The Text-Sound Art Pioneers in Fylkingen 1963 until today!
Bengt Emil Johnson
The term “text-sound-composition”, or “text-sound-art”, came out of a discussion 1967 where the need for a new and neutral term for an activity which had been going on among composers and poets of crossing the bounds to the other area. It signifies neither text, nor music, but a field of its own between the two, an interface or an intermedium. In spite of this seeming narrow, it’s an immensely rich and encompassing field, and the pioneers from Fylkingen had the role of catalysing and expressing, every one on his own way, the needs of the time and also gathering the differentiated international movement in a number of text-sound-composition festivals, especially on Fylkingen in Stockholm (but it soon spread to other cities in Europe and America).
The reasons for this catalysing taking place in Stockholm were material resources as well as resources of artistic inspiration. You can of course also see an exchange between these: the artistic demands became material demands, and the technical resources created artistic needs.
Fylkingen formed 1933 as a chamber music concert organizer. In accordance with the development of contemporary music, however, the field expanded and was specified during the 60ies to embrace “radical and experimental new music and intermedia art”. Fylkingen, which 1959-1970 mainly had its concerts on the Moderna Museet, had many visits of John Cage (from 1958 to 1964), who, with his open attitude probably affected Fylkingen’s members deeply. (He had, at this time, though, not much text in his pieces, that came later.)
The Pistolteatern (started by Pi Lind and Staffan Olzon) was 1963-67 a stage for many experimental pieces and was an important complement to Fylkingen’s activities.
The Fluxus movement, through its only Swedish member Bengt af Klintberg, staged some performances in Stockholm which were surely also inspiring.
Although futurists and dadaists are often pointed out as initiators, many of the dissidents of the French “lettrist” movement, and the so-called Vienna group, a.o. are closer predecessors to text-sound-composition during the 50ies. For the becoming text-sound-artists in Fylkingen, musical influences were just as strong as the poetic, e.g. from Eimert, Stockhausen, Berio, Ligeti, Henry and Schaeffer who have all used treatments and expansions of the voice in their music.
Öyvind Fahlström already 1953, in the journal Odyssé, wrote the text “Hätila Ragulpr på Fåtskliaben, Manifesto For Concrete Poetry”. The term “concrete poetry” appeared at the same time but independently in Brazil, but with a slightly different significance. For Fahlström it was rather inspiration from the concept “concrete music” (Pierre Schaeffer 1948) that gave inspiration. The singular language sounds (not only from traditional poetry but also from other forms of verbal expression) could, just as the singular musical objects, be liberated from their origins and circumstances to be concrete parts in new systems that the artists him/herself can be free to develop. However, the manifesto of the young Fahlström didn’t result in any immediate response in Sweden, and his poems in that vein weren’t published until 1966.
He performed his radio piece Fåglar i Sverige (Birds of Sweden) 1963, and got at this time, a late response for his ideas. In Fåglar i Sverige, Fahlström used his invented languages “Fåglo” (“Birdo”, based on written-out bird sounds) and “Whammo” (based on the comic strips’ written-out sounds). Fahlström had many international contacts and was one of those introducing the happening to Sweden, which was immediately taken up by Fylkingen members. Unfortunately, Fahlström got into a tragic conflict with Fylkingen 1966, which made him carry on his activities on the side of Fylkingen after this. He would be a self-evident member of this little exposé, but is left out because of lack of space and because he is to be found in another section in Ballongmagasinet.
Fahlström, however, was associated to the group Svisch, which made exhibitions and performances 1964-65.
1963 was the year when many events coincided, whose threads led to the birth of a small tradition in Sweden for text-sound-composition. The journal Rondo had a poetry inquiry in which Sten Hanson, Bengt Emil Johnson as well as Åke Hodell, although knowing each other, independently of each other suggested possible experimental developments for poetry outside of conventional poetic material.
The national Swedish Radio had at this time producers that understood and engaged in the new development, and succeeded in getting resources to support the festivals (starting 1968) and commissioning new works (from 1965). They also supported the construction of EMS, the world unique Electronic Music Studio in Stockholm (opened in 1965), where the composers could (and can) work, and letting guest composers from e.g. the text-sound festivals work. (Nowadays, EMS stands for Electro-Acoustic Music in Sweden.)
