Grains (CD) Track listing detail

Grains of Voices

Åke Parmerud

  • Year of composition: 1994-95
  • Duration: 31:11
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: Sveriges Radio


ISRC CAD501810009

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

We all live on the same planet, but it is indeed a scattered world. The difference in culture, language, history, religion and welfare are sometimes overwhelming when travelling between different nations and regions of the world. Still, people of all nations and races share the same basic needs, hopes, joys and sorrows. Wherever there are people, the sound of the human voice will fill the air, expressing their emotions through talking, laughing, crying or singing depending on time and place. The sound of the voice is a striking symbol of the unity of mankind, and the sound of music is called “the universal language of the world.”

The idea to make Grains of Voices was born as I was asked to make a musicdramatic piece for the Swedish Radio. I decided to make a composition concerning the human voice, its symbolic implications and its musical applications. I have always been fascinated by the richness and variation of voices I’ve heard during trips to different places in the world. Children’s voices, young and aging voices all possess unique qualities in different regions of the world. I had a vision of making a piece of sonic art that would reflect and explore all possible aspects of sound emanating from all thinkable (and unthinkable) voices from all around the world. My aim was to create an image of the voice, symbolizing the unity of a complex world where ethnic, cultural and idiomatic ideals melted into a new form. In a sense like a large, wild and unrestrained piece of vocal graffiti.

I wanted the voices to be captured at “the source” and not come from preexisting recordings, since one important aspect of the idea was to make my own experiences and relations to the people and cultures “behind” the sounds a part of the compositional process. For this reason I set out for a journey around the world to record the sounds of the human voice. On practical as well as economical grounds, I could not visit all the nations and places I wanted. The piece far from covers all of the world’s immense diversity of vocal expression, but hopefully the concept comes through anyway.

I was from the very beginning planning to let the journey and all the random events that would occur along the way work as a natural “borderline” that I would have to relate to later in the process. The people I met would say or sing whatever they wanted and I would simply record them as our ways crossed. Consequently, when I later returned to Sweden and was looking for some western opera voices, I asked the artists themselves to decide what they wanted to sing. This way I did not (with a few exceptions) control what went into the composition, only what came out. Furthermore I didn’t want to put the sounding material together with a traditional collage technique, but rather use modern means of digital audio processing and mixing together with a new composing strategy to shape the different voices into a multilayered, cross-cultural hybrid piece of sonic art.

The field recordings were done between February and May 1994 and resulted in close to 20 hours of recorded material. Additional material was recorded in Sweden during the summer and autumn of ’94, and basic editing and processing of selected material was done from May to October ’94. There are, however, parts in the piece that not only make use of field recordings. There are instances where I have used archive recordings or recordings from television and radio. The actual composing, sound processing and mixing was done in periods between September ’94 to July ’95 with the major part of the work done from February to June ’95.

In this piece I am not acting like a traditional composer in the sense of one who invents new melodies, harmonies or rhythms. Instead I am creating relations between recorded sounds in such a way that a sense of meaning and musical logic may be projected in the mind of the listener.

Thus the listener is forced to “travel” through large portions of the piece, making his or her way through the sometimes very dense weave of voices. Since the piece contains songs and words not only from different cultures but also from different regions within each culture (like street market voices combined with songs from a wedding party) there will at times be portions of the piece which may seem meaningful to one listener but not to another. Or rather, the level of meaning will change depending on who is listening and when. From a lingual point of view the piece is clearly biased towards English. I felt this to be necessary in order to maintain the dramaturgical continuity of the composition.

The piece is composed as a continuous flow where movement-like “islands” of thematic ideas and voices are formed. The opening of the piece uses the biblical words of Genesis where “darkness” and “light” have been substituted with “silence” and “sound,” giving the first chaotic section its symbolic character. In this section the piece literally explodes throwing hundreds of voices and characters towards the listener.

The second part of the piece has the theme of memories of childhood in the form of lullabies and children’s songs from different countries combined with answers to two questions: “What is the voice?” and “What is music?”

The next “island” carries the theme of prayers through the combination of the provocative poetry of Allen Ginsberg, the evening prayer of an old Hindu woman, a Balinese and a Fijian priest, and finally a New Delhi citizens right demonstration.

