In light of its central role in the artistic project of the most well known Norwegian composer after Edvard Grieg, surprisingly little is written about Arne Nordheim's electronic music. Apart from a handful of texts from different album covers, not much text exists about this music1. Nordheim's electronic music is central, not only because of the large number of works, but also in terms of being strongly formative for Nordheim’s remaining body of works. The regular work in the electronic music studio gave Nordheim direct sonorous experiences, which later materialized in his acoustic music. This is apparent in central artistic aspects such as the work with time, timbre and text; aspects that are recurrent throughout all of Nordheim’s works.
Writing about classical electronic music is not necessarily easy. The literature on contemporary classical music may be sparse, but if we look away from the technical specialist literature, the literature on electronic contemporary music is almost nonexistent. There exists no documentation of musical thinking and working methods in the form of scores. Any analysis of the music must be based on listening and computer-assisted analysis.
After a review of the literature on Nordheim combined with listening and computer-assisted spectrum analysis, an outline of this music starts to emerge. A music that is unique, also in an international context. In this music, a basically romantic conception is combined with the central tendencies of electronic music. The strength of this music lies precisely in the problem with linking it to a particular school. It can be said with a partially transformed Dylan Thomas quote from an interview with Nordheim himself: "An artist's position is to fall between several chairs", and with my work, I must add: "- which at least one should be electric."2
In search of a concrete music
The story of Arne Nordheim's electronic music can be traced back to the ISCM festival in Oslo in June 1953. Admittedly not to Nordheim, but to Ingrid Fehn3 and the mentioning of the Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts utopian ideas about electronic music. Fehn could sense that something was about to happen, but it was not until the next year when she found Pierre Schaeffer's book A la Recherche d'une Musique Concrete (In search of a concrete music) in a bookstore in Casablanca, that her interest really was ignited. She took the book with her on a several month long stay in the Sahara desert, and continued with studies of this music in Paris. Back in Norway she mediated this new music with great enthusiasm to the young composer Arne Nordheim4, including a private concert with Pierre Henry that she produced in the concert hall of NRK, the Norwegian public service broadcaster, in early 19555. Nordheim experienced the music as a shock, and as he himself said "I thought it was hideous."6 But the interest in these new, unknown timbres had stuck and in 1955 Nordheim followed the course Means and Opportunities in Paris. Here he made the acquaintance of both working methods and aesthetics in musique concrète, and back home in Norway the first experiments with electronic music began. In an interview with Nordheim in the newspaper VG7 from October 1956, he expressed his scepticism for both electronic music and modernism. But already in 1957 Nordheim conducts an expert lecture on sound engineering with the radio program "Om å bevare lyd" (On preserving sound)8.
We can find Nordheim's earliest work with electronic music in connection with several radio plays produced for NRK, in the period 1960-1973. The story about the work at NRK is well documented on the CD The Nordheim Tapes released in 2008 by NRK and the The Norwegian Society of Composers. Gradually Nordheim incorporated tapes in major works such as the ballet Katharsis (1962) and especially the orchestral work Epitaffio (1963).
In 1965 Nordheim was invited to the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, with the piece Epitaffio. Here he contacted the director of the Polish radio, presented his electronic pieces, and was immediately invited back to work in Polish radios Studio Eksperymentalne10. Through the years of work and experimentation in NRK, Nordheim had learned the studio craft so that when he came to Studio Eksperymentalne, he was well prepared to realize his compositional ideas in collaboration with the Polish engineers. And it was here, in the work at Studio Eksperymentalne, that Arne Nordheims characteristic electronic music would begin to crystallize.
Nordheim was deeply fascinated by the new Polish composers such as Penderecki and Lutoslawski. This combined with the good reputation of the Studio Eksperimentalne, and the invitation from the Warsaw Autumn, was probably the main reasons for him wanting to work in Warsaw.
Nordheim returns to Stockhausen, and specifically Kontakte (1960) as an electronic work he especially appreciated in several interviews. The experience of the slow, large space that characterizes much of Kontakte is something we find in several of Nordheim's electronic works. But even though many of the sonorous elements of Stockhausen and the Cologne school can be found in Nordheim's electronic music, there are other sources that are more prominent.
Nordheim relation to Mahler's music is widely discussed, but in his electronic music the traces of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Ligeti and musique concrète are more obvious. These composers’ large textures of sound combined with the working methods of concrete music are central to Nordheim's electronic music, and somewhere in the borderlands between Atmpospheres’ slowly evolving, nuanced timbres, and the materials of musique concrète, we can find much of the essence of Nordheim's electronic music. This is also evident in how Nordheim reviews music by a composer like Penderecki with associations to both orchestral music and concrete music with the words "the feeling of passing from a Bruckner symphony to metal sounds"12.
But maybe just as important as the traces of other composers is personal experiences assimilated into his electronic music. Nordheim returns several times back to an experience of 8 May 1945, when he as a young boy was set to ring the church bells to announce the liberation of Norway in his hometown of Larvik13. If this actually was such a formative experience as described by Nordheim himself is difficult to say, but it is certainly true that in many parts of Nordheim's electronic music, he often used bell-like sounds.
Nordheim is supposed to have summarized some of the basic motifs in his music the words loneliness, death, love and landscape14 and these romantic motifs are easy to trace in the choice of texts. Quasimodos text for Epitaffio, Rilkes poem Todeserfahrung for Wirklicher Wald, Dante's Divina Commedia for Aurora and Shakespeare's text for The Tempest; these are just some of the many texts that operate within these core subjects. These motifs also return in his electronic works. We can, for example, find both solitude and death in Baudelaire's text used in the piece Solitaire.
