Photo: Leo Svensson Sander

Reviews & Interviews

Some interviews, mainly made in conjunction with record releases on Another Timbre, can be found over here:

Interview with Lawrence Dunn

Interview with Simon Reynell

Interview with Javier Santafé

Interview with Simon Reynell


”Granberg’s How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky? (2015) is a thing of considerable sonic beauty indeed, performed by an ensemble of 10 musicians (with the composer himself playing prepared piano), that unwinds unobtrusively over 60 minutes like cat paws unravelling an intricate patch of knitting. And in common with all the music here, Granberg has not only composed the material; a piece-specific context in which sound can unfold has been designed from scratch. The carefully tailored instrumentation of his ensemble - two bass recorders, chitarrone, baroque violin, viola da gamba and spinet cohabiting alongside an analogue synthesiser and musicians doubling on miscellaneous electronics, percussion and objects - situates his piece in the faraway past and the forever future. Previous Granberg works have gorged on Dowland and Schubert songs as source material but this latest piece sieves out melodic threads, diced-up chord sequences and rhythmic hooks from an Irving Berlin classic Tin Pan Alley song - material which Granberg hands his musicians together with written prompts for how the music can procreate itself during performance through spontaneous decision-making and precisely shepherded improvisation. Electronics subliminally sigh and mumble as these 400-year-old instruments begin spinning their deep weave of linear creases that rotate around hidden axes; then these e-whispers speak in fully formed phrases, adding to a procession of lavish detail that rises to the surface before being discreetly tucked into the background.”

Philip Clark, The Gramophone

”The Swede Magnus Granberg has rapidly become a key member of the Another Timbre family, this being his fifth album on the label in under four years, with four of those being his own compositions. Those familiar with Granberg's past AT releases will be delighted to hear that How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky? follows the familiar pattern of the others. As before, it employs material derived from another song—in this instance, Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean"—but there are few, if any, traces of the original in evidence. Instead, the piece establishes a pleasantly melancholy mood that typifies Granberg compositions.

How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky? differs from past Granberg releases in the instrumentation used to perform it. As before, Granberg himself leads a large ensemble, a ten-piece this time with him playing prepared piano rather than clarinet. Again the ensemble includes electronics, objects and synthesiser alongside acoustic instruments, with the Swiss duo Diatribes—d'incise and Cyril Bondi—here present for the first time. Bizarrely, the ensemble features the distinctive timbres of baroque acoustic instruments such as spinet, viola da gamba, baroque violin and chitarrone plus bass recorders. Consequently, the resulting ensemble is an amalgam of the 18th and 21st centuries, one that sounds as if it might not work but actually succeeds well.

Granberg's composition is not rigidly scored but allows the players license to play the specified music when they see fit, within a rough temporal framework. This gives it a loose, relaxed feel that is so typical of Granberg's work it is immediately recognisable as his. Yet another winner from Granberg. ”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

”When I first listened to Magnus Granberg’s hour-long piece of music “How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky?”, I thought it strange how the title suggested vertical measures, and yet the music itself presented a surface that my senses perceived as being somehow horizontal. The volume of the piece remains quiet throughout; notes are plucked or struck and allowed to decay (if from a stringed instrument or percussion), or held for a long time (if made with the breath or generated electronically); movement between notes is steady, and change slow. All of these features led to a sensation of being cast adrift on the surface of a calm ocean, following a line of time to a horizon reached mid-sentence.

The more I listened, however, the more the work’s vertical contours came into focus: the movement of pitch from high to low to high; the layering of instruments of different pitches, timbres, and historic periods (baroque and modern); the little swells of volume and intensity. If the music traverses musical time and acoustic space as words traverse a Western page, then it also unfurls like a Japanese scroll or a modern webpage, spanning centuries and kilometres in an instant. I got the sense that, like an ensemble score, the piece reads both ways, horizontally and vertically, simultaneously. So much of experience is understood and communicated through its representation as lines; to what degree is our perception of music also influenced by such representations? And what happens when those perceptions are subject to productive confusion and contradiction? Can tempo produce an impression of depth, and pitch an impression of flatness?

“How Deep is the Ocean” is the fourth album Granberg has released through UK label Another Timbre, the first three appearing under the name of the ensemble he leads, Skogen. The choice to record in Basel, Switzerland rather than Skogen’s base in Sweden, and to feature baroque instruments such as bass recorder, chitarrone, and viola da gamba, led to collaboration with a different group of musicians that included diatribes duo d’incise and Cyril Bondi. Granberg’s score gives responsibility for many different choices to its performers, meaning that the lines of travel heard on the recording are as much theirs as his. If we are to put these horizontal and vertical lines into slightly less abstract terms, we might say that they reflect both perceptions of landscape and perceptions of time. These reflections keep on broadening and deepening with each listen.”

Nathan Thomas, Fluid Radio

”Magnus Granberg’s fourth composition for Another Timbre—and second album under his own name—borrows its title and some of its musical material from Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean,” written in 1932 and recorded through the years by such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews. Anyone who just listens to the music, however, might not realize that, because Granberg also looked to Satie’s “Deuxième Préludes du Nazaréen” for rhythmic inspiration. “Nazaréen’s” slow, even movements and muted dynamics are an obvious model for the suspended animation of Granberg’s hazy textures. The link to Berlin’s jazz standard resides less in its melodies and more in its lyrics, which pose a series of questions as an answer to the song’s first line, “How much do I love you?” Nobody sings on How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky?, and it doesn’t pose anything like an obvious question, but the album’s unusual instrumentation and constantly shifting sound chip away at easy musical distinctions in the same manner that Berlin’s lyrics try to answer a question for which words are rarely sufficient.

Unlike anything Irving Berlin ever employed, Magnus Granberg’s orchestra is made up of nine musicians, not including himself, more than half of whom play an instrument that is approximately 400 years old. The chitarrone, bass recorder, viola de gamba, spinet, and baroque violin stick out almost as historical curiosities, especially on an album that sounds like it belongs more to this century than to anything in even the last 150 years, and which counts analogue synthesizer, prepared piano, various electronics, and unspecified objects among its instruments.

