PÄR LINDGREN: Multi-level transformations

Published: 2001-09-24 by Stellan Sagvik

By Göran Bergendal (transl. Sven Borei) (Published in Nutida Musik no. 4, 1991)

About Pär Lindgren’s music prior to the first performance of

his percussion concerto “Meander”.

Pär Lindgren works with transformations and metamorphoses. “I’m extremely interested in what the actual relationship is between things that seem to be very different.” That said, he picks up a book showing Max Escher’s metamorphic pictures, searches out one with a gradually transforming pattern and states that this picture formulates in art something akin to what he would like to work with in music.
“I have developed a computer programme for testing transformations from one complex orchestral structure to another. I use the computer as a thought processor, allowing it to present a model which I can then work with and polish until it functions.”
“What is important is to keep the relationships between perception and structure alive or the whole process becomes meaningless. Personally I think very concretely meaning that the actual message isn’t somewhere else, it lies in the idea itself, in the model or the process. In other words, we’re not talking about sad or happy... ”
The same ought to be true for Max Escher’s transformations.

An artistic home
It isn’t so surprising that Pär Lindgren looks to representational art in order to describe his musical interests. He grew up in an artistic home in Göteborg and is used to having pictures around him. In the mid-80s he worked with his artist father, Jörgen Lindgren, on the slide presentation called Öppningar – Openings.
“I believe people grasp ideas as pictures. A good shape speaks to all parts of your body. It’s all related to archetypes, complete with movements. I’m fascinated by how people and animals move, as well as by the movement of machines.”

Guitar teacher
In the early 70s Pär studied guitar teaching at the Framnäs School of Music in Piteå. However, he’s lived and worked in Stockholm since 1975 and studied in the composition class from 1975-79 under Gunnar Bucht and Lars-Gunnar Bodin.
Since 1979 he has taught electronic music at the Royal College of Music [becoming professor of composition in 1998]. “He has cultivated a superb and superior craftsmanship, becoming a trend-setter for a host of younger Swedish electronic music composers,” says Ingvar Karkoff.
“I’m not interested in the apparatus, but in the act of composition. The students must learn a solid craft and learn various composition methods.”

Electro-acoustic music
In the beginning, Pär Lindgren composed mainly instrumental music, but under the influence of his teacher Lars-Gunnar Bodin turned more and more to electro-acoustic music. His break-through in this area was Elektrisk Musik (1978) which received its first performance at the first electronic music festival in Stockholm. Constructed of material from pop and rock music, his own description was “an electric cultural impression in neon lighting”. There followed a number of works with titles like Rummet, Det andra rummet and Houdinism (The Room and The Other Room), pieces where he created an extremely special style providing an alternative to the usual, linear listening “from start to finish”. “What we’re talking about,” says Åke Parmerud, “is an exceedingly closed and well structured music where the events activate and deactivate each other, opening and closing portals through which new sound processes are revealed or excluded from our listening.”
Clearly the apex of this development is Houdinism, named after escape artist Harry Houdini. Pär Lindgren has described the structure of the piece as a series of Chinese boxes that open and shut according to principles the listener cannot perceive. The focus is to attempt to escape from a sequence of enclosures. “It’s a fascinating game made up of sounds and processes carved out with great skill and much technology. All leaves the impression of a large clock work which gradually allows itself to be seen from new angles.”

Extended metamorphoses
For a long time, he worked differently within instrumental music. The figures weren’t as closed, developing “horizontally”. A possible example is Shadowes that in Darknesse Dwell composed for the Maros Ensemble in 1983 as “sculptural fantasy on Dowland’s song”. Taken as a whole, the piece can be described as two, extended metamorphoses moving from the eclipsed to the recognisable and back again.

The main piece of business in the percussion concerto Meander (1985-88) are the extended, gradual metamorphoses, even if the action can be said to pass through a number of different, though not closed acoustic spaces within which transformations also occur. Meander was preceded by a pair of pilot studies. One was Metamorphose (1985) for tom-toms, a piece whose transformation concepts and material was in part taken up by Meander. Another was Bowijaw for string orchestra (The New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra 1985), based on an African rhythmic theme which was “cribbed from a tape by ear” and filled with extended, gradual transformations at a high tempo. Its rather dizzying sound and movement world can also be found in the percussion concerto.

