Plaetner (1930-2002) was a pioneer of electronic music in Denmark. He created
most of his 57 electronic works in the period 1960-74, but his oeuvre also
includes works for orchestra and ensembles, piano sonatas and works for
children and young people. Plaetner was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of
Music in 1949. There he trained in composition and music theory as well as
organ and carillon. His interest in the electronic idiom was aroused during his
Academy period, not least as a result of his participation in the post-war
Darmstadt courses, which Plaetner attended three times - the first time as
early as 1950. Plaetner's electronic works were almost exclusively produced
either in his private studio in Kalundborg (probably Denmark's first home
studio) or in the now closed-down Holstebro Electronic Music Studio (HEMS),
which he managed in the period 1967-77. The works, like those of the German
pioneers, were based on synthetically generated sounds (sinus waves)
extensively manipulated with tape recorders, where the tapes with the
electronically generated sounds were subjected to speed changes, backward
playing and meticulous editing into small fragments, followed by combinations
in new configurations and orders.
Plaetner's Beta is music that is to be played loud and listened to with the whole body!
Beta's sound universe, with the restless intensity of its pent-up energy,
speaks its own clear language to a younger generation of listeners and
musicians who can hear references to psychedelic rock, heavy metal, house and
hardcore techno because of the energetic, distorted, pulsating and insistently
repe-titive noise-drones over which a number of completely unpredictable sound
scenarios are played out. The work evokes associations with the experimental
rock guitarist's noisy inferno of soundscapes.
Beta was thus ahead of not only Jimi
Hendrix' psychedelic noise-scapes, but also one of the decades most highly
profiled noise works, Steve Reich's Pendulum Music from 1968.
As a direct
contrast to Beta's pulsating rhythms, Modulations fluctuates
rhythmically. The work sounds like a dramatization of the microcosmic world of madness
that Hans Christian Andersen described in the tale The Drop
of Water, and Modulations can be viewed as a satire on
the possibilities of technology and mankind's powerlessness in the face of
these possibilities. The pulsating drive gives the work a certain static
quality, but as is also the case in Beta, it
develops with rising intensity and a cacophony of unpredictable sound clashes.
Much of the work consists of tape loops, and about halfway through these loops
become quicker and shorter, and a number of different loops begin to be heard
superimposed on one another. The specific juxtapositions of different sounds
are not meticulously planned in advance. Instead Plaetner set the tape
recorders in motion with loops of different duration and permitted the
technology to play along like a kind of co-composer, since the overlappings of
the tape loops are constantly displaced into new constellations - a technique
that points directly forward to Steve Reich's electronic minimalist works It's Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966).
Nocturne seems to a
great extent to be a more traditional electronic work. Like much other
electronic music of the period it can be seen as an attempt to meet the public
halfway in the concert situation by involving live musicians - in this case a
flautist who plays live to the electronic tape music. According to Plaetner, Nocturne describes a night-time sea voyage. The faint,
glimmering lights on land are symbolically represented in the constant fade-ins
and fade-outs of the music, brightening up as one passes them.
Lovers was created in collaboration with the poet Poul Borum. The point of
departure was eight colour transparencies by the visual artist Helge Ernst, for
which Poul Borum wrote eight poems, including The
Lovers, which he subsequently himself recorded speaking, singing, whispering
and shouting. Then the voice was set with electronic sounds.
to Plaetner, the ‘pictorial' title Figures in water applies to
the forms and figures that appear in water in the spectrum between the dark
life of the bottom and the light-reflections of the surface - in other words an
alternation between the traditional foreground and background perspec-tive in
the pictorial world. There are sound--parallels with the muddy, obscure contours
and structures of the bottom, the gambolling of strange, fabulous animals among
the weeds, and recognizable objects that bob past between the sun flashes on
the ripples of the surface. At the overall level Figures
in water takes the form of a slow ascent through the frequency spectrum. Towards
the end, the tempo slows little by little and it is as if the waves fall calm
and the reflections on the water surface are gradually erased.
Hieronymus Bosch refers to the Netherlandish
Renaissance painter who lived in the second half of the fifteenth century, and
who has since disquieted the world with his profoundly strange, almost
surrealistic pictures of human excesses, in among other settings Hell,
Purgatory and Heaven. According to Plaetner the work tries to capture the
atmosphere of the old master's pictures with what to our time seems a complex
symbolic language. Perhaps this reference was established by Plaetner because
the sound-world of electronic music also offers the scope to create unreal
worlds; in this case a game with just one sound-source which tears at the
silence in ever-new variants of the same rhythmically insistent sound,
especially midway through the work, where the association with a hammer drill
(a Bosch, perhaps?) seems tempting.
Sonata for Tape Recorder refers to the classical
tradition's tripartite sonata structure. The work begins with a pulsating
beating sound which several times returns among other types of beating on
various materials and among diffuse, indeterminate sounds which to various
degrees are subjected to echo and ricochet effects. Despite the middle
passage's percussive demolition mood, most passages seem to be almost quiet
explorations of a variety of sound-worlds and spatial dimensions set in a suite
form. The work is also bound together by an ascending motion of frequencies
related to the one that can be heard in Figures in Water.
Alpha is the first composition in a
series of four works, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta (the last two have been lost) that Plaetner composed
in years 1962-63. Alpha is decidedly an exercise and constitutes a kind of acoustic DNA
material for several of Plaetner's other works. The piece begins with the sound
of nothingness in the form of static, low drones. Out of this void grows an
unreal universe of alien creatures - a kind of highly compacted auditive
parallel to evolution and the first million years of the history of the world.
Henrik Marstal and Henriette Moos, 2003