edition: 3
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Skogen

Tread upon this hidden path,
enter woods so wild.
Do not fear some tough guys’ wrath,
this band’s so good and mild!

Gently they will take your hand and
guide you to get lost;
find yourself in wonderland,
this world, just slightly tossed!

Photo: Seth Starre Lacotte

Skogen makes a music where impressions and experiences, methods and materials from seemingly different musical practices make up a new, strong alloy.
The specific dynamic which arises within the interface where composition and improvisation mingle and individual and collective processes are negotiated, produces a coherent music where the multiplicity of methods and the histories of different source materials are transcended.
The musical experiences of the members cover a wide range, from Swedish folk music to contemporary classical, with the main focus on improvised and experimental music.
The members are also active performing with groups like Mats Gustafsson’s Swedish Azz, Gul 3, Chip Shop Music and Sheriff, and collaborate with musicians such as Nikos Veliotis, Axel Dörner, Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura.

Erik Carlsson: drums and selected percussion
Magnus Granberg: piano, compositions
Henrik Olsson: bowls, cymbals, glasses, microphones and loudspeakers
Leo Svensson: cello
Petter Wästberg: objects, microphones, mixing console, loudspeakers

Listen

Skogen – Skogen (excerpt 1)

Skogen – Skogen (excerpt 2)

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Skogen have recently been released on the UK label Another Timbre:

2011. Magnus Granberg & Skogen. Ist gefallen in den Schnee

(at47)
About Ist gefallen in den Schnee
“The end result of all of this is a quite enchanting, often intrinsically fascinating hour of music that questions itself as much as it challenges the individual taste of its listenership. Lovely stuff, quite beautiful but open to examining exactly that notion about itself.“

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear



Selected for The Wire Rewind 2012: Modern Composition!

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2012. Anders Dahl & Skogen. Rows.

(at64)
About Rows:

“Too much music that attempts to bridge that same gap ends up tripping over its own ambition – bad composition, compromised improvisation – but here a higher, objectifying sense of pitched order co-exists with sounds vulnerable to the moment. It’s an unusual and intoxicating accommodation.”
-Philip Clark, The Wire-

Selected for The Wire Rewind 2013: Modern Composition
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2013. Skogen. Despairs had governed me too long

(at71)
About Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long:

“But in contrast with the spontaneity and excitement of improvisation, there’s a sense of inevitability and organic unity that belongs to the most compelling composition. It creates a singular atmosphere of drama and mystery, with an ethos that’s totally involving.”

Andy Hamilton, The Wire

Clich here to see Skogen live at the Ulrichsberg Kaleidophone 2014!

Press quotes

“Skogen is led by Magnus Granberg, who provides compositional frameworks for his 10 musicians while preferring to sink his own identity within that of his group. With Skogen, Granberg´s original idea was, he says, to create a space where there,s room for many different ways of working and existing as a musician and a human being, and on the other hand to try to integrate these ways of working. And integration is key. Skogen´s debut album, released in 2012 `Ist gefallen in den Schnee´, derived its harmonic and rhythmic fabric from Schubert´s Winterreise and Granberg described how, in his role as ´composer´,he provided his hybrid ensemble of new-music players, improvisers and electronic musicians with a `pool´ of material – pitches, rhythms, chords, fragments of melodies – and a regulating temporal structure upon which to hang them. In this new Dowland-related piece the process is more opaque: we´re not even told which Dowland song Granberg has plundered. Improvising violinist Angharad Davies sits next to classical violinist Anna Lindal; the pitch-specific contributions of John Eriksson on vibraphone and marimba coexist with the textural explorations of Henrik Olsson (bowls, glasses) and Petter Wästberg (objects, contact microphones). Ko Ishikawa plays the traditional Japanese sho as his compatriot Toshimaru Nakamura performs on a no-input mixing board, a gizmo that wires input through output to generate feedback loops ripe for sonic manoeuvres. Granberg´s achievement is immense. Drawing on this 17th-century source, au courant art cuts across allegiances of style while the spectre of John Dowland is never too far from the surface”.

Philip Clark, The Gramophone
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“Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long is the third release on Another Timbre by the group Skogen, an electro-acoustic ensemble formed by Swedish musician and composer Magnus Granberg. Over the course of these releases, Granberg and ensemble have documented a collective approach to utilizing compositional structures for open-form ensemble playing. Their first release was an extended reading of “Ist gefallen in den Schnee,” a piece by the leader derived from Schubert’s song cycle “Die Winterreise” as well as an unidentified jazz song. The composition utilized these sources to provide pools of pitch, rhythmic, timbral, and melodic material along with a temporal framework for employing the material over the course of the reading. For their second release, Rows, Granberg invited composer Anders Dahl to provide a series of short compositions based on twelve-tone theory, with room for interpolation of attack or the replacement of notes with un-pitched sound or noise.

