How poetry shapes a musician’s conception of music – its flow, phrasing, rhythm and timbres, or how music-making reshapes this musician’s understanding of poetry – its tone, texture, and images. Swedish innovative pianist-composer-improviser-poet Sten Sandell focuses on this synesthesia, listening to the image of a text. These are the subjects of his book of poetry, images, texts and music «mun – mejsel – stoft» (mouth – chisel – dust) in Swedish). The inspiration for this complex project came from the book of Danish poet Inger Christensen (1935-2009, «Det» (It) (Gyldendal, 1969), published long before we all began to entangle ourselves in postmodern arguments about what could be relative truths in our lives and the language we use. Christensen is known for examining our perception of reality through language, and «Det» further probed even large philosophical questions of meaning.
According to Sandell, this project tells about the evolution «in which every word becomes a fundamental building block in the greater course of events. The intrinsic power of each word, the word itself, gets a whole new weight. That is it and nothing else. That started it. Word by word, building brick by building brick, series of numbers pressing on and adding new events and rhythmic developments”, as written in the bi-lingual book (Swedish and English”. And It relates to the suchness of the words, almost in the Zen Buddhist sense of suchness, “becomes it and it and it».
Sandell adds that felt that nothing would ever be the same after his encounter with Christensen’s text. He began reading the poems aloud, and playing the piano while reading and singing his way through the text. This became a daily ritual for him for more than six years, an unusual meeting between art forms where speech song guides his piano playing to new ways of phrasing the musical flow. New thoughts emerged on this uncanny text where each word in itself is a block in an acoustic flow with letters forming graphic patterns, signs. While he read the texts, Sandell stopped, pondered, and reflected – what is this text about? Eventually, he lost focus on the written words and started thinking about things that have nothing to do with the text he was reading. “The seemingly unwarranted break in reading makes me now see the text in a quite different light, it feels natural, though I don’t fully understand why. Just a sense of something new”, Sandell concludes.
«mun – mejsel – stoft» features eight distinct highly personal reflections on the relationship between text, image and sound. The first one «tongues with tongues» focuses on Sandell’s suggestive vocal artistry, as he recites a gibberish speech with some raw electronics, in the spirit of Dutch sonic poet Jaap Blonk. The solo piano pieces «borduna meantone II», «borduna meantone I» and «borduna meantone V – borduna rain», all refer to the Studio Borduna where Sandell recorded this project, are introspective pieces that highlight the resonant power of the acoustic instrument, and all articulated with delicate, emotional and lyrical undercurrents, with few sudden and chaotic sounds from inside the piano. «Det som skrivs är alltid något annat» (what is written is always something else) arranges the text of Christensen, recited by Sandell, with twisted sounds of a church organ that methodically strips the text from any reverent meanings. «sonat 1 for clavichord» takes an innocent folk-like melody played on unorthodox tuned keyboard and transforms it into an intense and powerful improvisation. The 23-minute «borduna elektrika II» is an enigmatic, quiet but unsettling drone that blends vintage electronic sounds, liquidish, white noises and Sandell’s processed voice and whispers. The last piece «piano akustika 7» distills Sandell’s idiosyncratic language as a pianist, improviser and composer, juggling with few contrasting veins and builds a complex and layered texture.
Sandell, again, creates a profound emotional and intellectual listening experience, entangling insightful and provocative perspectives on the rhetorics of poetry and music.
Sten Sandell (v, grand p, prep p, organ, clavichord, elec)