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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Crosscurrents in Early Electronic Music of Norway

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.


This episode is one of a series I’ve been calling “crosscurrents” because it explores the early days of electronic music composers of tape music and the “crosscurrents” of inventiveness that influenced it. Like one water current flowing against another, the cultural influences on the development of electronic music came in conflicting waves that often collided, churned, and co-mingled with one another. I’ve been using this series to feature music from one particular country at a time so that you can experience the outside influences on each as well as the unique springs of artistic inspiration that grew from within each country.


In this episode we turn to the early electronic music of Norway. Except that there was not a lot in the early years, which, for Norway, begins in the 1960s. As a young man, I was captivated by the album cover shown, the flying ears by artist Zoell, one of my favorites of all time. I picked this album up in a bargain bin in a mall where I was able to acquire a number of original Limelight recordings that are still in my archive. And while I've always been fascinated by this album of electronic music from Norway, I have found that trying to find additional vintage Norwegian works of electronic music was a bit of a dead end. In examining the original International Electronic Music Catalog by Hugh Davies, published in 1968, one can see why. There are a mere 9 entries for electronic music produced in Norway up until that time. These nine compositions were by only three composers and they worked in three studios. Of these, 7 were produced for theater, radio, or television, leaving only 2 that stood alone as works of music. I have a recording of one of these, Arne Nordheim’s “Epitaffio” from 1963 for orchestra and tape and that will be the first I’m playing in this program. Nordheim was perhaps the best known Norwegian composer at the time, and he wrote several ambitious works that combined small orchestras with sounds on magnetic tape. His work represented the care with which he and his colleagues applied electronic music, blending it so well with other instruments that it is often difficult to separate the two upon listening. Which was the point, I think. They not only relied on electronic sounds to create unique expressions but intermingled them with acoustic instruments to fabricate some unique textures that were not possible with either alone. So, all of the early works heard in this podcast fall into this category of combining tape music with acoustic instruments either in a concert setting, or as a piece of tape music alone. In each case, the composer sought to press the electronic sounds into the acoustic sounds to create a distinctive fabrication of musical sound.


While I was able to restrict these selections to those of Norwegian composers, they often worked in studios outside of their home nation, for example there are close affinities of these works with the electronic music studios in Sweden and Poland.


In addition to Nordheim, I include examples from Kåre Kolberg and Bjørn Fongaard. Fongaard explores the microtonal possibilities of electronically modified orchestral sounds but also, in the work Galaxy, he turns to his first love—the guitar, for he was known as a guitaritst, and offers up a thoroughly investigative work exploring the extreme sounds and microtones he could produce on his guitar that was tuned to quarter tones. Tape allowed him to extend the sounds of the guitar so well that the guitar becomes unrecognizable. This work in particular, seems ageless to me. It could have been produced today using a laptop. But no, it was done in 1970 with tape recorders, splicing, and lots of editing.


Kolberg was a prominent contemporary music composer in Norway who did a lot of experimentation with electronic music, much more than Nordheim. The work I’m playing was a foray in computer composed music synthesis realized in the Electronic Music Studios in Stockholm in 1979 and 80, using a PDP 15/40 computer; it was programmed in the EMS-1 computer language developed in the same studio.


Given that there are not that many recordings of vintage Norwegian music from the tape recorder era, I’ve included a few more recent works by composers Jan Bang, Jon Furuheim who goes by the name Safariari, and Remington Super 60, an electronic pop rock group from Norway, founded in 1998.



Episode 107

Crosscurrents in Early Electronic Music of Norway

Playlist


1. Arne Nordheim, “Epitaffio” (1963) for orchestra and tape from Nordheim, Alfred Janson, Bjørn Fongaard – Response: Electronic Music From Norway (1970 Limelight). Limelight release with the delightful painting of flying ears on the cover, includes the same tracks as the original Philips release from 1968 on the Prospective 21e Siècle label. The electronic sound material on the tape are taken from the end of the performance, but played during the opening section. It fuses the acoustic instruments and voices with electronics, filtering and speed changes. This recording is 10:15


