about found sound objects Johannes Bergmark

Written for and published in Noisegate # 13, 2006.

A chance encounter has the potential of becoming something that responds to desire in case it coincides with the right circumstance. Then, when it does, it leaves its world of chance in order to become meaningful, in a logical world.

The value of a chance meeting, then, is not its chance element but when it transcends its chance character and becomes something of reason, be it something marvellous or disastrous. Fatal.

I never believed in fate until I met my becoming wife. This encounter is for me the only example of chance that had to happen. Mad love creates its own logic, its own perfect world apart from every other reason, using arbitrary circumstances only as a "cover".

But of course, seeing it from the outside, and in general, there is no reason for chance at all. The meeting with an object that you find on the street, for example, is (usually!) not prepared or planned.

Life - good or not - can only be planned to a degree. It will always be formed to the other degree by chance, coincidence and opportunities. Even creativity, invention, design of new constructions, owe a great deal of their existance to them. The brilliant idea, the discovery, the surprise - how can they ever be described or defined other than as a miracle, as a magical wand pointing to nothingness and FOFF! suddenly there IS something.

The experience, knowledge and intelligence of a scientist or artist, though, is a preparation for receiving these miracles, just as we can prepare ourselves with vigilance, curiosity and imagination to be able to see the things to be found on the street.

The street is defined as something empty, to be filled with moving bodies, vehicles and people. It is between places, not a place in itself. It is for everyone. Never to stay, but to move on. In this between-country things gather for a while, dropped or lost by anyone, or just as well by noone, to be found by the next lucky one that passes by with the eyes in the right direction before the cleaners come to restore the anonymous order to the street.

The meeting between the eyes of the right kind, in the right mood, with an object of the right kind of appeal can have this magical (or fatal) effect of which the correct definition to me must be poetical. In other words, a reasonless animation of matter to give it the power of beauty or adventure. (I don't talk here about finding "useful" things that people have dropped, or at least not that aspect of it.)

Abandoned houses, industrial areas, construction sites and some forgotten places between functions in the city (that the surrealist group in Stockholm started to call "atoposes", or "non-places") have a similar air of being laid out for the chance encounter, with the arbitrary collection of casual objects, trash, junk, thrown, left and forgotten things in different states of decay and going their own way between the different forces of human culture, weather and nature. And there are no cleaners. Traces of shit, pornography, alcoholism and drug use from homeless or nomadic people mix with the broken pieces of a once grand ambition for production and profit - which one is often difficult to guess from the left machinery that look more like live animals the more they fall apart.

Flea markets, cheap stores (in sweden "everything for 10 kronor", in poland "everything for 5 złoty" etc) and second hand shops are condensed arenas for the kind of things that are cleaned away from the streets. For very little money you go on a safari in a landscape of unbelievable amounts of objects, made or collected with a wish to make a buck for the seller. You will find newly and poorly produced toys or decorative junk, sometimes with an unbelievably optimistic hope of finding the novelty appeal of the wanderer; a great creativity in the design of more or less meaningless or mysterious tools that are supposed to solve any problem in the kitchen. You will find more or less broken things from ancient times, forged historical object collectors' items, rusty hand tools with their history of use printed on them, parts of machines you can hardly guess what they were for, ancient "modern" computer technology, dusty dolls, table figurines, artificial flowers, kitchy art reproductions, etc. I've never gone from a flea market without any find. And it was usually never what I thought I was looking for, if anything.

My main musical instrument is a construction called the Whalefish. When I made it, it was a very well planned tool for making different kinds of sounds mostly with plucking, beating and bowing. So it has parts of strings, wood and metal coming out at strategic places. It also has a number of objects attached to it: part of a music box for children, an egg slicer, a mbira, an almond grinder, a long spring, finger cymbals and fire alarm bells. During the time I've used it, I have taken away and added objects, things have broken and I've changed them during repair or left them destroyed.

In the middle of the sound board there is a glued-on contact microphone which amplifies everything that happens in direct contact with the instrument.

