Interview mit Lars Gunnar Bodin

Das Gespräch fand im Foyer der Berwaldhallen, Stockholm im Februar 2006 statt. Gegenstand des Gesprächs ist die elektronische Musik Bodins und die Geschichte der Elektroakustik in Schweden.

Interview & Abschrift: Björn Gottstein

I will start with a question about the subjects you use in your music. Take a piece like Memoire de temps ... or Dizkus, picking up subjects that are part of the time you are living in. Looking back at these pieces now that they are some twenty years old, do you think that this aspect looses its importance or are the pieces not very much part of the time they were created in?

0:48 Well, it is hard to say. With some of the subjects, it is probably up to date. I mean the piece you just mentioned, Memoire, when Iran is trying to get a new atom bomb, I mean the danger is not over, I think. So in that respect, that piece is still updated. The musical language is another thing actually. As you said it is about twenty years ago I did that piece. But I have a number of themes or subjects that I return to every now and then. I mean there are some science fiction elements in many of my pieces. I am also very interested in parapsychological things, I am not a believer, but nevertheless, especially if you are working with texts. There is a dramatic material in all these stories and all of that. I learned that from Öyvind Fahlström, the Swedish painter and inventor of the "konkret poesi". And he was also interested in that, but he wasn't a believer, I guess. And other themes, well, I am hooked on time. But I admit I don't really understand what it is, but it's coming back constantely in various forms, as notions, as themes. Not as you can deduct, no, not deduct, that you can hear it in my pieces I think, but when I am working with texts, which I have been doing since quite a long time and still doing, as a matter of fact, a text piece was performed at the Modern Museum just a few weeks ago, but I am starting to perform myself, because that seems to be the trend today, to be just a composer of electroacoustic music, sitting in your studio and deliver a CD and it will be played hopefully in a concert hall, that is not enough now. Everybody wants to be seen by the audience, and maybe the audience wants to see composer also. I don't know. But it is surely a trend.

The text-sound composition has a long tradition in Sweden.

3:23 It has as a matter of fact. My collegue, Bengt Emil Johnson, and myself was the two that invented the term. That has a very strange story actually, but it was coined in 1967 and it was used for a number of festivals we had, but you can see the term once in a while, and it doesn't seem to be outdated either. And I use it. I think I am a text-sound composer, basically.

It is, especially in Stockholm, when you look at the history of arts, it is sort of confined in a way, the artists are confined in Stockholm; at the same time there seems to be a lot of exchange between the different arts, between the literature and music and painters. It seems to be very fruitful to live in a situation like this.

4:25 I think so. But I think, isn't that a general trend that you mix things together? But I would say in the beginning of the 1960s there was also a trend to mix things, to talk about an open art and performances were around like Fluxus in Germany, and people like Paik and Fallström and happenings and events and it was all mixed up. And it still is mixed, maybe even mixed up. And that is fruitful of course, I think so actually. And Stockholm is not that big a town, so of course there is not as big a group of people, but there are more and more people around in Sweden that are working in electroacoustic music. When I started we were about half a dozen and my first and only teacher was Gottfried Michael Koenig and he was here about this time in 1961. And he gave daily seminars for us during February. That's my only training so to speak, because at that time you couldn't go to the Akademie, Musikhochschule or anything like that. Because they didn't offer that kind of training. But it is very good actually to have these intercollegual contacts, and there are some spots that have been very important, like the society Fylkingen, which is I believe one of the oldest societies for avantgarde music and arts in the world. It started in 1933 and it has always been state of the art or at the front so to speak, of the artistic development.

We should maybe talk about some of your pieces. I always find it curious when it says in the program notes: "originally I wanted to do this and this but it turned out completely different".

6:50 Yeah. That happens. Well, you start with what you think is a good idea or you may be very excited about it and you start working and you start to generate sonic materials like that, but it happens also, or it happens to me at least, quite often, that I think I have done something very nice, some very good structures and things like that, but it doesn't fit into the piece. So you have to reject them. And it turns out to be another piece. Another piece compared to what you have planned. But I don't see any danger in that. I find it rather amusing, that you are not quite sure of what the end result will be.