In an interview on the Another Timbre website, Granberg explains that the spinet player, Christoph Schiller, suggested using period instruments to reflect the music scene in and around Basel, where the album was recorded. The degree to which his suggestion succeeds depends on what the listener knows about Basel, Switzerland and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. The more immediate impression is that of deliberation and careful listening. Sounds often come one at a time, or in small increments, and at low volumes. Gestures wind up into the air then drop into silence like they’re tied to bowling balls. Mouse-like scampering occupies the place normally reserved for percussion and very slight electronic distortions murmur in the background as if they’re trying to be quiet during a lecture. The formality betrays the degree to which the music is composed, the seeming randomness of its development speaks to the improvisation on display. The album’s middle portion, especially around the 28 minute mark, is particularly formal. The sequence of events could have been scored for a radio play or a very tense theatrical scene, but it’s just one passing moment among many, perhaps an example of synchronicity and perhaps a calculated outcome.

The second, maybe less obvious impression is that of distillation, or of haunting. Satie and Berlin haunt the music in the sense that Granberg invited them to haunt it, but their presence isn’t obvious. Knowing that they are there at all helps only a little. Their remains are neither purified nor concentrated in the resulting concoction. Instead they are experienced at a remove, either as historical fact or as concealed musical ingredient. What’s left is a ghostly expression of emptiness, of instruments played in a museum, or of music sealed behind glass, which is not to say that it sounds artificial. At times the opposite is true: the music seems to play itself, or it presents itself as a physical fact, the consequence of gravity, solar flares, jet streams, and tidal forces. The human element slips into the depths and the elemental features of music, condensed into a few representative examples, float to the surface—where they tick away like a perfectly engineered clock in an empty room.”

Lucas Schleicher, Brainwashed

”Not that the divide between improvised and “composed” music is in any way clearly defined. The several recent discs by Swedish composer, pianist, and clarinetist Magnus Granberg and his group Skogen demonstrate this particularly well—hard to categorize, they are clearly improvised to some extent, but the material is delineated such that it’s also correct to talk about a composer. These albums are first of all credited to the performers—Skogen on the recent Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long and Ist gefallen in den Schnee; the related smaller group Skuggorna och ljuset on Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die—and the composition credit is unobtrusively embedded among the list of performers: “Magnus Granberg—piano, clarinet, composition.” Cage found free improvisation distastefully ego-driven, but this is an approach to music-making that combines improvisation’s sense of freedom with a very sincere egolessness.

I haven’t heard Ist gefallen in den Schnee—the CDs are sold out—but the other two discs feature entrancing, subtle performances. They draw on limited material, each time derived obscurely from other people’s music. Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long comes from a John Dowland lute song, “If my complaints could passions move,” and Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die comes from the jazz number “If I Should Lose You.” From listening it’s not apparent what bearing the source material has on the outcome, but the pieces both have a strong enough identity of their own that this question—like the question of precisely how the improvisatory and composed elements come together in performance—fades into the background. Rather than addressing these issues, what the albums do is present a long stretch of material, all entirely consistent and even, and yet also formally unpredictable, such that each listen conjures up different shapes and moods. If there is a consistent sense of melancholy running through them, it is the same sort of melancholy to be found in Feldman: a calm, subtle tug at the heartstrings, melancholy through beauty.”

Paul Kilbey, Music and Literature

”The quartet Slötakvartetten, (Dahl: Analog electronics; Magnus Granberg: Clarinet; Henrik Olsson: Objects, electronics; Petter Wästberg: Contact microphone, objects, feedback) is an altogether different affair, showing that Dahl and Granberg have not completely turned their back on sputtering, active, electro-acoustic improvisation.  Over the course of four pieces, the quartet locks in on a unified sound, interweaving flayed, raw electronic crunches and rumbles, slabs of coruscated feedback, and clarinet overtones and split harmonics that sound at times like sweeping shortwave signals or sine tones. The analog devices, contact miked surfaces, and amplified objects provide a warm electronic palette with a wide dynamic range, from buffeting low-end to percussive clanks and shuddering shards. But they always keep a keen focus on the evolving forms.

While the vocabulary and densities allude to crusted noise and power electronics, the pacing is what sets this apart. Granberg, Olsson, and Wästberg have worked together extensively as part of Skogen, and all have collaborated with Dahl on various projects. Even in this setting, bereft of melodic kernels, they know how to sit on things and let them slowly develop. Even though they are working with an active sonic ground, they employ a latency between the shifting textures and the overall arc of the improvisations. The quartet develops each of the four pieces with its own shared sense of time and progression, letting their contributions accrue as a sonic whole, eschewing any inference of lead or even congruent lines. On the last piece, “Ensilage,” Granberg’s burred clarinet comes close to introducing pitched material against the slowly tolling thrum of electronics, but even here there is a clear sonic parity. There are times when the densities tend to well up, but their avoidance of peaks and valleys create an enveloping inner tension that holds the pieces together. This one has really caught my ear, showing a distinctive approach to collective playing.”

Michael Rosenstein, Point of Departure

”Nu blir det geografilektion. Västgötsk geografi närmare bestämt: Slöta är en socken i Falköpings kommun där man finner platåberget Ålleberg, 330 stolta meter över havet. I denna trakt hitta man lilla Lerum, där medlemmarna i Slötakvartetten träffades för att spela in skivan Ålleberg. Föga anade de nog att de skapade en av de bästa svenska elektroakustiska skivor jag hört.

Tålmodigt rör sig kvartetten i skarven mellan det akustiska och det elektroniska. Anders Dahls och Petter Wästbergs elektronik ligger förvisso i förgrunden men Granbergs klarinett finns hela tiden där och skär igenom det grå täcke som elektroniken lägger. Olssons klockor och cymbaler ger ett vackert skimmer och en organisk känsla. Det är en ständig balansakt som aldrig tippar över. Tonen är rå och soundet är ganska distat, hårt och mörkt.