Two things have happened to the instrument during my use of it in more than ten years. It has slightly decreased its function as a musical instrument in itself, in order to become more of a microphone AND a stage for the objects that act on it, an ever increasing and changing number of objects.

I constantly find objects on such places mentioned above. They don't always strike me as sound makers, or sometimes they too obviously strike me as such, but if they appeal to me I can keep them for a long time before they show me their abilities.

When I prepare for a concert, I usually choose the number of objects that can fit in the free space of the violin case in which I bring my Finger Violin and my bows. I always bring more than I use. Some objects are very familiar to me in which way they will play (act, dance) on the sound board, and which sounds and visual impressions they will give. Some of them scare me a bit, but still attract me enough to bring them over and over again, to give them their chance to discover what they will do when they enter the stage.

Some concerts can become very powerful in their sound-visual drama. Some can be total disasters in their failed attempts and pretensions. Together these two situations, and all the other ones, form the adventure of the objects and their wish to play and act. I can't tell what leads to a successful performance, but maybe a feeling of tension, aggressiveness or another strong emotion is necessary. Probably no beauty can be created if there is a lack of passion.

The relations between body, mind and object are difficult to describe. To animate dead objects is the activity of all arts, but it's not usually possible to explain only with the obvious needs of skill, concentration, discipline, boldness, experience and training. It is also not satisfying to me to say that the ("true"?) artist is the inheritor of the ancient shamans, magicians, alchemists etc. To me it's more interesting to see what belongs to the potentials or dispositions of normal people, what can be seen as a common human need for beauty, discovery and adventure, only nurtured, used, conscious and trained to different degrees among different people. In this sense, I'd like to see the playing with the found objects as a concentrated version of what happened in the street: the sudden unexpected spark from the meeting, the attraction, the power of the surprise and appeal that happens when you don't plan or expect it. However, a training of the readiness for this must be a part of the musical (or acting) training - but as well in the daily life in order to actually see (or hear) that there are interesting and powerful things to be discovered around us. This means also the training of the audience (listener/viewer) to be curious, thus ready to meet the unexpected or unknown.

I have suggested that the objects have a will of their own, a skill even, that they might be able to show given the right occasion. Of course, this is the feeling one can get when playing with them in an intense way, concentrated like children on identifying with their toys that their hands are moving. Like a childrens' play can be more or less successful, so can improvising with sound objects be, but just as children are conscious of where the play ends and begins, a performance also have these strict boundaries and is entirely dependent on the participants recognizing the objects used as bearers of their imagination, whether they like them or not.

To look on the street for junk, to take new roads not knowing where they might lead would be meaningless if there wasn't any need for a change of routines in order to find beauty.

Why is it like this? Why aren't humans satisfied with only what makes them survive? An easy, maybe biological answer, would be to say that "need is the mother of inventions", we need to invent, to discover, to mutate, to compete for the survival of the fittest.

Maybe this disposition still applies - but maybe it has also become a surplus value in humans, that the hunt for the new and extraordinary has become a pleasure and passion in itself, a need for poetry which is not practical at all - but can threaten anything with its power.

Johannes Bergmark

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This page updated the 28th of November, 2014.


Dec 2005, Szczecin, Poland, in the order I picked them out from their cases. No indication of a findplace means I forgot where they came from. (Indication of my most common use of them as sound sources. If no indication they are not yet developed as sound makers, or they work in a similar way as other similar objects described.)