For their latest release, Granberg again provided an extended form, this time drawing on English Renaissance composer John Dowland’s song “If my complaints could passions move”. A careful listen reveals how the foundational elements of Dowland’s piece provides a subtext of mood and flow for the musicians to inhabit. (Skogen is the Swedish word for forest and Granberg has talked about the idea that his music would be “like an environment, perhaps a forest in which inhabitants with different characteristics could move freely in accordance with the environment and their own and each other’s properties and abilities.”) Integral to the success of the music is the choice of musicians and instrumentation of the ensemble freely mixing traditional Western instrumentation with the leader on piano and clarinet, Angharad Davies and Anna Lindal (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello), John Eriksson (marimba, vibraphone), Erik Carlsson (percussion); non-traditional pitched instruments with Ko Ishikawa (sho) and Henrik Olsson (bowls and glasses); and electronics with Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) and Petter Wästberg (contact microphones, objects).

Equally important is the shared sensibility of the participants, all of whom are committed to a stately collective restraint. In an interview on the Another Timbre site, Granberg explains it like this: “The density of musical events is comparatively low. I myself am very fond of the idea and practice in, for example, Javanese gamelan music, where some of the musicians, depending on their instrument, may just play one, two or perhaps four strokes during musical cycles which sometimes may last for several minutes. Japanese Gagaku music is another East Asian orchestral tradition which partly works in a similar way, I think. Other reasons may perhaps be found in the instrumentation (which is predominantly made up of decaying sounds) or the way the acoustic material is distributed throughout the tonal spectrum.”

The piece starts out with spare prepared piano notes and ultra-subtle gradations of plucked strings and reedy sho, slowly introducing ringing percussion and shadowy glitched grit of electronics. What is so striking here is the way the ensemble is willing to sit on things, never rushing. The piece proceeds on the accrual and dissipation of detail rather than structural notions of arc of densities or dynamics. Notes are sounded and percussion instruments are struck with attention to attack and decay not only of the sounds themselves, but the way they interact with the ensemble.

Yet there is nothing constrained about the music. Listen to how, 10-minutes in, a section of dynamic activity breaks out, spurred on by sputtering electronics. The same thing occurs about 40 minutes in as a swell of low rumbling electronics rises out of the mix, welling in to collective density in the last section, with string ostinatos playing off of contrapuntal piano and percussion as sho and electronics weave clouds of coloration. But rather than get pulled off into a collective fray, the ensemble absorbs the activity into the overarching flow of the piece, utilizing it to segue in to new balances of texture and timbre while maintaining the methodical pace. Melodic fragments are used in much the same way, as some voices coalesce around an emerging thread while others move in asynchronous paths. This strategy is used throughout to nudge the focus and planes of interaction, maximizing the range of the instrumentation of the ensemble in ever-shifting notions of sonic fields. Another Timbre label-head Simon Reynell has shown a continued commitment to Granberg and Skogen and one looks forward to hearing how this project will develop.”

Michael Rosenstein, Point of Departure

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“On their third release for Another Timbre, Skogen – The Forest or Woods in Swedish – present an extended composition by founder Magnus Granberg. Like their first release Ist Gefallen in den Schnee, which drew on material from Schubert’s Winterreise, it has a classical basis – a song by 17th century English composer John Dowland. Audibly, the connections are distant, except in the mood of darkness and melancholy, not to say despair and depression, they share with their models. That distance partly results from the openness of the compositional process – players are apparently handed ‘pools’ of material, with suggestions of how to treat it.

The one continuous track of 57 minutes shows a restraint within timbral richness that’s reminiscent of another remarkable ensemble, Dans Les Arbres – though their forces and improvisational method are very different. Skogen’s soundworld is spare and minimal, yet its measured progress creates a feeling of slowly evolving rhythm – a numinous intensity heightened by often violent outbursts of percussion and white noise. Instead of the familiar arch-shape, the form ebbs and flows, with a rising intensity and activity in the later part of the piece.

There’s a distinctive mix of Western, East Asian and electronic resources. A kind of baseline electronic field is set up by Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board and Petter Wästberg on contact microphones and objects. This seems to draw in the acoustic sounds of ubiquitous Ko Ishikawa on sho, and Henrik Olsson on bows and glasses, and in a way familiar from modern composers such as Nono and Xenakis, makes them sound somehow electronic too.

