a lot of inertia. An atmospheric drift; a kind of layered drone, hovers in back of the real, like consciousness itself giving off a cozy static.

Kjetil sometimes digs down deep into the pitches; lower than giant cats purr. The sounds thus shovel themselves into the earth, through the humus and into the clay, boring infra tunnels below our hearing, in earthy vibratos!

The Groke (Mårran)

The sea swells in this music; the ocean mutters, rolls over and falls deeper into sleep. A bleak light from undefined sources seeps through the wee winter hours, like it does in the Moomin Valley. This is Groke music! I can hear the lonely creature whining out there on the ice in the night; the creature that freezes the ground whereon she treads, frightening everybody off. Kjetil Myklebust’s tuba in Benjamin Staern’s music becomes a perfect impersonation of the Groke (Mårran).

There are frantic, rhythmic sections in here too, making me envision all the little ones running off in all directions from the Groke, leaving traces in the snow in the Moomin Valley, from the few small creatures that aren’t hibernating – and yes, Benja’s But Air & Hiss is the music that sweeps across the terrain when most of the inhabitants of the Moomin Valley indeed are hibernating deep inside their houses, well below the fluffy cover of the snow that hides them from all evil; even the unintentional evil of the lonely Groke

Track 5. Ida Lundén: Trubba (tuba & electronics) [2009] (6:38)


Trubba. Tttttrubba. Trrrrrrubba.
Trubba. Troubled, rubble. Some trubba.

Ida Lundén’s remarks above remind me somewhat of some sound poems by Kurt Schwitters, like Ribble Bobble Pimlico (1946) and Ri Ribble (1945 – 47). I doubt whether this has any relevance, but you never know.

Kjetil plays the tuba more like a coughing trombone here, at the start-out. Lundén multi-layers the tuba trombone, which takes on the guise of a worried, slow-motion swarm of big insects, all the while incised with brighter, more metallic bursts of sonorities.

After a while these swarmy sounds recede, and the obvious purring of a cat, lying on his side in a heap of pure pleasure, arises out of the tuba. You can feel the warm fur right by your head, as you lay down beside the cat, who looks at you with half-closed eyes.

Then, all of a sudden, added to the cat purr, Ida Lundén applies a layer of more high-pitch tuba playing that mimics old Dalecarlia folk music, rather like the women’s calls for the cattle high up on the summer-grazing areas on the upland pastures; a way of singing/calling that in Sweden is called “kula” or “kauka”. Kjetil Myklebust achieves this melancholy atmosphere inside a section of Ida Lundén’s music that reminds me, holy smoke, of Hugo Alfvén’s Dalarapsodi (Dalecarlia Rhapsody) – and the cat’s still purring...

Track 7. Mattias Hansson: Enter the Tuba (electronics) [2009] (7:19)


Late on night, several alien organisms broke into the studio, got hold of Kjetil’s tuba and engaged in miscellaneous experiments of a musical nature. Fortunately, the whole process was recorded.

And Hansson’s description might well stand unchallenged; it’s as good as any try at describing what you hear here!

However, one should remark that Mattias Hansson’s contribution is very innovative, and more in the classical electroacoustic vein of, say, the 1980s and 1990s, as demonstrated in Bourges, on the collection of CDs from the Bourges Competition called Cultures Électroniques, i.e. a forthright utilization of concrete material, mixed with downright electronic material in a freewheeling and happy experimentation that delivers interesting results.
Hansson applies saliva-dripping closenesses, helicopter rides around the oral cavities of giants, and dizzying lifts above alien landscapes on planets billion light-years off, Arthur C. Clarke style!
In the style of some Swedish icons of the 1990s’ electronic realm, he applies the slithering, close-up miniatures on a backdrop of distant, ominous, velvet drones; a very effective method, which I like a lot.

Track 9. Daniel Hjorth: Prim (tuba & electronics) [2009] (10:56)


I wanted to do three different things in composing this piece:
1. Explore different ways of using prime numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 11 etc.) in the composition.
2. Make a kind of music that is both fixed and open at the same time.
3. Make a piece for tuba that doesn’t sound like a piece for tuba.
There are no prerecorded sounds in the electronic part. Every sound is derived from the actual performance. In a live situation the acoustic sound of the tuba is filtered out using a silent brass mute.

