Lars-Gunnar Bodin – Life and Works


Lars-Gunnar Bodin in studio

Lars-Gunnar Bodin (July 15, 1935 – May 10, 2021) was a Swedish composer primarily known for his contribution to electronic music.

The purpose of this page is to be a collection of information on Bodin’s life and works.

Commentary on Works

The following is a collection of some of Bodin’s works with information and quotes from the composer for each piece:

Clouds (1976)

Lars-Gunnas Bodin:

En face, Inre Monolog I & II (Inner Monologue I & II) and In i Nollandskapet (Into a Zero Landscape) are excerpts from my multi-media composition Clouds (1976).

Commissioned by The National Institute for Concerts, Clouds is a ninety minutes work for multiple slide and film projections, dancers, singers and electro-acoustic music from which certain sections may be extracted and individually performed.

These selections have been composed in the electronic music studio at the State College of Music in Stockholm .

Excerpt from Clouds:

“But why, they asked. Why try to reach beyond the memory-laden

stillness,

beneath the eternal glistening deep,

beneath the parts of ether-encompassed waves

beyond the precisely calibrated, but desolate field of vision?

The only answer we could give was:

“In reality, everything is probably joined together by nothing.”

CYBO II (1967)

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

“CYBO II was composed in 1967 especially for the English-speaking section of the Swedish Radio’s foreign broadcasts.

At that time I was working on a series of pieces -that were all based on the same themes or ideas.

The name CYBO is derived from Cyborg, an abbreviation of the term cybernetic organisms which was first introduced by the American popular science writer Halacy.

Cybernetics was all the rage in the sixties and automatic control engineering was the height of fashion.

Halacy wrote a book on Cyborgs which dealt with the possibility of combining and integrating automatic control engineering and biological organisms, in particular human beings.

His extremely speculative and challenging ideas belonged to the realms of science fiction rather than more serious reasoning which made them all the more attractive from an artistic point of view as a source of inspiration or as a catalyst for new ideas.

The language which I have used in “composing” the text is taken from the sphere of technical science, a language which is not normally considered to have any poetic value.

Each unit or sound has a phonemic significance.”

Dizcour (1987)

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

Dizcour was commissioned by GMEB – that is, Groupe de Musique Experimentale de Bourges – and was produced in their studios in November 1987.

The point of departure for the composition was a clearly limited sound material consisting of a few sampled sounds from the Synclavier studio located at Dartmouth College in the United States.

These included, for example, a note from a guitar, a horn and a singing voice which have been transformed in various ways in the studio.

At first, the global form of the piece was planned to be strictly symmetrical.

On either side of the work’s mid-point, there were to be different, short sections which reflected each other in an almost identical manner.

For various reasons, the piece did not develop entirely in that direction.

The second main section, for instance, is shorter than the first and does not completely reflect it.

The culmination of the work is composed of several voices reciting the name “Royal Martin.”

Enbart för Kerstin (1979)

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

Enbart för Kerstin (Just for Kerstin) from 1979 is dedicated to Kerstin Ståhl and was first performed at the Stockholm festival of electronic music the same year.

The work was originally composed for purely didactic purposes.

I was in charge of an electro-acoustic workshop that year at the Electronic Music Studio.

I always try to include a course in text-sound composition in my teaching and “Enbart” was written to demonstrate how to write a text-sound composition that lies at the point where words and music intersect.

I have never been interested in using my own or other people’s texts to compose “songs” of any kind.

The text of Enbart is compiled from material that has been sifted and filtered from the flood of texts surrounding us to which we are constantly exposed.

Was it Picasso who said, “I don’t search, I find”? It would make a good motto for my method of generating text material in the true tradition of concrete poetry.

The structure of Enbart describes an arch which stretches from absolutely nothing up to the highest point approximately half way through the work and then back to nothing again.

The work is recited in a “sing-song” manner but is interspersed from time to time by a spoken commentary.

One part is performed live together with eight other parts that are recorded on tape.