Granberg’s stated aim is to create a music and performance practice which draws no clear distinction between composition and improvisation. In this, as he says, he’s following developments since the 1990’s. But in contrast with the spontaneity and excitement of improvisation, there’s a sense of inevitability and organic unity that belongs to the most compelling composition. It creates a singular atmosphere of drama and mystery, with an ethos that’s totally involving.”

Andy Hamilton, The Wire

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“With their previous two Another Timbre releases, Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee (2012) and Rows (2013), Magnus Granberg’s large international ensemble Skogen established themselves as purveyors of exquisitely-played spacious music, that transcends the composition-improvisation border and makes beguilingly beautiful listening. On the 2012 album, a nine-member version of the group played a one-hour-plus rendition of Granberg’s title piece. On Rows, an eight-member version—substituting Ko Ishikawa on sho for Leo Svensson Sander on cello and John Eriksson on vibraphone—played nine shorter pieces composed by Anders Dahl.

For Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long, which was studio-recorded in Stockholm in November 2012, at the same session as Rows, the group swells to a ten-piece—retaining Ishikawa while seeing the return of Sander and Eriksson. Once again they play an extended Granberg composition, the fifty-six minute title piece. As with “Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee,” Granberg cites the influence of a classical piece on his composition—this time, a song by 17th century English composer John Dowland. While that is certainly the source of the title “Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long,” beyond that listeners need not dwell on the connection; the music here is more likely to cause them to seek out other Skogen recordings than some Dowland songs…

As before, Skogen displays the characteristics that have brought it acclaim: despite the size of the ensemble, its members do not get in each other’s way and its music never sounds over-busy or cluttered; the instrumentation achieves a good balance between conventional chamber instruments and others, acoustic and electronic, affording them equal value and allowing them to complement each other; every sound made by every player is clearly audible, thanks also to the clarity of the recording.

If its title suggests that this composition could be melancholy or depressing, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it has an over-riding sense of peace and tranquility that is relaxing and uplifting in equal measure. Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long completes an impressive hat-trick for Skogen on Another Timbre.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

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”The great composer John Cage was an amateur mycologist, which is the formal term for someone who studies mushrooms. Cage was reluctant to draw a connection between his two passions, famously stating ”I am not interested in the relationships between sounds and mushrooms any more than I am in those between sounds and other sounds.” Nonetheless, Cage’s mushroom quest involved spending time in forests, where he undoubtedly lent his tremendous ears to the subtle doings of the natural world. In the same spirit, the group Skogen (which means ”the forest” in Swedish) takes inspiration from the music that emerges from nature. And surely Cage has inspired Skogen’s majestic long-form pieces, which explore the intersection between composition and improvisation, and warmly blend all manner of sounds and other sounds.

In Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long, the Sweden-based ensemble has created a gorgeous, 56-minute atmospheric field. The piece was composed by Skogen’s founder, Magnus Granberg, who derived the harmonic and rhythmic foundations from 17th-century English composer John Dowland’s song ”If My Complaints Could Passions Move.” From this compositional jumping-off point, the group unfolds a gracefully meandering improvisation. It’s a quiet space, but it is not silent: the piece is full of sounds that arise and disappear within the unobtrusive, hypnotic environment. Expansive single notes and pure chimes predominate, with discreet background evolutions that include tiny pools of dissonance, prisms of electronic shards, and sensitive drones. These shifting sounds are exquisitely paced, creating a harmonious progression that’s both generous and patient.

And just as a forest welcomes all noises within it, this music mingles beautifully with the sounds of everyday life. If one plays the CD on a sunny spring day, the song gratefully accepts lawnmowers, children’s laughter, and barking dogs. Likewise, during stormy weather, the music has space for raindrop patter, thunder rumbles, and the coo of a mourning dove. That’s how wide-open this work is: the piece stands alone, and it is most definitely ”finished,” but it is also receptive to changes and additions from the environment it is played in, which is a truly remarkable achievement.

As for the title, the piece does feel like the prolonged sensation of waking up after a long and perhaps despairing sleep. The music offers a host of subtle sensations, a slow thoughtful journey that shines a light and speaks of hope. This is a graceful, peaceful, meditative mindscape: it is life-affirming and, in the quietest way possible, wildly exciting. Perhaps this is what it sounds like to hunt for mushrooms in a hushed and ancient forest, with ears that are wide-open and free.”