1967-1971 around 20 members of Fylkingen gathered in a very active “language group” (also five other groups were formed). Chairman of it was initially Bengt Emil Johnson, later Sten Hanson. The first festival was arranged already the year after the formation and became an almost fixed component of Fylkingen’s activity, with wider pauses until 1993 so far. (A festival with focus on the voice is planned at present, preliminary for the spring of 2003.) An extensive release of records with text-sound-works has been done jointly by Fylkingen and the Swedish Radio.
One motivation, which has been expressed for the text-sound-composing, is that the marginal Swedish language doesn’t become an obstacle for the poet if the spoken, pronounced, aspect is amplified and also electronic treatment of recorded voice can be used. Live performances combined with multi-track tape played in loudspeakers, superimpossisions, reverse recordings, splitting into tiny parts, ring modulation and time manipulation are examples of what has been done. The borders to performance, electronic music, radio art, rite etc. become a little blurred and an intermedium between known art forms appear, i.e. the point of departure for a new art form with its own criteria. A difference from traditional poetry is that the book often is insufficient for it, a more natural medium is instead the record or radio transmission, and the place of production is often the radio- or electronic music studio. In some cases, the musical or sound-collage-like takes over so that the text is subordinated the sound material.
It’s hard to ascertain an individual character with the Fylkingen pioneers, who can be thought of as these five presented ones, but there has also been a large number of more or less temporary composers and poets around them who also made a number of significant works (of the Swedish, except for the already mentioned Fahlström, also Mats G Bengtsson, Svante Bodin, Torsten Ekbom, Elis Ernst Eriksson, Jarl Hammarberg, Åke Karlung, Sandro Key-Åberg, Bengt af Klintberg, Leif Nylén, Staffan Olzon, Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd and Sonja Åkesson should be mentioned). That’s why I here present them one by one, and they can thus be exemples of the multiplicity and potentials of the genre.
Below you find a number of worthy books and releases that are sources and where you can find more materials yourself!
The Pioneers, Five Text-Sound Artists, Phono Suecia PSCD 63, Stockholm 1992
Literally Speaking, ed. Teddy Hultberg, Bo Ejeby Förlag, Göteborg 1993
Fylkingen, Ny Musik & Intermediakonst 1933-1993, Fylkingen Förlag, Stockholm 1994
Ilmar Laaban, Ankarkättingens slut är sångens början, Poesi & Ljudpoesi 1944-1993 Fylkingen Records FYCD 1011 / Kalejdoskop Förlag Stockholm 1998
Åke Hodell, Verbal Brainwash and other works Fylkingen Records FYCD 1018
Teddy Hultberg: Öyvind Fahlström - Manipulera Världen! / Öyvind Fahlström on the Air – Manipulating the World Sveriges Radios Förlag / Fylkingen Records 1999
Fylkingen’s web page for more information on history, orders and releases! http://www.fylkingen.se
About the author/curator: http://bergmark.org/
PS Text-sound composition has come stay. Festivals, record releases and compositions, where elements of text-sound composition are part, are so many that it is nowadays a natural element in the musical or poetical material. Also present members of Fylkingen deal with this “tradition”. Examples are, except for the still active Lars-Gunnar Bodin: Johannes Bergmark, Christian Bock, Rolf Enström, Erik Mikael Karlsson, Mikael Konttinen, Jan Liljekvist, Mats Lindström, Lise-Lotte Norelius, Sören Runolf ...
New 2008: The record company Phono Suecia had published all works from the double cd "The Pioneers" (Bodin, Laaban, Hanson, Johnson, Hodell), PSCD 63 (1992) on Swedish Music Information Centre's web page with the possibility to hear all the pieces in streamed form and see the record cover. But not anymore, for some reason. (2019)
On ubuweb: From "Fylkingen Text-Sound Festivals - 10 years": listen to Charles Amirkhanian, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Henri Chopin, Bob Cobbing, Sten Hanson, Bernard Heidsieck, Åke Hodell, Bengt Emil Johnson, Ilmar Laaban, Arriga Lora-Totino.