Each layer consists of Kerstin Ståhl’s voice.

The taped parts are composed in a kind of chordal compound whose primaiy function is to colour the voice in different ways.

Epilogue – rapsodie de la seconde revolte (1979)

Literally: rhapsody over the second harvest

It is one of a family of four compositions all of which are in some way or another based on a common “pool” of sound and vocal materials.

The other works in this group are For Jon – Fragments of a Time to Come, For Jon II – Retrospective Episodes, and For Jon III. E

The epilogue is the only piece in this family of works in which are employed solely electronically generated – or, more precisely, computer-generated-sound material.

This material has been entirely produced on a prototype of the Synclavier Digital Music System at Dartmouth College.

The epilogue is also a commission from GMEB and was completed during April-May 1979 in GMEB’s studios.

The computer-generated material was processed using the “classical” electro-acoustic methods such as tape montage, mixing, tape speed variation, filtration, etc.

The title reflects, to a high degree, the global form of the work which displays a decidedly rhapsodic character.

For John III

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

“For Jon III” is in two independent parts.

The work was written as a tribute to John Cage on his seventieth birthday and was presented together with tributes from other Swedish composers on the Fylkingen LP.

The title For Jon III indicates that it is part of a cycle consisting of For Jon I-III and an Epilogue.

The first part of For Jon III is built up entirely on the phrase “They extricated their extremities” which is part of the textual material of the cycle.

My idea was to try to “freeze” the words by repeating dissected fragments for certain time periods, beginning with the word “They”.

Several layers of these fragments have then been combined and transposed.

On speaking terms II from 1986 consists of a number of unrelated poems, two of which are presented here.

In this work, I have been experimenting with different techniques.

Poem no 4 makes use of the so-called multi-track technique in order to achieve the singular linguistic texture.

It could perhaps be described as a kind of micro-canon where all the textual layers start out from the same point but gradually glide apart since each layer or part takes either slightly shorter or slightly longer time due to differences in the playing speeds of the original tape.

All the 16 layers are then mixed together as usual. It was during work on this poem that I discovered this method which I have since used several times – For Jon II is entirely built upon this technique.

Poem no 5 is based on a type of feedback effect which can be produced in the studiomixer.

Memoires du temps d’avant la destruction (1982)

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

Like many people the world over, I fear a future nuclear war.

In order to cope to some extent with these terrible thoughts, I have composed “Memoires” almost as a kind of “self-therapy.”

I have tried to express, in a musical form, specific human reactions, sentiments and moods that one may feel when confronted with the knowledge of an impending nuclear catastrophe resulting in total destruction.

The work is comprised of a series of psychological conditions which evoke feelings of alarm, helplessness, indifference, horror, anger, agony, escape of reality, etc.

Toccata (1969)

Lars-Gunnar Bodin:

During a period of preparatory work for Toccata, I was intensely fascinated by those ideas about “the new sensibility” which Marcuse sets forth in the book An Essay on Liberation.

It was almost shocking to discover that one of the New Left’s ideologists held such an optimistic, yes, even confident, view of the importance of art in society after the revolution.

It was tempting to try to apply these ideas in practical artistic work.

Although it was not my original intention with Toccata to musically project any particular philosophical idea, the final structural design and choice of sound materials were nonetheless subconsciously influenced by these thoughts.

The title Toccata refers here to its original meaning-from Italian toccare, literally, to touch; later, a piece to play on an instrument.

At first, I planned to write a piece that was composed exclusively of relatively short, yet loud and violent, bodies of sound, “sound explosions.” During the compositional work, however, the piece developed in several directions, and, in the final version, it is really only in the introduction that the original expressive idea may be heard.

The composition moves from a loud, dynamic section in which rather compact sound fields are overlapped by nearly hysterically agitated and pseudo-rhythmic sequences-via several, more neutral, though timbrally disparate, sections – to a lyrical, “sentimental” concluding section.

The sound material on which the work is based displays very heterogeneous characters.

I have consciously attempted to avoid timbral homogeneity.