De fyra musikerna i Slötakvartetten har spelat mycket ihop i olika sammanhang (bl.a. Skogen) och det hörs att de känner varandra väl. Det låter på något sätt enkelt. Musik rakt upp och ner, ingen uppvisning, inget att bevisa, bara fyra vänner som skapar i stunden. Tillit och samförstånd är ju så viktigt för att skapa spännande improvisation och Slötakvartetten spelar verkligen som en grupp: avslappnat, lyhört och alla med och för varandra och musiken. Så fort musiken ändrar riktning är alla med, det blir aldrig sömnigt och spänningen bibehålls.

Det är inte ofta man får höra en svensk elektroakustisk skiva som golvar en, men på Ålleberg händer det. Det är riktigt, riktigt bra, inte bara med svenska mått mätt utan definitivt även internationellt sett. Vilket på ett sätt känns härligt ironiskt då musikerna satt mitt ute i den svenska ödemarken och skapade sitt verk. Länge leve landsbygden!”

Joacim Nyberg, Sound of Music

”If the Swedish group name Skuggorna Och Ljuset does not ring any bells, then the names of some of its members may help jog the memory—Magnus Granberg on clarinet, Anna Lindal on violin, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Erik Carlsson on percussion. Yes? Well, all four of them have previously figured on Another Timbre releases as members of the larger ensemble Skogen, in particular playing the Granberg compositions "Ist gefallen in den Schnee" and "Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long" .

Where Skogen included nine or ten members, Skuggorna Och Ljuset (translates as "Shadows and Light") is a quintet. In addition to the four from Skogen, prepared pianist Kristine Scholz is also a member. Her presence is required as Granberg here just plays clarinet rather than also playing piano as he did before in Skogen. Another consequence of the shift from nine or ten members down to five is that the electronics that were a feature of Skogen (played by Toshimaru Nakamura) are absent. Hence, the soundscape here is radically different to Skogen's, being rather more akin to that of a chamber group—well, a chamber group with a percussionist, actually...

As with his two compositions mentioned above, for "Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die" Granberg reworked harmonic material from another composition. Whereas the previous two used harmonic material from classical pieces by Schubert and John Dowland, this composition draws on the thirties pop song "If I Should Lose You"—in fact, did you spot that the title selectively quotes from its lyrics? As before, Granberg has transformed the "borrowed" harmonic material enough that his composition is not remotely reminiscent of its source. So, "Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die" is taken at a relatively even, deliberate pace that is far removed from barnstorming versions of "If I Should Lose You" such as Sinatra's. That lack of bravado or bombast is one of the appealing qualities of Granberg's music, one which gives it a relaxed, tranquil mood that is easy on the ear.

In some ways, the presence of only five players contributes to that mood, giving each of them more time and space to play so that notes are held and can be savoured for longer. The other side of that coin is that some listeners who are accustomed to Skogen's readings of Granberg pieces may find Skuggorna Och Ljuset too sparse by comparison. Such listeners would be well advised to persist with the smaller group, as its playing is certainly different to Skogen's but ultimately just as appealing and satisfying. Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die continues Granberg's winning streak on Another Timbre.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

”Granberg has crafted an odd and beguiling work. Scored for quintet (Granberg, clarinet; Anna Lindal, violin; Leo Svensson Sander, cello; Kristine Scholz, prepared piano; Erik Carlsson, percussion), it's 45 minutes of a certain kind of self-similar composition that I relate to pieces like Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett". Not that it sounds anything like Feldman--it doesn't, really, though one might call it a distant cousin--but that it operates in a fairly well circumscribed area, discovering a great deal of variety there but content to remain, with only the barest amount of push. There is a subtle, almost masked kind of cadence in effect, however. Very often I found myself thinking of a slow, gentle tumble down a hillside, juggling a few possessions, each step or fall similar in a general sense, different in particulars, never encountering a serious obstacle, just negotiating the slant and the minor bumps and branches along the way.

Describing it further is difficult. At first, the parts appear in brief, quiet sequences, almost pointillist but with enough contiguity between the sounds to form a kind of fabric, however tissuey. The clarinet tends to play the longest tones, maybe three seconds, the rest more or less fragmented, though the strings will also shift to slightly longer bowed notes. There are no real pauses or disjunctures; the space retains a consistent "average density", though constantly changing within that. My impression is that the scoring is intuitive but if I learned there was some kind of system in place, it wouldn't entirely surprise me. The clarinet seems vaguely mournful and given that the piece is in memory of Granberg's father, that's appropriate. The piano and percussion seem to propel the music a small bit, to the extent it's nudged along. But it's general between a thoughtful, even distracted amble and that slow-motion tumbling feeling mentioned above. Not dreamy, really, but thoughtful, concerned with balance and very patient, which makes a big difference.

Can't think of much more to say that would shed any light. It's really good, subtly bracing work.”

Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

”I’ve been listening to these two CDs from Another Timbre as a sort of diptych. Each one is a single work for ensemble, 45 to 55 minutes. Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long is credited to the group Skogen, “composition by Magnus Granberg”. Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die is credited to Magnus Granberg, “played by Skuggorna och ljuset”. Four musicians are common to both groups. I’ve heard one other Skogen disc, the rather fine Rows with Anders Dahl. Rows has an alluring sense of off-kilter formality to it, like Christian Wolff’s Exercises. These two Granberg-related discs seem to share a similar, basic principle of “composed improvisation”, but by very different means.

Both Despairs and Would Fall share other similarities. Both inhabit a sound-world somewhere between the brooding quiescence of late Morton Feldman and the uneasy stasis of AMM. Both works are built upon the skeletal remnants of song. Despairs is a sort of meditation upon the ruins of a song by the seventeenth century English composer John Dowland. Harmonic and rhythmic material from the original are deployed into an entirely new work, whose origins would be otherwise undetectable. Would Fall excavates the 1930s pop song “If I Should Lose You”. Harmonic resemblance is further denatured by the presence of a prepared piano throughout Would Fall, live electronics throughout Despairs.

