|Published: 2001-10-01 by Stellan Sagvik
By Åke Parmerud (transl. Sven Borei)
(Published in Nutida Musik no 1, 1992)
Rune Lindblad, Sweden’s first and its least known
pioneer in electro-acoustic music, died in 1991.
Composer Åke Parmerud draws a portrait of his former teacher.
Rune Lindblad comes from the working class, growing up in a home where cultural impulses were in all likelihood rare. His father worked at the shipyard in Göteborg and it seemed as if Rune’s life was clearly determined from the start. He began working as a riveter at the yard and experienced in this way sound at its most hostile and brutal.
It’s probably not wholly unreasonable to imagine that these sound experiences pursued him and affected his later work where sound became a means of expressing strong, sometimes impotent feelings. With time, he developed an interest in drawing and began to attend night school to learn how to use and develop this talent.
Pictures stage centre
Throughout his working life, he was and remained an artist for whom the pictorial took centre stage in his creativity, starting with the first pencil sketches and continuing to the latest electronic sound scenographies. Still, he was never interested in the decorative or the idealised painting. From the start his pictures were based on the same hard materials as the shipyard work: extreme contrasts between darkness and light, deafening roar and occasional pauses.
The pictures were seldom a form of agitation in how they described life, being rather almost insistently straight-forward in their way of presenting what was going on in the head of the young shipyard monkey. None of these movements were weak, rounded or billowy. His pictorial world was ruled by the straight line, the angle, blacking and the contrast created by uncontrolled power.
After a while, he left his work at the shipyard and began working as drawing instructor at the lower secondary school. Later on he also taught at the Houvedskus private art school. He tried several times to show his paintings, but with little response. No-one seemed to want to look at, much less buy Rune Lindblad’s brutally angular depictions of a life concentrated on the absence of colour and with death as a constantly returning theme.
Early one morning in 1955 something happened that changed and broadened his artistic perspective. Towards morning, Rune was on his way home from what seems to have been a serious bout of drinking. As he cut through the Slottskogen Park, his strength gave out and he lay down under some bushes near the Björngårdsvillan Restaurant to rest a while. This was next to the pavilion where people usually listen to mission songs to a cup of coffee. A few hour later, the restaurant staff began to set up for the day, banging cups and silverware, dragging chairs, talking and chattering in rivalry with the songs warming up in the surrounding woods.
To the half conscious, hung-over artist these sounds grew far beyond their normal proportions. Torn from their visible context, they became a mighty hallucinatory play in which the associations roamed freely, at the same as the over-sensitive mind relived some of the riveting inferno of the shipyard.
“The sound within”
For many years after this experience, Rune Lindblad tried in different ways to recreate and develop this feeling of “the sound within” which coursed through him over a half an hour of creative hangover. He was unaware that similar ideas already existed on the Continent. Until then he had shown scant interest in music and definitely not in the academic variants. However, he soon became aware of what it is to work with an art form that has public concerts as its forum. After different experiments using tape recorders and various other pieces of equipment collected or built by the technically talented artist, he presented a joint concert of ‘concrete’ music together with his compatriot Bruno Epstein. The venue was the Community Centre in Göteborg. This attempt met with derogatory comments and complete misunderstanding from a musical establishment which at that time had barely come to terms with Arnold Schönberg’s atonality. These were the comments by the music critic of the Göteborg Posten daily, Carl Tillius:
“That they (Epstein and Lindblad) worked meant well and had the best of intentions is not in question. But when they tried to explain what they were doing using a musical terminology, their words became a sort of protective fogbank for the noise one neither knew to laugh at or cry over. Is it really possible to convince a larger group of listeners outside of one’s inner circle that varied noise and percussive effects from such instruments as the piano, accompanied by a metronome and metal pieces, are something that will be the music of the future? It sounded more like a recording from a carpentry workshop under full work.”
And Björn Johansson got even more worked up, writing in the Göteborgs Handels and Sjöfartstidning:
“Johansson (the concert presenter) took himself seriously. This was the first bit of entertainment in what otherwise was the most boring musical event I’ve ever attended. The other jollification was the ‘concrete’ music presented here. Two youths were publicly appointed as composers. A few whistles and scrapings which were thought to be disturbances in the recording apparatus, turned out to be the composition itself …”
“ The two composers will have to accept anonymity until they have passed comprehensive tests in the strict discipline of musical craft …”
“The tape recorder was in terrible shape. The oral presentation of the advanced concepts was below the requirements of the primary school …”
“For my part, the concert left a quack impression with the ‘ pin the tail on the donkey’ painting forming the backdrop.”