Florence Wetzel, Squid’s Ear
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”The Skogen album is a good case in point – featuring one forty-minute composition by Granberg, played in understated manner by a quintet, it reminds this listener of several things, from Gastr Del Sol´s quiter moments, to some of Christian Wolff´s pieces, and even a touch of Morton Feldman (in the piano, at least). Granberg´s mostly interested in short sounds, which means that his piano, Erik Carlsson´s percussion and Leo Svensson´s cello drop tiny cells and phrases of asynchronous melody into deep wells of silence, as Olsson´s bowls and percussion slowly patter away, and he and Petter Wästberg let high, and ringing tones sing out as though they´re strung across the piano´s strings. It´s beautiful, heavy on the restraint, and quite gorgeous in it´s becalmed yet austere way.”

Jon Dale, Signal to Noise
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“For obvious reasons improvised music through its many vintages has always been able to spark into life micro-communities of musicians in seemingly far-flung places. Small groups of musicians playing together in Korea, Australia, and Tokyo to name just a few places have developed their own individual styles, more the cumulative result of the interests of a few key individuals than any over-riding outside influence. These three fine CDr releases on the new Bombax bombax label from Sweden bring my attention to what seems like another example of this very welcome trend.
Skogen are the quintet of Erik Carlsson, (drums and percussion) Magnus Granberg, (piano) Henrik Olsson, (bowls, cymbals and electronics) Leo Svensson (cello) and Petter Wästberg (objects and electronics). On the occasions that they play together the group mainly perform compositions written by Granberg and that is the case with this release. The loose composition underpinning the music here provides the ensemble with a number of musical choices to be made within a series of short timeframes. These frames range between thirty and ninety seconds in length and add up to forty minutes overall. Within the frames the composition suggests rough descriptions of pitch, rhythm, timbre and other variables, but these are never precisely notated. Therefore improvisation is left as an important element of the music. To paraphrase Granberg the composition is designed to “heighten the processes of interaction and co-operation within the group dynamic.”
Skogen (the name translates into English as forest) make music that isn’t easy to describe in any helpful manner. If the chattery free improv from the late 20th Century sits at one end of the spectrum and EAI at the other, then this music sits squarely in the blurred middle ground between them though its compositional heart complicates this further.
Its inevitable I guess that music containing piano, percussion and electronics should end up being compared to AMM, but there is little similarity here beyond Granberg’s piano playing, which in places resembles John Tilbury in Feldman mode. Extended, droning sounds do not appear, and for the most part the music revolves around slowly intertwining percussive structures with the piano seemingly leading the way, picking up speed here and there in patches where the music gets busier, but always retaining a sense of composed organisation throughout.
The density of the musical material alters between each of the timeframes in the composition, but the order in which the frames are played is chosen beforehand by chance. As it happens the disc seems to begin at its most dense with tumbling, awkward patterns of gamelanesque percussion placed into the spaces between short piano clusters with only gentle background colouring provided here and there by the electronic musicians. Excuse the metaphor, but I am reminded of fish in a tank rising individually and repeatedly to the surface of the water to be fed before falling way again. Fifteen minutes or so later, as presumably a new section of the score is begun, a soft, extremely beautiful period of calm appears, just ripples left on the surface of the water. Spacious combinations of brief piano notes, gentle cello and mainly bowed metal objects later grow into a short passage of high pitched cries before they are cut short and after a few moments repose the music slips away on a shifting pattern of piano and groaning cello.
This release is yet another fine example of how improvisation and composition can be blended together to create music that is at once both conceptually interesting and musically engaging. There is a sense of ordered structure to the music that could only come from a composition, and yet there is no way that this could ever be fully notated. To produce the music Skogen make here the score needs these particular musicians and vice versa.“

Richard Pinnell, Bagatellen
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“Ist gefallen in den Schnee, lasting sixty-one minutes, consists entirely of a November 2010 recording of the title composition by Magnus Granberg. For the recording Granberg’s group Skogen—in which he plays piano—is expanded to a nonet including two non-Swedish guest musicians, Angarad Davies on violin and Toshimaru Nakamura on his instrument of choice, the no-input mixing board. Strings, vibraphone, percussion, bowls and glasses plus electronics complete the group’s line-up, giving it a soundscape that extends way beyond that of a chamber group.

Opening with delicate, carefully-spaced piano notes, the composition initially sounds most reminiscent of Morton Feldman. Remarkably, Granberg himself says its rhythmic material and other temporal proportions are derived from two different songs from Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise (the album title is definitely a line from one of its songs, “Wasserflut”). Its tonal material, however, is derived from a jazz song that he has forgotten. If the composer had not dropped such clues, those sources would not be at all apparent from the music itself.