To get deeper into the electronic music of Arne Nordheim, it is essential to look at his works produced in Warsaw in the years 1967-1970. Let us go back to the spring of 1968 and the premiere of Warszava, Nordheim’s first pure electronic work written for concert use, produced in Studio Eksperymentalne.
Warszawa was premiered at the Bergen International Festival 28 May 1968 together with the live electronic piece Colorazione. It has not been possible to find when Warsaw was composed, but it is certainly the piece that was performed first out of the four pure electronic works from the Warsaw Period.
According to the composer, Warszawa consists of "records on tape of the sounds I lived with in Studio Eksperymentalne."15 Thus this is a form of diary entries, and as in a diary the work was constantly changing as new sounds were discovered and added. Here was the experience of working with the material to the installation Ode til lyset16, Solitaire, Colorazione, television, film and theatrical music, mixed with fragments of archival material from Polish radio and nursery rhymes. This sonic diary is also, according to the composer written "with a certain respect for the chronology." Should you take him literally, one can hear the musical development from the time he arrives in Warsaw in 1966, and until the piece is finished in spring 1968.
More than just being a documentation of the work in Studio Eksperymentalne, Warszawa bear signs of where it is written, both the time and place. It is as if personal experiences have been deposited in the work itself. Warsaw and Poland was strongly marked by World War II and the subsequent Soviet-controlled communist regime. Poland lost the highest percentage of its population during World War II. Two of the worst concentration camps, Treblinka and Auschwitz were located in Poland. Eighty percent of all buildings in Warsaw were in ruins after World War II. The Soviet Union installed a new Communist government after World War II, and Poland thus became a central part in the Cold War until the fall of communism.
There was great unrest elsewhere in Europe too. At the time when Warszawa was premiered in Bergen, the student uprising took place in Paris and only a few months later, when Nordheim was on his way home from Warsaw to Oslo to the premiere of Solitaire, he met with soldiers everywhere along the roads on their way to Czechoslovakia17.
But Poland was still seen as one of the less repressive Eastern Bloc states, and without doubt one of the more interesting places in terms of new music. Many have interpreted the political situation in this aggressive sounding work, but for Nordheim, it is more about sonorous memories. As he himself says, "I [have] merged all of these sounding events into a musical statement without urgent meaning. But Warsaw is there, I think, audible in the shock, the poetry and the silence."18
Voices, contrasts and instrumental music
In Warszawa, we can hear for the first time many of the techniques, working methods and musical ideas that characterize much of Nordheim's electronic music. These are things such as human voices and large-scale contrasts of timbre, as well as models from instrumental music. Warszawa is clearly influenced by the musique concréte tradition, and various sonorous treatments of concrete sounds are the most prominent technique. The most obvious parallel to this music is perhaps Xenakis' various tape pieces from the same period, works such as Concret PH (1958), Orient-Occident (1960), Bohor (1962) and La Légende d'Eer (1977). Large masses of concrete sounds in slow transformation as found in the latter part of Warszawa are very similar to the slow metamorphoses of the material e.g. in Xenakis' Concret PH.
But these slowly evolving masses of sound, does of course not only come from musique concrete and Xenakis. One might just as well find traces of contemporary timbre oriented composers like Ligeti, Penderecki and Lutoslawski. These large orchestral timbres also find their way into Nordheim's electronic music and it is this fusion of orchestral sonorous surfaces and methods from musique concrete, we hear for the first time in Warszawa.
The piece starts with a half minute long downward glissando, consisting of intense concrete sounds. The mass of descending tones, voices and broken glass, gradually disappears into space and out of the sound field. This explosion of concrete sound is followed by a part that sonically speaking is close to instrumental music. A dense sound surface closely related to the sound of a tam-tam and a church organ, is slowly transformed before it all ends in a glissando once more.
It is at the end of this introductory section, that the relationship with instrumental music really emerges. Out of the heavily distorted and intense mass of concrete sound, a B-minor chord is presented. All four electronic works from the Warsaw period contains tonal elements, but nowhere is it as obvious as it is in Warszawa. The tonal element is repeated throughout the entire composition and is one of the main formal principles.
An analysis19 of the spectrum of the piece shows that tonal elements are repeated throughout the entire composition. A sonorous surface dominated by B minor, a more non-harmonic timbre, a new sound surface related to the previous one but centred around a G sharp and mainly dominated by octaves and fifths, a new B minor chord, two B minor chords two octaves down and finally two new sound surfaces centred around a G sharp. The pitches in brackets are pitches of low amplitude or pitches that for other reasons are not perceived as very dominant.
These tonal elements that revolves around the pitches B and G sharp at a distance from each other of a minor third, dominates the composition until the middle of the piece. They are then followed by another element that also will reoccur in all the electronic works of the Warsaw period, namely the human voice. First, in the form of short vocal fragments, then as a filtered ring modulated voice-like sounds located far away in space, eventually to emerge as what it actually is, a nursery rhyme.
Simultaneously with this gradual unveiling of the voice material, a different situation that is recurrent in Nordheim's electronic production is presented; small fragments of sound set against a large sound surface. There have been signs of this earlier in the piece, but now it is clearer and the texture is gradually intensified. This is a technique that's going to be central in a more refined form in Nordheim's next electronic work Solitaire. This tonal sound surface centred around a G sharp and mainly dominated by octaves and fifths, gradually disappears, and slow transformations of sound fragments dominates the last two minutes of Warszawa.