And so Rune Lindblad continued to be an artistic outsider, perhaps even more so since he had chosen the abstract sound arts which not only were avoided as uncomfortable, but were rejected as being non-art. However, he persisted, continuing to create new sonoral pieces. One terminus for the ‘pure’ expression of Lindblad’s socio-concrete sonoral art can be found in Varv-72 (Shipyard-72), where he comes to terms with his origins and confronts the listener with intrusive, concrete sonoral pictures depicting the shipyard worker’s sound environment with the same infernal intensity as it truly has.
In 1968 he met Jan Ling at the Musicology Department [at Göteborg’s University], through whose assistance he made contact with The Chalmer Institute of Technology. There he was able to borrow some equipment, such as filters and tone generators, which he could use together with the primitive equipment he already had. Still, it wasn’t until he was hired by the new experimental training institute SÄMUS (Special Subject Training in Music) that the technical resources were collected in a simple studio. This in turn enabled Lindblad not only to teach the new subject called Sound Theory, but also work on his own works. And while it was certainly true that his means were hopelessly simple and far inferior to the apparatus available at the College of Music and at Fylkingen’s Studio in Stockholm, the facilities still reflected a recognition of his work and a belief in alternate ways of expressing musical ideas.
It was also under this period in the early 70s that Rune Lindblad began trying to integrate sound and pictorial arts. He began making his first slide shows with a simple system with slide projectors and tape recorders, working in a genre which later would be embraced by Swedish composers and pictorial artists primarily at Fylkingen. In this way, he arrived at the form which probably suited him best.
His strongest and most memorable works in all categories include Thermonukleäration, Årstiderna and the slide show version of Varv-72 (Thermo-nuclearation, The Seasons and Shipyard-72), all created during the decade beginning in 1972. He was extremely close-mouthed about how he acquired the pictorial material, mainly documentary photos. There have been rumours that some of the terrible pictures used in Thermonukleäration showing people injured by radiation, were in fact secret material from American military research archives.
Whatever the venue, these works were extremely upsetting experiences and many persons reacted with anger and loathing to this undisguised way of presenting the horrors of life. However, it probably was never Lindblad’s intention to act merely as a provocateur. He was a convinced socialist and a true believer in a better world. It was an alien concept for him to avoid evil, seeming to agree with Göran Sonnevi that the only correct way towards another life demanded a confrontation with evil and darkness in all their forms. In that way the thin ray of light would be made visible. He was exceedingly occupied with the mechanisms of evil, studying with special care the documents of Nazi ideological in an attempt to understand the thought processes that drive humans beyond the limits of reason.
That just Nazi thought came to be so important cam surely be traced to the fact that his wife was Jewish. Understanding the developments that led to the European Holocaust was a necessary settlement with the unknown in the history of a loved one.
Above all, Rune Lindblad was a humanist and nothing inspired his art more than his interest for the human condition and vulnerability in life and in death. This is quite clear in his major work Årstiderna, accompanied by a strange synthetic variant of Vivaldi’s original music, where stretches of postcard perfect spring creeks are suddenly and devastatingly replaced by shocking close-ups of automobile accidents with crushed and mutilated people.
It is true that Rune Lindblad did not represent a refined aesthetics and written down in this way, these examples can appear to be artistic banality of the worst kind. But it is just the fact that his naïveté is so heartbreakingly crystal clear, presented through wholly unique pictorial material – in this case probably pictures from the German police archives on traffic accidents on the Autobahn, though Rune refused to give any details – and then this seemingly trivial is turned up so far over what is reasonable that it gains a new, subconsciously functioning meaning.
After completing Varv-72 he abandoned the concrete sound world almost entirely in favour of the electronic. When he acquired two Putney VCS-3 for the school studio, these small, discordant, analogue synthesizers which probably had belonged to Pink Floyd released his creativity in a nearly uncontrollable way. His final opus list covers nearly 200 works (he was precise in his numbering), most written during the 70s.
In spite of a growing interest from arrangers and the public for the electronic music during the last half of the 70s, Lindblad the pioneer continued to live a rather reclusive life with his immense production. In spite of moving to Stockholm and working periodically at both EMS and Fylkingen, he did not reach out to the (small) public available.
This can naturally be traced to complete disinterest in making any sort of aesthetic accommodation. He was and remained unable to do ‘what one should’ in order move closer to one or another artistic idiom. He simply looked at music through other eyes. And when he let the synts honk and whistle, stutter and screech they served as his chisels cutting furrows in the silence. Structure, balance, form and dynamics were all ‘normal’ musical formalities which simply lacked relevance for him. It was process that counted, the passage from non-happening to happening. His music was as musical woodcuts, carved in the transitions between silence and sound.