Daniel Hjorth’s first purpose reminds me of the most scientific and also Sci-Fi composer of contemporary and semi-contemporary Swedish art music; Lars-Gunnar Bodin. Bodin has had an enormous influence on electronic, electro-acoustic and text-sound thinking, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Hansson’s prime number idea can be traced back to Bodin; if not in essence, at least in mind-set.
Daniel Hjorth’s second purpose goes directly back to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who reached wonderful and always completely new and unforeseeable results combining strict rules with the freedom of chance, like when he used the sound coming out of shortwave receivers, run through ring modulators, which the performers had to react to in certain ways – but no one could know what kind of sounds and rhythms would come out of the receivers. Thus, though rules were followed, nothing ever sounded the same, from radios or performers.
Stockhausen used this method of mixing the fixed and the open in many of his most interesting works, and it proved fruitful.

The beginning actually sounds like something out of one of the larger works of Lars-Gunnar Bodin; Clouds – but that, of course, is just a vanishing impression. I just realized, though, that this pumping, stuttering hoquetus limp comes closer to another work by Lars-Gunnar BodinPrimary Structures - that the bassoon player Knut Sönstevold has recorded, released on a Fylkingen phonogram in 1977. It’s fascinating to hear these most likely involuntary echoes of historical music in these new pieces that, of and by themselves, still are innovative and bursting at their seams with lust for the idiom. There is nothing wrong with an homage, either!

Some way down the duration, the humping limp takes on various, glary interferences, very beautiful, as the stutter is pitched up or down, using the whole width of the road traveled!

An ambience is opening a sounding space that is like a winter night in northern Scandinavia, star-spangled.
A circular motion is detected as a spiraling drone appears and disappears, recurring like Stockhausen’s spaceships in his large work Sirius.

Small ideas, minor shreds of sound appear, like cut-up wet balloon friction of a Sune Karlsson type, or perhaps closely miked saliva spurting out of pressurized closed mouths. Breaths are held and then exhaled, inhaled. Monkey screams precede a recurring, quite funny sob; that kind of hysterical, resigned sob of someone in a situation that simply has become a wee bit too much for the concerned party… Hysteria is the name of the game for a while. Hjorth cleverly and unabashed makes ample use of what he finds in the performance. Great stuff, Mr. Man! Even the purring cat returns, last heard in Ida Lundén’s piece. And as the cat winds down, so does this interesting and enjoyable piece.

Track 11. Stefan Klaverdal: I Heard Behind Me A Loud Sound (Revelation 1:10) (tuba & electronics) [2008] (7:44)


This is essentially a piece on beats. It is an experiment with repeating sixteenth notes and climbing scales. The title is from the Book of Revelation, and relates to the feeling of rapture spoken in the text. In some genres and in traditional music a loud bass and accelerating rhythms are often used to produce a feeling of ecstasy.

The quote from Revelation can also be interpreted as “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (New International version – 1984), or “Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast” (New Living Translation – 2007).

This is an overwhelming piece of music, very much affecting the listener physically. As the rhythm grows on you and carries you away, you feel the pulse rising inside you, the blood moving faster, your body wanting to get up and dance, dance, dance.
The method is so simple and yet so effective, and Klaverdal has made every effort also to make this an exciting pleasure, because the rhythmic sonorities are smooth and beautiful -. Yes, wonderful – though never hiding or obscuring the mad might, the pure force, that drives the event.
Everything in the universe is rhythm, in our life: rhythm. No wonder then, that music like this shows the power of deities, the black mantra of hell beings, the star shine of angels: it overpowers you with ghastly pleasure and lifts you up on high! I almost get scared at how easily I’m recruited by this massive rhythmic catharsis!

If you wonder why the track numbering all along this review jumps every other digit, it is because numbers 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 are short electronic interludes by Stefan Klaverdal, also containing the sound of breathing, but not quite on a scale that requires reviewing.

The CD as a whole is extremely rewarding. I am very demanding, as I stated in the beginning, and I don’t pick up my reviewing pen these days, unless something out of the ordinary is happening. This CD is out of the ordinary, showing just the kind of lust for experimentation and sonic revelations that keep me listening hard. Congratulations!