On ubuweb: From "Text-Sound Compositions" (Sveriges Radio/Fylkingen, 1968): listen to Åke Hodell, François Dufrêne, Bob Cobbing, Jarl and Sonja Hammarberg-Åkesson, Ilmar Laaban, Bengt af Klintberg, Sten Hanson, Bernard Heidsieck, Bengt Emil Johnson.
The General Idea
Text-sound composition was created by people who did not regard themselves as followers of the futurist-dadaist tradition but as users of a new and different tool - the taperecorder instead of the typewriter. They did not want to take poetry back to the direct performance situation, which seemed to be a step backwards, but rather bring newer media like records and radio broadcasts into the distribution of poetry. The possibility of text-sound composition was not at hand before the fifties when taperecorders became available for the poet’s use.
Text-sound composition is an intermedium, created to fill the area of expression between poetry and music that was scarcely used before text-sound composition emerged. Three parameters, two from the world of music and one from the world of speech, seems to me to be particulary important in that achievement and are present in all the best text-sound works:
(1) The use of non-semantic oral language information. That is an essential element in all direct linguistic communication. This concept is easy to understand when one considers that people who could not write a letter to mommy can easily communicate the most complex, half subconscious ”Gestalten” of experience in the person-to-person situation. Obviously, the sound of the voice is the bearer of the great bulk of that information, and the effort to find and to isolate the information-bearing elements and then put them to poetic use has preoccupied many text-sound artists. Some of them achieve that by the exclusive use of linguistic micro-particles and pre-linguistic sounds, others by isolating these particles and sounds from the spoken text by electronic means.
(2) Time manipulation. That is a musical element and in fact basically what music is mainly about. All good music is a piece of the composer’s biological time, condensed and streched out, and it contains everything that that period of life did contain and that the composer and his audience might choose to find in there. That ”photography of time” can of course only be made as an ongoing process, which, once settled, can not be modified by the listener.
(3) Polyphony. This is also a formal element from the world of music, which here means the possibility of several simultaneously ongoing processes. It is well established that anyone can with relative ease follow four such simultaneous processes. That is also the way that human mind works; but written literature cannot reproduce it, since you cannot read more than one word at the time. Visual poets have - quite unsuccessfully - tried to achive that by typhografical rearrangements of the text. Only the text-sound composition has brought it to meaningful poetical use.
Text-sound composition, at its best, brings together the exactness of written language with the time manipulation and complexity of music, thereby offering an unusually rich and penetrating experience to its listener.
From the book Aural Literature Criticism, edited by Richard Kostelanetz, RK editions, New York 1981.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Born in Stockholm 1935, has background in jazz as well as traditional composition and visual art. He started in the experimental ways in the 60ies as one of the most active in Fylkingen’s concerts, in the group SVISCH, with, among other things, instrumental theater, happenings and eventually electronic music and text-sound composition. He is also a writer, debater and a peculiar poet. In visual art, he has worked with computer-generated pictures. He was, together with Bengt Emil Johnson one of the first that got commissions from the radio for text-sound-compositions. He succeeded Knut Wiggen as the chairman of Fylkingen 1969 and remained so until 1972. 1979-1989, he was the studio director of EMS, which he had been participating in building up in the first place. He still is a teacher at EMS’ educations and probably the one Fylkingen member that has remained so for the longest time, which makes him an immense resource and inspirator for the younger activists and their link to the rich modern history of Fylkingen and EMS. He is still active as a text-sound-composer where there’s often happening-like elements. But his influence is great over the entire Swedish cultural life and he has also inspired composers abroad.
“[Text-sound-art can be seen] as a home-coming for poetry, the return to a source that is close to the spoken word, speech and the body’s own rhythm and atmosphere, rites and incantations. All this that centuries of written poetry has replaced with metaphors and advanced structures. Maybe sound poetry is also a way back to the contact with the great audience, the one that during ancient times carried the tradition of poetry.”
