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Thomas Mera Gartz’s Luftsånger / Cloudsongs —


‘Ett moraliskt innehåll kan finnas i en form’ — Åke Hodell

On April 30th of last year, Swedish drummer Thomas Mera Gartz died at the age of 67. His work with the legendary shamanistic-psychedelic bands International Harvester, Mecki Mark Men, Pärson Sound, and Träd, Gräs och Stenar was mostly live in concert, seldom recorded, so his reputation lives on mostly among those who toured rock festivals in Scandinavia in the late 1960s. In the aftermath of those years of underground artistic insurgency, during which all manner of new artistic freedoms were defined in Sweden, he recorded an acid-folk album of his own songs, and then a decade later released an understated and little-known LP entitled Luftsånger / Cloudsongs, a uniquely structured collage of field and studio recordings.

Gartz recorded Luftsånger between 1978 and 82 on a portable Technics while living at Skälstäde, an old farm on Gotland, a rural Baltic Sea island with its own language and Saga. The silence of Skälstäde drew Gartz into a world closer by magnitude to resonances, aural pointillisms, and all manner of small sounds, natural and man-made. Luftsånger, as its name implies, is a capsule of Gartz’s inner-outer life during those four years; a sound-movie in sixteen scenes.

Luftsånger came at a time when field recordings were still the work of ethnomusicologists, exoticists and familiarists, when still few artists were using concrete sounds. Even now, thirty years later, when hip-hop and other kinds of over-relying kitsch art have all but exhausted the uses for concrete, no one has ever made a record like Luftsånger. But it is not a field recording for the sake of data, nor is it some clinical exercise in juxtaposition. Nor still is it a direct sense-of-place sound-poem or eclogue, though it can be approached as such. It is that rare piece of art of which steps on all these things in pursuit of purity, and about which, I find, it is more essential to describe what it isn’t than what it is.


Träd, Gräs och Stenar

This reductive manner of description fits how I listen to Luftsånger. It is a record without an aftertaste, yet one that can dig holes in your dreams, and somehow become less as it grows. The narrative shifts from the field to the studio as imperceptibly as from the grazing land to the forest. Thunderstorm over the reef, a kerosene tank, light down a long road, in the distance a home radio. A flute in the woods with birds, tapping on a sheet metal tub, waves rolling up the beach, a smoldering electric guitar with drum-kit, breathing, fire, looped voices. Unlike Åke Hodell and Öyvind Fahlström, for whom content could be expressed in both the form and reference of the spoken word, Luftsånger does the opposite, by using external forms to write an internal script. In its way, not dissimilar to the dynamic representation of sound with which Jeph Jerman works. Art without propositional content.

Even the studio portions keep the strong organic feel of the field and its mosses, pine stems, schist, and salt. There is no noticeable change in worlds since much of the recorded sound is abstract even at full concentration. Yet, as in the theater, distance between objects and people, as well as implied distance of things off-stage is important. Drumming on pans, sheep eating grass, disembodied voices, leaves, a wheelbarrow, a wooden garden chair, a woodcutter’s circular saw, the rolling of cigarette paper, an airplane, the striking of metal, and the speeding down of crickets.

Although I never spoke with Thomas Gartz, I suspect once the temple cloth of Old Order Sweden had been rent, and the social-democratic utopian vision rendered, he went searching for a non-statement of some proportion, for a way to be less cooperative and do something fully artistically his own. Unlike Åke Hodell, who, in his post-military life, charted alternate political landscapes with his concrete collage and wordplay, Gartz in his decade on Gotland, I think, wanted something less revolutionary, less social, and freer even than the freedom and openness he had helped achieved with Pärson Sound. If all art is moral, then it also is politicizable, if not expressly political. But art that is non-propositional may achieve more lastingly a freedom from an over-interpretive audience; a purity without need for completeness, a finity without self-enclosure.


Thomas Mera Gartz

Extract: Luftsånger / Cloudsongs, 1984


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