Sound is mingled with light
Should one take the composer's statement literally, concerning that the sounding diary that make up Warszawa is written with a certain respect for its chronology, Warszawa would stop where Solitaire begins. And that is exactly what happens. But where Warszawa consists of diary entries from the daily work in Studio Eksperymentalne, Solitaire is to a much greater extent a cultivation of a compositional idea. Solitaire was also according to Nordheim "the first real piece I made in a studio”20.
Solitaire for electronic sounds and lighting design was written for the opening of the Henie Onstad Art Centre in Norway, on 23 August 1968. The idea behind the art centre was that it should be interdisciplinary, something Nordheim also wanted to reflect through linking the composition to text and light.
The text is Charles Baudelaire's Les Bijoux (The Jewels) from the collection Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of evil), a text in the transition between Romanticism and Symbolism published in 1857. Nordheim had admired Baudelaire for a long time, something he expressed in an article in the newspaper Dagbladet, already in 1955.21 It was the line "I passionately love, all things in which sound is mingled with light." that initially inspired Nordheim.22 With this as a starting point, Nordheim wanted to use the voice as raw material. At the same time, the different parameters of the voice were used as control mechanisms. In this way he could create a whole new linguistic world, a meta-world where music and language merged.
The poem belongs to that part of the collection that at one time was banned in France because of sexual moral reasons, a ban that was not repealed until 1949. In Les Bijoux Baudelaire makes a decadent and highly erotic description of a female body only wearing jewellery. This harem-like woman, half innocence, half temptress, is transformed in the poet's mind to a hermaphroditic hybrid, "the hips of Antiope put on a boy's body", and the poem ends with the woman's skin being soaked in blood. This romantic conception is closely related to Nordheim’s central motifs, but perhaps just as important as the poem's decadent eroticism and death romanticism, are the sonorous references. The second stanza reads:
When it dances and flings its lively, mocking sound,
This radiant world of metal and of gems
Transports me with delight; I passionately love
All things in which sound is mingled with light.
Large parts of the poem contain such sonorous references. Nordheim wanted the music to reflect the timbres in the text, and made a systematic overview of the sonorous properties. And concrete metal sounds as they are described in the poem, were exactly what he used as the starting point for Solitaire. In addition to this comes the processed female voice reading the poem. The word Solitaire is taken from the poem's sixth stanza and carries the reference to the jewellery. Solitaire is the name of the most naked diamond mounting, where all sides are open and sparkles when the light is broken. But it can also be translated as loneliness and thus makes it open to an interpretation of loneliness and alienation, both in Baudelaire's poems and in the musical landscape.
Lit pieces of mirrors were attached to a series of small electric motors in the ceiling of the Henie Onstad Art Centre at the premiere of the piece. The motors started and stopped according to a system of signals. In this way, the glitter and the metal from the text also appeared in the lighting.23 Of course there are opportunities for at least a third layer of interpretation. The ice skating princess Sonia Henie, which was one of the founders of the museum, can represent both loneliness and the glittering, decadent and glamorous jewels.
Sonorous surfaces and fragments
Solitaire begins where Warszawa ends, with small fragments of sound set against a large sonorous surface. Also this time, the sonorous surface has a somewhat tonal character dominated by octaves, and is made up of harmonic partials with the fundamental C1 (55 Hz). Against this large sonorous surface, small metallic fragments of sound are placed in a high register. These fragments of sound have a tonal character, and consist of a major chord centred around a C8 (4252 Hz). These pitches are also related to the harmonic series to the pitch C, and interpreted in this way, one can say that both the sonorous surface and the fragments of sound is made up of material from two different harmonic series. Once again, the tonal elements have a distance between each other of a minor third, but the big distance in register, combined with the harmonic aspect makes it less prominent. The upper partials in the sound surface are gradually removed to provide more space for the metallic sound fragments, for then to return again when the timbre is intensified towards the end of this part.
Illustration of the introduction to Solitaire, about one and a half minutes into the composition. This shows three layers: the sonic surface dominated by octaves (I), metallic fragments of sound in a high register (II), as well as a soft layer of sound fragments (III) placed in the background, creating perspective through a kind of echo effect. The pitches are for convenience notated as tempered pitches, whereas the time stamp is accurate.
"This wonderful world of metals and stones"
The timbre is intensified toward the end of the first section, and is then replaced by a deep frequency noise spectrum with a steady pulse. This pulse is gradually fragmented and assumes an ever more organic phrasing. Eventually, fragments of human voice timbres appear with the same phrasing as the noise spectrum and we understand that the organic phrasing has been created by the voice all along. This voice material also returns towards the end of the piece, but it is never so distinct that we can actually comprehend whole sentences or words. The voices remain as linguistic fragments. Here we can find obvious parallels to the series of electronic works centred around language and voices that were produced in the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di Radio Milano by composers such as Berio, Maderna and Nono. Particularly evident is the parallel to Berio’s systematic examination of a Joyce text that he did together with Umberto Eco in the classic tape piece Thema - omaggio a Joyce (1958). Nordheim have later expressed great admiration for the voice in this piece, Cathy Berberian, and Aurora (1983) for four vocal soloists, crotales and tape, was dedicated to Berberian.