together with the Finger violin and bows

-Cocktail stirrer, Bacardi (makes a "sploink" sound when held against an edge and plucked)
[Sound object]
-Giant comb, about 40 cm, blue, two sizes of dents, about half already broken, probably belonged to bass player Tuomo Haapala, found in Fylkingen, Stockholm (makes string-like sounds when the dents are plucked)
-Small plastic spoon, half of it gone because of failure in the factory production (for scraping and used as a mallet)
-Small white comb, two sizes of dents, probably found on street (to strike or scrape objects with the dents, and to pluck the dents)
-Toy frog with moveable very long arms and legs, present from Guido Zeccola
-Many chinese table tennis balls, bought in mongolia (bumping on strings and surfaces, sometimes I shoot them on objects from my mouth)
-Small worm-like toy figure (from Kinder-egg?) in two parts, the feet are four on each wheel (!), four wheels, flea market outside Szczecin
-Small purple rubber monster to be put on a finger, hairy arms, open mouth with "sharp" teeth and two hairy arms, flea market outside Stockholm
-Artificial sunflower (usually put in a small hole close to the contact mike in the middle of the instrument and touched by my fingers)
[Sound object]
-Small barbie doll, head, waist and arms twistable, found on the street outside our apartment in Stockholm, outside the laundry room (makes squeeking noises when the arms are twisted)
[Sound object]
-Bass piano hammer, from the piano I destroyed when reconstructing Karl-Erik Welin's famous performance of "Rendez-vous" (1964) where he cut himself with a chain saw (used as a mallet on the saw or on springs and bells)
-Badminton ball (used as a mallet and the other side as a scraper)
-The dented piece of a plastic strap "buntband", found on street? (scraped against the tip of short piano wire pieces on the instrument)
[Sound object]
-Small rubber toy skeleton, probably second-hand shop in Portland, Oregon (dancing around all over the instruments, arbitrarily hitting anything)
-Three plastic hangers for socks, all different designs
-Cocktail stirrer, Havana Club
-Straw for milkshake, black (to hit rubber bands and thin wooden rods)
-Chopsticks (as mallets)
-Plastic knife, black, with the contour of usa and "19" printed on it (to scrape strings which produces two parrallel gliding pitches)
[Sound object]
-Jordan tooth brush made in holland, white with a keyboard printed on the handle (to brush things and surfaces)
-Very low quality toothbrush that was smashed already after few uses, white and yellow, three butterflies printed on it, market in Mongolia
-Robust plastic knife with one dent broken, milky colour, "Royal" and a crown printed on it, probably from the swedish train restaurants (to scrape surface)
-Pigeon feather (to brush things and surfaces, especially through the hole)
-Simple black coffee/cocktail stirrer with the end formed as a ball, "29"
-Transparent purple toothbrush made in Switzerland
[Sound object]
-Simply made cloth mouse, grey with red tail and a jingle instead of face, probably toy for pets, found in a bar in Portland, Oregon (sneaking around on the surface)
-Robust small blue plastic comb, curved, a present from a workmate in Olympia, Washington. We planted a giant clam called "geoducks" on the shores when the tide was low. He believed the american president knows more than us and thus should be trusted. He came to my concert on the festival in town. We met the day after at a flea market where he gave it to me. (The pitch of the dents go down and up when plucked in an arpeggio.)
[Sound object]
-Robust wooden comb probably bought on a stand in Międzyzdroje, Poland, with the imprint "FROM SIBERIA WITH LOVE" on one side and "Made in Russia" on the other (scraped against metal objects)
-Small purple rubber "super ball", probably from second-hand shop in Portland, Oregon (bumping on the surface)
-Very worn white feather from a wild duck?
-Robust plastic knife from the swedish train, all dents worn out
-Wooden knife with big dents from a buffet at a members' meeting at Fylkingen, Stockholm
-50 cm long green zipper from flea market somewhere in usa (opened and closed with one end to the surface)
-Pine tree cone, very worn (scraping)
-Black plastic fork with the contour of usa printed on it
-Transparent plastic cocktail stirrer with the handle in the form of an old fashioned sports car, "EPSA hecho en cuba"
-Transparent pink plastic cocktail stirrer
-Black plastic cocktail stirrer with a square form and arrowed head
-Robust plastic knife similar to the one from the swedish train
-Wooden fork from the same set from Fylkingen
-Very thin wooden rod, broken (used on surfaces with reliefed lines on them, makes different pitches and different resonances depending on where it is scraped, like a wahwah-effect)
-Orange plastic comb, two sizes dents, found on street
[Sound object]
