Premiere performance by Poing, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo 16.02.2019


Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, alto saxophone

Frode Haltli, accordion

Håkon Thelin, double bass

Watch Sixty-Forty here:

Performed by:


Jennifer Torrence

Ane Marthe Sørlien Holen

Sigrun Romstad Gomnæs

Director: Håkon Vassvik

Ultima Festival, Bruket, Oslo  13.09.2020.



A black and white passport photo, found on the floor in Grünerløkka School by my friend Mikael, during the flea market held in support of the school band, 17.10.15. His son plays drums in the school band, and the parents must contribute to the fundraising. 

(This photo was found lying on the floor, it was not put out for sale. That is important; all the photos must be found, they cannot be bought. Sometimes one can find photos for sale in second-hand shops and outdoor markets – for example, like the one at Waterlooplein in Amsterdam – but those are not for this collection. But I do accept donations, such as this one from Mikael. Actually, he has found quite a few, and given them to me.)


The picture has apparently been cut out of a page with more identical pictures. I think they usually come in sheets of four. The cutting is not straight at the top. There is tape on the top and bottom of the small picture (5,9 x 4,7 cm) (actually, since it is not cut straight, it measures 5,9 at the longest (left) side and 5,6 on the right side). The tape remnants could mean that it has been inside an album, or hung on a wall. This we will never know. Nor do we know who the guy is, and why and how the photo ended up where Mikael found it. We know nothing of its journey from the photo-automat, where it probably was taken, into somebody’s wallet, onto somebody’s wall, into another wallet (a girlfriend? one of his children?), then onto the floor of Grünerløkka School on the east side of Akers River in Oslo. Perhaps it fell out during a payment transaction. This was before everybody started only using credit cards. Well, it could still fall out when somebody took out their credit card. But it might also have been accidentally stuck between things for sale at the flea market. 


There is no information on the back, other than my own note of place, date and the identity of the finder. The photo is quite worn at the edges and has folding marks, so it could possibly have travelled a bit. We have no information about when the picture was taken, but there is something about it that makes me think of the 1980’s. The paper and photo quality doesn’t look like the digital pictures of today. The paper reminds me of a photo I made on holiday in 1988. 

This picture shows a guy in his thirties, perhaps. He wears a sweater, and a shirt under it. The collar of the shirt is visibly sticking out of the collar of the sweater, on purpose. Since the photo is black and white, we cannot see the colours of the clothes (or of the guy’s hair - or his glasses, we shall get to them later), but the shirt is probably white, and the sweater in a darker colour. The hair is blond. It could be yellow or a little browner. It’s probably not grey, he is too young for that. He smiles with his mouth half open. He does not look directly into the camera.


One more thing that makes me think of the eighties or thereabouts is that the guy looks very adult, even though he is visibly young in the face. He is from a generation unlike ours, where we try to look like teenagers as long as we possibly can, whereas in his time, people very quickly accepted the fact that the teenage years are only a transition phase, and were eager to move on into adult life. You can especially see this in how they dressed.


The glasses the guy is wearing are the kind of all-the-time-glasses (so not sunglasses) that have coloured glass in them, so that they get dark in sunny weather. Our teacher in school had glasses like that. On our class photo, taken outdoors, he was suddenly standing there with dark glasses, despite their being the same ones that he used in the classroom. 


One thing I think is funny about this photo is that the man looks quite a lot like Arne Treholt, the spy who was sentenced to 21 years for spying for the Soviet Union in the 80s. Could it even be him? Hmmm.... I would have to check. But I strongly doubt it. At the time Treholt was arrested, he was very high up in political life. I don’t remember the details, and I haven’t bothered to go and check in Wikipedia so far. I have actually made a rule to not use the internet here in my writing place. I can look it up when I come home in the afternoon. Or, for very urgent matters, I can use my cell phone. But the Treholt case is not urgent anymore, it was closed long ago, and he is out of prison now. I think he is using a different name and that he might live abroad somewhere. There have been attempts to take up his case again and to have his reputation cleared or how you call it, but I don’t think they got very far with that. 

