The history of Pärsson Sound – International Harvester and Harvester
It started somehow with the legendary american composer and improviser Terry Riley visiting Sweden in the spring of 1967.
Together with a group of musicians studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm Riley performed his minimalist classic “In C”, composed in 1964, and a new piece called “Olson III”, was created with participation from children studying at the Nacka Music School (this hypnotic piece was finally released on record in 1998 by the Californian Organ of Corti-label).
The repetitive techniques and the open aesthetic of Terry Riley´s music would have a significant effect on some of the musicians playing in The C-performance, among them former experimental tape composer Bo Anders Persson.
The year before Riley´s visit, 1966, Persson had started his composition studies at the Royal Academy for the composer and trombone-player Jan Bark, while continuing writing and performing music for the experimental theatre company Pistolteatern.
But he never felt comfortable with the stiff academic atmosphere, with its high-modernist perspective and its emphasis on technical and theoretical solutions. The openness he was looking for, wasn´t to be found.
The academy was simply not the outlet for the new experimental art practices that linked free jazz improvisations with the psychedelic culture and connected the zen-emptiness sounds of the city and the nature with electronic wizardry and political awareness.
Early in the 60s Bo Anders Persson had envisioned a new kind of communicative music, while visiting a traditional Wednesday dance in
Hjortnäs, by the like of Siljan in the Dalarna-district in the middle of Sweden.
Would it be possible to create a more contemporary kind of rhythmic music that could play the same role as the traditional folk music, a music that was both sensual and transcendent?
In 1967 came the answer. The hypnotic Around-and-Around-feelings of Terry Riley’ s eternity music + the rough Around-and-Around-riffing of Rolling Stones = a new alchemical wedding.
The free improvisations that took place in the cellar of the Royal Academy was a most collective experience, and brought together musicians like bass player Torbjörn Abelli and cellist Arne Ericsson, both of them students at the Royal Academy.
Then the poet, radio journalist and saxophone player Thomas Tidholm joined, and then drummer Thomas Mera Gartz, a former member of the psychedelic pop group Mecki Mark Men.
And so the group Pärson Sound was formed, which started to perform publicly in the summer of 1967.
The next year they changed the name into International Harvester, taken from the American company manufacturing agricultural machines, trucks and ambulances. Metaphorically it was an exciting and disturbing name for a music group. It meant death. Death to the western culture. Death to all kinds of borders.
The astonishing thing with the two official recordings of the group, Sov Gott Rose-Marie (Sleep Tight Rose-Marie) recorded in the autumn of 1968, Hemåt (Homeward) from 1969, and the archive recordings from the time when the group was still calling itself Pärson Sound (recently released on the Till Indien/Subliminal Sounds-label, in the spring of 2001), is the complete freedom of the music.
“Cause something is happening here, but you don´t know what it is”.
The open society in the Swedish 60s version: a life that was closed and finished and technically clean is opening up to new ways of understanding the world.
And in the music of Pärson Sound/International Harvester/Harvester this development finds a most spontaneous and surprising reflection and the music still has its relevance, more than 30 years after it was created.
Not only are the records now unashamedly expensive to buy in second hand-shops but the way of perceiving and presenting the materials and the structures of the music is probably a lot easier to grasp for a wider audience of today. Maybe mostly because of the development of experimental techno music during the 1990s, with its diversity of different dub and repetitive techniques – a long song isn´t long in the same sense any more.
Pärson Sound/International Harvester/Harvester is in that respect a perfect example of the theories presented in David Toop´s book Ocean of Sound – Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds (Serpent´s Tail, London 1995). The most important ideas in music take long time to develop, they travel over long distances, under water and through the electronic airs, and what was once considered unbelievable and esoteric can after years or even decades turn out to be extremely influential.
In the end of the 1950s Terry Riley and La Monte Young met in California and started experimenting with long time signatures, like in La Monte´s piece Composition 1960 nr 7, with a score consisting of two whole-notes making a fifth, and the instruction “To be held for a long time”.
The inspiration for this transcendental tendency came from different sources and traditions, from west coast jazz (both La Monte Young and Terry Riley played saxophone), from Anton Webern´s disciplined silences and concentrated twelve-tone structures, from indian music.
When this hypnotic music travelled over the Atlantic Ocean and landed upon the shores of Sweden´s mixed 60s economy, it got transformed and found a new life form – the chords were to be held for long times. Like indeed they were in the concert in The Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm in February 1968 for Andy Warhol´s exhibition Screens, Films, Boxes, Clouds, or in the festivities surrounding The International Harvester Good Luck Show held on Monday nights at Pistolteatern in the autumn of 1968. A show with scotches and improvised political speeches accompanying the heavy drone-rock, and screenings of Super 8-films showing different situationistic activities in the city.
One of them featured the members dressing up like apes and giving out toys instead of voting-papers during the election of 1968.
Sov Gott Rose-Marie
One of the tracks on Sov Gott Rose-Marie is recorded during The Good Luck Shows, the 11-minutes long I Mourn You, written by Thomas Tidholm and Bo Anders Persson. It´s a good example of what had happened to the repetitive structures of Terry Riley´s music when they were united with the freewheeling-rhythms of Thomas Mera Gartz´s and Torbjörn Abelli´s drum-and-bass-playing (a unit as organic as the Jamaican masters Sly & Robbie), and the intertwining of Bo Anders Persson´s guitar, Thomas Tidholm´s saxophone, Arne Ericsson´s cello and (sometime-member) Urban Yman´s violin.