This signal path is, according to Nordheim's sound engineer Mats Claesson24 one of Nordheim's most widely used techniques and we can hear it in the second section of Solitaire. A sound source, eg. a church bell or a voice (audio I) is being sonically transformed through traditional techniques such as tape transposition, ring modulation and filtering and is then sent into a so-called gate. The amplitude of sound source nr two (sound II), eg. a voice, opens and close the transformed sound from sound source number one. In this way, one takes the characteristics of one sound object and transfers it on to another. There are many variations of this signal path.
This section is succeeded by two parts, which also gives associations to the "wonderful world of metal and stones" in the text. Firstly one part consisting of intense sounds made up of prepared metal sounds, and then a second section where the in-harmonic, bell-like partials of metal is explored in slow transformations. A short loop leads to the piece’s final section where voices, metallic sound fragments and the initial sonorous surface dominated by octaves, is returning to finally fade out in the same way that the lamp's flame dies in the last stanza of Baudelaire's poem.
The intrinsic musical substance of words
It would take two years for the completion of Nordheim's next tape piece Pace (peace), commissioned by Polish Radio with a world premiere in Warsaw 21 September 1970. This time, Nordheim wanted to investigate "the sonic singularities that lay hidden in the human voice”25, something he had discovered together with his assistant Eugeniusz Rudnik during the work on Solitaire. Sonically Pace seems more well-produced than the previous two works, and it may seem as if Nordheim and the engineers in Studio Eksperymentalne had refined the studio craft during the two years that had elapsed since the last time.
The textual basis is the second article of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the part that starts with:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The text is read out by three different voices; a child, a woman and a man. In Solitaire the voice was taking part in the piece as a sonic element even if the listener was not able to extract semantic information from the material. In Pace, however, the voice is only present as structural material and the treatments are so extensive that we no longer hear the original voice. But since the sonic qualities and phrasings of the voice are controlling the musical processes in the piece, the text is still there, albeit in a less direct and more ambiguous manner. Here inside the text, there is an area where sound and meaning converge. Nordheim compares this abstraction with the use of text in traditional polyphonic vocal music as we find it with e.g. Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach and Schoenberg, where you do not have any "unambiguous semantic pleasure of words and meaning”.26 But even if the direct semantic understanding is gone, the text nevertheless is important as an inspiration and conceptual basis for the piece. As Nordheim himself says: "Common to Eco, Solitaire and Pace is that they never would have come into existence if I would have used the telephone directory as the starting text.”27
Nordheim was interested in the smallest constituents of language, the phonemes, and was intrigued by the idea of being able to go into the sound and isolate these tiny particles that he called the "basic elements of language." Nordheim looked at these as timbres, while they at the same time were carrying the message of the composer. Here, language was born and inside each of these particles there was meaning, something which Nordheim himself claimed he had brought out both in Solitaire and Pace.28 In the case of Pace, where the human voice controlled all the timbres, all language became singing language.
Norwegian musicologist Kjell Skyllstad has pointed out that Nordheim's desire to give a linguistic expressivity to music may have had its roots in Greek music philosophy. Nordheim was occupied by Greek culture, so this is not an unlikely thought. Skyllstad points to the fact that in Greek culture, ideas are not independent of language, and in the Greek verses, music and poetry was one. In the human community the word does not exist as writing, but only as a sounding words. The word also requires a fixed structure. The Greek word had an intrinsic musical substance and the musical rhythmic structure was already established in the language.29
Chiming with electronic bells
Voices are thus central to Pace, and the piece begins with an intense and aggressive noisy sonorous fabric where we can glimpse the remains of filtered vowels and consonants. This is followed by a noise spectrum that is phrased by a voice, just as we know it from the second part of Solitaire. A high-pitched hissing sound appears to be gliding downwards as a Shepard tone30, in an endless downward motion, and then gradually assume a bell-like timbre.
The illustration shows a frequency analysis of Pace from about 1.5 minutes into the composition. A high-pitched hissing sound appears to be gliding as a Shepard tone in an endless downward movement.
This chiming with electronic bells adapts the phrasing of the voice material through the use of a so-called filter bank. What sets the filter bank apart from the "gate" signal path in Solitaire is that it is the voice's sonorous characteristics itself, that is controlling the final result. Here we are perhaps even deeper inside the area of the text "where sound and meaning converge”. The language and semantics are broken down and thus the bells timbre appears.
In Pace Nordheim uses a so-called filter bank. Several band pass filters, ten in this example, filters the sound at different frequencies. Sound is emitted through depending on whether the sound has energy in the respective frequency ranges or not. In this way, for instance a voice sound can activate different filters depending on various consonants and vowels. If the frequency range of the filter is narrow enough it will in practice let through a tone instead of the filtered sound. Nordheim has, in this example from a little over three minutes into Pace, tuned the filter mainly in thirds. In this way he achieves the bell-like timbres of the piece. The pitches are written as tempered pitches while the frequencies in Hz are exact.
The illustration shows the result from the filter bank from a little over three minutes into Pace and continued for eleven seconds. Notice how the various consonants, vowels and linguistic phrasing shape the material in organic phrasing between the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th second. The pitches are notated as tempered pitches while the time stamp is accurate.
In the example, the filter bank is mainly tuned in thirds. Also in those sections where the filter bank is tuned in other intervals we are still talking about chords and harmonies that evoke associations with tonality and instrumental music.
