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Bjørn Fongaard, "Elektrofoni: Works for Micro Intervallic Guitar 1965-1978"

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cover imageWith his custom guitar and unconventional playing techniques, Fongaard is one of the unrecognized innovators of prepared guitar, even in his native Norway.  Here, three discs of his work, and a DVD, are lavishly presented to hopefully increase the recognition of this artist. There is a lot of material to digest but it is well worth the effort and presents a distinct missing link in the world of experimental guitar.

Prisma Records

Elektrofoni - Bjørn Fongaard

Fongaard was a self-taught composer who spent much of his studies focusing on the sciences and mathematics in addition to music, often working to combine the different disciplines in various new configurations, as well as spending a significant amount of time playing traditional guitar as a studio musician and in theater productions, working with the likes of little known directors such as Ingmar Bergman. All of this lead to a conceptual interest in expanding the traditional 12 tone scale into a 24 scale, and eventually an infinite scale, with microscopic tonal variations utilized and recognized.  It’s not hard to see how this concept is very much complementary to the early electronic composers and today’s noise/experimental scene.

To further this, Fongaard had a custom built guitar to work within this 24 tone scale, doubling the number of frets that can be played.  In addition, he used various innovative playing techniques, such as using violin bows, percussive techniques, and various tools and objects to mute and bend strings.  Coupled with a motivation to avoid the techniques of the contemporary electro-acoustic artists of his day, Fongaard’s work was mostly based upon live recordings, using only occasional effects and manipulating tape speeds to achieve his desired effect.

The results are something quite akin to what the world was hearing from artists such as Pierre Henry and Luc Ferrari in feeling, but sounding like nothing else at the same time.  On some of the pieces presented here, the guitar playing is quite obvious, but unique due to its construction:  "Evolution (5 Movements)" from 1965 and "Electrofonia No. 2," from 1969 focus on the taut, plucked guitar strings and short, sharp notes that sound somewhere between guitar and violin in color.

Other pieces take on a darker feeling, such as the reverb soaked "Galaxe (For 3 Quarter-Tone Guitars) Opus 46," which meshes the chirping guitar with heavy reverb initially, then pained guitar and banshee-like shrieks of sound, all topped off with percussive, clattering guitar strings to close the piece.  This is one of only three pieces included here that had ever been commercially released in the past, to put the material here into perspective.

The long "14 Aforismer for Mikrointervall-Gitar, Opus 63" uses other techniques, such as erratically pitch-bent notes and droning space that sounds purely electronic, but is more likely drawn out passages of guitar that give a warm ambient feel to everything.  "Elektrofonia No. 1" introduces some subtle, but recognizable flanging to the reverbed guitar notes, sometimes held out into near silent open space, and other times allowed to develop into cautiously restrained feedback.  The "Sinfonia Microtonalis" tracks that mostly constitute the third disc also include a greater selection of effects, such as the chilling scraped strings that close the first part and the delayed, almost fuzzed out sounds of the third part differ from one another greatly, yet work well together.

The set also includes a DVD capturing a few television performances of his music.  "Dimensjoner" and "Relieff" are both dances, the former mixing abstract images with a single dancer in muted gray tones, while the latter is more dynamic, with a larger group of performers and lots of bright, bold colors.  It definitely is a product of the 1970s, but is definitely unique as well.  "Stjernetaker" is a piece for television that mixes processed images with natural ones, creating a pseudo documentary that is quite hypnotizing.  The most fascinating piece here though is "Komponist Med Gitar," which is a television interview with Fongaard from 1971.  While the discussion is in Norweigan and not subtitled, Fongaard’s demonstration of his guitar techniques and style need no explanation, and offers a rare opportunity for observing how these unique sounds are made.

While he was relatively unknown even in his own country, Fongaard has had a quiet, but discernable influence on avant garde guitar composition that becomes much more obvious once one listens to this set.  Sadly, only about a fifth of his compositions were performed while he was still living, so he never even managed to hear the bulk of his work.  Lovingly curated by Lasse Marhaug, this set shows the same attention to detail and consideration that has been demonstrated on his Pica Disk box sets in recent years, and is obviously a work of extreme care and thoughtfulness.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 17 October 2010 22:48  


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