Sten Hanson, born 1936, performed during the 60ies as an experimental poet as well as a composer with happening and instrumental theatre as means of expression. In opposition to modernist metaforic and sectarian theory-composing, he made his early experiments with manipulating a taperecorder with a toothpick in order to superimpose and treat voice recordings, and he has made a large number of compositions where his text-sound poems with accompanying tape takes a special place and has inspired many, often through their great humour and daring performance elements. He followed Bengt Emil Johnson as the leader of the Fylkingen language group and was Fylkingen’s chairman 1982-84, followed by a long period as a chairman of the Swedish Composers’ Guild. By his being still very active and appreciated at Fylkingen as well as internationally, he constitutes a great source of inspiration and link to Fylkingen’s historic heritage, not the least because of his generous desire to share his many fantastic experiences and stories.
About his early principles behind text-sound composing, Hanson writes:
“1. It should be an intermedium between literature and music.
2. It should exploit the oral, significance-carrying elements of language, i.e. the communication that lies within the sounds of language, the intonation, ways of expression etc.
3. It should, unlike written text, allow a number of simultaneous, not necessarily parallel, processes.
4. The product should be in the form of a tape, meant mainly for radio- and gramophone media, i.e. no manuscripts or sheet music.”
Hanson died in 2013.
Åke Hodell (1919-2000) started to engage in poetry during a long stay in hospital after a serious aeroplane accident as an air force pilot. Accidentally, the famous poet Gunnar Ekelöf became his mentor and later also friend, and their first contact consisted of a list of necessary poets that Ekelöf wrote on a restaurant menu. After some modernist poetry publications in which he e.g. used aeroplane terminology as poetic materials, Hodell prémiered as a “concrete poet” with a reading of “General Bussig” (General Buddy-Buddy) in 1963, with a forhead torch as the only stage light.
“General Bussig wants to show how an ordinary young man, that is going to do his military service, is transformed into an efficient soldier.
In the end of the 50ies, a new psychology had entered the military. The officer would no longer be a bully and roughly drill the recruits with a Prussian excercise. He would rather make himself popular, become liked, be a buddy.
The recruit in General Bussig is created by the small letter i and goes through a verbal brain wash. i, however, is resisting and compares General Bussig, among other things, to a bumble-bee (“en humla”). On another occasion General Bussig’s name is travested. But in the end, i’s identity has been broken down and replaced by a new one. i has become an efficient soldier who blindly obeys orders.”
Hodell was an multifaceted artist. He just as well wrote books, theatre and radio theatre as film scripts, he made films and also expressed himself with image, sound and mime. One of the places he performed at was the Pistolteatern. General Bussig is just one of the many works in which he attacks militarism and injustice. In Where Is Eldridge Cleaver? and Mr Smith In Rhodesia, the racist repression in the USA and in Rhodesia is attacked.
The recording of Mr Smith in Rhodesia was financed by the Swedish National Radio and Fylkingen jointly for a commonly arranged text-sound-festival, but after the children's parts had been recorded, it was forbidden to be played in the radio in many years. Some of the parents of the children at Engelska Skolan, of which some were diplomats, protested and the tapes had to be destroyed. Fylkingen, however, donated the money necessary to record the final version, with children having parents with a friendly attitude, in England.
Spirit of Ecstasy, Racing Car Opera, is a way of presenting Europe’s 20th century history through makes of cars and car races.
Hodell’s stile is unique. The crude collage technique, repetitions, loops, voice choirs, propaganda music and archive recordings etc make the whole very suggestive, often humorous and always striking.
The triple cd with Hodell’s collected text-sound works was designed in close collaboration with Hodell but didn’t come out on Fylkingen Records until shortly after his death. Hodell gave in his will the task to the board of Fylkingen to distribute a grant from his memorial fund every other year. The grant, presented for the first time in december 2001, is given for electronic music, intermedia art and text-sound-composition.
Bengt Emil Johnson
“We use what we have. Or: what we are, what we have experienced, what we have encountered, what we have been aware of... that is what forms our identity and shapes the course of our lives” On Bror Barsk, a reminiscence 1993.