Interview from 2006

The following is an interview with Bodin from 2006. T

he bold/italic text is the interviewer’s questions and the normal text is Bodin’s responses:

I will start with a question about the subjects you use in your music. Take a piece like Memoire de temps … or Dizkus, picking up subjects that are part of the time you are living in. Looking back at these pieces now that they are some twenty years old, do you think that this aspect loses its importance, or are the pieces not very much part of the time they were created in?

Well, it is hard to say. With some of the subjects, it is probably up to date.

I mean the piece you just mentioned, Memoire, when Iran is trying to get a new atom bomb, I mean the danger is not over, I think. So in that respect, that piece is still updated. The musical language is another thing actually.

As you said it is about twenty years ago I did that piece. But I have a number of themes or subjects that I return to every now and then. I mean there are some science fiction elements in many of my pieces.

I am also very interested in parapsychological things, I am not a believer, but nevertheless, especially if you are working with texts. There is dramatic material in all these stories and all of that.

I learned that from Öyvind Fahlström, the Swedish painter and inventor of the “konkret poesi”. And he was also interested in that, but he wasn’t a believer, I guess. And other themes, well, I am hooked on time. But I admit I don’t really understand what it is, but it’s coming back constantly in various forms, as notions, as themes.

Not as you can deduct, no, not deduct, that you can hear it in my pieces I think, but when I am working with texts, which I have been doing for quite a long time and still doing, as a matter of fact, a text piece was performed at the Modern Museum just a few weeks ago, but I am starting to perform myself, because that seems to be the trend today, to be just a composer of electroacoustic music, sitting in your studio and deliver a CD and it will be played hopefully in a concert hall, that is not enough now.

Everybody wants to be seen by the audience, and maybe the audience wants to see the composer also. I don’t know. But it is surely a trend.

The text-sound composition has a long tradition in Sweden.

It has as a matter of fact. My colleague, Bengt Emil Johnson, and I were the two that invented the term.

That has a very strange story actually, but it was coined in 1967 and it was used for a number of festivals we had, but you can see the term once in a while, and it doesn’t seem to be outdated either. And I use it.

I think I am a text-sound composer, basically.

It is, especially in Stockholm, when you look at the history of arts, it is sort of confined in a way, the artists are confined in Stockholm; at the same time, there seems to be a lot of exchange between the different arts, between the literature and music and painters. It seems to be very fruitful to live in a situation like this.

I think so. But I think, isn’t that a general trend that you mix things together?

But I would say at the beginning of the 1960s there was also a trend to mix things, to talk about an open art and performances were around like Fluxus in Germany, and people like Paik and Fallström and happenings and events and it was all mixed up.

And it still is mixed, maybe even mixed up. And that is fruitful of course, I think so actually.

And Stockholm is not that big a town, so of course, there is not as big a group of people, but there are more and more people around in Sweden that are working in electroacoustic music.

When I started we were about half a dozen and my first and only teacher was Gottfried Michael Koenig and he was here about this time in 1961. And he gave daily seminars for us during February.

That’s my only training so to speak because at that time you couldn’t go to the Akademie, Musikhochschule or anything like that.

Because they didn’t offer that kind of training. But it is very good actually to have these inter-colleague contacts, and there are some spots that have been very important, like the society Fylkingen, which is I believe one of the oldest societies for avantgarde music and arts in the world. It started in 1933 and it has always been state-of-the-art or at the front so to speak, of the artistic development.

We should maybe talk about some of your pieces. I always find it curious when it says in the program notes: “originally I wanted to do this and this but it turned out completely different”.

Yeah. That happens.

Well, you start with what you think is a good idea or you may be very excited about it and you start working and you start to generate sonic materials like that, but it happens also, or it happens to me at least, quite often, that I think I have done something very nice, some very good structures and things like that, but it doesn’t fit into the piece.

So you have to reject them. And it turns out to be another piece. Another piece compared to what you have planned. But I don’t see any danger in that. I find it rather amusing, that you are not quite sure of what the end result will be.