Both pieces open up spaces for introspection. Small melodic fragments emerge from time to time, suggesting their songlike origins without ever recalling them; textures wind down into repeating gestures before finally breaking up and resolving into more complex debris. A melancholy sense of entropy, held barely in check, prevails in both works, allowing room for both fatalism and hope. Of the two, Despairs feels a little brighter, at least at first, thanks to the source material. The electronics and larger ensemble of ten musicians create a subtle but richly textured tapestry of sound. Would Fall is sparser, an acoustic quintet reducing the material to its essentials. The heavier sense of psychological melodrama that informs 20th century pop makes its presence felt.

I’m over-analysing. I play each disc to set a mood in the house, and each time I find myself riding a different emotional narrative through the details.”

Ben Harper, Boring like a Drill

”En lång komposition av Magnus Granberg utanför alla genrer. Dröjande, avvaktande, långsamt framåt liksom genom olika klangers mest skiftande väder. Det känns i ögonen, då Granberg spelar klarinett. Ljudet hopknipet men andningen hörs i hur tonen stiger och faller, glider åt sidan, men tar sig steg för steg in i kompositionen. Jag ser en trevande rörelse inåt i något som blir alltmer komplext. Lindal släpper ut små gnistor av tunnaste flageoletter från violinen, som genast legeras med klarinettens rörblad. Carlssons slagverk markerar stegen, överraskar med oväntade magtoner. Scholz piano låter klanger trilla, ibland hit och dit, men alltid dragna till blåsarens magnetfält. Cellon finns där som ett slags kropp; då de andra ibland hörs som om de drömmer eller tänker tonerna, sitter cellon ändå på sin bak och söker rörelser över strängarna som nästan kan kännas som en trevande dans. Ibland. Granberg har inte skapat någon kulminationsmusik. Den är mer av ett rum, något att umgås med, omges av. Ibland hörs musiken som den försvinner, Granbergs klarinett avtar, men då kommer genast någon av de andra och tecknar vidare. Tempot är lika dröjande rakt igenom. Det är fantastisk musik, som utan virtuosa gester, iöronfallande tricks eller andra märkvärdigheter släpper in mig i sitt innersta rum. En enda lång linje dras utifrån klarinettens klang, den söker ljus eller skugga, försvinner, dyker upp. Det är som om alla musikerna enades kring undersökningen av detta enda tunna spår; men så har alla de andra musikerna också närkontakt med kompositionen och tar med lyssnaren in i de innersta rummen där de delar av sig av sin egen nyfikenhet. Vad händer här? Hur låter det nu? Som om en komposition låg i skugga och bara bit för bit belystes. Ett ljudverk som är en teckning av ett rum utan tydliga in- och utgångar, fascinationen är hur allt byggs, prövas, faller isär. Och hur en grafisk linje löper rakt igenom en av de mest fascinerande trekvartstimme jag upplevt på länge. Därför att musikerna avstår från att peka och förklara, de litar på att jag lyssnar.”

Thomas Millroth, Orkesterjournalen #2 2015.

”Efter två rosade album med Skogen, har Magnus Granberg valt ut en ny ensemble till sin senaste komposition och skiva, Would fall from the sky, would wither and die. Visserligen är det endast pianisten Kristine Scholz som är ny i sammanhanget, medan resterande ingår sedan tidigare i ensemblen Skogen. Skuggorna och ljuset, vilket är namnet på den nya konstellationen, består av Granberg själv på klarinett tillsammans med Scholz, preparerat piano; Anna Lindal, violin; Erik Carlsson, slagverk; samt Leo Svensson Sander, cello. Med andra ord ges kompositionen i ett helt akustiskt framförande, vilket skiljer sig från de två tidigare albumen på Another Timbre, där elektronik istället användes flitigt.

Ett utmärkande drag för Granbergs kompositionsteknik är att han bearbetar andra tonsättares partitur intill oigenkännlighet, vilket även gäller Would fall from the sky... Förfarandet som sådant kan förmodligen härledas till Duchamps ready-mades och tillägget av en attiralj som mustaschen på Mona Lisa, eller Robert Rauschenbergs negation av samma slags process i ”Erased de Kooning drawing”. På det musikaliska området torde förlagan vara John Cages ”Cheap Imitation”, där amerikanen har bearbetat Erik Saties ”Socrate”.

Även om tekniken förmodligen har hämtats från Cage, tycks Granberg befinna sig närmare Morton Feldman, åtminstone i termer av ett personligt uttryck. Dessutom lutar sig den unga svenska tonsättaren även mot improvisationen, vilket innebär att de individuella musikerna ges mycket utrymme. Upplevelsen landar sålunda någonstans mellan Cages preparerade pianostycken, liksom sena nummerstycken, men även den sene Feldman (dedikationsstyckena) och gruppimprovisationens klangsökare i AMM:s skola. Dramatiken överlämnas vidare till oss att skapa, vilket också rimmar väl med ovannämnda amerikaner och engelsmän.

Gesterna är ofta dämpade och försiktiga, medan Scholz tillför en mer variationsrik dynamik. Hennes anslag på den preparerade flygeln är stundtals dramatiskt laddade och bär vidare spår av modernistisk vältalighet, vilket kan förklaras av hennes långa erfarenhet av den skrivna 1900-talsmusiken. Likaså slagverkaren Erik Carlsson vågar beträffande dynamiska accenter och hans initiativ känns dessutom alltid synnerligen motiverade.