It has to do with freedom in a way.

7:55 Yes, it does. Working in the electroacoustic music studio gives oneself a tremedous lot of freedom. Because when you are writing for instruments you always have to keep in mind that it has to be possible to be played. But there is no restrictions. You can do whatever you like, and I think that is a lot of freedom as an artist.

I was surprised that when I looked through the catalogue, actually I just heard a couple of pieces, but when you have names like official forms, there is one piece called Rhapsody, one piece called Toccata. These are not very strict forms. They are open forms. Did you choose these forms for that reasons? Or are they not that important?

8:20 No, they were not just random. Toccata has an opening that is rather aggressive and short sounds and so forth. I thought it has something of the spirit of the toccata. And that is a very old piece. It was done in 1969. And Rhapsody belongs to a works that started with a piece For Jon I and For Jon II and For Jon III. And the epilogue of course. I tried to use various materials, I wouldn't say leftovers, but there was a lot of material that I generated for all these pieces and I thought of a more rhapsodic form for that. Because I couldn't make it into a more strict form. But the material I thought was quite interesting to work with. So that is the reason for the title.

One of the pieces that really struck me was the Toccata. You just mentioned it is really old, but it sounds very fresh. I guess it has to do with the aggressivness in the sound. It sounds very much like electronic music today sounds. But the machines must have been completely different.

10:18 Yes. It sure was.

So I have two questions. Do you remember how you made this piece? And how important is something like sound design? It that something secondary that just comes along?

19:35 The studio we had at our disposal was a very ordinary tape studio with very few electronic generators. But I mean, it is also interesting that you are forced to go through that limited number of sound sources to make the absolutely best of them. And today the possibilities of the studio are so overwhelming, so we are almost of the dizzy when you consider all the possibilities. Makes it harder, actually, to make a selection of sounds you would like to generate or would like to get. So I worked for a very long time. It took seven or eight month to make that piece. And to answer your question if I know how I did it. Yes. I know exactly how I did it. Because Koenig taught me to make notes everything, every connection you made, all the filter numbers and everything. He was a very good teacher that way and said: "You will never remember. Next week you will have forgotten everything. You have to take notes. You have to write it down." And I did. So I have a book on that piece with all the circuits, how I put the filters and generators and manipulations and all the things like that. But that is very time consuming and tidious, so after five years I stopped doing that. I got lazy. But that particular piece ... of course, I couldn't do it today because the apparatus is not there any more. It may be of interest to a musicologist in the future. I don't know.

There is one very interesting episode on one of the old archive tapes from the fifties, from 1960 maybe, at the WDR, where Koenig takes Stockhausen's notes and tries to reconstruct one sound from Kontakte. And he can't do it. It sounds different every time. And he tries and tries. And in the end it is similar.

13:10 It is very hard. If you try to generate it with new gear. And I think it is nice about that era of that studio. It is a finished chapter. It is nice that you had that experience. And also it is good to really have to work with a minimum of resources. You have to get the most out of them.

Do you miss that today, working with the computer?

13:45 No. There are other things you can do with the computer. But it's good for a student to limit the possibilities for a while and see what you can do with less. Because nowadays everything can be done. It is up to you. But even that Toccata has, I was reading Herbert Marcuse at that time, and not The One-Dimensional Man, there was another book, it was talking about some sort of art. He described art more like happening. And that was very interesting, so I was very inspired during that work, and the piece starts rather violent, but in the end it is more smooth and soft. So it is actually a journey from the totally aggressive thing to something that is more gentle.

I found it very beautiful, in its rhythmicality. You can almost touch the piece.

15:15 Yes. Well I glad you find it that way. Well, I consider it being the best piece of mine from that area. And it was very nice at that time, because the Swedish radio had much more money during that period. It was an expanding decade and there was a lot more money and culture alive. And there weren't so many composers either that had to split these resources. So we had actually a very good deal making a series of commissions for the Swedish radio and this one is an example of that.