Percussion concerto
As stated, Pär Lindgren’s Meander is a percussion concerto. The sound apparatus is exceedingly comprehensive and differentiated. One part is a symphony orchestra, usually with four times the normal number of wind instruments, two harps, two pianos and strings (16-16-12-12-8). The other is part is eight orchestral percussionists, each with their own arsenal of instruments with varying sound characteristics. Part of this armoury includes five vibraphones, three marimbas, eight sets of bamboo chimes, sixteen tam-tams and thirty-two cymbals. Topping it off is the immense set up for the soloist, including primarily drums and tom-toms, marimba and vibraphone.
Initially the reason for the eight percussionists was partly visual – they should make for an exciting tableau during the TV production. But now their function has been limited to serving as a very important concertino ensemble. The visual focus is entirely on the soloist named Roger Carlsson.
Meander is originally a Greek word derived from the river Maiandros, now Büyük Menderes in Turkey. The word has two main meanings. One is the winding river course through a flat countryside formed as the outer part of the curves are eroded and the resulting silt deposited in the inner part of the curve. The other refers to an ornament consisting of lines or bands with geometric whorls, an ornament that also is called ā la greque. Both meanings of this meander arabesque join to form the basic, overall design concept of the concerto. The composer has himself described the composition as “a type of movement that flows through different landscapes”.
Over time the arabesque changes character moving from having been powerful and sharp-edged in the overwhelmingly frenetic introduction into forming softer meanders. His metamorphoses comprise the entire construction, not just individual parameters – “I always see the music as whole units, rather than as separate parameters.”

Orchestral landscapes
Still, beyond the obvious changes in expression from ‘brutal and abrupt’ to ‘softly rounded’, what is easiest to observe consciously are the instrumentation and the relationships between the three protagonists – the soloist, the percussion section and the rest of the orchestra. During the first third of the piece, the soloist plays membrane instruments, mainly tom-toms and drums. The middle section is dominated by the marimba, the large percussion cadenza uses tom-toms and the final section is played on the vibraphone. The percussion section is hard at work throughout most of the concerto, mostly changing sound feeling collectively – in the beginning they are mostly ‘against’ or independent of the soloist, but as the piece develops, they play increasingly ‘with’ the soloist. The orchestra constitutes that landscape over which the soloist travels, a landscape which also gradually changes character from steep, aggressive tutti and wind sections to a flatter countryside more dominated by the strings.
The music also changes character to the extent that it becomes ‘purer’, or, as Lindgren would say, gaining more and more friction in the harmonic material, heading increasingly towards overtone sounds, only to be reduced once more.
However, there are other structures in the concerto as well, though more or less apparent. One example is the role of the integer seven. Meander has seven movements, each one sub-divided into seven units. There are seven different themes that mutually metamorphose, two of them drawn from Africa.

Fragments of a circle
“His music moves between emotional and expressive extremes,” comments Ingvar Karkoff. “A rough list would state that his works range over prodigal beauty, brutality, music-making and abstract, stripped music.”
Pär Lindgren’s newest work, Fragment av en cirkel (Fragments of a Circle), differs from Meander. His earlier definition meant separating electro-acoustic music from vocal and instrumental varieties. He now feels that these two ‘art forms’ are approaching each other, in part because technical development now enables live electronics worthy of the name.
“What has happened over time is that the compositional processes no longer differ so much from each other. By now it is possible to work as freely with electronic music as with instrumental, at least in some aspects. What I have become increasingly interested by is the structure, thematics and inner logic of music, as opposed to being interested in sonority or in making some type of statement.”

Pär Lindgren’s ‘computer concerto’ titled Fragment av en cirkel (Fragments of a Circle) can be seen as a synthesis of the two genres. This piece was originally commissioned for the Stockholm New Music Festival 1990 and first performed by the Radio Symphony Orchestra on January 25. The title refers to the fact that a circle is the perfect form and enclosed upon itself. “I have worked with circular forms in various ways, with a sort of self-defined cosmos. It’s been accomplished by using various approaches. I personally feel that several of the bits are rather humorous, especially the third movement called Extended Perfection which serves as the hub of the work – the name is clearly fatuous since it would stand to reason that perfection cannot be extended. Here the music scribes a circle, but I have distorted it in time so that the circle has been bent.”

Nine movements
Fragments of a Circle is composed for computer and symphony orchestra. The woodwinds are focused in the bass register using bass clarinets, contra-bass clarinet and double bassoon. The percussion section calls for four percussionist, each playing a marimba, a vibraphone, four wood blocks plus other instruments. The computer commands a counterpoint role in relation to the orchestra aimed at building up an aura around the orchestral sound. However, the composer does not want to view it as some sort of solo instrument.
The work consists of nine, more or less interconnected movements, each of which has its own existence though they build on common material. [The movements are named:]

Infödingar vid kanten – Natives at the Edge
Figuranter och felplacerade skuggor – Figurants and misplaced Shadows
Utvidgad perfektion Extended Perfection
Cirkulerande påfåglar – Circling Peacocks
Två korsande landskap – Two Intersecting Landscapes
Leonardos virvelpooler – Leonardo’s Whirlpools
Under bron – Under the Bridge
Fiske efter översvämningen – Fish after the Flood
Hopkrympt perfektion – Perfection Shrunk
Ekon i andra ändan – Echoes at the other End

Pär Lindgren didn’t discover the somewhat Chinese flavour exuded by Fish after the Flood until after he had composed it. “It just happened. Suddenly I saw bamboo fishing rods and a river before me.” Indeed, computers are no shield against surprises.


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