Resident archivist Jack Dangers looks at two avant-garde electronic music albums from Sweden by Knut Wiggen and Kåre Kolberg
Both of these records came out quite recently, and they were both recorded at Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion. Wiggen was a Norwegian-Swedish composer, born in 1927, and it was him who founded the EMS studio. He started on it in 1962, and a couple of years later the Swedish national broadcaster took over its development and Wiggen ran the place until 1975. This album ‘Electronic Works 1972-1975’ was released in 2018 on the O Gudmundsen Minde label, and used the original four-channel master tapes to create a stereo mix. Wiggen composed the work here as a multi-channel performance pieces, intended to be played back through a four-speaker system.
The Kåre Kolberg record, ‘Electronic Works 1970-1973’, was released in 2012 on a Norwegian label called Prisma. Side one was recorded at the electronic music studio in Warsaw, and side two, which has one track, ‘Keiserens Nye Slips’ (‘The Emperor’s New Tie’) was recorded at EMS in 1973. The sleeve notes say that it was recorded using a PDP-15/40 computer and programmed in the EMS-1 computer language, which was developed at EMS. The computer, made by Digital Equipment Corporation, was the latest of the PDP machines. It launched in 1970 and was 16-bit. Peter Zinovieff had a PDP-8 in his EMS studio in the mid-1960s, which was 12-bit. The piece was commissioned by Fylkingen, the Swedish avant-garde music organisation which started in 1933 putting on concerts of contemporary music, and went electro-acoustic in the 1950s. Wiggen ran it for a while. It’s in the same building as EMS and puts on more than a hundred events a year; electro-acoustic music, films, dance, all sorts. It has a record label, too.
The EMS studio in Stockholm is still going, though I don’t think it still looks like the photograph of it on the back of Knut Wiggen’s ‘Electronic Works 1972-1975’, where it resembles the control deck of a spaceship from a 1970s sci-fi film, and artists can apply to work there through their artist-in residence programme. There are seven studios there now, and they’re all Pro Tools set-ups, though they do have a Buchla modular system, and a Serge modular. Clock DVA and Jim Thirlwell recorded there a few years ago.
Both of these records are really good, quite minimal electronic music, and because they’re both relatively recent releases, you can pick them up for about £20-£25 each.