Some of your pieces were done in Dartmouth?


With a somewhat reduced equipment. It is always a Synclavier that you had at your disposal.

16:20 Well that is or was a very powerful instrument. But I started in 1975 when they were still developing the heart of this instrument, the oscillator bank. So it was just an oscillator bank. But it could work with frequency modulation. And we had heard about John Chowning, I met John Chowning actually in 1972, and heard about his result and I was stunned by the thing he was doing, so I was very eager to try to work with frequency modulation. And that was my first chance to do that. And I used that in a big intermedia composition, a full evening, that is my opera so to say. One and a half hour with films and projections and singers and 8-track sound and so forth. So I used the material I obtained from the Dartmouth studio. But I have been there many times. And the final piece I did there was in 1990, a piece called Wonder – void, which was also a commission by the Swedish radio, a pretty long text-sound piece. But I used the synclavier also to modify the reading voices and singing voices. It was a very powerful system, but it was too powerful and too expensive. So it was just people like Michael Jackson and Sting and those who could afford to have one. Or Frank Zappa. It was beyond my resources. Absolutely.

It that right?

18:35 It was tremendously expensive. And the company didn't recognize in time that it was a dinosaur they were doing and the market was aiming for the middle, they didn't notice that in time. So the company folded. Too bad.

There is one other piece I would like to talk about. This is Dizkus for woodwinds and tape. It has to do with postmodernity, but I am not even sure if you are critizising the concept of postmodernity or of you are depiciting it.

19:10 I was puzzled I would say. I spent a lot of time, to read a long series of articles in the morning newspaper where they were debatting the phenomenon of postmodernity. And the more I read the more confused I was actually. Noone seemed to have the ability to really explain what it was. So I did it in my own way. We all knew of the postmodern architecture in the US for instance, when you have a modernistic skyscraper and on the top you have a greek temple, I mean, that sort of combination seemed to be a modell for postmodernism. I had an idea, that I should objects into that piece that are like oil and water. That don't mix. It doesn't matter what you do with them. They cannot be mixed. They just appear at the same time. It is not the Cagean philosophy. But everything appears and I wanted to have a specific point that that happened. To make it also as a surprise as a listener, at the first time. And I was also puzzled by the notion of Charles Baudelaire who talked about surprise, in fact, that a piece of art must have some sort of surprise effect that puzzled the viewers or the listeners, and I think I found something that was pretty apart. Especially the accordeon thing. I remember when I presented the piece to the musicians. They hadn't heard the tape part, so they were playing as good as they can. And when the accordeon comes, they stopped playing. They were laughing so much. We had to take a break until they composed themselves and go on with the rehearsal, actually. So there was actually a surprise effect.

[The interview took place in the foyer while a concert was taking place inside the hall; the concert is over, the audience enters the foyer.]

That is funny. Before everybody leaves the hall maybe one last question. Did your experience from the studio have an effect on your instrumental writing?

21:55 No. Not really. I don't think so. I haven't written a lot of instrumental piece, I must say. In spite, that I actually stúdied, I have a very traditional trainging, I studied the traditional subjects hard when it comes to composition. But in the beginning I was very interested in the serial technique. But I changed my mind in 1961 when I took the Darmstadt courses because at that time David Tudor presented the New York composers, people like La Monte Young and George Brecht and those. And it was absolutely, I was flabberghasted about it. I couldn't believe that he, who had premiered Kontakte, could do these silly pieces. But I was very interested in that. And later in that autumn, Nam-June Paik came to Stockholm and gave a performance in one of the art galleries and that was also something very extraordinary really. And I started to make performances, happenings and things like that. Still with instruments, but something quite different. Not serial at all. And then by 1965 I had the first chance to work in an electroacoustic studio, and that was a big thing for me at that time.

That was the EMS in Stockholm.

23:45 That was the EMS in Stockholm. It opened in September 1965, the first studio.