The atmosphere is both utopian and dystopian. The mourning of the song is not just a romantic pose, it´s a reflection on the forces
threatening to kill all kinds of lives on the earth. One of the inspirations behind this early environmental awareness, deeply reflected throughout most of the tracks on the album, came from the pioneering ecology philosopher and food industry researcher Georg Borgström.
The phrase that is repeated over and over on side one of the record, Klockan är mycket nu (It’s getting late now), comes from one of Borgström´s books.
In one of his tape pieces, Proteinimperialism from the spring of 1967, Bo Anders Persson had used a speech by Borgström and changed the voice through different tape manipulations and giving it more and more hypnotic overtones. The piece was later, in 1970, to be released on the prestigious German label for contemporary music Wergo, together with a piece by Folke Rabe called Va?? (What??)
Sov Gott Rose-Marie starts with the strongest of statements: the latin death hymn Dies Irae, played like it was a medieval heavy rock-theme. Pain. Sorrow. Melancholy.
Not at all the idyllic view of the 60s pop culture that has come to dominate so many of the after-pictures of the time. A music of turmoil and inner upheaval, mostly played in the slowest of rhythms, but still with a sense of constant change.
It had a lot to do with the politicians´ and the building trades´ destruction of Stockholm in the middle of the 60s, which transformed the inner city into one big building site. Demolished houses, the city trying to adjust itself to the
technological ideals of glass and concrete, a feeling of devastation amid all the utopian dreaming.
The eleven tunes on the first side form a fragmentary montage work, with atmospheres similar to the Godard-films from the same era. There´s constant juxtapositions going on between documentary sounds and floating states of mind; hard rocking tunes, demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, bird song, sounds from the police radio, psychedelic tranquility, lullabies.
Since 1966 Thomas Tidholm had worked as a cultural reporter and reportage maker for the Swedish National Radio. In some of his own programs Tidholm experimented, together with some of the members of Pärson Sound/International Harvester, in documenting the sounds of the city in itself, like a certain crossing or the Central Station, or recording himself sitting on a stone with a couple of friends talking about a plastic bag.
One of the tracks, written by Bo Anders Persson, is called The Runcorn Report on Western Progress. It´s a private commentary on a visit Persson made in 1959 to Runcorn, a suburb of Liverpool. As the finishing practice of his studies at the technological university in Stockholm, Persson worked as an assistant at a power station in Runcorn during the exceptionally hot summer of 1959, with practically no rain for three months.
The sky was yellow because of the pollution and the sun not to be seen.
No nature, no human feeling at all. Persson felt more and more claustrophobic and started to question the whole technological perspective of turning the society into industrial war zones.
The most extraordinary track on the record is maybe the finishing How to Survive, written by Thomas Mera Gartz and Arne Ericsson, and recorded live in Vitabergsparken (a park in Stockholm) in the summer of 1968.
A slow, acoustic feeling, with the drums and the guitars intermingling with the children playing and the dogs barking (this is how the members in the group talk about the track now, they simply call it The Dogs in the Park).
The sounds find a resonance with the city, with an inner stillness, hidden amid all the traffic and the stone façades.
When the next record Hemåt was to be recorded the next year, in Kafé Marx in Stockholm – a locality owned by the youth league of the Swedish Communist Party – the music of the group had turned into a more national folkmusic-direction.
Especicially the hearing of the old hurdy-gurdy-player Joel Jansson came to change the asthetical direction of the music. Bo Anders Persson found the music in a book+record on the hurdy-gurdy-tradition by Swedish music researcher Jan Ling.
Joel Jansson played in an old-fashioned way, with irregular rhythm changes and a strong emphasis on drone sounds, but with absolutely no adjustments to modern ways of treating the material.
This roughness and simplicity is to be found in tracks like Kuk-Polska (Cock-Polska) (a renamed melody taken from Joel Jansson, in the Swedish 3/4- polska rhythm), and also in the traditional tune Kristallen den fina (Beautiful Crystal). A pastoral and gentle feeling, a longing for another way of living and breathing, a turning away from the strivings and anxieties of the city.
The opening track is a song by Thomas Tidholm, När lingonen mognar (When Lingonberries Are Ripen). There´s a certain naïvety about the lyrics, describing the colors of summer, combining the words “grön” and “gredelin” (green and lilac). A lorry is passing by. The song becomes a faded photograph of a special summer day, a feeling of a lost life that then
pervades the whole record.
The greenness of the cover painting, done by Thomas Mera Gartz, is quite illusionary in this sense. The truancy playing of tracks like Nepal Boogie and Och solon går pup (And the Sun Rises) marks the ending of an era and is characterized by something unfulfilled, a certain emptiness that is mysteriously dark. The psychedelic dreaming is coming to an end.
is a freelance journalist, based in Gothenburg.
Pärsson Sound/International Harvester/Harvester later once again transformed.
This time into Träd, Gräs och Stenar (Trees, Grass and Stones).
Some of the members moved out into the contryside and tried to live in harmony
with nature, growing their own vegetables and practicing living collectively.
That is a story to be told another time.