2. Alfred Janson, “Canon” (1964) for chamber orchestra and tape from Nordheim, Alfred Janson, Bjørn Fongaard – Response: Electronic Music From Norway (1970 Limelight). Limelight release with the delightful painting of flying ears on the cover, includes the same tracks as the original Philips release from 1968 on the Prospective 21e Siècle label. In this piece, two tape recorders were used in performance. The first records for about four minutes and the, half a minute later, begins to play back what was recorded. The second tape recorder begins to record after the first tape machine ends, and then plays back what was recorded after another half minute, creating, in a sense, the structure of a canon. 12:27


3. Arne Nordheim, “Response I” (1966) for 2 percussion groups and tape from Nordheim, Alfred Janson, Bjørn Fongaard – Response: Electronic Music From Norway (1970 Limelight). Limelight release with the delightful painting of flying ears on the cover, includes the same tracks as the original Philips release from 1968 on the Prospective 21e Siècle label. Two percussionists respond to electronic sounds such as filtered white noise, sine waves and the filtered sounds of organ and metallic clanging distributed throughout the score. 18:09


4. Björn Fongaard, “Homo Sapiens” (1966) for magnetic tape from Poul Rovsing Olsen • Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson • Arne Mellnäs • Björn Fongaard – Nordiska Musikdagar 1968 Nordic Music Days Vol.3 (1969 His Master's Voice). Realized at the Norsk Riksringkastings studio, Oslo. 9:20


5. Bjørn Fongaard, “Galaxy” for 3 electric guitars in quarter-tones from Nordheim, Alfred Janson, Bjørn Fongaard – Response: Electronic Music From Norway (1970 Limelight). Limelight release with the delightful painting of flying ears on the cover, includes the same tracks as the original Philips release from 1968 on the Prospective 21e Siècle label. The electronic part makes use of audio filtering, changing tape speed, and editing to treat some unorthodoxed playing on the guitar. 12:05


6. Kåre Kolberg, “Keiserens Nye Slips - Electronic Music” from Kåre Kolberg – Contemporary Music From Norway (1980 Philips). A foray in computer composed music synthesis realized in the Electronic Music Studios in Stockholm using a PDP 15/40 computer; it was programmed in the EMS-1 computer language developed in the same studio. 9:54


7. Jan Bang, “Artificial Reeves” from from Narrative From The Subtropics (2013 Jazzland). Norwegian release of the Norweigian electronic musician and composer Jan Bang. Akai Sampler, MPC 3000 Sequencer, Dictaphone, Synthesizer, Jan Bang. 3:05


8. Jan Bang, “Funeral Voyage” from Narrative From The Subtropics (2013 Jazzland). Akai Sampler, MPC 3000 Sequencer, Dictaphone, Synthesizer, Jan Bang; Bass, Eivind Aarset; Guitar, Eivind Aarset; Synthesizer, Erik Honoré; Trumpet, Nils Petter Molvær. 5:26


9. Jan Bang, “Melee of Suitcases” from Narrative From The Subtropics (2013 Jazzland). Akai Sampler, MPC 3000 Sequencer, Dictaphone, Synthesizer, Jan Bang; Piano, Electronics, Dai Fujikura; Vocals, Sidsel Endresen. 4:03


10.Safariari, “Fetsild” from This Is The Cafe Superstar Beat Vol. 2 (2002 Café 2001 Records). Electronic music project of Jon Furuheim. 2:16


11.Remington Super 60, “RS60 And Milano In Space (Remix)” from This Is The Cafe Superstar Beat Vol. 2 (2002 Café 2001 Records). Electronic pop rock group, from Fredrikstad, Norway, founded late 1998. 6:07


Opening background music: Arne Nordheim, “Caliban's Warning” (excerpt) from The Tempest (Suite From The Ballet) (1980 Philips). An abrupt moment of electronic sound blended into the instrumentation. The electronic realization was done in the Studio Eksperymentalne, Warsaw, Poland. The Tempest was commissioned by the Schwetzinger Festival and first performed by Ballet Rambert at the Rokokotheater, Schwetzingen on 3. May 1979. 7:35


Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation.

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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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