Eight Times Falling;
New Music from EMS

Eight Times Falling;
new music from EMS (the Institute for Electroacoustic Music in Sweden)
Elektron Records EM1004
Duration: 67:59

1. Niklas Peterson: To John [4:37]

2 - 6. Jan Liljekvist:The Arkham Quartet [10:27]

7. Daniel T. Eideholm: Voice of Eye [7:45]

8. Bo Halén: Pulse/Breathing (1989) [5:08]

9. Johannes Bergmark: Saw Octet [12:12]

10. Lennart Westman: Sweden [10:14]

11. Paul Savage: Fall [10:48]

12. Mikael Konttinen: Untitled [6:20]

Almost inconspicuously, without blowing the whistle very loudly; yes, almost unnoticed, a small Swedish record company - Elektron - is slipping some of the very best of modern music in the field of electroacoustics and sound art onto the scene. This issue is no exception. Ulf Stenberg, Director of EMS, explains the background of this release:

It’s common to talk about generations, especially in the art worlds. New generations indicate new attitudes in music; new music. Of course statements like this oversimplify reality, but nevertheless, they express some truth. In the world of electroacoustic music, at least in Sweden, this is obviously the case. The history of Swedish electroacoustic music is really the history of relatively well-defined generations. In the history of music making at EMS, the epicenter of electroacoustic music in Sweden, this is certainly so, from the start in the late sixties.
This new record from EMS incorporates music from one group within a new generation; the participants of the course at EMS (EAM-linjen; the Electroacoustic curriculum) that graduated in the year 2000, and which has kept together, working with concerts and other projects, and this record. It presents eight pieces by eight different composers, and putting a label on this output creates problems… but perhaps one characterization would be diversity (no aesthetical consensus) and another a more relaxed attitude towards the concept of Art. […]

There is no verbal guidance into the works by the composers. They simply let the music work its way into our perception and imagination, which is honest and carefree, and very much to my liking.

Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin

Niklas Peterson opens the set with his To John.
It seems to be an electronically generated piece from the outset, different timbres clashing and dispersing, deep forging rumbles emitting rays of high pitches in a crystal world with references to Michael Obst.
The soundscape that opens is one of gravitational forces in a crackling layer of inland ice, placing my mental preparedness somewhere in the vicinity of Kebnekaise, perhaps near Tarfala, which is sitting in a rock desert surrounded by glaciers, some calving into the green lake.
Deeper into the piece the electronics start a mimicry of gestures of human conversations, but in the fashion of a shadow play, just lining out the contours of messages, without the messages themselves.
Finally – surprisingly – a concrete soundscape is attached, like the cans attached to the car of departing newly-weds, with the ambience of a day with wind whispering through leafy crowns, and passenger jets passing high above in a sense of absentmindedness and hypnosis.

Jan Liljekvist presents a piece called
The Arkham Quartet, in five short movements with indications from the world of classical music.
Indeed the actual sounds of a string quartet are used, sampled, and then twisted and turned, bent out of shape and out of whack, in the machinery provided by EMS. There are not so few examples of this method and string quartet instruments in new music, but this seems to be one of the more humorous. Part 1 is pretty wild, levers moving fast up and down, strings attached (!), the cello – or perhaps the lower strings of the viola – sounding like a motorbike and then like the nagging of an old man inside his senility, eventually adding the fast spin of a spinning top and the growling of a wild boar… inside my private imagery, that is…
Part 2 is more gentle at first, the tender, tingling possibilities of the strings used, even very short part of the strings, making sounds like winding an old clock driven by a spring, and Liljekvist also makes the music sound like zithers and santoors.
Part 3, again, is more serious, exposing deep, forceful timbres that are elongated, stretched into a drone, on which mumbling creatures growl and turn, trying to edge over the rim of reality, without ever succeeding completely, rags and tatters of the unreal flying ‘round their minds like Tibetan prayer fliers in the mountain passes.
Part 4 of
The Arkham Quartet staggers in ominous doubles into a dark chamber of held back thoughts, more in the vein of dark ambience, with the added features of playing on plastic combs, or so it sounds; very peculiar, but we like it strange!
The last section again rises above the seriousness into a funky cartoon-scape with funny shadows flaring up above the walls, like Dylan’s light in
I Shall Be Released… but the ominous feelings of part 4 re-enters, bringing with it a flurry of flaky, springy, gluey, even elastic sounds, soaring or bouncing on a standing wave of timbres that grows in strength.

Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin

Daniel T. Eideholm’s contribution is called Voice of Eye.
A swooping, wheezing ambience opens the piece, and dark thuds and the sense of a watery environment makes for a mix of modern dark ambience and some of Luc Ferrari’s
Presque rien pieces, or even something out of the famous Hétérozygote – and you can hardly have better role models for an electroacoustic piece.
The soundscape is mysterious, perhaps a little reminiscent of the sound world of a computer game like Myst.
Choir-like, distant sounds, or sounds of soaring swarms of bees (?) heighten the mystery even more, or maybe I’m totally wrong; perhaps this is a future machine world, long past the extinction of the humans, even past the electronic age, into a great unknown of unfathomable intelligences in clouds of sulphur rolling across the planet…
All these possibilities shows how interesting and diverse this electroacoustic piece is. Your imagination is the limit.

