Short film from the times when EMS was situated on Kungsgatan 8 in Stockholm, 1974. It is one of the rare photographic documents available from that time.
Sanne Krogh Groth
(Musicology Section, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen)
Sanne Krogh Groth is working on a Ph.D. thesis about the electronic music studio EMS (Electroacoustic Music in Sweden) from its establishment in 1964 until the mid 1970s. Subjects of interest in this study are: early computer music studios (institutional and compositional processes), experiments with voices (synthetic and analogue), the relationship between art and science, and questions related to historiographical issues. Earlier, Krogh Groth has done work on sound art, the sound of theatre, and performance art.
Exerpt from “The Stockholm Studio EMS during its Early Years”EMS08 by Sanne Krogh Groth
EMS is and was an institution with studios for producing electronic music and sound art. The first embryo to the larger studio at the radio was a smaller studio in the workers’ society of education, which is an organization that shares its ideology with the social democratic party. This studio was set up in 1960. Courses were organized by the Norwegian composer and chairman of the society of contemporary music Fylkingen Knut Wiggen, who brought in teachers from abroad, such as Gottfried Michael Koenig, Iannis Xenakis and Henri Pousseur.
In 1964 the Swedish composer Karl Birger Blomdahl was appointed music director at the Swedish Radio. The story goes that he would only accept the job, if he was allowed to build up a studio for producing electronic music. The deal was made, and for the purpose he employed Knut Wiggen to be in charge of it. In 1965 an old radio theater studio was opened towards composers, which has later on been named “klangverkstan” or “the sound workshop”.
This studio was meant to be only contemporary and very high investments were assigned a very prestigious and for its time high-quality computer music studio, which opened in around 1970. Up until the death of music director Blomdahl in 1968, the Swedish Radio (SR) invested quite an amount of money, but since the new director lost interest, EMS in 1969 became an independent organization founded partly by SR, Fylkingen/FST and the government (through the Royal Academy of Music).
Olof Palme, who was the minister of Education from 1967-69, helped EMS directly with financial aid. In a debate book from 1960 it says: “Education and research are parts of cultural politics, which most likely will be the easiest fields to get resources to, because of these fields’ importance
for the materiel progression. Striving to heighten spiritual culture will on the other hand also in the future be squeezed.” (Assar LIndbeck: Att förutse utvecklingen fra Roland Pålsson: Inför 60-talet, Debattbok om socialismens framtid av tio författare under redaktion av Roland Pålsson, Malmö 1960 (Rabén & Shögren 1959), p. 79, translated by S.K.Groth)
With this statement in mind, the foundation, organization and ideas of EMS makes very good sense.
To Wiggen EMS was not only to be a studio for producing electro acoustic music, but also an institution of research. In an article in Interface from 1972 Wiggen writes that he would like to give the composer “the possibility of describing sounds in psychological terms. This far, this system of description exists only in the form Pierre Schaeffer has given it in his theoretical work “Traité des objets musicaux”. We at EMS shall try if given economical possibility to realize the idea in terms of a computer program.” (Knut Wiggen: The electronic Music Studio at Stockholm, its Development and Construction, Interface, 1 (1972) p. 127-165 p. 134)
His research project can be described very briefly as: - selected sound objects recorded on analogue tape are given a digital form, and the computer gives an analysis of the sound in physical terms.
composers and researchers remove the sounds to which the ear does not react and find the least possible amount of information in order to synthesize a similar sound object.
a test panel will compare the original and the synthesized sound and give its opinion about the sound in the psychological terminology invented by Schaeffer, and we will try to bridge the gap between the physical and psychological description.
the next step is to try to build "scales" between two such sound objects by allowing the computer to change the physical properties of the sounds.
a test panel will search for corresponding changes in their experiences, and we hope to construct a description in which the composer writes the desired sound within the framework of a number of psychological variables.
the composer no longer plays with a keyboard, and he no longer presses buttons. He writes his sounds and musical structures in psychological terms, and the apparatus at EMS translates these terms into sounds.
Besides the research project, Wiggen also worked on a computer program called Music Box, which later has been compared to Max MSP. The above mentioned research project was never realized in Stockholm. For various reasons, the good times ended, and various conflicts emerged from the beginning of the 1970s. On an ideological and political level, the Swedish musicologist Per O. Broman describes the turning point, as - that (…) the 1960s technique utopian visions for the future were replaced by the 1970s social utopian, and within this, the electronic music had no space, even though thoughts about electronic music as the music of the future did not lack social utopian features. (Per O. Broman: Kort historik over över Framtidens musik, Stockholm 2007, p. 72)
So to say – he sort of explains it with characteristics we also know from the student revolt of 1968. On a personal level internal to the organization, there were also major problems, which might be a concretisation of the above; the younger composers wanted democracy and to set the agenda. Besides that, it is no doubt that Knut Wiggen must have been a challenging character to work with. Jon Appleton describes him as “one of the most astute music administrators I have ever met (…) He combined the qualities of a visionary, an intellectual spokesman, a megalomaniac, and a con artist.” (Jon Appleton: review of Bits and Pieces: EMS 30 years [CD], Computer Music Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), p. 100-103)