It has to do with freedom in a way.

Yes, it does. Working in an electroacoustic music studio gives oneself a tremendous lot of freedom.

Because when you are writing for instruments you always have to keep in mind that it has to be possible to be played. But there are no restrictions.

You can do whatever you like, and I think that is a lot of freedom as an artist.

I was surprised that when I looked through the catalogue, actually I just heard a couple of pieces, but when you have names like official forms, there is one piece called Rhapsody, one piece called Toccata. These are not very strict forms. They are open forms. Did you choose these forms for that reasons? Or are they not that important?

No, they were not just random. 

Toccata has an opening that is rather aggressive and short sounds and so forth.

I thought it has something of the spirit of the toccata. And that is a very old piece. It was done in 1969. And Rhapsody belongs to a work that started with a piece For Jon I and For Jon II and For Jon III.

And the epilogue of course. I tried to use various materials, I wouldn’t say leftovers, but there was a lot of material that I generated for all these pieces and I thought of a more rhapsodic form for that.

Because I couldn’t make it into a more strict form. But the material I thought was quite interesting to work with. So that is the reason for the title.

One of the pieces that really struck me was the Toccata. You just mentioned it is really old, but it sounds very fresh. I guess it has to do with the aggressiveness in the sound. It sounds very much like electronic music today sounds. But the machines must have been completely different.

Yes. It sure was.

So I have two questions. Do you remember how you made this piece? And how important is something like the sound design? Is that something secondary that just comes along?

The studio we had at our disposal was a very ordinary tape studio with very few electronic generators.

But I mean, it is also interesting that you are forced to go through that limited number of sound sources to make the absolute best of them.

And today the possibilities of the studio are so overwhelming, so we are almost dizzy when you consider all the possibilities.

Makes it harder, actually, to make a selection of sounds you would like to generate or would like to get.

So I worked for a very long time. It took seven or eight months to make that piece.

And to answer your question if I know how I did it. Yes. I know exactly how I did it. Because Koenig taught me to make notes on everything, every connection you made, all the filter numbers, and everything.

He was a very good teacher that way and said: “You will never remember. Next week you will have forgotten everything. You have to take notes. You have to write it down.” And I did.

So I have a book on that piece with all the circuits, how I put the filters and generators and manipulations and all the things like that.

But that is very time-consuming and tedious, so after five years I stopped doing that. I got lazy.

But that particular piece … of course, I couldn’t do it today because the apparatus is not there anymore. It may be of interest to a musicologist in the future. I don’t know.

There is one very interesting episode on one of the old archive tapes from the fifties, from 1960 maybe, at the WDR, where Koenig takes Stockhausen’s notes and tries to reconstruct one sound from Kontakte. And he can’t do it. It sounds different every time. And he tries and tries. And in the end, it is similar.

It is very hard. If you try to generate it with new gear.

And I think it is nice about that era of that studio. It is a finished chapter. It is nice that you had that experience. And also it is good to really have to work with a minimum of resources. Y

ou have to get the most out of them.

Do you miss that today, working with the computer?

No. There are other things you can do with the computer. But it’s good for a student to limit the possibilities for a while and see what you can do with less.

Because nowadays everything can be done. It is up to you. But even that Toccata has, I was reading Herbert Marcuse at that time, and not The One-Dimensional Man, there was another book, it was talking about some sort of art.

He described art more like happening. And that was very interesting, so I was very inspired during that work, and the piece starts rather violent, but in the end, it is more smooth and soft.

So it is actually a journey from the totally aggressive thing to something that is more gentle.

I found it very beautiful, in its rhythmicality. You can almost touch the piece.

Yes. Well, I’m glad you find it that way. Well, I consider it to be the best piece of mine from that area.

And it was very nice at that time because the Swedish radio had much more money during that period.

It was an expanding decade and there was a lot more money and culture alive.

And there weren’t so many composers either that had to split these resources. So we had actually a very good deal making a series of commissions for the Swedish radio and this one is an example of that.

