Watch A Letter from Petter here:

Performed by:

Cory Hills,

Bonnie Whiting,

Jennifer Torrence:

Narration and percussion. 

Cinemateket, Trondheim 06.02.2020



The electro-acoustic composition On Location is built from collected observations made within different cafes in Norway and Germany over a period of around two years, watching and listening to people I did not know, making drawings, and also collecting audio material, such as field recordings of cafe interiors, walking through town, a river running, and traffic. 


A strange sensation occurred to me after a day of writing in two Oslo cafes (at Storo and Sandaker), making drawings and taking photos of strangers, having the audio recorder run, often not catching more than interior noises, and talking into the recorder while walking outside. I experienced a very strange feeling that everything that I see now is art. I recall similar experiences when watching dance pieces performed in city streets, where a choreography takes place in-between ordinary people minding their own business, the line between the performers and the non-performers becomes blurred, and everything starts to look like an artwork. These can be quite intense experiences. 


But back in the editing studio, I was wondering what to do with this rather directionless collection of verbal observations, trying out ways to tie them together into a piece that still would honor them as being bits and pieces, and without pretending that I knew these strangers. The observations were all “real”, they were not fictional. The language I developed was kept very sober and not flowery. 

I ended up with a relatively mild-sounding music, built from the aforementioned field recordings, mellotron and other keyboard samples, clarinet tones performed by Kristine Tjøgersen, and variations of the basic sound of the piece’s narrator, Bonnie Whiting’s, voice. Transformations of these sounds were done in the studio (the dripping sound running through the piece is actually a filtered voice).

One sobering experience I had while trying to add some synthesizer music that I believed sounded very good on its own, actually made it seem like the persons talking had mental disturbances. The everyday texts did not so easily lend themselves to a modernistically-rooted music, and the match did not benefit either of the parties. 


These are examples of giving form to a collection. This can mean to display something, making it presentable. To present means to open for interpreting, without necessarily requiring completion. It means putting things together, to arrange them in such a way that somebody else may experience it. There is something that we can call the interpreting gesture, from the hands of whomever arranges the collection. There will always be an “interpreting gesture” in a presentation. It is comparable to how a curator includes and excludes. It is analogous to building a frame, filling the frame, or taking things out. It may be compared to how a conductor works between the score and the orchestra. It is how an artist gives a title to a new work, facilitating understanding, giving it a possible direction, or how a producer mixes a recording: deciding upon a hierarchy of the recorded sounds, adding reverb, giving depth, adding bass, sizzle, top, balancing the off-balance, cutting out bad mistakes, yet keeping the good mistakes. 

I speak here of how there exists a something, and this something is already here. So, the task now is to present it to somebody else, to everybody else. But this something does not quite seem to stand firmly on its own feet yet. It needs support. 

In this piece, I chose a form by adding an element of fiction, a retrospective letter to a man called Victor after the opening lines, which can be heard at 2:07 – 3:54. This is the only fiction in the text, and it was added long after the other observations were written. It gave an additional temporal layer to the piece and turns the ‘now’ of the observations into a ‘near past’. Between the first and second versions of the piece, without and with the letter, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown took place, and to me, this gave a new perspective to the everyday life observations. Missing working in cafes became an important part of my lockdown time. A similar experience is described in Jan Kjærstad’s novel En tid for å leve (A Time to Live) [1], about a theatre performance experienced through twelve different people in the hall, written during the lockdown, but with the story taking place in 2019, full of events that were impossible during the lockdown, such as sitting close together in a theatre space. Showing how this experience of loss of something we did not even imagine losing is similar to how my piece turned out, with the extra time dimension written in. 

[1] Kjærstad, Jan: En tid for å leve. Roman. Aschehoug, Oslo 2021.

Listen to On Location here: 

Bonnie Whiting, voice

Kristine Tjøgersen, clarinet



For one who is busy with everyday experience viewed through art, an important role model is the French writer, Georges Perec (1936-1982), whose work I have been very engaged with and inspired by. My café writing project is directly connected to his similar effort in the 1970s, that resulted in the book An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris[1]

Caroline Bassett writes in the article, What Perec Was Looking For: Notes on Automation, the Everyday and Ethical Writing: [2]


The requirement ’to write the everyday’ operates as something like an ethical injunction for Perec. And it arises in part because writing responds to a debt – understood in personal terms (the shadow of those others [his parents, who both died during WW2]), and as a demand for justice to be done (perhaps by way of a faithful retelling, although faithfulness here is certainly not ’to the tale’, as it might be in a narratological ethics, but to the life). The everyday must be written if it is to be found, and it must be found so that it may be written. [3]


Perec himself wrote that: ”Writing makes bridges to other habitats … language throws a bridge between the world and ourselves … expressing ... that fundamental relation between the individual and History out of which comes our freedom”. [4]

His reply to the ethical challenge, however, was not an ordinary realism. Being a member of the writer’s group Oulipo [5], known for putting seemingly arbitrary constraints and systems at play (such as writing a 300-page novel without using the letter e, the most commonly used letter in the French alphabet), this actually enabled him to come closer to his subjects. 