Rune Lindblad would probably have fared better in France where the stylistic ideals were much closer to the ‘non-musical’ furrow he was ploughing. His way of working was also more French than Swedish, working directly with the apparatus without any roundabouts through mixing or editing. The Swedes had stated early on that they wished to be accepted as representatives of ‘real’ music, a wish that had caused stylistic turns and aesthetic loans from instrumental music on the German model creeping into the Swedish sonoral art at an early stage.
The Lindbladian impatience expressed by this directness in relation to the material also anticipated both the work situation which today’s EAM composers consider the most desirable and the special musical form which with one sweep usually is collected under the concept of ‘live electronics’.
In spite of the fact that his music was never acknowledged in broader musical circles it wasn’t until towards the end of his life that he allowed himself to sink into a disillusioned exhaustion. The causes of this tiredness can probably be found just as much in the society which more and more distanced itself from the visions that had marked the social and pedagogic experiments of the 70s, as in the disappointment over his lack of artistic success.
It wasn’t until 1989 that the Radium record company (now called Anckarström) released a collected works of Rune Lindblad in the form of a double CD. His pictures can be found as illustrations for the Gulli Lundström-Michanek collection of poems titled Bortom gränsen (Beyond the Bound). Some of his last pictures can be found in the yet to be released, third section of Jan Ling’s Europas musikhistoria (History of European Music). The remainder of the material from and related to Lindblad’s production have been collected at the Musicology Department at the Göteborg University under the stewardship of Gert Bosshart.
Friendly and generous
Finally, since I knew him as a teacher and a person during and after my studies at SÄMUS, I cannot close without providing a more private picture of Rune Lindblad. My enduring memory of him is of a constantly smoking, growling and loudly swearing individual who cruised through the windowless rooms which comprised the SÄMUS electronic studio, a building that with all right was called ‘the bunker’.
His sullen manner and blunt straightforwardness – God damn it, you look awful today! – couldn’t hide the fact that he was a generous and basically very friendly man. He left his mark on the place not only through his personality, but also by the presence of a really amazing amount of equipment, things, scrap and tools he dragged with him, either for his own use or in the hope that some student would find a use for it in some context. These items were stuffed into workshops, broom closet or wherever there happened to be space.
One story that’s just got to be told is when Rune found an older type flash unit which he decided to test. The apparatus did indeed generate excellent flashes a few minutes apart inside a glass vacuum ball. Once this was established, it was put into a closet for a long-term test. However, he soon forgot the thing in favour of other, more pressing matters. And there it sat in its solitary closet generating small thunderbolts day and night over several weeks, which would have been unimportant except for the computer company that rented the space on the second floor. For some reason unbeknownst to them their sensitive systems began to make the most catastrophic mistakes, loose memory and in general behave unpredictably – all at regular intervals. And it wasn’t until after they had spent several frustrating days that they finally called in an electrician, who in turn searched through most of the building and finally ferreted out the source of the spikes which sent regularly scheduled shock waves through the entire local electric network. Once again, Rune Lindblad had unconsciously anticipated developments by creating the world’s first data virus.
We seldom talked about music during our classes, in much because we had discovered early on that we didn’t see eye to eye on too many things. However, once Rune asked my opinion on some piece he’s just completed. I gave it (carefully), stating that I thought the music might be well served by an occasional pause to give the listener a chance to catch his breath and gain some perspective. Perhaps it would even contribute to the musical tension.
“Pause! What kind of shit is that? You mean there should be silence in the middle of the music? I’ll be damned if there’s going to be any damned silence in my music. That’s just what I’m trying to get away from!”
Still, in spite of our basically different view of how music should be created, I always respected Rune, mainly because of his unshakeable integrity. He was already a living, if somewhat local, legend during his life and stubborn to such an extent that some thought him some sort of old-fashioned original.
I think that Rune Lindblad’s greatest contribution to the Swedish music history is that through his entire artistically active life he proved the idea that the world has to be conquered and rediscovered, over and over again, and that it is each artist’s primary duty to be unwaveringly loyal to the world he or she has made their own. And, with apologies to Ralph Lundsten, it is Rune Lindblad who should be written into the history books as the number one pioneer of Swedish electro-acoustic music.
A special thanks to Jan Ling, who has contributed thoughts and memories to this article.