-Double-sided comb with very thin wooden dents, white plastic middle and end pieces with green, red and black prints of flowers and chinese letters, probably intended for fleece, from market in Ulaanbaatar, mongolia (highpitched sounds when plucked)
[Sound object]
-Typewriter brush with stiff black hairs, grey plastic handle, "FACIT" on one side and pictures of the types "Ff Gg Hh" as mirrored images on the other, from my grandfather's typewriter that I inherited from my mother. (makes nice bass sounds when bumping and brushed against the central part of the surface)
-Small square granite stone piece from rest materials when cutting layers for street stones, two pieces, found in a new built area in Stockholm harbour on a walk with the surrealist group (scraped with a small stone, very varied and rich noise)
-Thin wooden rod
-Small plastic horse, orange, bought from children's market outside the apartment in Stockholm (when pushed against the surface makes squeeks)
[Sound object]
-Two wooden pigs connected with a ribbon between their mouths, when you pull them apart a mechanism in one of them pulls the other towards him so that they kiss each other. Bought on a tourist market outside Kharkhorum, mongolia (makes strong rolling bassy noise when pulled)
-Miniature mexican hat that belonged to a figure bought on a flea market in Portland, Oregon (scraped)
-The transparent plastic lid to a yoghurt container, printed "JUL 17 MM 10:00", resonant like a drum
-Small plastic toy bear on roller skates, holding a yellow basket, on a platform with three balls so it easily slides around on a surface, "Available exclusively at Wendy's, made in china" (rolling on the surface)
[Sound object]
-Small plastic laughing buddha in orange, pink and green, bought from children's market outside the apartment in Stockholm (sliding in circles on the top of a short bicycle flag spring in the center of the instrument, a middle-pitched rich noise)
-Small soft plastic imaginary dinosaur, brown
[Sound object]
-Small plastic toy with a peasant, his wife and their dog pulling a root, when you slide a wheel under it, they pull and pull, from flea market outside Szczecin (rolling around)
[Sound object]
-A bigger toy horse, white with long hair, was used in a childrens' theatre project of the Snow Queen in norway, I kept it after the tour finished (when moved slightly gliding on the surface creates a rich squeeking noise)
-Very thin straw, white and red, used to stir coffee
-Small toy elk (like the horses, but also good gliding on the hacksaw blades)
-20 cm piece of wood with bark (can be scraped on the bark)
-Wooden ice cream stick
-Cardboard roll from a finished toilet paper roll (scraped against the tip of thin wooden rods makes different high-mid-pitched mild noise)
-Multicoloured egg-shaped rubber ball, from flea market in Portland, Oregon
-Small shiny brown plastic toy horse
-Small soft plastic toy anteater, made in china
-Small red plastic frog that jumps if you press a piece on its back, made in finland (jumps around and ends up e.g. on the strings)
[Sound object]
-Small green toy frog that you can wind up, then it walks sideways and waves its arms, one arm broken, probably from flea market in Portland, Oregon (walks and makes a mechanical noise)
-Wine bottle cork, "JNE italia M 06-02 Messo in bottiglia all'origine" (when squeezed with pressure makes an interesting rich noise)
-Small yellow plastic pickle arrow for olives etc
-Teat, yellow and blue "bambino" found on street (plucking the mbira keys and rubbed against giant comb)
-Small grey stone (to scrape the bigger stone)
-Grey balloon (when blown up and squeezed with wet fingers makes squeeky noises)
-Rubber bands, red and yellow (put over the other strings, when plucked they can hit the other strings and then play a cluster)
[Sound object]
-Pieces from a comb shell, found on the shore in Newfoundland, canada (scraping things and bouncing on strings)
-Unglazed ceramic lid for tea pot, broken, from the wastes of the ceramic course in Leksand, sweden (scraping the almond grinder and wooden rods, and being scraped by other hard objects)
[Sound object]
-Small green hard ball on a thin steel wire, from a decorative device from a flea market in Skärholmen, sweden (hits strings, rods, hacksaw blades and the blades of the tomato saw)
-Small thin lid for small milk package "Lift lid Half Fat Millac Maid Tastes like fresh milk" etc (crackling sounds on the surface)
-Small wooden toy locomotive with wheels, broken
-Long red rubber band fallen from the costume of a dancer at 24kvadrat, Göteborg
-Wheel from a toy car, from a flea market
-Simple tuning fork for violins (can sound by itself or hit strings and objects with its vibrating teeth)
-Small piece of sand paper (scraping)
-Broken pieces from milk containers
-Unidentified white plastic clip for something?
[Sound object]
-Two tuning pins for piano, one grey, one blue (scraping and hitting strings)
-Pieces of a "cozza" blue clam from the shores in italy

