photo by Gunnar Marhaug
VT is psyched to welcome on-board Mr Lasse Marhaug as a new contributing columnist. As well as being one of the most prolific and bloody-minded of European avant-thugs, Lasse is a fucking encyclopaedia of obscure lore regarding the kind of Industrial/avant/punk/noise releases the average VT reader lies awake dreaming of. His own Pica Disk label has had a pretty much flawless run to date, with a massive box set compiling the best of his prodigious cassette album output sitting alongside releases by fellow spirits like Birchville Cat Motel, Hijokaidan and Incapacitants. As a musician you’d be here all night listing his many groups and collaborations, but projects like Jazkamer/Jazzkammer, Nash Kontroll, Del and Testicle Hazard remain his highest profile gigs, supplemented by an on-going series of collaborations that includes work with Merzbow, Maja Ratkje, Mats Gustafsson, John Wiese and Oren Ambarchi. He is also one of the nicest avant garde connoisseurs you could ever share a cigar with. We asked Lasse to hip VT to his favourite unknown Norwegian recordings and he handed us our asses back on a plate.
THE BEST NORWEGIAN MUSIC YOU’VE NEVER HEARD BJØRN FONGAARD Galaxy (1965) Norwegian sound-art/tape music isn't very well known compared to what our neighbours the Swedes were doing in the 60ies and 70ies. It's a shame to admit it, but there simply weren’t as much happening here as around the scene of Fylkingen, EMS and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. We have Arne Nordheim, famous within Norway, and who has reached a new audience abroad through the reissues of his 60ies electronic works on the Rune Grammofon. Nordheim was great. No doubt about it. And he is still going strong. But my favourite Norwegian sound-art piece is Galaxy by the composer and guitarist Bjørn Fongaard. Fongaard passed away in 1980, and left behind him a large body of work, both written music and recorded electronic pieces for tape/guitar. Sadly much of this music is unavailable. In fact much of his written music was never recorded (or even performed) due to classic performers at the time being unable and unwilling to read his unfamiliar notation. Galaxy from 1965 is his masterpiece. A 12 minute tour-de-force of prepared manipulated guitar. Imagine a mixture of Keith Rowe meets Tod Dockstader. Far-out, trippy and beautiful. But surprisingly Fongaard was not part of the hippie-avant garde generation of his days. From an interview I've seen with Fongaard done for Norwegian TV in 1971 he comes across as an elderly man, dressed in suit and tie, keeping a dayjob as a mathematician, who had developed a strict compositional method for his guitar excursions. He seemed unaware of what was going in the sound-world around him. Isolated. Perhaps here lies the explanation of why Galaxy sounds so alien and fresh even today. The piece was released on LP as part of a compilation called Electronic Music From Norway in the early 70ies, and in the 80ies on a compilation from the Norwegian composers society. Both long since out of print.
FAMLENDE FORSØK Ars Transmutatoria (Eldricht Records, LP, 1990) Famlende Forsøk was the trio of Brt, Lumpy Davy and Chrisph. Their name roughly translates to something along the lines of 'stumbling efforts'. But their debut album from '90 is anything but that. Famlende Forsøk was part of a prog/punk/hippie/freak scene in the south of Norway, documented on cassette releases on their own Shit Tapes label. They started out in the mid 70ies, doing tapes and the yearly Sprø Musikk (Crazy Music) festival. So by the time this LP came out in 1990 Famlende Forsøk had already been going for a long while. Not many bands take ten plus years to get their debut album ready. But man was it worth the wait. Ars Transmutatoria is the best Norwegian album of all times in my book. An amalgam of tape cut-ups, backwards recordings, trumpets, bells, loops and a long list of acoustic instruments. In a way it could compare to the atmospheric works of Nurse With Would (perhaps 80s Coil also). It sounds incredibly rich and with depth, and although it's all abstract soundscapes the music is rather catchy, and I find myself going back to specific tracks. But what makes FF so unique sounding is the voice of vocalist Brt. He sings/talks in Norwegian, with a very distinct southern-Norwegian dialect, which probably limits non-Norwegian speaking audiences to fully appreciate the album. Brt's vocals are both hilarious and creepy at the same time, delivered with a dry deadpan sense of humour. The lyrics deal with abortion, Norwegian arctic explorers and biblical themes. The main subject is said to be alchemy. Another re-occurring topic is H.P. Lovecraft, and the band would spend the next 13 years completing their second album, One Night I Had A Frightful Dream, a concept-album based on interpretations of Lovecraft's writings. Early demos of this album that circulated were very promising (I released a live recording of the material on my TWR Tapes in '95), but sadly when the album finally arrived the lyrics had been translated from Norwegian to English. Brt's heavy English accent doesn't quite work as well as his Norwegian, and thus the album was a minor disappointment for me. Still, it would be impossible to surpass Ars Transmutatoria. Originally released in a handsome gatefold sleeve, limited to 500 copies, and long overdue for reissue.
WHEN Svartedauen (Tatra Productions, CD, 1992) When is the solo-project of Lars Pedersen, known for his work in Norwegian art-rockers Holy Toy in the 80s. His When project seems to be his own musical playground, as every album seems different from the other. The later works have been prog-rock/pop vein, but Svartedauen, his third album from 1991, is a pure 38 minute musique concrète sound-collage. Svartedauen translates to The Black Death and the album is an abstract sound-journey of the plague entering and ravishing the Norwegian countryside in 1349, killing two-thirds of the Norwegian population within a year. The album was inspired by a series of haunted and eerie drawings of Theodor Kittelsen from 1900 on the subject. Pedersen has made a soundtrack to it. Fans of Norwegian black metal will recognize the Kittelsen art as the same that adorns the cover of several Burzum albums. A little known fact is that Burzum, and most other black metal musicians during their church-burning heydays, were big fans of this When album. Listening to it with that in mind it actually makes a lot of sense. Svartedauen in many ways manages to evoke the feeling of doom and medieval dread that the rock-Satanists attempted with distorted guitars. It's a scary and uncomfortable listen.