Liksom Scholz har även violinisten Anna Lindal en gedigen bakgrund inom den noterade musiken, men till skillnad från sin något äldre kollega intar Lindal en mer reserverad position. Hennes många framföranden av Cages ekvilibristiska flageolettprövning ”One10” ekar stundtals, medan hon liksom cellisten Leo Svensson Sander sällan utmärker sig särskilt beträffande individuella prestationer. Det är emellertid inte ett negativt omdöme, eftersom många toner tenderar att smälta samman och skapa nya klangspektrum.

Min enda invändning gäller Granbergs klarinettspel, vilket tenderar att bli lite platt och enformigt. Med detta sagt vill jag poängtera att det inte stör helhetsintrycket – dessutom har samma person skrivit den på det hela taget både vackra och intressanta musiken. Således är Would fall from the sky, would wither and die en starkt rekommenderad skiva – utan några reservationer!”

Kristoffer Westin, Sound of Music

”Peut-être croirait-on les percussions malhabiles si on ne les savait subtilement agitées par Erik Carlsson. C’est donc à Magnus Granberg, compositeur de Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die, qu’il faut attribuer l’équilibre précaire de cette pièce de trois quarts d’heure.

Sur ces marches découpées, la clarinette – instrument de Granberg – tentera plusieurs fois le rétablissement. Lente mais joueuse, elle invitera trois autres instruments qu’elle à s’y essayer : violon d’Anna Lindal, violoncelle de Leo Svensson Sander et piano préparé de Kristine Scholz. C’est dans le piano, d’ailleurs, que l’on mettra nos espoirs de voir empêchée cette énième litanie feldmanienne. Or, le piano se résout vite au laisser-aller charmant d’un discours qui hésite, cherche à s’affiner mais, finalement, s'écaille. Lunatique à défaut d’être originale, Would Fall from Sky… est une jolie pièce de peu d’empreinte. Or, l’empreinte est ce qui marque.”

Guillaume Belhomme, Le son du Grisli

“Skogen is led by Magnus Granberg, who provides compositional frameworks for his 10 musicians while preferring to sink his own identity within that of his group. With Skogen, Granberg´s original idea was, he says, to create a space where there,s room for many different ways of working and existing as a musician and a human being, and on the other hand to try to integrate these ways of working. And integration is key. Skogen´s debut album, released in 2012 `Ist gefallen in den Schnee´, derived its harmonic and rhythmic fabric from Schubert´s Winterreise and Granberg described how, in his role as ´composer´,he provided his hybrid ensemble of new-music players, improvisers and electronic musicians with a `pool´ of material – pitches, rhythms, chords, fragments of melodies – and a regulating temporal structure upon which to hang them. In this new Dowland-related piece the process is more opaque: we´re not even told which Dowland song Granberg has plundered. Improvising violinist Angharad Davies sits next to classical violinist Anna Lindal; the pitch-specific contributions of John Eriksson on vibraphone and marimba coexist with the textural explorations of Henrik Olsson (bowls, glasses) and Petter Wästberg (objects, contact microphones). Ko Ishikawa plays the traditional Japanese sho as his compatriot Toshimaru Nakamura performs on a no-input mixing board, a gizmo that wires input through output to generate feedback loops ripe for sonic manoeuvres. Granberg´s achievement is immense. Drawing on this 17th-century source, au courant art cuts across allegiances of style while the spectre of John Dowland is never too far from the surface”.

Philip Clark, The Gramophone

“On their third release for Another Timbre, Skogen – The Forest or Woods in Swedish – present an extended composition by founder Magnus Granberg. Like their first release Ist Gefallen in den Schnee, which drew on material from Schubert’s Winterreise, it has a classical basis – a song by 17th century English composer John Dowland. Audibly, the connections are distant, except in the mood of darkness and melancholy, not to say despair and depression, they share with their models. That distance partly results from the openness of the compositional process – players are apparently handed ‘pools’ of material, with suggestions of how to treat it.

The one continuous track of 57 minutes shows a restraint within timbral richness that’s reminiscent of another remarkable ensemble, Dans Les Arbres – though their forces and improvisational method are very different. Skogen’s soundworld is spare and minimal, yet its measured progress creates a feeling of slowly evolving rhythm – a numinous intensity heightened by often violent outbursts of percussion and white noise. Instead of the familiar arch-shape, the form ebbs and flows, with a rising intensity and activity in the later part of the piece.

There’s a distinctive mix of Western, East Asian and electronic resources. A kind of baseline electronic field is set up by Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board and Petter Wästberg on contact microphones and objects. This seems to draw in the acoustic sounds of ubiquitous Ko Ishikawa on sho, and Henrik Olsson on bows and glasses, and in a way familiar from modern composers such as Nono and Xenakis, makes them sound somehow electronic too.

Granberg’s stated aim is to create a music and performance practice which draws no clear distinction between composition and improvisation. In this, as he says, he’s following developments since the 1990’s. But in contrast with the spontaneity and excitement of improvisation, there’s a sense of inevitability and organic unity that belongs to the most compelling composition. It creates a singular atmosphere of drama and mystery, with an ethos that’s totally involving.”

Andy Hamilton, The Wire

”With their previous two Another Timbre releases, Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee (2012) and Rows (2013), Magnus Granberg's large international ensemble Skogen established themselves as purveyors of exquisitely-played spacious music, that transcends the composition-improvisation border and makes beguilingly beautiful listening. On the 2012 album, a nine-member version of the group played a one-hour-plus rendition of Granberg's title piece. On Rows, an eight-member version—substituting Ko Ishikawa on sho for Leo Svensson Sander on cello and John Eriksson on vibraphone—played nine shorter pieces composed by Anders Dahl.

For Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long, which was studio-recorded in Stockholm in November 2012, at the same session as Rows, the group swells to a ten-piece—retaining Ishikawa while seeing the return of Sander and Eriksson. Once again they play an extended Granberg composition, the fifty-six minute title piece. As with "Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee," Granberg cites the influence of a classical piece on his composition—this time, a song by 17th century English composer John Dowland. While that is certainly the source of the title "Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long," beyond that listeners need not dwell on the connection; the music here is more likely to cause them to seek out other Skogen recordings than some Dowland songs...