-Long back itcher, the head with a silly laughing woman's face, the hand with something printed on it. The print is covered with a small sticker with the city name "Mięzyzdroje", in which town in poland I bought it on a romantic visit with my wife (scraping surfaces)
-Small metal brush, from a tool store in Szczecin, poland (can be plucked and can scrape)
[Sound object]
-Peculiar pie crust knife with a dented wheel, from flea market in Olympia, Washington
-Battery locomotive for miniature railway, broken
[Sound object]
-"Cranky", small machine with four tiny legs and two arms, that is dancing or shaking when it's wound up and let loose, a present from my sister (when wound up dances on the surface in a chaotic way)
-Machine with two wheels to wind up which rolls around on the floor and changes direction in unpredictable patterns, a present from the toy shop of musician Bob Marsh, San Francisco
[Sound object]
-Wheel knife for cakes which makes a waved pattern in the dough, made in italy, from a kitchen utensil shop in Stockholm, sweden (rolls on the hacksaw blades and creates a metal arpeggio with shifting resonances)
[Sound object]
-Round lead weight with lots of nails standing up from it, somebody said it's for holding artificial flowers in a pot, from flea market in Berlin (scraping the hacksaw blades)
-Battery handheld fan, two shades of blue, broken, from flea market in the usa (hits objects)
[Sound object]
-Arm trainer with four big springs, from flea market in Oslo (makes a big resonant sound when held with the foot against the instrument lying on the floor and bowed or struck)
-A vibrating battery rod with blinking multicoloured lights, from Bob Marsh, San Francisco, broken
-Fire alarm bell, flea market in Oslo (can be hit, scraped or bowed)
[Sound object]
-Rusty old hand coffee grinder with a small lid to put the beans and a big to take out the ground coffee, patterns in the metal on the different sides, a mark "FB" with three crossing swords. It was found containing corn, thus used to make polenta (corn flour), a traditional italian dish. The house was an abandoned old house on the country outside the village Cupra Marittima, italy. According to the map of the local archeological club, the house was built on the grounds of a pre-roman Venus temple of which an arc still remains visible. (Makes a rich noise just turning the handle, changes its resonant pitches if opened or closed, can be turned around the handle in the air and scraped by metal objects.)
-Back itcher with wheels in the other end
[Sound object]
-Toy frog with a big green net, maybe intended for cleaning (makes soft noises against surfaces)
[Sound object]
-Back massage rod with an orange dented ball on a spring in one end, and a green plastic hand in the other, from market in Ulanbaatar, mongolia
-Heavy round badminton ball (for windy days), white plastic, second hand shop in Portland, Oregon
-Similar ball from the same place
[Sound object]
-Onion or tomato slicer which is made of several thin saw blades in a frame and with a red and white handle (the blades are like strings but can also be scraped along the dents, when squeezed the pitch changes slightly)
-Wooden tool with rippled square surface, maybe for making decorated butter balls, from flea market (to scrape things)
[Sound object]
-Three metal egg slicers, slightly broken, different designs, from flea markets (plucking strings)
-Metal comb (scraping metal objects)
[Sound object]
-"Samba house", from Bob Marsh's store, when wound up it dances and emits sparks from the metal inside (noises on the surface)
-Screw driver for piano action regulations, stolen from my school in Moss, norway (used for screwing the instrument but also stepping on the hacksaw blades makes metallic pitches)
[Sound object]
-Onion holder with a plastic handle and 18 long teeth, to hold the onion to make it easier to cut, from flea market (scraping the hacksaw blades and the piano tuning pins, making different resonant pitches, etc)
[Sound object]
-Cheese slicer with a single string, made in china, from flea market, bowed, plucked)
-The spinning head for a cleaning tool consisting of many very stiff and sharp metal wires, from flea market (scraping)
[Sound object]
-Small flattening wheel with a handle, maybe for small pieces of dough, from second hand store, Portland, Oregon (rolling around)
[Sound object]
-Long spring found on the floor on the Centurion, London, before a concert, we discussed if this is "an original Bohman Brothers' spring", since they have played there (fastened under the almond grinder, stroken and bowed)
-Long piece of spiraled traced metal for the making of screws (to hold on the surface and scraped by different thin metal objects)
[Sound object]
-Unidentified function of a metal piece with a spiraled spring around the middle (scraping strings etc)
[Sound object]
-Wooden tool with unidentified function, ripples in the other way compared with the "butter ball maker" (scraping)


