Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bjørn Fongaard

Bjørn Fongaard (1919 Oslo–1980 Oslo) was a Norwegian composer, guitarist, and teacher. In addition to being concerned with microtonal and electronic music, he was one of the first to use the prepared guitar. "Fongaard's output is considerable... Due to the partly experimental notation, these works have not become widely known."

He studied at the Oslo Conservatory of Music with teachers including Per Steenberg, Sigurd Islandsmoen, Bjarne Brustad, and Karl Andersen. He started off by constructing a quarter tone guitar with adaption of the fretboard, but very early left this in favor of a diverse set of prepared guitar techniques. His first pieces in this genre came in the mid 60's. A new sampler CD out recently (2011) is titled Elektrofoni: Works For Micro Intervallic Guitar 1965-1978. For many years he had a greater reputation as a guitarist than as a composer.

His earliest works were composed in a rather traditional style. Gradually his music began to show the influence of modernists such as Hindemith, Schoenberg and Webern, and he developed an experimental style of composing. One example of this is Uranium 235 for orchestra. The work was scheduled for performance in Oslo and Reykjavik in 1965/66, but none of the performances took place because the musicians were unable to read the new and unfamiliar notation.

Disappointed by this, Fongaard decided that he could just as easily perform his music on the guitar, which he had used for experimental purposes for a long time. He had built a quarter-tone guitar as part of his new, "universal" principle of tonality, which could be applied to modal and major/minor tonality as well as to any other tonal system, regardless of the number of intervals into which the octave was divided.

As a further development of this principle he also constructed a guitar capable of producing any interval whether the octave was divided into 12, 24 or even an endless number of steps. For this microintervallic instrument he composed a series of works, both solo and in combination with percussion and narrator. The titles reveal the composer's interest in philosophy and astronomy: Galaxy, Homo Sapiens, Genesis. His Sinfonia Microtonalis represented Norway at the 1970 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. He also attempted to transfer his microtonal principles to works for orchestra including Orchestra Antiphonalis, Symphony of Space, Universum and Mare Tranquilitatis.

Fongaard's output is considerable. He preferred to compose in series: 23 Concertos for Piano and Orchestra 0p. 118, 12 Concertos for Solo Instrument and Orchestra op. 120, 21 String Quartets op. 123, 57 Sonatas for One Instrument op. 125, 41 Concertos for Solo Instrument and Tape op. 131. Due to the partly experimental notation, these works have not become widely known.

Transl. Andrew Smith

Prisma Records 711
Releasedate 13.09.2010
Distributed by Musikkoperatørene

Elektrofoni is a 3CD / 1DVD box-set which for the first time presents the ground-breaking works by Norwegian experimental composer, guitarist and micro-tonal music pioneer Bjørn Fongaard (1919-1980). The box-set is produced by Lars Mørch Finborud og Lasse Marhaug of Prisma Records.

The seeds to the Elektrofoni box-set began when Lasse Marhaug a few years ago found a copy of the old Electronic Music From Norway LP compilation at a second-hand record store in Stockholm. The LP contained the Galaxy track by Bjørn Fongaard. Marhaug couldn’t believe his ears – that this incredible music was from 1966 and Norway. It sounded like it was recorded yesterday. The music was clearly made by someone with a strong passion and clear vision of his music. Except from Arne Nordheim very little experimental/electronic music from Norway was documented on vinyl, so hearing the Galaxy track led Marhaug to start investigating. After writing about the piece in a column for a UK website, Lasse was contacted by Fongaard’s daughter Lis Fongaard Seim. Lasse was thrilled to hear that she had kept all of her father’s documents, photos and tapes. Together with his partner in Prisma Records Lars Mørch Finborud they set out to produce the extensive box-set that is now ready as Elektrofoni.


Bjørn Fongaard was a known guitar-player in Norway, performing frequently in radio- and TV-shows and as side-kick/studiomusician for famous Norwegian singer-songwriters such as Alf Prøysen and Søstrene Bjørklund. He was also a known guitar-pedagogue for guitarists like Terje Rypdal and Egil Kapstad. But Elektrofoni focuses on Fongaard’s ground-breaking micro-tonal works recorded in the years 1965-1978, performed by himself on his custom-made electric micro-intervallic guitar. The 3 CD’s features a broad selection of Fongaard’s earliest pieces such as Galaxy, Homo Sapiens and Epos as well as the complete Elektrofonia and Sinfonia Microtonalis series – showing Fongaard as a forefather of Norwegian electronic, experimental and improvised music. 

