EM1003 – Past time

EM 1003 Bjelkeborn - front

Past Time music by Tomas Bjelkeborn. Thomas Bjelkeborn is a composer, musician and sound artist. He is one of the initiators of IDKA, PUSH Festival Gävle and Club Lamour Fylkingen Stockholm. He often collaborates with international institutions and internationally active composer / musician at residences in UK, Spain, France and other countries, and tours frequently in Europe with live electronic ensemble SQ / Sound Quartet.

 Tomas Bjelkeborn webpage


TITLE Past time
ARTIST Tomas Bjelkeborn
YEAR 2001
TYPE CD, Digipak
PRICE 12 Euro




1. TOF daughter, 11:00 min

2. Do it again, 10:24 min

3. Within Without, 12:33 min

4. Wind Jumping, 8:46 min

5. Mèlquíades, 10:24 min

6. Ex, 16:50 min




The color of the sleek DIGIPAK cover is sober and subdued, somewhat minimal, with some unclear, dreamy pictures on the inside of the foldout, hinting at otherworldly spirits trying to get contact through a spiritualistic medium. The information is kept to a minimum. Nothing whatsoever is said about the pieces presented, and there is no bio on the composer. In Sweden, however, Thomas Bjelkeborn is quite well known in modern music circles, and he as probably reached a wider audience than the average composer of electroacoustics in Sweden on account of his interactive installations in museums and some large-scale outdoor environmental musical projects.

When I consult my Filemaker records of electroacoustics that I’ve taped from the radio I find Bjelkeborn quite a few times, so his music has been performed on national radio too.

When looking for some biographical notes I found some useful information in the booklet of a CD from the Swedish Music Information Hire-Library of Electroacoustic Music, wherein Bjelkeborn is represented with one of the pieces, which recurs here fully publicly. It appears he grew up in the rural town of Gävle, where he received a conventional musical training. He was soon devoured by rock and fusion, which he brought to higher levels utilizing multimedia. Though bent on a classical musical education, he was diverted into EMS in Stockholm, which provides a higher education in the field of electroacoustics. His teacher were mighty in reputation; Rolf Enström (one-time winner of the Prix Italia), Lars-Gunnar Bodin (original pioneer and guru of electronic music also utilizing speech and poetry) and Jan W. Morthenson (who is encompassed by an almost mystical reputation of hard-earned and deep knowledge of the far corners of human musical creativity).

“TOF daughter” (1996) starts with a sweeping, high pitch wind cut up by loud, brownish thuds of a wooden character, almost transforming into a Japanese percussive atmosphere. On a backdrop of droning, murmuring nuances of violet, sudden vocally deducted events shoot fort like springs, disappearing right away, while the backdrop murmur extends into a Rolf Enström “Final Curses” idiom… A repeated call, slowly rising in pitch, urgency and speed, distantly reminiscent of a grouse of the northern territories (Lagopus mutus), moves in a Stockhausenesque Kontakte manner from rhythm over in pitch. Ghostlike vocal events, wherein you now may discern intelligible speech, swirl and whirl in a snow flurry manner, and it feels like you’re in a hideout somewhere in the Lapland wilderness under the sharp needle of Nallo, tucked-away in a bivouac in the snowy rock fields below the towering glacier heads, while you hear news broadcasts on your satellite radio of a worsening world situation – and maybe there’s nothing worth returning to… In a deepening all-timbre tutti of electronic storm winds you approach the ominous end of the piece, as the irregular thuds of the beginning return in sparse death-throes of a shamanistic troll-drum, echoing the insights of times past.

“Do it again” (1991) has a crunchy, metallic steel-frame feel when it comes at you, and instinctively you brace for a barbed wire attack… as the music turns into soft-spoken paper-clip ticks and rustles of dry leaves or crumpled newspaper pages in an earth closet on an canoe-reached island in Lake Båven…

A slowly revolving, vibrant drone across the pine-tree saw-tooth horizon makes the small, close-up sounds appear like fish jumping in the glassy midnight midsummer lake, and all the little ones – the fairies and the elves – move in the smoking mist of the meadow, as deer stop immobile, listening, looking – feeling the significance of existence… Many small occurrences of a metallic gender build this piece into a semi-conversational bit, wherein a conversation of mineral and molecular worlds emits sparks and gleanings of morphemial importance to inattentive listeners of human origin and spiritual destinations…

“Within Without” (1993) approaches like distant thunder under the horizon, or maybe like the eerie sound of a windswept tundra in the last auditory sensations experienced by a hiker succumbing to the cold…

However… this is the only one of the works on the CD that I have the composer’s explanation of, or introduction to, through that CD from the Swedish Music Information Hire-Library. Let me quote: “This is music about the difficulty of evoking and retaining the sublime in our existence despite the painful awareness that our erst-while innocent hypersensitivity can never be regained. The principle sources of inspiration for me in composing this piece were the melancholy and perplexity evoked by Cedar Walton’s “When Love is New”, the mystic sensibility in the hard-hitting rhythmic grooves of Led Zeppelin, Sarah’s crying scene in during therapy at the mental hospital in the film Terminator II and the final scene portraying the death of replicant Roy in Bladerunner.

The musical material consists primarily of diverse human voices supplemented by a number of instrumental sounds. The original voice material was to a large extent textual, but this is for the most part no longer discernible in the final result. The words and their articulation have instead become guiding and driving forces behind the musical development.”