[Sound object]
-Whistle from the pipe of a water kettle, to sound when the damp is coming out, from flea market (held in mouth it whistles both ways)
[Sound object]
-Squeeking toy shark, from cheap store, Stockholm
-Box that sounds like a cow when you turn it around, cow pictures on it
[Sound object]
-"Joker" face that squeeks loudly, for bicycles
[Sound object]
-Mouth siren formed as red lips, from Bob Marsh's store
-Traditional hand bell from market in Ulanbaatar, mongolia
-Duck call to be played with the mouth, from hunting shop in norway
-Bird call consisting of a brass piece twisted inside a piece of hard wood, from a store
-Small wooden cork pistol with red and green decorations
-Small pump horn, red plastic, for bicycle
-Toy horns that unwind rolling paper when blown
-Small jingles in a bag, market in Ulanbaatar, mongolia
-Two sizes jaw's harps, from store in Oslo
-Squeeking soft toys for dogs, black and yellow, from the store Makro, Szczecin, poland
-Orange tube with a small siren that falls from one end to the other when you turn it, making a funny sound, from a store (the opening can be held partly in the mouth, thus adding different resonances to the sound)
-Toy gun, from a cheap shop in Stockholm
[Sound object]
-Big toy alarm clock which is also a drum, sounds when "wound up"
-Toy telephone with face and wheels, ringing when the number disc is turned
-Toy with a dinosaur that hits a bell when you turn it
-Yellow whistle given in a stupid performance in Piotrków Trybunalski, poland
-Miniature twin drums, souvenir from Havana, cuba
-Pump horn, silver coloured
-Cuica, present from Su-En after her visit in brazil, cracked
-Small electric siren, found on a street market in Oakland, California


-Metal moustache comb with brush lost at Telakka theatre, Tampere, finland
-Miniature saw, store in New York, lost at Lungolungo Berlin (scraping)
[Note: I got it back from my friend/the organizer af the gig in 2012! She kept it for me in 8 years!]
[Another note: Soon afterwards, it was taken from my hand luggage on the Schönefeld airport in Berlin as they thought it was dangerous! It's absurd, it's a toy saw, totally blunt, you could do more harm with your finger nails! But they put it in an envelope and mailed it to me for a fee, because I didn't want to loose it after all these years. When it arrived to Stockholm, I had already travelled away again, so I had to wait for it to be returned to the company in Berlin and get it next time I was there. The man at the company didn't speak much english but he laughed a lot at the story and finally mailed it to me at an accessible address without further charge.]