In a rather short section a new theme of time and memories is projected through the poetry and voices of dead poets like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Herman Hesse, Philip K Dick and Dylan Thomas.

This section leads to a long movement in witch the theme of musical drama is explored. The western classical opera meets modern improvised caricatures of itself, Balinese shadow plays and the classical Tibetan style of opera singing.

The last section of the piece is born as a slow transformation from dramatic to ritual music. Rain songs and aboriginal chanting, Fijian war songs and the agressive preaching of reverend Billy Graham meet fragments of North American popular culture in the form of cut-up commercials and rock clichés ending in a chaotic sound reminiscent of the beginning.

The apocalyptic finale of the piece where God (seemingly tired of all the shouting and noise) with a mighty roar proclaims silence, may, of course, be understood in its most obvious biblical sense as the dooming of the world. I prefer, however, to think of silence not as the opposite of life and light, but rather as the symbol of peace.


Grains of Voices was realized in 1994-95 at the composer’s studio in Gothenburg (Sweden) and premiered on October 27, 1997 at the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium of the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (USA). The piece was commissioned by Sveriges Radio — the Swedish radio. •• Field-recorded voices: Venezuela: Eduardo Kusnir; Fiji: Leow Sevu, Sikeli Tavaga, Aisake Matarara, Amani Bogileka, Nemani Raikuna, Mariah Yanu; Australia: Simon Tipungwuti, Francis-Xavier Tipungwuti and their wifes; India, Tibet: Tashi Dhundup, Lobsang Choephel, Sherab Wangmo, Tsering Wangmo, Tsering Youdon, Joginder Gill, Raj Gopal and monks from the Namgyal monastary of Dharamsala; Bali: Anar Agung Gede Oka, Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, Ida Ayomade Rai, Ida Ayu Kti, Ketut Nesa, Anak Agung Gede Alit and many, many others in all these places whose names I could not take notes of. Vocal improvisations by: Erik Lindman, Marie Selander. Opera parts sung by: Ingalill Rask Nyström and Astrid Pernille Hartmann. Recitation: Paul Pignon and Anna Wennström. Archive material from Biblioteca nacional de Venezuela and Sveriges Radio. Special thanks to: the Aboriginal Cultural Foundation, the Swedish embassies of Caracas (Venezuela) and New Delhi (India), the Swedish general consulates of Suva (Fiji) and Bangkok (Thailand), Nemani Raikuna, Varo, Lance Bennet, Bahrat Sharma, Kathy Barnes, Ida Bagus Tilem, Josefine Melander, and Anders Blomqvist.


  • October 27, 1997, Concert, Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium — Headquarters of the United Nations, New York City (New York, USA)

Jeux imaginaires

Åke Parmerud

  • Year of composition: 1993
  • Duration: 10:45
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: GMEB


ISRC CAD501810016

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

Jeux imaginaires [Imaginary Games] is a fantasy on time and strategies as found in a famous game of chess (Anatoli Karpov vs Garry Kasparov, 22nd round, 1992 World Chess Championship). Actually, the piece does not try to mimic the game itself apart from the middle section where the rhythm of the drum beats were derived from the pondering times of the first 19 strategic moves opening the round. The game came to be more of a meditative offset for composing the music. Every night after ending my composing session in the studio I played the game (or maybe only a few moves) on my portable chessboard. Apart from it being a nice way to turn my attention away from pure musical problems for a while, I found that playing the game made me more and more aware of the likeness between chess playing and composing. Apart from the obvious similarity of the strategic opening and ending sections (with fantasy being most important in the middle of the game), I like to think of musical components (sound objects, phrases, structures…) as pieces (of chess) with different charges and strengths that may be placed in a variety of relationships, and where the object of composing is that of finding solid constructions of relations throughout the whole musical time. Thus, playing the game as a small ritual every night released new musical ideas and composing energy without necessarily creating detectable parallels between the music and the game itself.


Jeux imaginaires was realized in 1993 at the Charybde studio of the Groupe de musique expérimentale de Bourges (GMEB, France). The piece was commissioned by the (GMEB). Jeux imaginaires was awarded the Prize of the Stockholm Electronics Arts Award (Sweden, 1993).