This bell-like, partially tonal, sonic fabric is gradually broken down until only a few pitches are left. This is then transformed into a noise spectrum, which then is expanded into a bubbling sound surface consisting of in-harmonic, filtered grains of sound. This surface of sound is intensified over the second half of the piece, and then suddenly cut off, just as quickly as Pace began.
A continuous duration of a little more than 102 years
Prior to the premiere of Pace Nordheim had completed another electronic work, the multimedia installation Poly-Poly. The piece was made for the Scandinavian Pavilion at EXPO 70 in Osaka, Japan. Poly-Poly was exhibited for half a year, from 15 March to 13 September 1970.
Its starting point as an installation distinguishes this work from the three other electronic works in this period. The many versions of the piece might point to the difficulties of transferring the music from the sound space of the multi media installation to a musical composition in linear time. According to the work list, the piece exists in several versions. The first is of course the installation Poly-Poly (1970), followed by the concert version Lux et tenebrae (1971) which is 21 minutes and 48 seconds long, and Fem Osaka-biter (1973) which is slightly shorter (17:06 p.m.). There is also a version that is named Poly-Poly (1979) and judging after the length (21:43), this is Lux et tenebrae only with a new title. In addition to this, there is the slightly shorter (12:05) seven-channel version from 2007, realized by Mats Claesson, which Nordheim named Alter luft.
The installation Poly-Poly consists of six repetitive tracks of varying lengths. These six tracks were mixed together or split up, and then played back over 36 different speakers facing in different directions in space, where at the same time, a slide show "of man's attack on the environment”31 took place. Poly-Poly was a large format multi-media installation. The composer explains it this way:
On six tape cartridges a sounding material of various lengths, classes and degrees of intensity are stored. The materials difference in time combined with the fact that the six tape cartridges are fed with tapes of different lengths, results in the fact that a planned return to the beginning of the piece will occur after a continuous duration of a little more than 102 years.32
The installation Poly-Poly consists of six repeating tapes of varying lengths that coincides after a little over 102 years.
The piece is dedicated to John Cage, its "conditio sine qua non”33, and the parallel to Cage is perhaps more concrete than one might think. Both the random element and the working method are closely related to Cage. Cage produced a series of electronic works in which tapes of various lengths would start at different times. In this way, Cage wanted to make his tape music less fixed. This includes works such as Williams Mix (1953), Fontana Mix (1958), Rozart Mix (1965) and Mozart Mix (1991). Cage obviously went further than Nordheim in removing himself from traditional composition, and e.g. Fontana Mix exists both as finished realized tapes, but also as "instructions" in the form of various sheets of paper and transparencies that together constitutes possible strategies for combining sounds for a finished piece. Nordheim however, chose the same way as Stockhausen and Boulez, a middle ground where he opened up to chance, while at the same time, many of the artistic choices were still taken by the composer.
This play with repetitive elements, is also evident in the concert version. The piece begins with a theme that recurs throughout Poly-Poly:
The Poly-Poly theme. Pitches are tempered, the time stamp is accurate.
This theme is repeated throughout the piece and serves as a reminder of the repetitive origins of the composition. Nordheim himself describes this as "a distinct musical signal [that] forces itself out of the sounding masses. It creates a brief moment of a rondo-like order and provides the associations with a well-deserved rest.”34 Memorables was a Nordheims own term, which he used for this type of recurrent and recyclable material. But this term could also be interpreted in a broader sense to include the network of connections and memories throughout Nordheim’s own production as well as throughout cultural history itself.35
If we look at Poly-Poly and measures36 the distance between each time the theme enters, we see that it occurs at regular intervals. It is about 3 minutes and 5-13 seconds between each time except the last time when it is 2.5 minutes between the last two times it is repeated. In addition to these long time intervals, the theme is repeated in a shorter interval of approximately 33.8 seconds each time it occurs.
Graphical representation illustrating the occurence of the Poly-Poly theme. The distance between the short intervals are always the same, about 33.8 seconds, while the distance between the longer intervals vary slightly, but not much. The exception is the last long interval, which is considerably shorter than the previous ones.
From this we can assume that one of the tape cartridges had a length of about 3 minutes and 10 seconds before it repeated itself, and that the short time interval of 33.8 seconds was composed onto the tape. The small variations of a couple of tenths of a second in the short time interval are likely due to imperfections in the analogue playback equipment. The larger differences in the long time intervals is probably due to compositional choices made when the sound was to be transferred from the installation media to the concert version.
Light and darkness
The repetitive character created by the constantly recurring theme is not the only thing that separates Poly-Poly from the other electronic works in this period. Where Nordheim in the other pieces is dealing with specific compositional problems through abstract electronic sounds, it is as if he opens up to the entire world of sounds in Poly-Poly’s vast variety of sound sources.
The six tape cartridges that accounted for the materials of the installation were organized in different lengths, classes and degrees of intensity. Tape No. 1 consists of only electronic sounds, while Tape No. 6 includes everyday sounds. The four tapes between these two extremes contains "electronically processed sounds, concrete sounds that exists in the borderland between memory and new discoveries”37 Nordheim have thus created a continuum of sound from everyday sounds via electronically treated concrete sounds into pure electronic sounds. Within this continuum there is room for all the associative sounds that we have not heard in Nordheim’s previous electronic production.