As before, Skogen displays the characteristics that have brought it acclaim: despite the size of the ensemble, its members do not get in each other's way and its music never sounds over-busy or cluttered; the instrumentation achieves a good balance between conventional chamber instruments and others, acoustic and electronic, affording them equal value and allowing them to complement each other; every sound made by every player is clearly audible, thanks also to the clarity of the recording.

If its title suggests that this composition could be melancholy or depressing, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it has an over-riding sense of peace and tranquility that is relaxing and uplifting in equal measure. Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long completes an impressive hat-trick for Skogen on Another Timbre. ”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long is the third release on Another Timbre by the group Skogen, an electro-acoustic ensemble formed by Swedish musician and composer Magnus Granberg. Over the course of these releases, Granberg and ensemble have documented a collective approach to utilizing compositional structures for open-form ensemble playing. Their first release was an extended reading of “Ist gefallen in den Schnee,” a piece by the leader derived from Schubert’s song cycle “Die Winterreise” as well as an unidentified jazz song. The composition utilized these sources to provide pools of pitch, rhythmic, timbral, and melodic material along with a temporal framework for employing the material over the course of the reading. For their second release, Rows, Granberg invited composer Anders Dahl to provide a series of short compositions based on twelve-tone theory, with room for interpolation of attack or the replacement of notes with un-pitched sound or noise.

For their latest release, Granberg again provided an extended form, this time drawing on English Renaissance composer John Dowland’s song “If my complaints could passions move”. A careful listen reveals how the foundational elements of Dowland’s piece provides a subtext of mood and flow for the musicians to inhabit. (Skogen is the Swedish word for forest and Granberg has talked about the idea that his music would be “like an environment, perhaps a forest in which inhabitants with different characteristics could move freely in accordance with the environment and their own and each other’s properties and abilities.”) Integral to the success of the music is the choice of musicians and instrumentation of the ensemble freely mixing traditional Western instrumentation with the leader on piano and clarinet, Angharad Davies and Anna Lindal (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello), John Eriksson (marimba, vibraphone), Erik Carlsson (percussion); non-traditional pitched instruments with Ko Ishikawa (sho) and Henrik Olsson (bowls and glasses); and electronics with Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) and Petter Wästberg (contact microphones, objects).

Equally important is the shared sensibility of the participants, all of whom are committed to a stately collective restraint. In an interview on the Another Timbre site, Granberg explains it like this: “The density of musical events is comparatively low. I myself am very fond of the idea and practice in, for example, Javanese gamelan music, where some of the musicians, depending on their instrument, may just play one, two or perhaps four strokes during musical cycles which sometimes may last for several minutes. Japanese Gagaku music is another East Asian orchestral tradition which partly works in a similar way, I think. Other reasons may perhaps be found in the instrumentation (which is predominantly made up of decaying sounds) or the way the acoustic material is distributed throughout the tonal spectrum.”

The piece starts out with spare prepared piano notes and ultra-subtle gradations of plucked strings and reedy sho, slowly introducing ringing percussion and shadowy glitched grit of electronics. What is so striking here is the way the ensemble is willing to sit on things, never rushing. The piece proceeds on the accrual and dissipation of detail rather than structural notions of arc of densities or dynamics. Notes are sounded and percussion instruments are struck with attention to attack and decay not only of the sounds themselves, but the way they interact with the ensemble.

Yet there is nothing constrained about the music. Listen to how, 10-minutes in, a section of dynamic activity breaks out, spurred on by sputtering electronics. The same thing occurs about 40 minutes in as a swell of low rumbling electronics rises out of the mix, welling in to collective density in the last section, with string ostinatos playing off of contrapuntal piano and percussion as sho and electronics weave clouds of coloration. But rather than get pulled off into a collective fray, the ensemble absorbs the activity into the overarching flow of the piece, utilizing it to segue in to new balances of texture and timbre while maintaining the methodical pace. Melodic fragments are used in much the same way, as some voices coalesce around an emerging thread while others move in asynchronous paths. This strategy is used throughout to nudge the focus and planes of interaction, maximizing the range of the instrumentation of the ensemble in ever-shifting notions of sonic fields. Another Timbre label-head Simon Reynell has shown a continued commitment to Granberg and Skogen and one looks forward to hearing how this project will develop.”

Michael Rosenstein, Point of Departure

”The great composer John Cage was an amateur mycologist, which is the formal term for someone who studies mushrooms. Cage was reluctant to draw a connection between his two passions, famously stating ”I am not interested in the relationships between sounds and mushrooms any more than I am in those between sounds and other sounds.” Nonetheless, Cage’s mushroom quest involved spending time in forests, where he undoubtedly lent his tremendous ears to the subtle doings of the natural world. In the same spirit, the group Skogen (which means ”the forest” in Swedish) takes inspiration from the music that emerges from nature. And surely Cage has inspired Skogen’s majestic long-form pieces, which explore the intersection between composition and improvisation, and warmly blend all manner of sounds and other sounds.

In Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long, the Sweden-based ensemble has created a gorgeous, 56-minute atmospheric field. The piece was composed by Skogen’s founder, Magnus Granberg, who derived the harmonic and rhythmic foundations from 17th-century English composer John Dowland’s song ”If My Complaints Could Passions Move.” From this compositional jumping-off point, the group unfolds a gracefully meandering improvisation. It’s a quiet space, but it is not silent: the piece is full of sounds that arise and disappear within the unobtrusive, hypnotic environment. Expansive single notes and pure chimes predominate, with discreet background evolutions that include tiny pools of dissonance, prisms of electronic shards, and sensitive drones. These shifting sounds are exquisitely paced, creating a harmonious progression that’s both generous and patient.