So… it comes as no surprise that Bjelkeborn is a thinker and a philosopher also, because his music is such – rich in nuances and emotional timbres, evoking the mystical awareness present in each of us.

“Within Without” is flaky, spatial, spacious – at times shiny metallic, with smooth surfaces with not a crevasse even on a sub-atomic scale. Heavy granite boulders come bouncing sometimes in the evenness, stirring things up, making you realize how fast your secure circumstances may change – and with the two exclamation marks of capitalism disintegrated in New York, this goes without saying…

The beauty of blue metal grinding against metal, like a softened Gothenburg shipyard daydream, circles your awareness; giant chains hoisting dense matter on high whine and screech… Secrecies gurgle way inside deep layers of sonic curtains, and no one will know their real significance… like we will not remember long lost occurrences deep inside the rock bottom of distant Jupiter moons…

“Wind Jumping” (1991) is the shortest of Bjelkeborn’s pieces on this CD, with its almost 9 minutes. Its beginning is intense, in one sharp line of shrill audio; a line that pans slowly and begins to wobble after a while, coming closer, moving away… in a sound world sometimes reminiscent of Jean Schwarz’s… The sense of balls rolling on a surface, in a circular or oval fashion, lingers on, as does the sensation of a grinding, forceful relentlessness, like that of a glacier’s irresistible shifting of loathsome loads, as it slowly, very slowly, moves its incredible weight according to the laws of nature – opening razor-sharp crevasses in lightning-fast directions… introducing ways to fall back in glacial time, to death and to when all water was fresh to drink…

“Mèlquíades” (1987) is the oldest piece presented. The first violent seconds, loudly and litophonically fluttering, resound Gabriel Poulard’s “La Mémoire des Pierres” and also Horacio Vaggione’s “Tar”, which both won awards at the Concours International de Musique Electroacoustique at Bourges in 1988, and which both, interestingly, were realized at about the same time as “Mèlquíades”. Soft and distant electroacoustics softly paint a picture of a hidden away forest meadow, where birds chirp and spiders lurk at the edges of their webs, as sunlight trickles down sideways through the pine needle brancheries… Bowed and bent sheet steel sonics mix with a percussive, fluttering and panning event, making for a really enjoyable and exciting progression, wherein anything can happen, it feels. All the sounds are distinctly beautiful too; with their very own characteristics of aesthetic value. A submersed feel, maybe achieved by utilization of ring modulators, create an angelic, medieval, cathedral space, soon harboring more aggressive or brute sounds, still keeping their distinct contours through the havoc. Beautiful!

“Ex” (1988) concludes this wonderfully composed CD of utterly sensitive, intricate and outright sensational sound worlds. It is the longest of the works; almost 17 minutes. Now, if this isn’t an inconspicuous start of a piece, then nothing is… At first I hear nothing… because maybe the computer fan drowned the small, flaky paper-crumpling forest floor miniscules… and the first louder events arrive about three minutes into the piece, which then excels in jumping in and out of different overtones of the fundamental, bending the overall timbral color in bulging, concave and convex surfaces of tense metal… The timbres take on the guise of turboprop engines propelling a plane high up in the dressed-up-ness of European travel, as you lie in your Scandinavian bed with the quilt pulled up under your chin, listening as a crack in the skies conveys the desolate, vibrating hum, like a spill-over from another dimension, another time, another epoch. Further into the piece a precipitous precipitation of metal drop percussion have you mentally dash for cover.

Without a doubt this CD contains some of the finest electroacoustics of late, and I’m amazed at the artistic skill and poetry of some of the composers of electroacoustics that originate in Sweden. There must be a reason for this. Maybe it has to do with a few radiant personalities that have shaped electroacoustic thinking in Sweden, adding poetic qualities by way of sound poetry, which has also been a regular occurrence on the agenda of the modern stage in Sweden. This preoccupation with sound poetry has also established many long-lasting contacts between the electroacoustic studios in France and a group of composers in Sweden, thereby establishing an interactivity between Sweden and France in these realms that has proved fruitful for both parties, and which certainly has moved Swedish electroacoustics towards a musique concrète-poetic environment. This poetry is evident in Thomas Bjelkeborn’s first full-length CD, and we appreciate it very much!

Review by Kuolleen Musikiin Yhdistys

Past Time is a selection of compositions by Thomas Bjelkeborn between the years 1987-1996. All of them are highly artificial-sounding pieces of electro-acoustic avant-garde, with some short but effective vocal clips in them. In keeping with the genre, the material is highly disjointed, and I for one couldn’t get any real grip on it despite several (17 full listen-throughs, to be exact) attempts. The segments each track is formed of come in short, dissimilar burst that are hard to concentrate on. Yet at the same time the number of elements is low enough to prevent the formation of a wall of noise -effect out of the diversity. The are several absolutely wonderful parts, but those are hard to wait for amidst the chaotic whole – especially since the shortest of the tracks is almost 9 minutes long, and the great segments just a few seconds at most each. A fascinating exception to this is a brilliant two-minute wave of noise at the end of the Beatles-ish named Within Without, an example of noise music at its best. In the end, Past Time leaves me absolutely cold. Nevertheless its combination of stylishness, excellent echo structure and the exemplary sound production quality common to Elektron’s records hints very much that it might be an album many fans of electro-acoustic music would enjoy a lot. It’s seems to be a high-quality work that’s just not to my personal taste.

Jiituomas, Kuolleen Musikiin Yhdistys