It is tempting for me to ask: Why does this make so much sense to me? And I must ask, because on a personal note, I don’t really know why. Does it have to do with filtering, as a way of dealing with the direct, the naked, the unprotected? Something that helps and take care and provides safety, in confronting difficulties? 

Can it be something in the alienation that opens something up? Dressing up, disguising, playing roles? Obliqueness: what is good about that? 

Experimentalism is certainly about opening things up!

[1] Perec, Georges: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. [1975] Wakefield Press, Cambridge MA 2010. 

[2] Bassett, Caroline: “What Perec Was Looking For: Notes on Automation, the Everyday and Ethical Writing.” In Wilken and Clemens (ed.): The Afterlives of Georges Perec, Edinburgh University Press 2017, p.123.

[3] Ibid., p. 123.

[4] Ibid., p.122, originally from Perec’s work Species of Spaces.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo [accessed 14/12/2021].



Another work that deals with the theme of ordinary language and everyday life is A Letter From Petter. This is a live radio play for speaking percussion trio. It lasts for 29 minutes, and is quite full of stuff. The word stuff keeps coming back in the text. At the same time, the piece is somehow very naked and pure, not particularly dense and, on the contrary, rather open and transparent – especially in terms of its sound. One could argue that one of the things it is about is the sound of the speakers’ voices. 

The piece deals with how we gossip and talk about others, and how their lives often seem more exciting and interesting to us than our own. It is also about being together, put together by reasons unknown, so to speak. The Petter character just showed up at the place where the three characters work, we are told. We never meet Petter himself; we never see him; he is not on stage; he is only talked about, and mostly in retrospect (the letter of the work’s title tantalizes us throughout with the prospect of news of his current whereabouts and activities). He came to the second-hand shop to look for work, stayed for some time, and one day he was gone again. 


To have an absent main character is an idea I got from an article by the American novelist Harry Mathews, known for his association with the Oulipo group (where Perec also was a member. The two actually translated each other’s work). In the article “For Prizewinners” he argues how writing works by what the writer leaves out. “If providing somethings will not do, then the writer must provide nothings. I am not playing with words. A little observation will show you that writers do nothing else. They make the experience of consciousness available through nothings – absences, negations, voids. … The nothingness the writer offers the reader opens up space – a space that acknowledges that the reader, not the writer, is the sole creator. Providing emptiness, leaving things out, gives the reader exactly the space he needs to perform his act of creation. … The writer provides a void, the reader fills it up, and now you have a something.” [1] The usually experimentally-inclined Mathews continues by giving surprisingly convincing examples from the classically realistic Jane Austen novel Northanger Abbey.

For my purposes in the piece, it was good to see how the tension between what the three speakers tell each other and us – and, more importantly, what they do not tell us – would sustain an interest in the absent – but, unquestionably, the main – character. 


How the performers speak is partly chosen freely by them, partly scored. It fluctuates between free speech and stylized rhythmical speech, although this is also meant to sound quite natural, by giving them an element of rubato in the interpretation. I have tried to imitate how I think that North Americans talk, knowing that the piece would be performed by a trio of exclusively US citizens: Fast, short phrases, overlapping each other (like Donald Duck’s nephews), the use of repetition, and the creation of rhythms with often monosyllabic words were the devices I used to achieve this. 

[1] Mathews, Harry: “For Prizewinners” in The Case of the Persevering Maltese. Collected Essays. Dalkey Archive Press, USA 2003, p. 11-12.

The instrumentation is exclusively percussion-based. We hear gongs, big and small, and table percussion that is inspired by foley used in radio theatre. The utensils employed come from the area of the kitchen, or more precisely, from the canteen-like room where the workers at the second-hand shop are having lunch and talking about themselves and others. The role of the music becomes supportive of the narrative, we could say that music and text meet and work together. 

In this piece as a whole, I observe that the music is never really let loose as a force of its own, as a natural force. In those moments where the talking stops and music is heard alone, its role or function is mainly to provide some ”thinking time” or ”sinking in-time” for the story to settle; and for the audience to take a breath between the chunks of information. And, by this means, it also contributes to the formal architecture of the work, which is primarily concerned with its timing. Moreover, the sound colors of the percussion instruments, sustained in time, create a strangeness and a “world of its own-ness” that surrounds the piece like a halo and acts as a counterpoint to the quasi-naturalistic dialogue. But this interaction of otherworldliness and naturalism also seeps into the dialogue itself, where the three characters each seem locked in their own separate world of reminiscence about Petter and talk, not so much to each other as past each other. Despite their frequently picking up and echoing phrases spoken by another character, it is as though the words have a special, unique and secret meaning for each of them. As a result, the audience, on the one hand, knows more than any individual character, because they can piece together all three narratives, and, on the other, knows less, because each narrative is cryptic and enigmatic, privileging, as with Harry Mathews, what is unsaid over what is said. 

© Lars A. Skoglund 2021