And just as a forest welcomes all noises within it, this music mingles beautifully with the sounds of everyday life. If one plays the CD on a sunny spring day, the song gratefully accepts lawnmowers, children’s laughter, and barking dogs. Likewise, during stormy weather, the music has space for raindrop patter, thunder rumbles, and the coo of a mourning dove. That’s how wide-open this work is: the piece stands alone, and it is most definitely ”finished,” but it is also receptive to changes and additions from the environment it is played in, which is a truly remarkable achievement.

As for the title, the piece does feel like the prolonged sensation of waking up after a long and perhaps despairing sleep. The music offers a host of subtle sensations, a slow thoughtful journey that shines a light and speaks of hope. This is a graceful, peaceful, meditative mindscape: it is life-affirming and, in the quietest way possible, wildly exciting. Perhaps this is what it sounds like to hunt for mushrooms in a hushed and ancient forest, with ears that are wide-open and free.”

Florence Wetzel, Squid’s Ear

”Italo Calvinos karaktärisering av melankolin som en sorg som har blivit lätt är den perfekta beskrivningen av Magnus Granbergs nya stycke för tiomannaensemblen Skogen.

Titeln Despairs had governed me too long kommer från en av John Dowlands sånger, komponerad kring 1600. Den melankoli som ligger till grund för Dowlands uttryck blir just en fjäderlätt närvaro när den vandrar genom de strama och försiktiga klangerna.

Stycket är närmare en timma långt, men det försjunkna och antydande gör tidsrörelsen sekundär. Känsligheten för de enskilda ögonblicken är exceptionell.”

Magnus Haglund, Göteborgsposten

”…Klangens betydelse är lika stor hos Storskogen. Denna ensemble som vanligtvis heter Skogen och leds av Magnus Granberg, men som nu är utbyggd med Ko Ishikawa på det traditionella japanska blåsinstrumentet sho, Toshimaru Nakamura på no- input mixing board och Angharad Davies på violin. Trots den tio personer starka ensemblen är stycket ”… despairs had governed me too long” koncentrerat och mycket avskalat.

Därmed får varje klang också väldigt stor betydelse, de lyfts fram och förstoras. Kollektivt byggs stycket där subtil dynamik ger olika karaktär och den långsamma rytmiken ofta är tydlig. Det är ett mycket vackert stycke musik i det långa formatet, framfört med fingertoppskänsla av ensemblen.

Ko Ishikawas sho med sitt nästan harmoniumliknande sound är ett välkommet inslag som sätter prägel. Annars kommer vi inte närmare ett traditionellt solo än några försiktiga slag på slagverkarnas glas- och metallskålar. Det är heller inte meningen och det hindrar inte att elektroniskt brus stundtals och oroligt får störa musiken och sakta växa in i den, inte heller hindrar det alla de subtila musikaliska samtal som sker mellan de enskilda medlemmarna.

Med sin lågmälda framtoning och sin hemvist i mellanrummet mellan det komponerade och det improviserade är Storskogen ett unikt och mycket viktigt fenomen i svenskt musikliv.”

Magnus Nygren, Svenska Dagbladet

”Med Despairs had governed me too long kommer Magnus Granbergs Skogen med sin tredje skiva på det välrenommerade brittiska bolaget Another Timbre. Liksom ensemblens inspelning av Anders Dahls Rows (också släppt på Another Timbre) är Despairs inspelad i Stockholm i november 2012. Despairs framfördes även live på Sound of Stockholm i samma månad och i min recension i Svenska Dagbladet skrev jag ”det är ett mycket vackert stycke musik i det långa formatet, framfört med fingertoppskänsla av ensemblen.”

När jag nu hör stycket igen – i en studioinspelning av Janne Hansson i Atlantis studio – har jag ingen anledning att ändra mig. Med utgångspunkt i harmoniken och rytmiken i ett stycke av John Dowland (1563-1626) skapar tiomannabandet ett subtilt mästerverk. Melankolin kan ibland förlama, här är den istället en förutsättning för kreativiteten. Att det faktiskt är tio personer i ensemblen är svårt att greppa. Ingen sticker ut, samtidigt visar alla prov på stor känslighet.

Vad det är man egentligen hör förvirrar många gånger. Är det överhuvudtaget komponerad eller improviserad musik? En försiktighet tycks genomsyra framförandet av stycket, samtidigt är varje klang så ytterst självklar och medveten. Man tycker sig höra melodiska mönster, men man kan inte vara helt säker. Kanske är bara materialet bekant, utan att man faktiskt hört det tidigare. Kanske är det just denna osäkerhet som bär fram stycket i hela dess 57 minuter. För trots att det befinner sig inom ett relativt begränsat stämningsområde tappar det aldrig i koncentration. Ensemblen lyckas tvärtom vända koncentrationen inåt mot varje klang så att varje moment blir berättigat.

I en intervju med Magnus Granberg på Another Timbres hemsida talar han om hur den improviserade musiken under de senaste åren genomgått en form av konsolidering sedan språnget på 1990-talet. Han öppnar också för att en del anser att den istället har stagnerat. Å andra sidan har den nutida komponerade musiken – post-Cage, post-Feldman – öppnat upp sig för det improviserade elementet. Pratar man i allmänna termer är jag själv av åsikten att man många gånger kan prata om stagnation. Dock inte i det specifika fallet Skogen. Om än musiken på deras tre skivor har ett liknande stämningsläge, hittar man i detaljerna olika uttryck. Snarare gräver de sig djupare ner i ett uttryck som väldigt få – såväl i Sverige som annorstädes – behärskar. Att på det här sättet våga stanna upp och inte rusa vidare är beundransvärt. Och det är långt kvar tills frukten blir övermogen och faller ner till backen.”

