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Åke Parmerud Invisible Music
Phono Suecia PSCD 72

Henrik Strindbergs
"compositions about the not audible"
Phono Suecia PSCD 124

Sten Melin
"the best string quartet in the world" !

Unusual cover images and unusually interesting composers of Sweden's '50s generation, two devoted to electronics in their different ways, the third extrovert and super-confident.

Åke Parmerud (b. 1953) trained as a photographer 1970-1972 and studied in the Department of Musicology, Gothenburg, where his interest in 20th century music was aroused and he came into touch with basic synthesizer equipment and tape-recording techniques. He developed software for computerised composition and has taught theory, ear training and the history of music in Gothenburg University.

Åke Parmerud was a rock musician and his first compositions were written for rock and Afro-American bands he played in. But it is mainly as a forceful composer of electro-acoustic music and multi-media works (especially, perhaps, picture sequences, in which his photographic skills have come in useful) that he has acquired an international reputation. The music is mainly from the early '90s and I enjoyed Parmerud's clean freshness of textures and attack; demonstration material for hi-fi equipment.

The notes don't help a lot; e.g. In Time's imaginary eye time and the process of ageing are viewed in the light of Einstein's theory of relativity.... Out of sight his first purely computerised composition is described by the composer as "a streamlined play of surfaces, stylisations, or if you will simplifications, calculated to obscure the view of the underlying, the complex and unpredictable, the real". Don't worry;the music and its sound are the things to latch on to, and I found it all (and its companion CD here reviewed) more engaging than most electronic music, to which I am not a dedicated aficionado.

Obscure Objects takes the form of riddles related to the materials used for its musique concrete score; Alias deals with Dowland and Gesualdo; the expert chamber orchestra KammarensembleK is involved - the programme is conceived as a whole and is well varied.

The presentation of this CD is quite remarkable; a work of art in its own right. The whole is elegantly ring-bound and incorporates many graphic notions, with transparencies interposed amongst the text pages. One oddity; track timings are given, but partly hidden in the pocket which holds the disc

Henrik Strindberg (b 1954) (sometimes he's spelt Strindbergs) has devised elaborate systems which he would wish us to understand; ideas, techniques and the sounding interdependent. He too was a rock multi-instrumentalist with a band known for juxtaposing electrical and acoustical instruments 'without making compromises'.

His Within Trees for orchestra (1989) is typically radical, and its graphic sketches take up the first five pages of the booklet, two of them illustrated above. The branches of his trees deploy eight groups of instruments (c.f. Stockhausen's 3 for Gruppen) each including percussion, string and wind; its second movement is the most dense in these two CDs being reviewed. Elsewhere, Strindbergs textures are mostly as clear and airy as Parmerud's. In 2 Pianos (1992) 'the repetitive should be seen as an extreme point of clarity', the attractive music using one of his computer programmes, Trigger. The other programme he employs is Contour which enables him to construct the mid-space of his textures with notes, rhythmic values and dynamic levels with indeterminacy. Cheap Thrills (1993) develops a jazz improvisation. Hope (1997) is a saxophone concerto dedicated to the memory of a Swedish girl murdered in Argentina; Chosen sets four elusive poems, their texts integrated with live-electronics - a step towards opera, the writer suggests.

Again don't worry too much about the exposition of the technicalities; listen to and enjoy both these exemplars of the vitality of cutting-edge Swedish avant-garde music, astonishing given the country's small population.

More generally accessible may be the extrovert trumpeter and composer Sten Melin (b.1957), confident and even refreshingly brash at times! The CD art-work, including his sculpture which destroyed 'an extremely bad Karajan recording of Mozart's Requiem', is his own.

Q is Q
(1983) is 'the best string quartet in the world'. It was premiered by the Ardittis and is marked at one point under Brian Ferneyhough's influence Molto brutale sub. presto possiblile').

Melin was involved in music for the anarchic Iacca Ensemble, which featured music of 'maximum expression and minimal content'. This CD reflect the composer's wide musical contacts ( his diverse non-musical activities are equally impressive) and in the raucous Seven heaven the group the Hooligans includes Thomas Jennefelt (composer of the opera Sport & Leisure admired in Stockholm), on didjeridu composer/virtuoso trombonist Ivo Nilsson (artistic director of Stockholm Festival of New Music 2005) and on ukelele guitarist Magnus Andersson (artistic director of the festival February 2006). There are fine songs of great seriousness interpreted by Olle Persson, Marie Alexis, Frederik Ullen (who has recorded all Ligeti's piano music) and the great Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, and much else.

An invigorating CD; just one minor criticism for all art editors to note, please - song texts should, whenever possible, be printed in parallel and not in separate sections from the original. Swedish is a lovely, musical language, and one ought not to have to unstable the booklets to read them together with the English translations; easy here, with lots of spare space on pp 30/31 to juggle the text around.

All these CDs (and other Swedish offerings reviewed by Musical Pointers) are marketed with excellent recording and presentation, it nearly goes without saying. They are a needed corrective to readers in large countries such as UK and USA, who may be tempted to regard their own national composers as working at the centre of the world's contemporary music scene. Readers able to travel to Scandinavia should consider seriously going to Stockholm next February.

Full details and tracklists from Swedish Music Information Centre

Each available also at c. EUR 16,58 from Amazon.de


© Peter Grahame Woolf