Born in Saxdalen in 1936, Johnson is a poet, writer, composer and radio personality. He studied the piano for Knut Wiggen in the end of the 50ies, like him he was active in Fylkingen. Johnson performed as a pianist, composer and participant in happenings in the beginning of the 60ies, above all on the Moderna Museet. He was, together with Lars-Gunnar Bodin, one of the first that got commissions from the radio on text-sound-compositions. These are often based on his own texts but he has also used texts of e.g. Carl Fredrik Hill. Johnson has a great production as a cultural writer and has issued 25 books, most of them poetry collections. He was the first head of the Fylkingen “langague group” and its festivals. From this time, he also started to work as a radio producer and later as the head of the music radio channel P2. As an introducer to contemporary music he has formed a style and is irreplaceable.
The term “text-sound-composition” was launched by Johnson and Lars-Gunnar Bodin at a meeting in Hilversum, Holland in 1967 where they were representatives of the Swedish National Radio. There were people from a number of European radio stations with an interest in radio art and sound poetry. Many proposals were made, but the Swedish one was accepted and immediately used internationally. The conference gave them the idea for the first text-sound festival that was held in 1968 with pieces by Bodin, Åke Hodell and Johnson.
Johnson died in 2010.
“The sound poem: an attempt at, for a moment and partly, recreate the unity between poem and song that got lost with writing. And at the same time: a fontanel opened to the cry, the vibrating breathing flow on this side of all the codes. And then, first and last, simply: a continuation of poetry with other means. (...) I am especially concerned about the image, this great achievement of poetry from our century. On the other hand, I restrict the electronic treatment to a minimum. (...) And so it is for me another means, a new way for me to diminish the amount of conscious dictation of the poetic process and to increase the amount of the creative momentary impulse, with materials coming up from the pre- and unconscious, the great and fruitful strive of surrealism, but within the frames of written poetry colliding with several obstacles.”
Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000) was born in Estonia, but escaped the military service to Sweden. It is hard to imagine a more international personality that didn’t only learn but master new languages to the degree that he made several excellent poetic translations and also wrote in original languages, e.g. Estonian, Swedish and French. Some of his poems exist in variations for different languages. Through his poetic uncompromising, his enormous knowledge and his international view he has also become one of the most important introducers of above all surrealist poets and painters to Sweden (he was, e.g. one of the organizers of the first surrealist exhibitions in Sweden 1948), but also of composers and many others, and has, of the cultural establishment (with some exceptions) not been appreciated as he deserves. He was one of the editors of the magazine Odyssé where e.g. the colleague and friend Öyvind Fahlström published his Manifesto for concrete poetry. Although Laaban had his debut very early with experimental poetry, he wrote his first sound poem (Stentorstön) in 1967.
He soon became one of the central figures in Fylkingen with its “language group” and text-sound-festivals, and at EMS, where he recorded many of his multi-track sound poems. But above all he was a very strong stage personality and preferred to perform his sound poems live, often with accompanying voices on tape, with a strong voice engagement and partly improvised. The tape voices contain no other sound sources than his own voice (except for in Dès que les dés, where he was shaking dice in a box) and very little he treated the sound electronically, since the poetical image in his pieces was central to him.
“Tristan Tzara’s maxim ‘thought is born in the mouth’ (la pensée se fait dans la bouche) is deepened in the most corporeal sense of the word.”
When Laaban’s only solo cd was released at Fylkingen Records in cooperation with Kaleidoskop Förlag, he had suffered a stroke which forced him to never speak or write anymore.
For Jon III, Part1 (they extricated their extremities), Voice: Ray Bradfield, 1982
On Speaking Terms II, Poem 4 1986
On Speaking Terms II, Poem 5 1986
Dance figure (for EP), 1964-65
Variationer på ett tema av Laaban (Variations on a theme by Laaban) 2001
The NewYork lament 1981
General Bussig (General Buddy-Buddy) (part 1, part3), 1963
USS Pacific Ocean, 1968
Spirit of Ecstasy, Racing Car Opera, 1977
Mr Smith in Rhodesia
Bengt Emil Johnson
Jakter (Hunts), 4/1970
Tre brev från den dove (Three Letters from the Dull), 1969
I revolutionens snö (In the Snow of Revolution), 1969
Dès que les dés
Job och objektet
Monotaurus och stararna