Fylkingen.org: Visons of the Present in Retrospect


Teddy Hulberg

original text (Swedish)
Fylkingen celebrated its 70th anniversary in the autumn of 2003 and once again it could be affirmed that, established in 1933, Fylkingen holds a unique position as the world's oldest existing association for contemporary music. What is it that keeps a music and cultural association going without interruption for so many years? To be able to answer that interesting question, we must take a historical retrospect.

A Short History of Fylkingen

In the beginning Fylkingen was a chamber music association founded by musicians and composers with the intention of filling a gap in Swedish music as they found that chamber music was missing in its repertoire. At first the emphasis was to combine contemporary Swedish music with the classics: from Beethoven, Schubert, to J. S. Bach and Telemann and probably not only with the intention of attracting an audience.

"The association … has as its purpose to further through public concert activities the public's interest in and their knowledge of more intimate types of concert music, above all contemporary music, with the emphasis upon the production of music by composers native to Sweden, as well as those areas of older music which are not sufficiently offered in other public concerts."

(From Fylkingen's statutes at the end of the 1950s)

some of the founding members of Fylkingen: (from left) Gunnar de Frumerie, Gunnar Norrby, Judith Malmquist, Gösta Rybrant, Gustav Gröndahl, IngemarLiljefors, Iris Thorstenson

Shostakovitch was the name of the first modern composers to appear in the programme during the 1930s. Stravinsky first appeared a little later during the next decade; Ives, Varèse, Schönberg and Antheil all appeared in 1949. During the first 15 years, 6 - 7 concerts per year were organized in the smaller auditorium of the Stockholm Concert Hall. After 1948 the number of concerts was doubled each year.

Bartók's "Sonate for Two Pianos and Percussions" premiered in Stockholm 1950 as a Fylkingen concert.

From the beginning of the 1950s the concert repertoires were radicalised even more when the composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl and the musicologist Bo Wallner took turns as chairman. Twelve-tone music, concrete music, Messiaen and pointillistic music (Luigi Nono, etc.) were presented for the first time in Sweden. The target audience was broadened and concerts for children and school children were launched. Since then these concerts have been a regularly recurring feature in the programme.

However, the changes in direction were not only brought by the changes of the members of the board. The motto that Fylkingen has tried to follow throughout the years is to carry out what is considered necessary but has not been carried out by other institutions. As a result, earlier music from the Renaissance and early Baroque were also included in the programme during the 1940s and 1950s before it was included in the repertoires of other institutions. This attitude has contributed to keeping Fylkingen alive and in constant change for more than half a century.

"Of course personality also has a role to play in history," and the election of Knut Wiggen to the post of chairman 1959-1969 was more than a vote based merely on personal qualities. It was a choice of direction that came to shape Fylkingen into a forum to which one had to turn to keep up-to-date with all the latest, not only within music but also within other fields of arts as these were included in its broadened programme. In 1959, when Knut Wiggen became chairman, Pontus Hultén took up the post of director at Moderna Museet (the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm), and this was when Fylkingen moved most of its concerts to Moderna Museet. (Moderna Museet was the main arena for the association until 1971, when Fylkingen's own premises, a former cinema on Södermalm, were finally ready.)

Fylkingen's repertoire was radicalised and its genres broadened. John Cage and David Tudor had performed in Fylkingen productions back in1958 and they made frequent appearances during the 1960s. Music by Nam June Paik, Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stochausen and Luciano Berio was also presented, often with the composer in attendance. Electronic music and computer music were given a great deal of scope. This was also true of instrumental theatre and happenings such as Öyvind Fahlström's "Aida" (1962), and of the much talked about motor saw massacre of a grand piano that was called "Piano Soirée", by Karl-Erik Welin (1964). Here the originator, using a pseudonym, was Wiggen himself. When Fylkingen during the same year presented contemporary American dance with Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Robert Morris and Robert Rauschenberg, every seat was occupied in the great hall of Moderna Museet. Also presented in the programme during this decade were Ravi Shankar, the Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski, the percussionist Max Neuhaus and La Mote Young.

Luciano Berio at a Fylkingen concert at Moderna Museét, 1961.

EMS(Electronic Music Studio in Stockholm), 1968 (from left):Lars-Gunnar Bdin, Bengt Hambraeus, Bengt Lorentzen, Gunnar Bucht, Knut Wiggen and Bengt Emil Johnson. photo: Stig A Nilsson

Fylkingen became an early centre for tape music and was also a driving force behind the growth of the EMS (Electronic Music Studio in Stockholm). Knut Wiggen was a deciding force in lobbying for the construction of an electronic music studio and later computer studio. He was also behind the large art and technology festival "Visioner av Nuet"(1966) ("Visions of Now"), which took place at the Museum of Technology, the aim of which was to gather technicians, thinkers and artists around the same table. However this turned out to be half a festival, as not long after the seven evenings in Stockholm the festival "9 Evenings" took place in New York.  The fact that Wiggen and Billy Klüver couldn't come to an agreement resulted in one festival becoming two, and together with the Fylkingen member Öyvind Fahlström the majority of the American artists held their own festival on home ground.



