Tuesday 25th November

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Skogen Anders DahlStill not feeling great today, I think my body has finally realised its not had to go to work for a few days and has decided to switch off a bit. Still, I didn’t have much to do today so I spent it reading (finished Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science for the second time,  read about half of the Noise and Capitalism book and a trudged through a couple of chapters of an HTML textbook) and relaxing with some music playing constantly. Apart from getting annoyed chasing up the webhost of this site I left the computer alone, which made a refreshing change.

This afternoon and evening I have been playing another of the Bombax bombax titles, a disc named Skogar, berg och dalar credited to Skog och dal, which is the Skogen quintet with Anders Dahl added to the group. I wrote about the first series of releases from the label, including the first Skogen disc here. Skog och dal are the all-Swedish group consisting of Erik Carlsson, (percussion) Anders Dahl (electronics, pump organ, pitch pipe) Magnus Granberg (piano, sax, guitar, glasses) Henrik Olsson (bowls, cymbals, glasses, microphones, amplifier, walkie-talkies) Leo Svensson (cello) and Petter Wastberg (electronics, objects, electric guitar). On this, and the previous release the group perform compositions written by Granberg, though on this release the compositional credits for the two pieces are credited to both Granberg and Dahl, though it isn’t clear if the two worked together as a pair on both tracks or if they wrote one each.

I have no information to hand about how these pieces were written and subsequently performed. i could have sent an email to the composers to try and find out, as I did for the previous review, but on this occasion I have opted not to, simply so I can experience the music without prior ideas about how it was realised or how it should sound. It could be argued that this approach will result in a less well informed review, which is probably correct, but it also results in a more enjoyable listen, and call me selfish but that’s what this blog is all about. Maybe one of the musicians can drop me a line after reading this to add anything pertinent and I’ll write a follow up piece.

As it happens I would probably would not have guessed that this was composed music. It sounds completely and thoroughly improvised. with just a few clues to its compositional origins. Right at the beginning the music jumps straight into an intricate structure with no time required for the musicians to find their feet, perhaps not typical improv, but I would have said this was the result of creative editing if I was listening to this blind. The first track is also exactly twenty minutes long, suggesting a timed structure, and all the musicians seem to move their contributions, for all of their variety through a set of structural shifts at the same time. The last Skogen disc in fact used a composition that essentially gave some structure and organisation to the musicians’ improvisations, and I suspect something similar is at work here. The music sounds very spontaneous. It is jerky and abrupt in places, quite a lot of places in fact, but it also flows nicely through these series of angular patterns and the music sounds thoroughly alive and organic.

It is actually really great work indeed. There are two pieces here, named Skog, berg, dal and Berg, skog dal repsectively, titles that suggest maybe each piece was written by separate composers, but there isn’t enough to seaparate the two tracks stylistically to be sure this is the case. The first track begins revolving around a kind of faltering clockwork styled structure with the two percussionists and Granberg’s piano at the heart, mostly softly played chimes, pings and stray Feldmanesque piano notes quite beautifully drifting around each other suggesting a regular pattern but never really finding one. Woven through this weblike structure are plucked cello notes, little bursts of dissonant electronics that change each time they appear. This collection of massed small sounds. a;; within a similar range but constantly changing and shifting make the music feel like it is played much faster than it actually is. As the piece progresses the sounds begin to slowly spread out however, each individual event allowed to expand from a brief moment into slightly longer durations. There seems to be less playing all round as well, and the music develops a warm, calm feeling, still shifting and changing but flooding outwards away from the tight activity of the opening sections. really involving, fascinating music played with no small amount of skill and resulting in a work of no small amount of beauty.

The second piece works in a similar way to how the opening track began, only at a more steady pace throughout. Sounds seem to turn and click through almost mechanical shapes, but with each note or tap or burst of white noise spaced quite perfectly from the others, and with sounds generally allowed to naturally decay. The music has a strong Feldman feel to it, that sense of repetition but not rigorous rhythm or pattern, a structure but not so strict as to make the music feel rigid. It is music that makes me feel sleepy, like Feldman’s often will, because of the languid, circular sense to the music. There is no gradual shift in dynamic of shape to this second piece, which reveals it to me to definitely be a different score, but it has a similar personality to the first piece.

I enjoyed this music a great deal. It has a character and style quite unlike anythign else I have heard recently and is in equal parts aesthetically beautiful and structurally fascinating. I have listened through several times this afternoon and evening and it doesn’t become boring, and each time through can be heard differently again. In my opinion there is still a lot of scope for exploration of the region midway between composition and improvisation and this release bears out that feeling.

Available from the Bombax bombax website, which is incidentally, one of the nicest uses of the WordPress system I have seen in a while.

Right now, inspired by this music I am now listening to Feldman’s For John Cage, Beautiful.

3 Comments

  • Richard Pinnell November 27, 2009 - 10:39 pm

    Apparently, berg skogar och dalar means mountain forests (plural) and valleys (plural). This is nice, clever plays on the group / composers names…

    Thanks so much to Anastasia for letting me know this.

  • Magnus Granberg December 2, 2009 - 6:49 pm

    Hi Richard, and thanks for the review! Here are a few (somewhat late) brief notes regarding the pieces on the record as you tactfully requested!
    Both pieces were based on a composition (which consists of a great deal of improvisation with some given materials) of mine; two different takes (the ensemble was split into several duos that were recorded separately, but following the same structure) where the parts in the piece were put in two slightly different sequences and with changed time proportions. The material was then edited by Anders, with some additional overdubs made by the two of us plus Petter Wästberg.

    Hope I didn’t get too tedious and lengthy!

    Best wishes from Magnus Granberg and Skog och dal!

  • Richard Pinnell December 3, 2009 - 1:18 am

    and best wishes to you all as well Magnus

    Many thanks for these notes. I wouldn’t have guessed that their was any overdubbing involved on the disc in question, but there you go… However it was made the end result is a lovely piece of music. Thanks for that.

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