The DVD contains TV appearances, radio interview and ballets that Fongaard composed music for, unearthed from the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Bureau) archives. Also included is a booklet with new essays on Fongaard by Lasse Thoresen, Kjell Tore Innervik and Lars Mørch Finborud. The booklet also contains photos, graphic scores and press-clippings.

The recordings themselves has been carefully restored and mastered by Helge Sten (aka Deathprod), which says that ”Bjørn Fongaard have composed some of the most fantastic and entrancing music from Norway in modern times. His music is no less than cosmic”.

In many ways the release of Elektrofoni adds a whole new chapter to the documented history of Norwegian experimental music, as 90% of the material is released here for the first time.

The release is celebrated with a Bjørn Fongaard concert in collaboration with the Ultima Festival and NOTAM at the Henie Onstad Art Centre 12th September 2010. Pierre Henry will also perform on the same day.  

Bjørn Fongaard ‎– Elektrofoni: Works For Micro Intervallic Guitar 1965-1978

Prisma Records ‎– PRISMA CD711
3 × CD, Compilation
DVD, Compilation

Galaxy And Other Works
1-1 Evolusjon (Evolution) (5 Movements) 8:25
1-2 Kontinuitet (Continuation) 3:47
1-3 Galaxe (Galaxy) (For 3 Quarter-Tone Guitars), Opus 46
Engineer [Technical Engineer] – Kjell Rydningen Other [Advisor] – Sverre Lind Recorded By – Composer, The*
1-4 Suite For Mikrointervall-Gitar, Opus 59 (Suite For Micro Intervallic Guitar) 9:21
1-5 14 Aforismer For Mikrointervall-Gitar, Opus 63 (14 Aphorisms For Micro Intervallic Guitar) 17:25
1-6 Opus Microtonale 7:28
1-7 Homo Sapiens, For Orchestra Microtonalis (Tape), Opus 80 9:20
1-8 Epos, For Orchestra Microtonalis (Tape), Opus 96 10:23

Elektrofonia And Space Concerto
2-1 Elektrofonia No.1, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (3 Movements) 8:30
2-2 Elektrofonia No.2, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (3 Movements) 7:06
2-3 Elektrofonia No.3, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (3 Movements) 7:02
2-4 Elektrofonia No.4, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (4 Movements) 5:57
2-5 Elektrofonia No.5, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (1 Movement) 5:14
2-6 Elektrofonia No.6, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (1 Movement) 4:16
2-7 Elektrofonia No.7, For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 78 (2 Movements) 6:05
2-8 Concerto For Piano And Tape No.1: The Space Concerto, Opus 104 (Tape) 11:07

Sinfonia Microtonalis And Legende
3-1 Sinfonia Microtonalis No.1, Opus 79 12:05
3-2 Sinfonia Microtonalis No.2, Opus 79 12:38
3-3 Sinfonia Microtonalis No.3, Opus 79 9:59
3-4 Sinfonia Microtonalis No.4, Opus 79 14:13
3-5 Sinfonia Microtonalis No.5, Opus 79 11:47
3-6 Legende For Orchestra Microtonalis, Opus 145 15:28

Television And Radio
DVD-1 Relieff (Relief)
Choreography – Edith Roger Music By – Bjørn Fongaard Other [Dancer] – Guri Lysell Other [Dances] – Rolf Aamot Producer – Jan Størseth
DVD-2 Komponist Med Gitar (Composer With A Guitar)
Interviewee – Bjørn Fongaard Interviewer – Sverre Lind Producer – Eli Ryg
DVD-3 Dimensjoner (Dimensions)
Composed By [Ballet By] – Bjørn Fongaard, Ronald M. SequoioOther [Costumes] – Nan AustinOther [Dancer] – Bridget Pugh, Fredrik Rütter, Inger-Johanne Rütter, James De Bolt, Leonie Leahy, Wayne McKnight Other [Decorations] – Rijk Van Ravens Producer – Rolf Clemens
DVD-4 Stjernetåker (Galaxy)
Producer – Aage Andersen, Stein-Roger Bull
DVD-5 Månedens Komponist - Bjørn Fongaard I Konversasjon Med Knut Høyland (Composer Of The Month - Bjørn Fongaard In Conversation With Knut Høyland)
Interviewee – Bjørn FongaardInterviewer – Knut Høyland