Magnus Nygren, Sound of Music

”J'ai déjà chroniqué les deux précédents albums de Skogen, que vous pouvez lire ici et ici. Je renvoie sur ces liens car j'ai déja pas mal parlé de leurs précédents opus, et la musique de cet ensemble n'a pas tellement changé. Skogen continue de travailler - et réussit très bien - sur l'interaction entre composition et improvisation. D'ailleurs, à la première écoute de ce disque, je ne me rappelais plus que l'ensemble partait de partitions, je pensais que c'était un ensemble d'improvisateurs, et je me disais justement que ça sonnait vraiment comme quelque chose de superbement écrit. C'est en voyant que c'était écrit que je me suis dit ensuite que ça sonnait quand même comme de l'improvisation. Bref, Skogen parvient très à brouiller les frontières disciplinaires, et il le fait en laissant beaucoup d'espace la personnalité de chacun des membres.

Et cet espace laissé aux différents langages est l'autre point fort de cet ensemble. Certains jouent sur les techniques étendues, d'autres sur la mélodie, d'autres sur l'électronique et le bruit, mais tout le monde fait attention à l'autre et laisse de l'espace aux différents langages. Et c'est une autre manière de brouiller les frontières entre les instruments, les machines, les sons musicaux et bruitistes, etc. Tout est sur le même plan avec Skogen : les différentes pratiques, les différents langages, les différentes disciplines, frontières, barrières, esthétiques, etc. Tout est au même plan et au service d'une musique romantique, aérée, poétique, profonde et légère. Skogen n'a pas changé de direction, mais c'est pas grave, tant mieux même, car celle qu'ils suivent est déjà très personnelle et c'est encore et toujours une réussite. Conseillé, comme les autres.”

Julien Héraud, Improv-Sphere

Ist gefallen in den Schnee, lasting sixty-one minutes, consists entirely of a November 2010 recording of the title composition by Magnus Granberg. For the recording Granberg’s group Skogen—in which he plays piano—is expanded to a nonet including two non-Swedish guest musicians, Angarad Davies on violin and Toshimaru Nakamura on his instrument of choice, the no-input mixing board. Strings, vibraphone, percussion, bowls and glasses plus electronics complete the group’s line-up, giving it a soundscape that extends way beyond that of a chamber group.

Opening with delicate, carefully-spaced piano notes, the composition initially sounds most reminiscent of Morton Feldman. Remarkably, Granberg himself says its rhythmic material and other temporal proportions are derived from two different songs from Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise (the album title is definitely a line from one of its songs, “Wasserflut”). Its tonal material, however, is derived from a jazz song that he has forgotten. If the composer had not dropped such clues, those sources would not be at all apparent from the music itself.

The piece subtly combines composition and improvisation. Granberg comments, “Perhaps one could say that I provide a potential which could be realized in innumerable ways, but the actual realizations are always the result of what decisions the musicians make throughout the piece; formal differentiation occurs spontaneously as a result of an improvisational process.”

With any nine-member ensemble that includes improvisation, there will always be the risk that the players will get in each other’s way or that the music degenerates into a series of individual contributions leading to cacophony overall. Granberg’s composition deftly manages to sidestep these potential problems, avoiding any feeling of clutter or messiness, while achieving a beautiful sense of space, openness and tranquility. The composer’s own piano playing is central to that—his economical contributions set an example to the other players and act as the backbone of the piece.

The ringing sounds of Henrik Olsson’s bowls and glasses plus the electronic tones from Nakamura and Petter Wästberg contrast effectively with the ensemble’s conventional instruments while being entirely consistent with the mood of the piece and the sound of the rest of the group. Across its duration, Ist gefallen in den Schnee creates its own rules and logic, resulting in a composition that demands to be heard again and again. Sublime.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

“Antoine Beuger recently lamented the fact that so many interpretations of John Cage’s music lack a basic sense of beauty and phrasing, an observation that came to mind as I listened to these four new releases from Another Timbre. Whether for large ensemble, trio, duo or solo player, and whatever the syntax employed in the music’s construction, each is imbued with a sense of beauty that is often overwhelming. Sometimes raw, often sparse and occasionally embracing something akin to silence, these are some of the strongest offerings in the fairly young label’s catalogue. Skogen’s Ist Gefallen in den Schnee and Taus’s Pinna share a fairly strict focus in terms of pitch content, while Thread (Annette Krebs, Magda Mayas and Anthea Caddy) and Atto (Osvaldo Coluccino) tend toward a more disjointed aesthetic, yet all derive, at least in part, from the music Cage left, whether from the wild pointillism of his 1970s etudes, the never-silence of 4:33 or the majestic long-toned grandeur of late orchestral works such as 103.

This is not to say that Cage is the sole point of reference: certainly these musicians are well versed in other grammars. I remember hearing Luciano Berio’s completion of Schubert’s 10th symphony and being struck by the “dream” music that connects the fragments of Schubert’s unfinished manuscript. It isn’t just that pianist and composer Magnus Granberg’s vision takes its title from a Schubert song: the more time I spend with it, the more I hear the music on Skogen’s new disc to be a natural follow-up to Berio, taking his ideas to the next level. In an interview with Granberg on the AT site, Simon Reynell likens the music to Feldman, but I also hear some of Berio’s busyness and layering in the ever-evolving textures (the Stockholm-based ensemble has been expanded from five to nine players, including Toshimaru Nakamura and Angharad Davies). While a slow and somewhat clichéd movement from sparse to full textures pervades the disc, the way in which the space is filled is anything but expected. In the single movement, the ensemble glides through a series of pitch areas, some intervallic, others not, but each leading naturally to the next. Though the dynamic level is in constant flux, there’s a sense of unity as each sound takes its place, as if fitting into a puzzle. But just when the formula seems clear, there’s a stunning moment of near silence and vast space, punctuated only by Nakamura’s electronics, before the activity begins again and several unexpectedly louder sounds infiltrate the space. This flouting of (what has become) established form is one of the ingredients that makes the disc so successful: this music, whose wide dynamic range and brief glimpses of tonality within a rigid formality, is refreshingly beyond simple categorization, though a tonal palette similar to Cage’s prepared piano music of the late 1930s and 1940s provides an easy point of reference.”

Marc Medwin, Paris Transatlantic