In April 1967 the term text-sound composition was presented for the first time during a Fylkingen concert. It became a new inter-media genre that since then has come to be associated with Fylkingen. An important impetus in this development was Fahlström's radio collage "Fåglar i Sverige" ("Birds in Sweden") (1963) which illustrated the potentiality of tape recorder technology and that of radio. Poets and composers such as Åke Hodell, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Bengt Emil Johnson, Ilmar Laaban, Sten Hanson and many more continued along this path. Through the annual international text-sound festivals between 1968 – 1977, a collaboration between Fylkingen and Radio Sweden transformed Stockholm into a lively centre for this direction toward transcending boundaries. Modern dance, inter-media art and performance became, during the 1970s and later, important features of Fylkingen's activities. Free improvisation, slide shows with tape music and video were introduced into the programme at the end of the 1970s.

(left) Name June Paik "Action Music," from a Fylkingen concert, 1961.
photo: Lütfi Özkök

(right) Merce Cunningham in Stockholm
from a rehearsal fot the Fylkingen Festival "Fem New Yorkkvällar (Five New York Evenings)," 1964.
photo:Lütfi Özkök


The Significance of Fylkingen

If we should try to evaluate the influence Fylkingen has had on Swedish cultural life it is perhaps natural to first and foremost view the association as the presenter and communicator of new musical and artistic influences in Sweden. As we have been able to establish from the short history above, it is easy to name a large number of (today) well-recognized names and art forms that Fylkingen has introduced into our country. There are also art forms that have been generated by Fylkingen's own circles, such as text -sound compositions and slide shows with tape music. Unless they are taken under the wing by another forum, the new art forms have often been given a place in the repertoire once they have been introduced.

If one is to continue being an experimental arena, there will be a problem with continuity, as no experiments can stand being repeated too many times without the arena being transformed into a forum for historical display of avant-garde techniques. If we exclude those concerts that look back to the early avant-garde, and of course Fylkingen provides these as well, there is nonetheless a kind of continuity in Fylkingen's activities. While more genres appear and are given exposure, it's been shown that very few other forms disappear from the programme altogether. The changes in the repertoire reflect the personal composition within the association and as more artists active in areas outside the purely musical, for example dance, performance and video, are elected into the association, these genres are also reflected more in Fylkingen's activities. We can see how the representatives of note-based instrumental music have recently become fewer in number compared with those active within electronic music. Today many areas of music and art are represented in the programme: contemporary chamber music, improvised music, tape music, industrial music, noise, techno, soundscape, glitch, live electronic, modern dance, text-sound composition, experimental films, video, performance, installations and slide shows with tape music. It is easy to figure out that, in order for all of these to function together, the number of concerts has continued to increase year after year. During the 1960s Fylkingen organised a total of 150 concerts, a number that grew to 400 during the 1970s, to 500 during the 1980s and almost 700 during the 1990s.

David Tudor and John Cage preparing the piano. photo: Lütfi Özkök

Both David Tudor's first and last performances in Sweden were produced by Fylkingen. The first time was in 1958 during a piano soirée in the Stockholm Concert Hall, where he, together with Cage, performed contemporary American music. The last time Tudor was here was during Fylkingen's 60th anniversary. He played his own live electronic musical compositions on two evenings. On this occasion Tudor told a reporter something that afterwards became a famous saying about Fylkingen. "It's the only place in the world where they don't ask beforehand what you are going to do", stated Tudor. Here we find one of the many reasons why Fylkingen continues to be an experimental arena.


This is an attitude that has made it possible for Fylkingen to present the works of artists and musicians who are still at a stage of development before they become major artists. (At the same time there are of course many more artists like David Tudor who, once they have become major artists, have visited or returned to Fylkingen over the years.) But one characteristic feature of Fylkingen is that performances are not the safe, labelled goods that other organisations often wish them to be. This often makes the concerts exciting, even for Fylkingen's most dedicated and faithful visitors. You can't be certain of what awaits you. It can be a brilliant show or interpretation, or you could just as well have an experience that shows that even a failed experiment can contain something of great value. Artists who don't solely attempt to please their public but are driven by a pure will and the intention of investigating processes have a great chance of appearing at Fylkingen. Often it is the questions awakened during the performance that the audience are left with that have made the performances a great adventure. Fylkingen takes greater risks, as does its audiences, than any similar forum where the audiences don't primarily seek surprises, but instead look for confirmation of a cultural position.

