DIEM 25 Anniversary
11 October 2012
Morton Riis writes, "The story of DIEM (The Danish Institute of Electronic Music) is the story of 25 years of believing that the newest technology can move existing musical boundaries, create new sounds, new structures, and pioneer the development of the music of the future." Presented in a nice clamshell box and with very decent documentation, this release presents a wide selection of works produced at DIEM from 1987 to 2012. Other than Per Nørgård's truncated Årsfrise-91
these are all presented in their original form, and most will be unfamiliar, which is no great surprise as many of these pieces are released here for the first time.
By chance I happened to commence composition studies at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague in 1987, so I can vividly recall the electronic music facilities there at the time. Atari computers were the cutting edge, but for us untrained and intuitive types there was still a hands-on experimental feel to the whole thing which I embraced wholeheartedly for about a year. Tape cuttings on the floor and loops in procession around the entire studio, turning the old analogue acoustic chamber which was like a big radiator full of springs into something which sounded like an exploding atom bomb, pushing and pulling plugs and levers - those were the common activities which can never quite be emulated by the relatively easy and certainly more compact range of computers and equipment we use today. If your system has a glitch these days there's not much for it but to turn off, reboot and start again. Back in 1987 you immediately recorded your glitch and probably made a 20 minute piece out of it - the effect being one unlikely ever to be reproducible in a subsequent session.
There are many fascinating sounds to be heard on these two CDs, though tastes will vary and you'll have to be willing to allow your imagination free rein in some seriously abstract tracts. Daniel Rothman's Southwest Sky
is one such work, an airy and free-spirited collection of kaleidoscopic lines which suggest stars and space, or clouds and deathly isolation, depending on your mood and associations. This is from 1988, and a more interesting species of work than its recent predecessor, Jonas R. Kirkegaard's802, which is a disco drum beat which speeds and slows but does little else - something which would have been impressive in 1988, but which doesn't cut the mustard in 2012.
No doubt we did some pretty dreadful stuff in the 1980s and early 90s, but as ever with this kind of music, it's the mind behind the art rather than the means used to produce it which is its guardian of quality and lasting value. I know I'll be accused of having nostalgic preferences, but I sense a consistency and honesty in the microtonal explorations of Carl Bergstrøm Nielsen's Omdrejninger II
when put against the somewhat haphazard and softly bumbling Hypermodel
by Band Ane. The BBC's original ‘Hitch Hiker's Guide to The Galaxy' radio series had more interesting background music than this - bless the Radiophonic Workshop and all who sailed in her.
If seemingly random bumps and squeaks are your thing then Jonas Olesen/Morten Riis's Prim X
is an interesting collage of what sounds like a mixture of analogue and digital sources - minimal in their sculpting of shapes within a deep silence. Grander ambitions in Fuzzy's Electric Gardens
and Their Surroundings
send us into a world of richness whose cataclysmic opening and ‘gong' effects remind me of that literary advice, "start with an avalanche, and go on from there." This piece has connections with Morton Subotnik and the like - think of The Wild Bull
-and could probably have been a few minutes shorter, but it is still a grandiloquent and intensely energetic piece of work. Echoes of Frank Zappa mixed with one or other kind of acid is the order of the day in Puzzleweasel/Richard Devine's striking Mad Bonce
, but Per Nørgård has us more on the edge of our seats with the fascinating Årsfrise-91
, an extract from a multi-layered project originally conceived as Kalendermusik
, originally about 8 hours' worth of semi-autonomous electronic tone generators. They should release it as an MP3 file.
At last, humour, with a fairground feel given to the spoken word in Halfdan E. and the late Dan Turéll's Intro (Team Trash)
. I also like the concept of Wayne Siegel's Tunnel Vision
, which filters a multitude of sounds into a single, constantly changing note - as if heard through a tube-shaped seashell.
On to CD 2, and while Bjørn Svin's 7 circler I 1 matrix
has something of a doom-disco feel to it, the project is an interesting one, involving the re-mixing of a pioneering 1958 work, Syv cirkler(seven circles)
by Else Marie Pade.Michael Nyvang's impressive Collage IV
manipulates sounds sourced from a piano "to larger or smaller degrees beyond recognition"; a ‘Music for Virtual Orchestra' and a man after my own heart. An if anything more bizarre disconnect between the familiar into strangeness is Line Tjørnhøj-Thomsen's Lauria
, which works on the human voice in a way which can be disconcertingly animal, and can be both exquisitely expressive and painful at the same time. This piece has an attractively intuitive and literally tongue-in-cheek feel and is very much worth persisting with. Talking of animals, there are some pretty desperate sounding alien ones in the "overexposed panorama of ruins" in Hans Hansen's Passiacs Monumenter
, one of those real-time recorded works which either work well or not, and this one does.
I love the desperate cartoon world of Jørgen Teller's Sparklings
, which should be used as a soundtrack for the final episode of ‘Top Gear' when the BBC finally cancels the series. There's a minor typo on the sleeve of disc 2 which has two tracks marked as number 8. Birgitte Alsted's poetic Zu versuchen, die Fragen
on track 7 is filled with recorded sounds such as doors closing and creaking, and with its dense sense of mystery doesn't outstay its sixteen minutes of duration. Chilling nuances and nicely transformed noises also inhabit Sofus Forsberg's Homework
, which has an admirably surprising ending. The final track is Rasmus Lunding's On Learning How to Kill
, which is powerfully cinematic. The words in the piece are those of Lunding's father, who survived as a Jew in Denmark during WWII, smuggling German Jews and others into Sweden. The work's pacifist message is unmistakable, but by the end you know it is a standpoint which knows its own terrors.
This is a fascinating compilation of work from Denmark's DIEM studios, and with a majority of good work, a few terrific pieces and only a few duds, this is something which stimulates and educates. I would say it also entertains, but there are few moments to which I would apply this term, and this is a world which takes itself more seriously than not. This is not a closed and intolerant environment however, and there is an openness and eclecticism to many of these composer's approaches which allows for its own confluences and juxtapositions of influence and style; always something which gives rise to new avenues of discovery. If you want to know what happened in Denmark after the Yamaha DX7 was relegated to a dusty cupboard, this is a hot place to find out.