Man is well represented with the crying of infants, children's voices, male and female voices, and the intensity varies from slight whisper and coughing, to dictators and angry crowds. Humans, language and text are also included as symbols in the form of typewriters and radio broadcasts. Nine minutes into Poly-Poly a brief comment in Norwegian suddenly appears, ”ja, sku’kke den være fin ´a?” (“well, wouldn’t that one be nice?”). Is it the composer that enters here, commenting on the work in the same way that Stockhausen did three years earlier in Hymnen (1967)?
Music quotations are also present in the form of accordion, willow flute, piano, children’s choir, voice exercises, old phonograph records, as well as an orchestra tuning up. Field recordings in the form of carts, a cash register, gun shots, machine-gun fire, and sewing machines gives the installation additional room for interpretation.
At the other end of the spectrum are the purely electronic sounds. Here are the sounds, which we know from Nordheim’s other electronic works in this period; tonal sound surfaces, metallic percussive textures, electronic bell sounds and grainy and electronic sound textures. But there is also a new element here; fragmented electronic sounds with the rapid shifts that bring to mind the serially constructed spectrums and structures of the Cologne school.
Between these two extremes, between sewing machines and electronic sound structures, are various stages of recognizable materials. Synthetic bird sounds, electronic sounds that slowly transformed into humans, ring modulated children's voices and percussion-like electronic sounds. These sounds in the "mid-range" are often in continuous transformation from one sound to another. This diversity of material between extremes of sound, light and darkness - Lux et tenebrae, opens up for a wealth of possible associations.
Time is an important aspect of Poly-Poly. Not only in the form of the work's length of just over 102 years, but also in the form of sound symbols. Electronic clockworks, alarm clocks, electronic bell timbres, morse code, and repetitive electronic patterns are strongly present in the sound. The sound of old and new radio stations serve as "time portals". The use of repetitive patterns, phase shifts and loops is evident in the sound, and brings associations to late 60s tape pieces by Steve Reich, such as It's Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966).
In other words, Poly-Poly joins the series of Nordheim's pieces where working with time is essential. Nordheim had already used the technique of repetitive tape loops of varying length in the installation Ode til lyset (1968), where photo sensors triggered sounds from two tape loops that sent the sound to the thirteen speakers of the sculpture. But also in works with live electronics such as in Colorazione (1968), Minnebobler (1972) and Partita für Paul (1985), this form of mechanical time is essential.
For Nordheim, the mechanical, repetitive relationships that he uncovered in these electronic works were something that he linked to the feeling of time in early polyphony. Just as the material of the music was stretched out in time through complex forms of repetition in the organum compositions by 12th and 13th century composers such as Pérotin and Leonin, Nordheim too stretched out the different layers of repetitive sound material over time. Thus we can in many ways draw a direct line from the organum compositions’ use of cantus firmus to Nordheim's use of repetitive sound patterns.
These attempts to create a form of infinite time were also connected with other conceptual parts of Nordheim's works. There is a connection between this sense of time, the longing for eternity and the awareness of death that we find, among other places, in Nordheim’s selection of texts. For Nordheim, this was an old European humanist attitude. Through our unique relationship with time, the fact that we as humans are the creatures who are the most conscious that we only exist physically in a short period of time, and then we are gone. As mentioned earlier, we find this in many of Nordheim’s selection of texts, for example in the Rilke poem Todeserfahrung in Wirklicher Wald, where death stands as a constant measure of time on earth.38
The foundation of language
The story of Arne Nordheim's electronic music does not end with Poly-Poly. After this follows a number of works for electronics and instruments such as the television piece Forbindelser (1975), the ballet music for Stormen (1979), the radiophonic work Nedstigningen (1980), Aurora (1983), Partita für Paul (1985), The Return Of The Snark (1987), Nidaros (1997) and 5 Kryptofonier ( 2005). In addition to this are several revised versions of earlier electronic works.
Aurora was realized by Rolf Enström at EMS in Stockholm, and Mats Claesson became Nordheim permanent technician from the beginning of the 1980s. First at the Henie Onstad Art Centre and then at the Norwegian academy of music. In addition to this, Nordheim worked with the engineer Sigurd Saue at NTNU in Trondheim. Nordheim was skeptical of the commercial developments in music technology during the 80s, a development he, rightly so, meant went in the direction of the readily digested solutions with no room for problem orientation39. At the same time, he was fascinated by the new possibilities for analysis in digital technology, and its ability to penetrate deep into a sound, especially the phonemes in the timbre of language, which he returns to in several interviews.40 Nordheim puts it this way in an interview from 2000:
Sound analysis is exciting [..]. There one has come far, especially in France, where one has developed certain programs that makes it possible to enter and isolate small particles. The foundation of language, the phonemes - the small ones that are only sounds, but still bearing the message that the composer may be in possession of.41
It is most likely software for frequency analysis with FFT techniques Nordheim is referring to. The interesting thing is that Nordheim not only see this as a tool for acoustic understanding, but also as an opportunity to combine the smallest sonorous elements of sound with an artistic message.
Most of the pieces for instruments and electronics from this period are recorded on disc, and the CD Dodeka (2003), released on Rune Grammofon, documents much of the work of pure electronic music that Nordheim did during the 80s and 90s. The twelve pieces on Dodeka are according to the composer himself, among his favourites and contains material from both the Warsaw period and later works, often mixed together on the same track. Here we hear Nordheim adopting new techniques such as digital frequency modulation on Hovering, or digital additive synthesis on Awaiting.42
From small areas of electronic music
The work with electronic music made significant imprints on Nordheim’s instrumental music. Nordheim looked at his early works with electronic parts, such as Katharsis (1962) and Epitaffio (1963), as key stations in his own development.