There are of course many different ways to evaluate the influence of Fylkingen. If we look at the development of individual members within the association, the ones that have previously been members and those who have become "a name", the list is both long and impressive. To name but a handful of those who are no longer young but are still active, Bengt Emil Johnson, Sten Hanson and Lars-Gunnar Bodin were in the association as early as the1960s when they carried loudspeakers to the different events.

"The purpose of the association is to promote radical and experimental artistic work as well as the interests of the members, be they artistic, social or economic"

(From Fylkingen's current statutes)

Fylkingen's statutes state that one of the objectives of the association is to further the interests of its members. And it is easy to find examples of how the association through the years has successfully introduced many artists. Here we find, for example, the dancers and choreographers Efva Lilja, Susanne Jaresand and Björn Elisson. Within music we have Mats Persson, Kristine Scholz, Dror Feiler, Mats Gustafsson, Sten Sandell and many more who have had Fylkingen as their home arena. Likewise we have the visual and performance artists Leif Elggren, CM von Hauswolff and Kent Tankred; the two former artists represented Sweden at the Venice Biennale in 2002.

Without being concentric, the ripples from Fylkingen have probably had considerable influence on cultural life in Sweden. Of course it is difficult to measure its effects, but many people have testified that they exist, and how important it has been to have been present at certain concerts and performances. (Elggren as well as Hausswolff have spoken about how important Fylkingen has been for their development.) With the establishment of Fylkingen's own premises and through the use of them it became easier for the members to develop their own creations. If we look under the title "Members' Initiative" in the Fylkingen Book's concert list (see Fylkingen Ny Musik & Intermediakonst (New Music and Inter-media Art), Fylkingen 1994), we find several well-known artists' first attempts at formulating their own creativity and their own art of expression.

(left) Karl-Erik Welin and Leo Nilsson "Pianisten (The Pianist)," 1963. photo: Pressens Bild. (middle) Åke Hodell "Kannibalerna," 1975. photo:André Lafolie. (right) Margaretha Åsberg "Sand," 1974. photo: Lütfi Özkök


Fylkingen as an Organisation

Today the members of the association consist of around one hundred and fifty practising musicians, composers and artists – who, using new music and inter-media art, are working "to promote radical and experimental artistic work", as the aim is stated in the current statutes. The association's activities are led by a board which is elected at each year's annual meeting. The planning of the programme is carried out by the selection committee which is also elected at the annual meeting. The daily organisation and planning is carried out by a producer who is the only person in the association to receive payment for his organisational work. What the members get out of their participation in the board or the selection committee is, aside from practical experience, the opportunity to influence Fylkingen's programme, publications, etc.. For active artists and musicians this is of course motivation enough.

Contact with the artists who come to Fylkingen has often been the result of personal experiences or connections an individual member, in or outside the selection committee, has had when he or she has visited a festival or seen a performance abroad. This has created a large contact net leading to a wider spreading of genres and of activities of those genres, and the association has been able to keep itself up-to-date with the radical artistic changes taking place outside Sweden.

Over the years it has become easier to be elected into the association. Compared to the earlier procedure in which it was necessary to be proposed by a member, nowadays a prospective member can apply for admission directly to the board. Following this, voting takes place at one of the general members' meetings that are held every six months. This is the background to the fact that Fylkingen is still to the highest degree an active association. Through the steady addition of new members, new angles of approach and direction are added to the older ones. The association's statutes earlier stipulated a time limit for membership to formally ensure rejuvenation. This point has now been taken out as rejuvenation happens naturally by itself. Extended coteries or groups with a stranglehold on the activities are not built up within Fylkingen. Usually members are active for some years in the selection committee or on the board, and they thereafter reduce their workload to somewhat more sporadic but not to the degree that contact with the association is completely cut off. And the association has been able to always give room to the next generation, even in our times when they don't wait long to knock on the door.

Fylkingen is not merely the name of an association. It has also had permanent premises since 1971, including a rehearsal hall for its members. After fifteen years at the former cinema Facklan, Fylkingen moved in 1986 to new, larger and specially built premises in the old München Brewery on Södermalm in Stockholm. Today we have an easily adaptable auditorium with a high quality loudspeaker system, slide show equipment, etc. that seats an audience of 150 and fulfils many different demands. In addition to its own arena Fylkingen visits other arenas and the successful and the much-discussed collaboration with Moderna Museet that began in the 1960s has been revived several times during recent years, the example of which we can see in such festivals as "Nature is Perverse" 1998 and "Stardust" 2000 which were carried out in close collaboration with the museum curator Sören Engblom.


