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sten hanson | my approach to text-sound composition


Sten Hanson

(1936- ) made his appearance in the early sixties as an experimental poet and composer. From an early stage he was aware of the importance of tape-recording techniques in the renewal and development of poetry’s resources. Text-sound-visual image, often combined with intensely personal ‘live” performances, are vital ingredients in Sten Hanson’s artistic workmanship and he is ore of the forerunners in the field of multi-media art. His works include electro-acoustic pieces as well as instrumental and vocal compositions.

Sten Hanson plays an extremely active part in both Swedish and international musical life. He was head of the Fylkingen language group and responsible for the text-sound festivals that were held annually for several years and was also president of the Fylkingen society from 1982 to 1984. He is a member of ISCM, ICEM and the College compositeurs de GMEB, and has been president of the Society of Swedish Composers since 1984.

Sten Hansonmy approach to text-sound composition

During my earliest years as an artist much of my time was spent searching for an adequate form to express the experiences that I wanted to communicate. I was drawn to music and poetry but was dissatisfied with the limited expressive means available at that time. It seemed to me that the metaphorical larder of modernistic poetry was somewhat bare while the preoccupation of contemporary music with serialism’s abstract structuralism, its fascination for theoretical paperwork and its sectarian alienation of the audience was a sterile dead-end street.

Instead I felt a greater affinity with the visual arts. At the beginning of the sixties I spent quite a lot of time in Paris and became involved with the “Nouveaux Réalistes” , including Yves le Monochrome and Daniel Spoerri, François Dufrêne was there too and apart from painting he was also working on a sort of spontaneous sound-poetry. It was not a direction that interested me particularly but it showed me that I was not alone in my search for new paths. I was also introduced to the ‘Lettristes’ through their deputy leader Maurice Lemaitre but their arrogance and semi-fascist sectarianism repelled me from the very beginning.

During this period I also came in con tact with John Cage who was to have such a decisive influence, not so much through his works as through his attitude and artistic philosophy.

Apart from more traditional writing my own creative activity during the early sixties was directed towards the genres of happenings and instrumental theatre. At the same time I started experimenting with text-sound compositions–not a simple undertaking since I didn’t have access to a studio. I experimented with an old Tandberg tape-recorder which had three different speeds, thereby affording certain transposing possibilities. By placing a toothpick between the tape and the erasing head it was also possible to record several layers of voices or top of each other, a sort of polyphonic partwriting. Of course the technical quality left much to be desired and all these early experiments have since been discarded. In November ‘ 1 963, 1 made a first presentation of these ideas in the magazine “Rondo” in response to a questionnaire, and in consequence I discovered that Bengt Emil Johnson and Lars-Gunnar Bodin were also each absorbed with ideas that were similar to mine. In 1965 the Electronic Music Studio was opened in Stockholm and a little later the Fylkingen language group was formed which provided opportunities for more qualified studio work and also a forum where text-sound compositions could be presented.

My own underlying theory for the development of text-sound compositions during the experimental years can be summarized in the following points:

1. It was to be an intermedium between literature and music.

2. It should exploit the meaningful oral elements of the language, in other words the communicator inherent in the phoneme itself. the intonation, the expression and so or.

3. In contrast to written text several progressions could take place simultaneously, without necessarily running parallel.

4. The product should be presented in the form of a tape intended primarily for the media of radio and gramophone and not as a manuscript or score.

The trilogy frarp(e), Oips, OUHM, which came into being between 1969 and 1973, is the final result of my work with text-sound composition and makes full use of my ideas. Each piece consists of a series of linguistic progressions which are further developed in the studio to different levels of abstraction. At any one time the original recorded phoneme can always be heard together with four or six adapted versions of the same sound progression. In the trilogy a transition from more literary means of expression – fnarp(e) – to purely musical means -OUHM – is apparent. The intermediary Gilds revolves around elementary oral expressions that are a result of strong mental or physical impressions (including different degrees of physical contact). Since the trilogy was completed I have only worked sporadically with text-sound compositions. Instead I have been more involved in other expressive mediums, especially in music. Sten Hanson source

Sten Hanson on Firework Edition Records