First published in and written for Rubberneck, England 1997


© Copyright by Johannes Bergmark

The conception that music is played on instruments that produce tones is an obstacle against the understanding of the basis of music. Classicism has the highest status and is the model for "proper" music.

Musician and instrument are bodies in motion with direction, speed, density and pattern of movement that correspond to thought. Melody, harmony and rhythm correspond to a minor part that pretends to be a major one.

Harmonic vibration produces a tone, but periodic vibration is a special case. Resonance systems with tones seem to dominate in strength, but inharmonic systems, misleadingly called "percussive" are richer in timbre, however shorter sounds. Microphones open the soundworld where damping is as central as resonance.

In free improvised music the musicians think like composers. The music is made by (often) many equal people. The notion of "work" is different. The process is resulting in an object but doesn't replace it. Through creation, many contradictions disappear, but in ordinary classical concerts, they reappear. Only inspiration can mend the gap.

The lack of model often gives rise to a special form. Free improvisation abolishes dramatic-functional, hierarchic systems. One has to be able to collectively change direction every second. The dethronization of certain parameters has given priority to other: timbre, dynamics and a quick interchange of short notes, which links it naturally to acoustic damping.

This is a way to create beautiful music, and a way to live in curious, sensitive and creative respect. This music can become a surrealist utopia of free activity with revolutionary potential, in extreme cultivation of inspiration. Others call it an anarchist ritual.

All performing arts are ritual. It's important to show what you desire, not in the form of a message, but by what you do, and the images you create. Not excuse it as symptoms of the times, private or social conflicts. You have to be responsible for what you do to others even if it's on stage. You have to create beauty, not an idyll; violence and ugliness must be part in the adventure.

Free improvisation is connected to the design of my instruments.

I have improvised since 1985, and have built instruments since 1991. My keyboard instruments have been supplemented with the didjeridu, saw, gopychand and lots of objects.

My initial (and continuous) source of inspiration is Hal Rammel, who made me play the saw, and is the designer of beautiful and unique instruments. We've had contact in 11 years and play together whenever possible.

[Rammel & Bergmark]

Hal Rammel (left) and Johannes Bergmark playing a saw duet, displaying two of Rammel's instruments.
Photo © by Gina Litherland.

The visual aspect is always meaningful, but I became aware of it first when I started playing the saw.

In acoustic playing, the audience has to be silent, or the instruments loud. I use contact mikes now, instead of resonators. The instruments become smaller, more dynamic, can give strength to sounds on the level of insects, but also whisper.

[Bergmark playing the Whalefish]

Bergmark playing the Whalefish. (© by Bertl Muetter, Austria.)
See another large photo, playing the Whalefish!

After many instruments, also some traditional ones, I built a one-man-band, the Whalefish, which collects sound sources I like: wooden sticks, metal rods, loose strings and a wooden tongue with flexible length/pitch.

[The Whalefish, front.]

The Whalefish, front.
Photo © by Johannes Bergmark.

It was built on a piano soundboard which left space for things under development. At present, there are: tunable piano strings, almond grinder, mbira, music box, telephone-, door- and alarm bells, finger cymbals, spring, hacksaw blades, egg slicers, butter ball maker. The moveable tongue is an older instrument, the Hedgehog, also with wooden sticks.

[The Hedgehog & Forked Silver Tongue]

Bergmark playing the Hedgehog. (The Forked Silver Tongue above it.)
Photo © by Christian Werner.

It can be played sitting, standing or walking. The protruding parts can be screwed off for packing.

[The toolbox]

The toolbox (a violin case). Photo © by Johannes Bergmark.

A number of tools go with it: bow, plastic forks and spoons, onion holder and -saw, toy guitar, back scratcher, coffee stirrers, nut grater, moustache brush, shell, ice strainer, holder for mock-flowers, cake cutters, feathers, sand paper, table duster, steel brush, screw, cork, miniature saw, spring, polenta grinder and unidentified things ... found on flee markets, cooking stores, toy stores, workshops, cafés and travels.

[Bergmark playing the Monstrosity]

Bergmark playing the Monstrosity.
Photo © by Greg Locke, St. John's Newfoundland.

I've also collected some wind instruments into the Monstrosity to be able to quickly switch between them: melodica, electrical pipes that work as overtone flutes (with a horn mouth piece, and with a kazoo on the end), whistle, unfolding paper whistles, slide whistle, toy trumpet, mouth siren, arghül, toy pan flute, echo "microphone", plastic harmonica, all fastened with gaffa tape. It's a complement to my voice.

These combination instruments, voice and saw are my standard outfit, which manages most situations and ensembles.

The text continues!

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