In the orchestral works Floating (1970) and Greening (1973), which came in the wake of the purely electronic pieces from the Warsaw period, one can hear that the sonorous thinking has changed.
The timbres he had previously imagined, but was not able to realize, he now could make through what he called "small areas of electronic music”.43 This could be things such as free combinations of sonic material and displacements of the spectral relationship in the sound. Through audio tapes seemingly endless resolution in time combined with an unlimited number of simultaneous layers, different timbers could now be combined and experimented in a way that was not possible in instrumental music. Sonorous displacements of the partial relationship in the sound through audio engineering equipment such as ring modulators and filters provided opportunities for a new type of work inwards into the sound.
These sonorous principles were transferred gradually from the electronic music to instrumental music; he simply expanded the ability to create satisfying timbres. The infinite sizes to the sonic surfaces are also something that Nordheim took with him into his instrumental music. In Floating and Greening, we find gigantic sonic surfaces consisting of up to 70 voices.
Another aspect from electronic music that would have much to say for Nordheim's instrumental music was the work with time. From the long, mechanical, electronic delay in Colorazione (1968) to the six independent tape loops in Poly-Poly. All these were elements that we find in the scores of Floating and Greening, where sound surfaces occurred when melodies gradually shifted in time relatively to each other.
This newly acquired knowledge is not limited to only these two orchestral works. We may in fact hear the extended sensibility of timbre and feeling of time in large parts of Nordheim’s production.
Timbre and meaning
Electronic music was central in Arne Nordheim’s production. From early meetings with musique concrète in the 50's, through the Warsaw period, to the interest for computer-aided sound analysis in the 90's and the 2000's.
Encounters with the new Polish music combined with formative experiences, made early imprints in the electronic music. Already in Warsaw, we find many of the key aspects of Nordheim's electronic music, tonality, contrasts, sound surfaces, language, text and human voices.
The work with text has a particularly central role in both the acoustic and electronic works. In Solitaire and Pace a meta-world is formed, the semantic meaning has given way to an area where sound and meaning converge. The boundaries of both time and timbres collapses in Poly-Poly, and an "infinite time" is combined with a broad continuum of sound. All these ideas are concepts that Nordheim brings with him in his work with electronic and acoustic music. There is no doubt that the years in Studio Eksperymentalne from 1967 and throughout the 1970s had left a deep impression in the music of one of Norway’s most important composers.
This is a corrected version of the article that was originally published in the journal Lydskrift, No. 1 2012.
Arne Nordheim's electronic music, list of works.
This list of Arne Nordheim's electronic music is by no means complete, but nevertheless provides an overview of Nordheim's electronic production from the early 60s until the middle of the 2000s. The list of works is based on the detailed list of works from 199144, as well as the website www.arnenordheim.com
Lux et tenebrae (1971), concert version of the installation Poly-Poly45
Releases with various electronic works
Dodeka (2003) CD, Rune Grammofon
The Nordheim Tapes (2008) CD, NRK/Aurora
Installations, incidental music, film music, performance and mixed techniques46
Den lille prinsen (1961) Music for a radio drama. Instrumental and electronic sounds47
Katharsis (1962) ballet for large ensemble and tape
På sporet (1963) Music for a documentary film. Instrumental and electronic sounds48
Evolution (1967) electro-acoustic music to images by Rolf Aamot48
Ode til lyset (1968) electro-acoustic music to a sculpture by Arnold Haukeland
Peer Gynt (1969) electronic stage music
Pausesignal (1970), pause signal for intermissions in radio broadcasts.
Poly-Poly (1970) electro-acoustic music to the Scandinavian Pavilion during the World Exposition in Osaka, Japan48
A forum of the arts - the Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad foundations in Norway (1970) electro-acoustic soundtrack49
Telefonbar (1970) sculptural installation consisting of 20 telephones with electronic sounds50
Minnebobler - en orgelreperatørs erindringer (1972) musical-theatre performance51
Forbindelser (1975) music for the five cities, radio and television52
Zwitschen mit donner (1985)54
Stille, Kepler tenker (1987)
Dråpen (2001) sound installation for Bekkelaget sewage treatment plant
Epitaffio (1963, revised 1978) for orchestra and tape56
Favola (1965) music for two singers, ten dancers, orchestra and tape
Response (1966) for two percussion groups and tape
Response (1968) for one percussionist and tape
Response (1977) for four percussionists and tape
Response (1984) for organ, four percussionists and tape
Response (1990) for one percussionist and tape
Colorazione (1968) Hammond organ, percussion, delay, ringmodulator and filters
Colorazione (1982 version) for Hammond Organ X-66, percussion, time delay, ringmodulators and filters
Dinosaurus (1971) for accordion and tape
OHM (1971) for traditional norwegian horn and tape
Morgenraga (1973) for vocalist, electric guitar, double bass, percussion, willow flute and ringmodulator57
Be not Afeared (1977) soprano, baritone, five instruments and tape
The Tempest (1979) Ballet Music. Soprano, baritone, orchestra and tape
Suite from The Tempest (1979) Soprano, baritone, orchestra and tape
Tempora Noctis (1979) Cantata for two sopranos and orchestra with electronic sound
Nedstigningen (1980, rev. 1996) for recitation, mixed choir, soprano, orchestra and electronic sound
Aurora (1983) for four vocal soloists, crotales and tape
Aurora (1984) version for four vocal soloists, chorus, two percussion groups and tape
Partita für Paul (1985) violin with electronic delay
Recall and Signals (1986) for symphonic wind, percussion and Emulator58
Acantus firmus (1987) Jazz singer, Hardanger fiddle and tape
Acantus firmus osloensis (1987) Hardanger fiddle, electric guitar, orchestra and tape
The Return Of The Snark (1987) trombone and tape
Johannesgangaren (1989) for Hardanger fiddle, women's choir, percussion, emulator, 3 trumpets and the bells of the Oslo City Hall
Sagvisa (1991) for countertenor, two tenors, bass and tape
Vevnad (1993) for cello, trombone and computercontrolled player piano
Draumkvedet (1994) musical drama work
Nidaros (1997) oratorio for six voices, boys' choir, mixed choir, children choir and orchestra
5 Kryptofonier (2005) soprano, percussion and synthesizer
Listen – inside outside (1971/2005) - piano and electronics
Aksnes, Hallgjerd, Musikk, tekst og analyse: en studie med utgangspunkt i Arne Nordheims Nedstigningen, Master thesis, University of Oslo, 1994.