Fylkingen Exhibits

In 1999 an invitation to create an exhibition arrived from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde is one of the few art museums in the Nordic countries that include sound art in its programme. This was a new situation for Fylkingen to be offered the possibility to exhibit examples of the sound art that has been created and developed for decades. This was also a chance to gain new perspectives of our own activities and, in meeting another type of audience, an art audience, to formulate something more permanent. In the group exhibit Sound As Art As Sound, twelve visual and sound artists were invited to answer the question how it is possible to exhibit sound. All were given the same starting point: a kitchen cupboard "Enkel" from Ikea, behind a white cupboard door: Be a viewear – Give an earview.

What was immediately apparent was that among Fylkingen's members there were a great many who were active in more than one artistic area. It is something that reflects the development of art as a whole, but the ingenuity and professionalism applied were a surprise for many. There was a definite Donald Judd feeling in the oblong hall when all the cupboards were mounted on the wall.

Kent Tankred was one of those who made his own installation for the exhibition. He builds his own instruments for each special occasion and willingly looks for rubbish tips where there are discarded household machines in his hunt for electronic components. He takes them from their hiding places, unscrews their casings, and then puts lights on them so that we can hear their own voices. When the spectators wandered round in this installation they discovered with growing amazement that they were moving in an electrical, singing mushroom forest. It was something that would have touched even a mycologist like John Cage and it showed that once more Victor Hugo was right: "Every noise you hear for a long time gains a voice."

Perhaps it is this that is the voice of Fylkingen in our age, the noise that is heard for a long time. The murmur of the rumble that at first seems intangible, formless, perhaps threatening and chaotic, but finally gains a voice. The question is if we are already there and if the noise can continue to be a rumble a while longer. It is so very beautiful.


Jibbolii – Fylkingen at 70

The latest great rumble occurred at Fylkingen's festival at the end of 2003, in connection with its 70th anniversary, and it gave the audience a chance to gain an idea of the breadth and the quality of Fylkingen's activities.

(left)"Cinéma" by Erik Satie (1924) played by Mats Persson and Kristine Scholz in an arrangement for four hands by Darius Milhaud to René Clair's film "Entr'ac." photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin. (right) Lotta Melin in Christina Kubisch's "Convictions & Confusions." photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin.

I shall mention the first evening's programme as a sample of a Fylkingen event in this conclusion. The evening was long and divided into four acts and as if that wasn't enough, the group Tutuula Sisters offered several additional brilliant short performances. During the first half modern classics, such as Erik Satie, John Cage, Darius Milhaud, Hans Richter and René Clair were combined with the younger originators and the entwining of the leitmotiv of the piano strings were managed by the virtuosos Mats Persson and Kristine Scholz. The dancer Lotta Melin performed her latest collaboration with the German sound artist Christina Kubisch in "Convictions and Confusions". In Sören Runolf's electronic solo "Ruomori Rossi", the audience recognised the slogan shouting of great crowds in movement. Dror Feiler performed his own work, "The Return of the Real", from his series of compositions for different instruments and computers. After having been scrubbed clean in Feiler's rasping sound massiveness one must declare that the contrabass saxophone, which was the instrument Feiler used, was in a purely visual sense more exciting and more monstrous in the past. When Johanna Fries at the end of the evening had awarded Åke Hodell's Prize for electro-acoustic music, text-sound compositions and inter-media work for 2003 to the artist Elis Eriksson, a living classic once again came alive and the audience could listen to the premier of Eriksson's first text-sound composition. Under the title "Feed" four expert musicians investigated the relationship between composed and improvised music. As in most ad hoc investigations, the answer rested with the audience this time too, but the meeting of the musicians was a charged and exciting experience we were given the opportunity to share. Later on the first evening was concluded with Åke Hodell's slide show composition "220 Volt Buddha", an incorruptible composition of 1971 from the doyen of Swedish text-sound compositions.

"What is too much and too good for too long?" asked someone in the audience. The answer was Fylkingen.


Teddy Hultberg is an author, critic, researcher and music journalist, based in Stockholm. His longstanding interest in sound art is reflected on regular contributions to books, newspapers and magazines in the field and his lectures and radio programmes on sound poetry, text-sound composition, radio art and contemporary art music. He has published essays and articles in the Swedish journals such as Nutida Musik, Ord & Bild, Pequod, BLM, Paletten, OEI och Artes. His other publications include: "Literally Speaking, Sound poetry & Text-sound Composition", Bo Ejeby Förlag (1993), "Ankarkättingens slut är sångens början" (Where the Anchor Chain Ends, the Song Begins) on Ilmar Laaban, CD + booklet, Kalejdoskop/Fylkingen (1998), "Öyvind Fahlström on the Air", book + 2 CD, Fylkingen/Sveriges Radios Förlag (1999),"Sound Art –- The Swedish Scene", 2 CD+book, Svensk Musik, (2001).











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