Johan Svensson is a Swedish composer, exploring the field between acoustic and electronic music. He is coming to Bodø with the piece Marionette. It’s a Norwegian Premiere.
His focus is on chamber music but his compositions range from solo pieces to works for symphony orchestra. His music often features alternative ways of producing sounds by electronic means. Currently, his interest lies with electromechanical devices and the relationship possibilities between man and machine in live situations. He is the Artistic director and a founding member (as composer and performer) of the ensemble Mimitabu and Artistic director of the Kalv festival.
His music has been performed at MATA festival in New York, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, ULTIMA Oslo Contemporary Music Festval, Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, Nordic Music Days, Tempo Reale in Florens, conDiT in Buenos Aires, Sound of Stockholm, iN festival in Seoul and SchauSchall in Graz, by Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, ensemble mosaik, Distractfold Ensemble, Curious Chamber Players, Aksiom, Mimitabu, Ricciotti ensemble, Karin Hellqvist, Simone Beneventi and Marco Fusi among others.
How do you work when choosing your sounds? What do you listen for?
For a long time I have been striving towards finding ways to emancipate sound sources from their luggage of tradition. For example by exploring new sounds and techniques on the instruments as well as finding non-musical acoustic objects to use as sound sources in my music. An important part of my compositional process has for long been, from a conceptual perspective (following Helmut Lachenmann’s advice), to ”build a new instrument”. Learning how to construct and solder my own electronic circuits and programming micro-controllers has been a way to make the meaning of those words more literal, and at the same time expanding the sounding and sound-structural possibilities of my music.
Can you say something about the way you think as a composer?It seems as natural for you to work with traditional classical ensembles as with machines?
I come from an instrumental music background and started to integrate electronic devices in my music about 7 years ago. When I compose a work for ensemble and e.g. electro-mechanical devices (solenoids, DC motors, vibrators, etc.) my goal is never to create two separate worlds but rather to find a logical common ground for the ensemble and the electro-mechanic devices to co-exist: to find ways to conceptually, audibly and structurally connect the musicians and the machine.
I initially started to work with this kind of electronic equipment out of curiosity and a fascination towards the expansion of expressive possibilities in the sound domain. What has kept my interest alive for several years has been my realisation of the potential this area of artistic work can have when from an artistic perspective investigating ethical and philosophical aspects of human-machine relationships.
Where do you find the ideas that get you started? What inspires you?
My starting point is usually a conceptual idea of a relationship between agents in a performance situation. In ”marionette” this initial idea was the hierarchical relationship between a marionette and its puppeteer, in the shape of a human performer and a motor/light construction.
In general I find it interesting to work with ”cyborg ensembles” where relationships between humans and technology are explored. Technology has not only become something all of us interact with on a daily basis but in many cases become an extension of our body and mind (smart watches, smartphones etc.). In some cases the technology is truly becoming an extension of the human body, as described by the philosopher Francesca Ferrando: ”The semantic demarcation between humans and cyborgs has blurred. On one side, electronic pacemakers, high-tech prosthesis, and plastic surgery have become accepted practices of body reconfiguration”. I think this development makes it important to investigate ethical consequences of todays human-machine relationships through artistic work. Simultaneously, it becomes important as a composer/musician to re-think the established hierarchical roles for humans and machines in a performance situation.
Marionette (2018) is a kind of duo where the string player is one part and an electromechanic structure (built from motors, vibrators, LEDs, light bulbs and relays) the other. As if connected with invisible strings, a human-machine relationship is created where movements and actions are reproduced in the medium of the other part.