Daliot, Yisrael, Klingende ord: samtaler med Arne Nordheim, Aschehoug, Oslo 2001.
Davidson, Rolf (ed.), Arne Nordheim, Edition Wilhelm Hansen, København, 1981.
Larsen, André W., Rabulist eller ikon? Resepsjonen av Arne Nordheim, Master thesis, University of Oslo, 2003.
Mehren, Stein, Levin, Mona, Kvam, Oddvar Schirmer, Skyllstad, Kjell - Arne Nordheim, og alt skal synge! Dreyer, Oslo, 1991.
My longing is not my own: Arne Nordheim 70 years 2001 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo, 2001.
Reitan, Lorentz, Arne Nordheims Eco og Floating: En undersøkelse av det musikalske materialet og dets behandling, og en sammenligning av verkene, Master thesis, University of Oslo, 1975.
Wikshåland, Ståle and Skouen, Synne (ed.), Ballade 1981: 2/3, double issue on Arne Nordheim, Ny Musikk, Oslo, 1981.
Aksnes, Hallgjerd, Arne Nordheim - en europeer i norsk musikk, Fosse, Lars Martin (ed.), Gobelin Europa: søkelys på europeisk kultur, Sypress forlag, Oslo, 1996.
Bergsland, Andreas, Arne Nordheim og den tidlige elektroakustiske musikken i Norge, Beckström and Børset (ed.), Norsk Avantgarde, Novus, Oslo, 2011.
Beyer, Anders, Arne Nordheim - On Articulating the Existensial Scream, from The voice of music: conversations with composers of our time, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000.
Borchgrevink, Hild, Diamanter i en rød Volvo - Samtale med Arne Nordheim, Ugelstad, Caroline (ed.), Høvikodden live 1968-2007: Henie Onstad kunstsenter som tverrkunstnerisk arena, Henie Onstad kunstsenter, Høvikodden, 2007.
Fehn, Ingrid, På sporet av en konkret musikk, Johnson, Geir (ed.), Ballade 1988: 2/3, Ny Musikk, Oslo, 1988.
Finborud, Lars Mørch, Forslag til et fyrverkeri, Kydland, Eirik (ed.), ENO nr 4 2012, Breb Media da, Oslo, 2012.
Finborud, Lars Mørch, Ode til lyset, Hagen, Alf van der (ed.), Morgenbladet, Oslo, 2011.
Guldbransen, Erling E., Arne Nordheim, Stormen - Suite fra balletten, Sandmo, Erling (ed.), Et eget århundre: norsk orkestermusikk 1905-2005, Press, Oslo, 2004.
Herresthal, Harald, Arne Nordheim, a composer filled with wonder, Hagen, Lars Petter (ed.), Ultima programbok 2010, Ultima, Oslo, 2010.
Johnson, Geir, ”Én tanke - én finger” Arne Nordheim i samtale med Geir Johnson, Johnson, Geir (ed.), Ballade 1988: 2/3, Ny Musikk, Oslo, 1988.
Sunde, Ole Robert, Lys i mørket, Hagen, Alf van der (ed.), Morgenbladet, Oslo, 2012.
Yoell, John H., Arne Nordheim, from The nordic sound: explorations into the music of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Crescendo Publishing, Boston, 1974.
Wikshåland, Ståle, Ikke akkurat lystige dokumenter. Arne Nordheim intervjuet om egne verk, Wikshåland, Ståle and Skouen, Synne (ed.), Ballade 1981: 2/3, double issue on Arne Nordheim, Ny Musikk, Oslo, 1981.
Selected recordings with Arne Nordheim's electronic music
Electronic Music by Arne Nordheim (1974) Philips
Electric59 (1998) Rune Grammofon
Biosphere & Deathprod: Nordheim Transformed60 (1998) Rune Grammofon
Listen - The Art Of Arne Nordheim61 (2002) Aurora / Musikkoperatørene
Dodeka (2003) Rune Grammofon
Cikada Duo: Nordheim62 (2007) 2L
Einar Steen-Nøkleberg: Nordheim Beethoven Nordheim63 (2007) Simax
The Nordheim Tapes (2008) NRK/Aurora