The piece subtly combines composition and improvisation. Granberg comments, “Perhaps one could say that I provide a potential which could be realized in innumerable ways, but the actual realizations are always the result of what decisions the musicians make throughout the piece; formal differentiation occurs spontaneously as a result of an improvisational process.”

With any nine-member ensemble that includes improvisation, there will always be the risk that the players will get in each other’s way or that the music degenerates into a series of individual contributions leading to cacophony overall. Granberg’s composition deftly manages to sidestep these potential problems, avoiding any feeling of clutter or messiness, while achieving a beautiful sense of space, openness and tranquility. The composer’s own piano playing is central to that—his economical contributions set an example to the other players and act as the backbone of the piece.

The ringing sounds of Henrik Olsson’s bowls and glasses plus the electronic tones from Nakamura and Petter Wästberg contrast effectively with the ensemble’s conventional instruments while being entirely consistent with the mood of the piece and the sound of the rest of the group. Across its duration, Ist gefallen in den Schnee creates its own rules and logic, resulting in a composition that demands to be heard again and again. Sublime.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz
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“Rarely has a title been as precise as for this album, capturing a feeling in mid-phrase “has fallen in the snow”, offering possibly one of the most delightful and lightest musical dishes you may have consumed ever.

The band consists of Angharad Davies and Anna Lindal on violin, Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board, Petter Wastberg on electronics, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Erik Carlsson on percussion, John Eriksson on vibraphone & crotales, Henrik Olsson on glasses and bowls, and Magnus Granberg on piano, but equally rarely will you have heard a nonet with a more open, lightfooted and fragile sound.

Magnus Granber takes the lead on piano, using sparse notes as the reference for the other musicians who intervene with the beauty and transparance of single snow flakes, single-toned, well-paced and creating an atmosphere of perfect tranquility and peace.

The album contains one single track, lasting just over an hour, and despite its minimalism is not boring for one second. On a superficial level you might say that nothing much happens, but quite the contrary is true, nothing is ever the same, as the partly composed piece evolves with subtle and sometimes unexpected sounds. As with other bands using the same approach, such as “Dans Les Arbres”, “Silencers” or “Mural”, the musicians’ utter instrumental control and restraint are astonishing, resulting in this wonderful coherence that is the result of high level common improvisation, made interesting because of the real intensity of the created soundscapes.

Again, as with lots of new music in the past decades, Scandinavian musicians offer us new aural experiences, and indeed very welcoming ones. Highly recommended!”

Stef, Free Jazz
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“Ist gefallen in den Schnee is a single, hour long composition scored by Magnus Granberg and performed by the group Skogen, which on this occasion consisted of nine musicians, seven of them Swedish and two of them (Toshimau Nakaumra playing no-input mixer and Angharad Davies playing violin) guest musicians visiting the country. The Swedish line up were, Anna Lindal, (violin) Leo Svensson Sander, (cello) John Eriksson, (vibraphone and crotales) Erik Carlsson, (selected percussion) Henrik Olsson, (bowls and glasses) Petter Wastberg (objects, contact mics and mixing board) and Granberg himself playing piano. In an in-depth interview about the composition at the AT website, Granberg states that the score uses two points of source material; a couple of Schubert’s songs, which he has somehow used to drive the rhythmic sections of the composition, and a jazz melody, from which he has derived the tonal parts. Exactly how he has done this is far from clear, and before I had read the interview I was in firm agreement with the AT label owner Simon Reynell’s viewpoint that the music seems to be a kind of collision between the music of Morton Feldman and an intervening improvised sense of disruption.

The music is extremely lovely to listen to, a really nice balance between semi-classical instrumentation and the abstraction of raw electronics. Ist gefallen in den Schnee (the title apparently comes from a line in a Schubert song and might translate to Is fallen in the snow) opens with a slow, clockwork like structure of chiming percussion and plucked strings mixed with twittering electronics from (I think) Nakamura. Immediately I think of Feldman, and when the violin strings join the chains of simple, slowly picked out piano the resemblance is even more striking, but all along the chamber feel of the music is disrupted slightly by the electronics, which are apparently much more loosely scored for than the other parts, so allowing the improvisatory qualities of these musicians to interact with an otherwise slowly turning, lethargic but steady rhythmic pulse. It really does feel like a late Feldman work with electronic accompaniment, and that’s not a bad thing at all in my opinion.

