The tonally oriented synthesizer trends of the 1970s and 80s are situated between the analogue sounds of the 1960s and the digital sound processing of the 1990s. John Persen made use of electronics in many of his works, but his all-electronic works have remained a secret – until now.
The DIY aesthetics of the 80s electronic music
Fellow composer Jøran Rudi has made the recovery of Persen’s electronic works, and he remembers well the DIY atmosphere in which they were made: “I had bought an 8-track tape machine, a 4-voice Korg MonoPoly synthesizer, a Roland TR-808 drum machine and a Roland Space Echo, while John had bought a Roland Jupiter-6 synthesizer. These instruments, along with the loan of a large AKG spring reverb, were what we composed with, sitting back to back for almost two years in his studio. We constructed sounds and compositions based on detailed drawings and strict pattern design – we drew and calculated. Different musical trajectories were filled with tonal material, dynamic rhythms and pulses, and recorded on tape. And when 8 tracks were not enough, the elements were mixed down to 1 or 2 tracks, slowly building the sound material. In 1984, I moved to the USA to study composition and computer music at New York University, and John made the piece Against Cold Winds (Mot kalde vinder, 1985).”
Against Cold Winds – Things Take Time
‘Against Cold Winds’ was envisioned as a six-hour concert where the audience could come and go as they liked. The music was recorded on three stereo tapes of different lengths, so the soundscape would never be the same when the tapes where played in staggered loops. However, the only place ‘Against Cold Winds’ was actually performed as a six-hour concert was in The Netherlands, where Persen lived in 1984-85. In connection with a planned performance in Oslo his request for 1, 300 lit candles in the room was met with a flat refusal from the fire department, and then Persen dropped the whole thing. ‘Things Take Time’ is a stereo mixdown of material from the three tapes.
Notabene: The Title is a Lie
Persen developed a new sound palette for this work. Here, the sounds more closely resemble those produced by analogue instruments, perhaps most prominent in the percussion sounds. This may be attributed to the influence of the instrument tradition in forming the use of electronic sounds, from textures of marimba-like sounds to dusty, trumpet-like clouds that recall Jon Hassel’s recordings.