Les objets obscurs

Åke Parmerud / Åke Parmerud

  • Year of composition: 1991
  • Duration: 14:40
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: Ina-GRM

Les objets obscurs [Hidden Objects] was composed during an intensive period in the summer of 1991 in the Studio 116 of the Ina-GRM in Paris (France). Since I was invited to do a piece at this very honorable institution, it was natural to do something that related closely to the historical tradition represented by the GRM. The concept as well as material and compositional methods lie within the basic framework of classical musique concrète. Through its lyrics the piece is self-explanatory, but some background information may still come in handy. Les objets obscurs is a set of riddles partly describing the physical object producing the sounding material and partly describing some aspect of the musical content of each movement. The answer to these riddles may be found in each of the four movements. It works like this: a short text is read (in French) presenting the riddle, immediately followed by a movement, the musical equivalent of the riddle. Each movement is based on sounds and transformations of sounds produced by one single everyday object (like a chair, a glass…). One movement — one object. In the end of the last movement the ‘solution’ of all the riddles is presented. These answers, however, set up a new ‘inner’ riddle, to which no answer is given.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, listen to the hidden objects!

The first is the point from which an enigma arises.

The second: A walking landscape. A perpetual displacement. Something that grazes without touching. An aimless movement. An object of rest.

The third: Convex bodies thrown into a series of collisions. Hazardous movements on irregular surfaces. Something that is loved without loving. Something that comes together and scatters immediately.

The fourth: The union between the first and the last. The first being the origin of the enigma. The last, the dissolution of the first.

The solution: the first is a lock; the second is a chair; the third is twenty-two stone marbles; the fourth is both voice and language, and the enigma of hidden objects is… Music.”

[English translation of the original French text.]


Les objets obscurs was realized in July of 1991 in the Studio 116 of the Groupe de recherches musicales (Ina-GRM) in Paris (France) and premiered on October 27, 1992 in the Grand Auditorium of the Maison de la radio in Paris (France). The piece was commissioned by the Ina-GRM. Thanks to: Dominique Andrieux (recorded narration). Les objets obscurs was awarded 2nd Prize at the 2nd Prix international Noroit-Léonce Petitot (Arras, France, 1991) and a Prize at the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France, 1993).


  • October 27, 1992, Son-Mu 92: Concert, Grand Auditorium — Maison de la radio, Paris (France)



Åke Parmerud

  • Year of composition: 1990
  • Duration: 13:46
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien

The point of departure of Alias is the duality of outer and inner existence, here interpreted though the life,music and destiny of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1560-1613). Alias is not, however, an attempt to illustrate the shifting identities of Gesualdo, but is rather, in a wider sense, inspired by thoughts on the relationship between the artist and the work of art.

Alias comprises two movements, the first of which is based upon the love song A Shepherd in a Shade by John Dowland (1562-1626), a contemporary of Gesualdo. The phrase “Restore, restore my heart again / Which love by thy sweet looks hath slain” has been destructured, processed and reprocessed into a series of linearly produced variations. The traditional lute part has been strongly stylized into a chord formed by the note A and its first 16 harmonics. However, the function of the plucked string sounds is essentially the same as in the traditional lute part.

The second movement is an attempt to sketch a slightly surrealistic picture of what possibly could have been happening in the mind of the aging composer and uxoricide. This is accomplished thought the use of quotations from some of Gesualdo’s late motets, as well as by blending in the Dowland love song, now in its original form.

“… the music of Parmerud is as clear as glass, no matter if one speaks about pure electronic music or a combination of ‘normal’ instruments and electronics… His work Alias is probably the most beautiful piece of electroacoustic music ever composed…” — Tidskriften Musik (Stockholm, Sweden, 1994)


Alias was realized in 1990 at the composer’s studio in Gothenburg (Sweden) and premiered on May 13, 1990 at the Musikaliska Akademien in Stockholm (Sweden). The piece was commissioned by Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien (Royal Academy of Music). Thanks to Astrid Pernille Hartmann (recorded voice). Alias was awarded First Prize at the 19th Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France, 1991).


  • May 13, 1990, Concert, Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm (Sweden)


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