As the piece slowly develops it becomes more dense, with less room for silence and individual sounds less easy to pick out and focus upon, but the sense of precise timing very apparent and the slow pace maintained immaculately throughout, even when the thickness of the varying sounds together could prosily have lead to an excited quickening of the pace. Several of the musicians’ inputs are familiar to me; Carlsson’s particular use of circular percussive chimes, the lightness of Angharad Davies’ violin stroke, the filigree scribbles of Toshi Nakamura behind a mixing board, but this CD isn’t about individual voices but rather a carefully structured work for a nine piece group that maintain a sense of control throughout, even with some of their input entirely improvised. There are some gloriously beautiful moments. At nine minutes in when the piano mixes its way through some glowing cyclical percussion is one such moment to savour, but they actually come thick, if not fast. While first listening to this music a couple of weeks back I found myself asking myself why the two electronics musicians were here on this CD, when their role seems only ever to be about disrupting what might otherwise be a very typically New York School piece of composition. I didn’t think this way for too long though, as I soon realised that the real intrigue in this music comes from the way two musical worlds seem to collide, the almost regimentally arranged acoustic instruments and the free flowing electronics. While the feedback and fizzing remain very slightly in the background throughout and never try and push to the acoustic sounds out of the way their presence here is a telling one, reminding us that we aren’t listening to something tightly dictated but an experiment in such a collision of approaches and outcomes. The end result of all of this is a quite enchanting, often intrinsically fascinating hour of music that questions itself as much as it challenges the individual taste of its listenership. Lovely stuff, quite beautiful but open to examining exactly that notion about itself.“

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

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“If it is difficult – and probably unnecessary – to determine what is “semi-composed” and what is “semi-improvised” in the exciting hour that this delicate piece lasts, we must nonetheless recognize that Magnus Granberg (piano/composer) has succeeded in creating an enchanting environment and a vehicle for contemplation, with the help of the group Skogen in Stockholm in autumn 2010.

Even without its title and cover (both of which are charming for this Swedish Winterreise), the music stands up on its own: elegant, dream-like in its suspension, and it’s Feldman who soon appears amidst the desks and music stands of Angharad Davies (violin), Anna Lindal (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello) and John Eriksson (vibraphone). Then the fine electric tension is supplied by Erik Carlsson (percussion), Henrik Olsson (bowls & glasses), Petter Wästberg (objects, microphones, mixer) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixer, which is a real cage of piercing, humming insects), these four giving the Feldmanesque halos, drops and slow comets a further quality of mystery. Although the group has expanded its workforce (from its work for the label Bombax bombax), Skogen here achieve a wonderful balance: parsimonious, subtle, but always consistent. Bravo!”

Guillaume Tarche, Le Son du grisli
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“On the Another Timbre website, composer/pianist Magnus Granberg is grilled about how Ist Gefallen in den Schnee came out sounding more Feldmanesque than his actual source material: a jazz standard (Granberg can’t remember which) and two songs from Schubert’s Winterreise. He explains that Schubert’s songs provided him with a rhythmic and temporal framework, while the jazz standard lent him the tonal material, the point being “to reconcile musics with different social connotations”. Presumably Granberg’s mixed ensemble of improvisors (including violinist Angharad Davies and Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board) and ‘straight’ players is making much the same point, although everything is buried at such a subterranean structural level that the distinction evaporates in the listening. Granberg has thought through the ‘whys’ carefully: players are handed ‘pools’ of material, with suggestions of how to treat it, and his hour long structure balances formal rigidity with an internal energy clearly deriving from musicians listening, working out where to go next.”

Philip Clark, The Wire
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“Antoine Beuger recently lamented the fact that so many interpretations of John Cage’s music lack a basic sense of beauty and phrasing, an observation that came to mind as I listened to these four new releases from Another Timbre. Whether for large ensemble, trio, duo or solo player, and whatever the syntax employed in the music’s construction, each is imbued with a sense of beauty that is often overwhelming. Sometimes raw, often sparse and occasionally embracing something akin to silence, these are some of the strongest offerings in the fairly young label’s catalogue. Skogen’s Ist Gefallen in den Schnee and Taus’s Pinna share a fairly strict focus in terms of pitch content, while Thread (Annette Krebs, Magda Mayas and Anthea Caddy) and Atto (Osvaldo Coluccino) tend toward a more disjointed aesthetic, yet all derive, at least in part, from the music Cage left, whether from the wild pointillism of his 1970s etudes, the never-silence of 4:33 or the majestic long-toned grandeur of late orchestral works such as 103.

