A new release from the Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology explores the pioneering sound work of Danish visual artists, Richard Winther, Hans “Bamse” Kragh-Jacobsen, Niels Macholm, Ib Geertsen and Gunnar Aagaard Andersen
Linien II (Danish for The Line) was an artists’ association set up in post-war Denmark. Concerning itself with concrete art, the group consisted of Richard Winther, Hans “Bamse” Kragh-Jacobsen, Niels Macholm, Ib Geertsen and Gunnar Aagaard Andersen. Linien II operated in a new creative reality divorced from traditional subject matter. Its artists created ‘synthetic’ work and, in a utopian fashion typical of modernism, opposed ‘classical’ art, which was, in their view, full of superfluous naturalism.
Working in a constructivist style – not dissimilar to the paintings of Theo van Doesburg or László Moholy-Nagy – the Linien II artists wanted to achieve a synthesis between sculpture, film, and sound by extending the aesthetic problems of painting into the temporal field. Winther called this approach “space-time modulation”. At a time when Pierre Schaeffer was developing his own theories on concrete music, in the late 1940s, Winther and his group recorded their parallel experiments in concrete sound art.
Released by the Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology, Linien II 1948–49 compiles five sound works and two interviews (conducted with Winther and Aagaard Andersen by composer Ole Buck in 1971). Four of the recordings were made directly onto lacquer discs, in 1948 and 1949, at the privately owned Wifos Lydstudio. Originally produced for an exhibition at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning and two events at Politikens Hus in Copenhagen, the fragile originals have been stored at the SMK National Gallery of Denmark’s sound archive since the 1990s.
‘Bruitistisk koncert nr. 1’ (Bruitist Concert No. 1) by Bamse Kragh-Jacobsen employed the sound of a studio test-plate which, when played back, would emit sine tones of descending frequencies every fifteen seconds. An additional horn can be heard every ten seconds, after which Kragh-Jacobsen would begin a piano figure in a recurring A-B, A-BB, A-BBB, A-BBBB, A-BBBBB pattern. The figure starts over once the horn sounds again and so on until the end.
Winther’s ‘Maskinsymfoni nr. 2’ (Machine Symphony No. 2) employs a similar principle of dividing time, but does so by repeating the same four-tone piano chord – again played by Kragh-Jacobsen – for minute-long or half-minute intervals. In between these intervals, Winther can be heard using an electric buzzer and horn, while Niels Macholm rubs pieces of sandpaper against each other. The other works on Side A include Winther’s ‘Bruitistisk improvisation’ and an untitled sound poem by Ib Geertsen. The latter involved fireworks exploding during the session, which led to Geertsen audibly choking in the smoke-filled studio.
The fifth composition, Gunnar Aagaard Andersen’s score-based piece ‘Koncert for fem violiner og et lysbilledapparat’ (Concert for Five Violins and a Projector), takes up the majority of Side B. Originally conceived in 1949, the piece was performed by Gruppen for Alternativ Musik in the early 70s with alternate instrumentation: violin, oboe, organ, cello and horn. It is the only known recording of the work.
‘Koncert for fem violiner og et lysbilledapparat’ developed from Aagaard Andersen’s compositional studies at the Louvre, where he would subdivide canvases of the old masters into new geometric formations. These studies led to new abstract paintings and, eventually, the graphic score. Drafted on graph paper, each violin of the title was given its own colour and required to follow an ascending or descending figure based on a twenty-one semitone scale. The resulting composition is discordant yet interestingly precise. When comparing the score to a spectral analysis of the recording, Aagaard Andersen’s graphic notation is recognisable in the harmonic patterns created by the instruments.
If judged on musical merit alone, this album is unlikely to be enjoyed by a wide audience. It is, however, a very important document that chronicles a small group of visual artists who saw sound as an ineluctable medium for the development of their aesthetic principles. An extensive illustrated booklet, written by curator Magnus Kaslov, details the art historical context within which these recordings were made. For Kaslov, whether or not an individual work succeeds is not as important as “the seriousness of the experiment that must convince the audience of the project’s potential”. Along with the album, Kaslov’s text provides a window into a way of thinking that favoured presentation over representation; one of modernism’s last attempts to cast off the past and colonise the future.
Originally published by The Quietus, February 2022