Review: Swedish Energies, Two Nights Celebrating Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) Stockholm at Cafe Oto

Sewer Election and Frederikke Hoffmeier at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Swedish Energies
(Cafe Oto, 8 and 11 March 2014. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), the studio’s director Mats Lindström and musician Joachim Nordwall co-curated a two-day season of remarkable sound events at Cafe Oto, following a similar one-day event in Paris.


Six performances ranging from crushing grind to cavalier turntable arts made for a packed Saturday night programme, finishing up with Cafe Oto favourites, Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore on an extreme noise/energy mission. In the interval there was a chance to visit a slide/tape presentation of Åke Hodell’s key stage work in Cafe Oto’s project space.

Ant Dickinson, resident at EMS for 2 weeks last year – courtesy of Sound and Music’s Embedded programme – set the tone with a Fluxus-inspired mix of live piano, electronic interventions and film based around the theme of the destruction of a piano, with images of a hammer hitting the keyboards, synched with corresponding crashes.

Vinyl Terror and Horror, the Danish turntable/electronics duo, Camilla Sørensen and Greta Christensen, had been resident at EMS in 2011. Their stage was a wonderfully Heath Robinson assembly of turntables, hi-tech and low-tech, some in wedding cake juxtaposition, one on top of another, with electronics boards and an array of battered and re-engineered vinyl. Working with the destructive potential of this quirky collection, they turned it in to an alarming creative force, with a constant stream of unpredictable and unexpected sonic fusions and lesions. The visceral experience of being in the epicentre of a dark, energy system was balanced by the quiet puttering of dripping water and the grinding of pick-ups extracting sound from near-randomly placed vinyl to give the performance a thrilling life of its own. The anarchic machine sculptor, Jean Tinguely would have loved it!

Paris-based saxophonist, Christine Abdelnour Sehnaoui has positioned herself in a personal, artistic space, acknowledging debts to Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann, even though she has said “I don’t feel like a musician. I see sound largely as a plastic material.” With Swedish sound creator, Joachim Nordwall, she achieved a delicate equilibrium of uncanny beauty, utilising the saxophone as a vehicle for the micro-controlled throughput and transformation of breath, Nordwall responding with low, rumbling analogue electronics.

Hanna Hartman
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Berlin-based Swedish performance artist with a recent EMS residency, Hanna Hartman multi-tasked in Dadaist spirit, with contact mics eliciting bubbling liquid sounds as she exhaled through coiled plastic tubes connected to flasks of water, supplemented by metallic vibrations as washers were released to shimmy down metal rods and thimbles scraped across a metal base. The performance verged on the unsettling, as she was rooted to the spot by the umbilical connections to the water containers, and her facial expressions reflected the stresses of these unusual self-imposed physical demands.

Dan Johansson (of Sewer Election) and Frederikke Hoffmeier (aka Puce Mary), a Swedish-Danish collaboration, brought to mind the uncompromising bass and vocal onslaughts, and unforgiving volume of the Swans. The room seemed destined to descend in to the bowels of the earth with rib-shattering force, as they lived up to their own bleak mission statement: ‘Simply static sound experiments for people willing to suffer.’

These were difficult acts for even Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore to follow, but that they did with gusto, mustering every ounce of energy to deliver an intense, adrenalin-driven sax, electronics and guitar sound wall. Light metallic jangling and a disarmingly raw sax blast set the groundwork for a febrile dialogue that had gutteral, braying tones blasted from the sax mixed with Moore’s feedback induced wails and in extremis slide guitar attack. Gustafsson switched from sax to unleash an electronic storm, as he wrestled with Moore’s relentless pummeling. It was a Sisyphus performance with a twist – somehow they managed to push the boulder up the hill, and rather than find it rolling back to defeat them, they found the space to jump off the edge of the cliff.


The second night, devoted to Ákos Rózmann’s two and a half hour epic electronic work, Images of the Dream and Death, realised by Mats Lindström, saw Cafe Oto’s space transformed as the consoles were located in the centre of the room and all the seats set out in concentric circles around them, facing outwards. In the darkened auditorium, with twelve strategically placed small speakers, and the house sub woofers, the sound quality was all-encompassing as mysterious semi-animal rooting sounds blended with metallic tones that gave the impression of being inside a gigantic coal bunker in a monumental and compelling flux of sound.

The two nights taken together in front of appreciative audiences gave well-deserved wider exposure to the work of a pioneering institution.

Swedish Energies was supported by Statens Musikverk

Categories: miscellaneous

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