This is not to say that Cage is the sole point of reference: certainly these musicians are well versed in other grammars. I remember hearing Luciano Berio’s completion of Schubert’s 10th symphony and being struck by the “dream” music that connects the fragments of Schubert’s unfinished manuscript. It isn’t just that pianist and composer Magnus Granberg’s vision takes its title from a Schubert song: the more time I spend with it, the more I hear the music on Skogen’s new disc to be a natural follow-up to Berio, taking his ideas to the next level. In an interview with Granberg on the AT site, Simon Reynell likens the music to Feldman, but I also hear some of Berio’s busyness and layering in the ever-evolving textures (the Stockholm-based ensemble has been expanded from five to nine players, including Toshimaru Nakamura and Angharad Davies). While a slow and somewhat clichéd movement from sparse to full textures pervades the disc, the way in which the space is filled is anything but expected. In the single movement, the ensemble glides through a series of pitch areas, some intervallic, others not, but each leading naturally to the next. Though the dynamic level is in constant flux, there’s a sense of unity as each sound takes its place, as if fitting into a puzzle. But just when the formula seems clear, there’s a stunning moment of near silence and vast space, punctuated only by Nakamura’s electronics, before the activity begins again and several unexpectedly louder sounds infiltrate the space. This flouting of (what has become) established form is one of the ingredients that makes the disc so successful: this music, whose wide dynamic range and brief glimpses of tonality within a rigid formality, is refreshingly beyond simple categorization, though a tonal palette similar to Cage’s prepared piano music of the late 1930s and 1940s provides an easy point of reference.”

Marc Medwin, Paris Transatlantic
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“Nothing spooks your average concertgoer more than the dread of having to sit through a piece of 12-tone music, but – tough shit – some composers find serial organisation a useful tool and so, music lovers everywhere, you’re stuck with it. Not that music on Sheffield’s Another Timbre is likely to reach those who rely on mainstream classical institutions. Composition is transported to another realm in these discs, typical of that fertile hinterland between fixed composition, free improvisation and electronics in which the label has seeded a new music.

Anders Dahl’s Rows reconfigures serial methodology. Dahl handed the Skogen ensemble – Angharad Davies (violin), Magnus Granberg (piano, clarinet), Ko Ishikawa (sho), Anna Lindal (violin), Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board), Henrik Olsson (bowls, glasses), Petter Wastberg (contact mic, objects, feedback), Erik Carlsson (percussion) – an array of contradictions ripe for working through. Each piece is grounded by a Schoenberg / Webern-style tone row; but the musicians are given licence to play any note in any octave and, in a genius move, to replace any note with any unpitched noise or sound. There’s more: the musicians were encouraged to plan what these noises might be, but improvisors being improvisors, Dahl works into his grand plan that they were unlikely to avoid the temptation of listening to each other, and therefore spontaneously interacting. “The purpose of the composition,” he says, “is to create a certain kind of environment for the musicians to work in, but not to control them in detail.”

And the result? Dahl quietly disentangles the cultural chasm that necessarily exists between the demands of serial composition and free improvisation. Too much music that attempts to bridge that same gap ends up tripping over its own ambition – bad composition, compromised improvisation – but here a higher, objectifying sense of pitched order co-exists with sounds vulnerable to the moment. It’s an unusual and intoxicating accommodation. Apart from the title and the suggestive cover art – ducks lined up, so to speak, in a row – you could listen to this music completely unaware of its serial workings. Roomy, unhurried sounds wear their technical baggage loosely. Big ideas are expressed within small structures; like Webern, only bigger.”

Philip Clark, The Wire
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“The nine-member ensemble Skogen released the highly impressive Ist gefallen in den Schnee on Another Timbre in late 2012. It consisted of one composition, the title piece, by the ensemble’s pianist Marcus Granberg. It showed them to be capable of mixing improvised and composed elements together to create an uncluttered piece with a unique sense of space and beauty. All of which created a certain sense of anticipation at the arrival of their new album Rows. And despite it being rather different, this is a worthy follow-up.,

The line-up of the ensemble is similar to before, the most noticeable changes being the loss of Leo Svensson Sander on cello and John Eriksson on vibraphone & crotales and the addition of Ko Ishikawa on sho. Crucially, the group still contrasts the sounds of conventional instruments with electronic sounds plus the ringing of bows and glasses. A more significant difference is the music itself; rather than one extended piece, it consists of nine shorter pieces composed by Anders Dahl. He set out to create the simplest twelve-tone music he could think of. Each of his “rows” consists of a different permutation of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, each note being played once and once only per row. The musicians are allowed considerable freedom: they can play the note however they like; only the letter for the note is specified so they can play it in any octave; they can also skip any note or replace it with an unpitched sound or noise. The end results show considerable variations of duration—the longest lasting eight minutes, the shortest two; the mood and style of the pieces shows just as much variation, largely dependent on the extent to which individual musicians exploit the freedoms they are given. But, as a means of co-ordinating the playing of an ensemble of this size, Dahl’s compositions are very successful and the end results extremely satisfying.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

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“Twelve tone music was the signature sound of mid-20th century avant garde art music. How to transpose it into the 21st century? Composer Anders Dahl presents one possibility with the music on Rows, a new CD featuring performances by the Swedish chamber ensemble Skogen.