Some of your pieces were done in Dartmouth?

Yes

With a somewhat reduced equipment. It is always a Synclavier that you had at your disposal.

Well, that is or was a very powerful instrument.

But I started in 1975 when they were still developing the heart of this instrument, the oscillator bank. So it was just an oscillator bank. But it could work with frequency modulation.

And we had heard about John Chowning, I met John Chowning actually in 1972, and heard about his result and I was stunned by the thing he was doing, so I was very eager to try to work with frequency modulation. And that was my first chance to do that.

And I used that in a big intermedia composition, a full evening, that is my opera so to say. One and a half hour with films and projections and singers and 8-track sound and so forth. So I used the material I obtained from the Dartmouth studio. But I have been there man

y times. And the final piece I did there was in 1990, a piece called Wonder – void, which was also a commission by the Swedish radio, a pretty long text-sound piece.

But I used the synclavier also to modify the reading voices and singing voices. It was a very powerful system, but it was too powerful and too expensive.

So it was just people like Michael Jackson and Sting and those who could afford to have one. Or Frank Zappa. It was beyond my resources. Absolutely.

It that right?

It was tremendously expensive. And the company didn’t recognize in time that it was a dinosaur they were doing and the market was aiming for the middle, they didn’t notice that in time. So the company folded. Too bad.

There is one other piece I would like to talk about. This is Dizkus for woodwinds and tape. It has to do with postmodernity, but I am not even sure if you are criticizing the concept of postmodernity or if you are depicting it.

I was puzzled I would say.

I spent a lot of time, to read a long series of articles in the morning newspaper where they were debating the phenomenon of postmodernity.

And the more I read the more confused I was actually.

Noone seemed to have the ability to really explain what it was. So I did it in my own way.

We all knew of the postmodern architecture in the US for instance, when you have a modernistic skyscraper and on the top, you have a greek temple, I mean, that sort of combination seemed to be a model for postmodernism.

I had an idea, that I should put objects into that piece that are like oil and water. That don’t mix.

It doesn’t matter what you do with them. They cannot be mixed. They just appear at the same time. It is not the Cagean philosophy. But everything appears and I wanted to have a specific point that that happened.

To make it also as a surprise as a listener, at the first time.

And I was also puzzled by the notion of Charles Baudelaire who talked about surprise, in fact, that a piece of art must have some sort of surprise effect that puzzled the viewers or the listeners, and I think I found something that was pretty apart.

Especially the accordion thing. I remember when I presented the piece to the musicians. They hadn’t heard the tape part, so they were playing as well as they can.

And when the accordion comes, they stopped playing. They were laughing so much. We had to take a break until they composed themselves and go on with the rehearsal, actually. So there was actually a surprise effect.

[The interview took place in the foyer while a concert was taking place inside the hall; the concert is over, the audience enters the foyer.] That is funny. Before everybody leaves the hall maybe one last question. Did your experience from the studio have an effect on your instrumental writing?

No. Not really. I don’t think so.

I haven’t written a lot of instrumental pieces, I must say. In spite, that I actually stúdied, I have a very traditional training, I studied the traditional subjects hard when it comes to composition.

But in the beginning, I was very interested in the serial technique. But I changed my mind in 1961 when I took the Darmstadt courses because at that time David Tudor presented the New York composers, people like La Monte Young and George Brecht, and those.

And it was absolutely, I was flabbergasted about it. I couldn’t believe that he, who had premiered Kontakte, could do these silly pieces. But I was very interested in that. And later in that autumn, Nam-June Paik came to Stockholm and gave a performance in one of the art galleries and that was also something very extraordinary really.

And I started to make performances, happenings, and things like that.

Still with instruments, but something quite different. Not serial at all. And then by 1965, I had the first chance to work in an electroacoustic studio, and that was a big thing for me at that time.

That was the EMS in Stockholm.

That was the EMS in Stockholm. It opened in September 1965, the first studio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts