Nordic noir

It’s Nordic noir this month with a selection of avant-garde electronic experimentation from Scandinavia and beyond, but sadly no Greenland…

The Swedish Fylkingen label have released a lot of electronic records over the years. It started out in the 1930s as a music society, a collection of people putting on concerts of new music.

They were the first people to stage performances of electro-acoustic music in Sweden in the 1950s. They also teamed up with Swedish Radio, who established an electronic music studio, Elektronmusikstudion, or EMS, in the early 1960s.

At the end of the 1950s there was a bit of a split in Fylkingen, with the radical faction slugging it out with the slightly more traditional side. As a result, they started organising more out-there events, and making records, and even getting involved in politics.

In 1963, they organised a series of three “non-stop concerts”, which were titled ‘Musique Concrète’, ‘Data-Machine Music’ and ‘Electronic Music’. They established various working groups, who would research and discuss topics around contemporary experimental music.

The Language Group worked on “text-sound composition”, which led to a concert in 1967, and then a series of festivals, starting in 1968. They would invite people from all over the world to perform and record in the EMS studio, and various other Swedish Radio studios, and then they would release the results on albums.

They made eight albums, all in limited pressings of 500, which weren’t really sold, they were intended to be given to the artists and radio stations. It was all about spreading the word and the cultural activity.

I’ve got three of them, they’ve got people on them like the English concrète poet Bob Cobbing, who was a part of the London avant-garde scene, and ran a bookshop called Better Books on Charing Cross Road, which was, like the Indica Gallery, one the hubs of London’s 1960s counterculture. He appears on ‘Text-Sound Compositions 7: A Stockholm Festival 1970’.

Electronic music competitions were another strand of Fylkingen activities, and I have an album from 1977 called ’Fylkingen Electronic Music Competition 1975 Prizewinners’. Denis Smalley, from New Zealand, is on that one. In the 1970s, he was one of the first people to get a diploma from the Groupe De Recherches Musicales, the Paris group set up by Pierre Schaeffer in the 1950s to encourage the development of electronic music. Jean-Michel Jarre was part of that group, as were Luc Ferrari, Xenakis and many more important electronic music and musique concrète composers. One of Smalley’s records, ‘The Pulses Of Time’ was released by the University Of East Anglia where he worked for a while in the music department, and it’s incredibly rare. Fylkingen also released an album of text-sound compositions by Sten Hanson called ‘Text Sound Compositions’ in 1978. It’s all good stuff.

My favourite release on Fylkingen is ‘Electronic Music’ by Sven-Erik Bäck. He was born in 1919 and was a radical avant-garde composer and performer back in the 1940s and made his first all-electronic composition in 1970. This record was released in the late 1970s and is a compilation of his electronic work of the 1970s.

EMI/HMV released an interesting series of records called ‘Nordic Music Days’. The Nordic Music Days festivals have been going since the 19th century. Arne Nordheim, another favourite of mine, is on one of those, and he’s also on ‘Contemporary Music From Norway’, a Philips relase from 1975. In 2013, a track of his from 1970 was on a split single with Norwegian Helge Sten, aka Deathprod, who made an album of noise music with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin under the name Minibus Pimps a few years back. Nordheim’s 1974 album ‘Electronic Music’ is also great. There’s a track on it called ‘Warsaw’, I often wonder if Bowie was into it, because I think you can hear its influence on the electronic stuff from ‘Low’.

The last handful of Nordic releases I have include a split album from Denmark, from 1974, called ‘Electronic Music Produced In Aarhus’, featuring an artist called Fuzzy on one side, and Svend Christiansen on the other.

There’s a Finnish album, ‘Suomalaista Elektroakustista Musiikkia – Finnish Electro-Acoustic Music’, and I have one vinyl album of Icelandic academic electronic music, ‘Electronic Music From Iceland’, released in 1985. I don’t think there are any others, there might be CDs, but this is the only vinyl I’m aware of. Interestingly, I’ve never found one from Greenland!

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