Bo Halén brings his
Pulse/Breathing, but his work is not new, stemming all the way from 1989.
The structure, if not the content, is of the late 20th century chamber mode, so to say, with a method of sparsely dispersed fractions of audio making as much use of the nature of pauses as of the sound that comes and goes, cranky, screechy, plucked and dominantly rumbling, as well as conscientiously sawn into the soil of the music. It’s, however, a rather artistically thin piece, which doesn’t really call for more.

Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin

Johannes Bergmark is one of the more prolific figures on the modern sound art scene, active in many sectors of contemporeana, not least textsound and sound poetry, in addition to electroacoustics. His piece is the longest on the CD. Saw Octet is about 12 minutes long.
It starts magnificently with a high pitch choir section, perhaps indeed rising out of eight channels of saws! The sounding result is nothing short of angelic, though, and could well have been extorted out of some part of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s
Licht cycle. I am impressed!
The angel-saws are gradually pitched – and slowed – down, only to rise again into the thin air of high skies. Eventually the choir starts wobbling and dancing, dizzying and intoxicated, like a spinning top about to loose speed and stamina and topple over, but never quite, because the high pitches keep on keeping on, later winding down into bumblebee hums.
Even later the sounds take on new characteristics, reminding me of a multiplied progression of the tricycle my son had when he was two years old, which was in bad need of an oil-down…
The sounds of Bergmark’s piece – right up your face like a gang of insistent humming birds – are all but invasive, but also filled with a peculiar lust that sort of drivels and slobbers off of the timbres.
This is a tight, dense texture of high pitches and mounting timbres, in glaring spectra of overtones. Beautiful!

Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin

Lennart Westman delivers a piece called Sweden. The piece starts with that word in a self-made chorus, joined by a repetitious shortwave extortion in different layers. As the voices die down the shortwave sounds keep up, but then a voice returns with an accusation against… Sweden. He screams, quite beautifully, but with the characteristics of many Sten Hanson pieces, the words “I accuse” - but in French! Also in the choice of language Westman makes a reference to Sten Hanson. The electronic sounds; rippling flows of bubbling spheres, remind me, instead, a lot of Lars-Gunnar Bodin. Hanson and Bodin are two main figures in Swedish sound art, so nothing wrong in an homage in their direction!
There’s always been a tight connection between the French and Swedish sound artists, so the French is quite appropriate. Just think of Henri Chopin and Bernard Heidsieck! Yes baby!
Westman makes the most of his experiences of Swedish sound art, and adds his own fury against all discrimination, as he accuses politicians, social secretaries, psychologists and the judicial system. Yes, I think of Åke Hodell and even Rune Lindblad in this great tradition.
Lennart Westman’s work evolves into a very qualified continuation of the best of Swedish sound art, with clear references to the predecessors, while he adds something of his own characteristics as well. I must say I truly and honestly enjoy this piece immensely. For me, this piece and Johannes Bergmark’s before it, plus Paul Savage’s piece (next) are the three highlights of this issue, and three of the highlights of Swedish sound art as such, even historically! Great stuff! Inspiring to the last whimper of sound! The comic and exhausted exclamation in Swedish at the end (“Hur kan det bli så här?) doesn’t make things less great. Wow!

Paul Savage has brought in some ammunition from a text by Poet Laureate Göran Sonnevi, from his
Det oavslutade språket (The Unfinished Language). Sara Ljungberg has lent her voice, and Martin Küchen plays the saxophone in the work Fall.
Small sounds, a coin whirling on a table… then Sara’s voice in a dramatic exposure of Sonnevi’s text… as the transparent and fastidious electronic music – really very diligent – paints the duration in, probably, the most careful and intelligent sound environment on the CD. Mr. Savage knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it very well indeed. His voice woman and saxophone man are well chosen participants, too; she as crazy and innovative as Hebriana Alainentalo, he as ingenious as Wolfgang Fuchs, and Mr. Savage’s electroacoustics functions like an amplifying, grainy glue. The different strata of sound are either inserted above and underneath each other, or tilted this way and that, reflecting a massive amount of moaning cat shrieks and jittery nano worlds of crystalline audio matter. Magnificent!

The last piece is
Untitled by Mikael Konttinen. A grainy horizon, misty and jagged, open for sharp industrial jabs, sort of heard over a telephone, but close, clear, tingling stereo sound arrives, like permuted rain fall on corrugated sheet metal. An apprehensive, circling, waiting feeling hovers like a hesitant thought in this music of infinitesimal details. The telephone industrialism returns like an echo of 1920s Russian factory echoes, until Rune Lindblad contact percussion meets all ends, like someone is playing with sticky pins on your tympanic membranes… You name it, we like it!