As Dahl saw it, the challenge was to compose twelve tone music that, while avoiding the establishment of a key centre, would at the same time sidestep the problem of the overdetermination—and resulting rigidity—to which twelve tone serialism was particularly susceptible. Dahl’s elegant solution was to come up with a reduced kind of serialism in which the twelve tones of the row would only be played once. In addition, performers would be given the choice of skipping notes or replacing them with sounds of their own choosing.

As could be expected, the resulting sound is nothing like conventional twelve tone or serial music. Each brief piece is largely given over to tracing the exposition of a row; development comes through the overlap and alternation of difference voices from the ensemble as tones are passed between piano, pitched percussion, strings and winds. While the row is slowly unfolded, amplified objects and electronics skitter on top, adding a layer of quick activity and grit that seems to situate the pitches in the context of the 21st century’s prototypical ambient sounds. With its eclectic complement of instruments—piano, violin, clarinet, theremin, bamboo pipes, percussion, no-input mixing board, and various objects—Skogen is well suited to bringing out the austere beauty of this music.

Rows can be listened to as a meditation on the tone row as a free standing material in itself rather than as a means of expression. In fact Dahl’s approach—and the ensemble’s interpretation of his scores—removes twelve tone music as far as possible from its Expressionist beginnings, not to mention its later use to convey dread in cinema. In the process, he returns it to a more elemental plane of existence both prior to and presupposed by the expressive impulse.”

Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News
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Skogen är Erik Carlsson, Magnus Granberg, Henrik Olsson, Leo Svensson, Petter Wästberg. Albumet består av ett nästan fyrtio minuter långt stycke. Ljudbilden är mycket speciell med två slagverksspelare, piano, cello och elektronik. Den senare blir mer ett eget instrument, en tonfärgning, eftersom de akustiska dominerar med sin avvaktande sorgsenhet. De släpper motvilligt ifrån sig längre linjer och sammansatta ljudblock. Musiken sätts punktvis in. Under långa minuter med mycket pauser uppfattas övergripande melodifragment som svävar över landskapet.

Erik Carlssons och Henrik Olssons slagverk ger en rik klang, där instrumentens materiella egenskaper spelar en viktig roll i färgsättningen. Jag hör trä, klockor, metall. Men knappast rytmik i vanlig mening. Den rörelsen finner jag i fragment hos cellisten Leo Svensson och inte minst i Magnus Granbergs piano. I återkommande andetag verkar pianoklangen, som med tranceartad långsamhet upprepar korta figurer. Klangligt liknar de varandra, tonalt skiftar de. Fragmentet berättar om större former, starka känslor.

Eftersom jag upplever pianospelet som en obruten väv finns en stark formmedvetenhet. Pauserna verkar som om musikens form rörde sig under själva tystnaden. En stark form upplevs hela tiden och binder ihop de korta inpass alla spelarna formulerar sig med. De har valt en begränsning, ett trångt rum att röra sig i. Det gör satsningen större, koncentrationen avgörande. Det duger inte med en massa spilltoner. Här går chansningen, slumpen, svaren, frågorna i dagen. Det är en mäktig upplevelse att följa musikens process, dess avvägningar, där de knappa tonkonstellationerna efter en dryg halvtimme upplevs som ett slags eufori i ett drömtillstånd. Till detta bidrar i högsta grad Magnus Granbergs hypnagoga pianospel. Mellan dröm och vaka.

Efter att ha lyssnat på Skogens försjunkna, fragmentariska, hjärtslagsrörliga musik kommer jag att tänka på en titel till en föreställning av Birgit Åkesson signerad av Erik Lindegren: ”Öga: sömn i dröm.”

Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music


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Skogen backstage at the Sound of Stockholm festival in 2012

 Photo: Seth Starre Lacotte

Seen from left to right: Ko Ishikawa, Angharad Davies, Leo Sander, Magnus Granberg (sitting),

Petter Wästberg, Erik Carlsson, Anna Lindal, Toshimaru Nakamura, John Eriksson and Henrik Olsson.

Photo: Seth Starre Lacotte