I can also remember undercover photos that were taken by agents during one of Treholt’s meetings with his secret Russian contacts in Vienna. To me, this was funny because it was happening next to the railway station Südbahnhof that I knew very well, which I used to pass through when I lived in Graz. Somehow, his story became more real that way, recognizing the storefronts 30 years later (Vienna changes very slowly). Also, the fact that he lived in Oscars gate in Oslo sort of put it on the map for me after moving to Oslo, and made the whole thing more real (when he got arrested I was an 11-year old boy living in the North of Norway). The secret police had rented the apartment above his, where he lived with his wife who was a news anchor on TV, and they installed mikes to spy on them, to get evidence for his illegal involvements abroad. 


But this does not really have so much to do with the poor guy - no, with the happy guy - in this photo. Looking at his picture for so long and trying to squeeze information out of it makes me feel quite like a spy myself. 


Another black-and-white passport photo. This looks much newer than the Treholt one. The guy, however, is older. He is serious. He reminds me a bit of Edgard Varèse. Curly, grey hair, long enough for it to stand up, after being combed back. He has a black sweater and we can see the collar of a brighter, but still dark shirt underneath. He does not look straight into the camera, but almost. He is really serious. Is he sorrowful? Or is there a tiny smile there somewhere? 


I found this photo in Grønland metro station 20.10.15, so only three days after Mikael found the previous one. Back then, Kristine and I had just moved to Grønland, I think we hadn’t yet lived there for more than one month, and I was probably either on the way to the music academy, where I started my Master’s study that autumn, or on the way home from there. Always, when I find photos, it is a great joy. I wonder how many I have now. Probably between 150 and 200. Ho-hoy! This will be a long project, if I am going to write something about all of them. So far, I have tried to write about a handful, and I am now on page 25, with letter size 12 and distance 1.5 between the lines.
This last information could mean that there is not so much to say about this photo. I somehow don’t want to speculate about who this guy is, or could be. He looks like he could be 60 or 70 years old. He could be somebody who has worked hard all his life, but he also 


     [interrupted by a telephone call, and never completed]



The Oslo-based percussion trio Pinquins invited me to write a piece for a project that would end up being called Music & Health (this was decided way before the pandemic broke out. We actually had a first workshop together on 11.03.2020, the day before Norway was shut down).

There was one formal thing I was curious about, and that I wanted to try out in this work: How to create an illusion of having many characters, with just three actual performers? And the other question was: How to deal with the given subject matter? 


I decided to make a comedy, a playful piece. It seemed to make sense. This way I could combine a kind of over-the-top silly comedy (in the form or format of costume changes, running in and out, etc.) with more serious matters, such as muscle ache, money stress, clashes with the expectations of others, and stage fright. A collection of illnesses from the everyday realities of performing musicians would be filtered and viewed through comedic glasses and the playwright, dressed up as a comedian, could slip serious messages in amongst the slapstick. This also gave me the answer to the multiple character question; my solution was to let go of any pretensions of realism, and, instead, go to the carnivalesque, revue- and farce-like end of the dramatic spectrum. It seemed to make sense to dress the serious theme in funny clothes, so to speak. 


The piece is in four scenes, all of which takes place in the rehearsal room of three musicians, who start out as contemporary classical percussionists, transform into an electronic music group with analog synthesizers, later become a rock band and end up with an (off-Broadway) musical. 


As the audience enters, the piece starts with ominous drumming. The Sigrun character, a classical percussionist, complains about headaches and other pains due to over-practice. A mysterious fairy-figure (possibly her own conscience) who “follows the scene very carefully, but only takes action when somebody is in danger” offers good advice, but sadly, as often is the case, it is not followed. When the performer bleeds after hitting her hand with a drumstick, she swallows an unidentified – possibly illegal – painkiller, with disturbing side effects.


In the second scene the three musicians have a “choir sequence” where, accompanied by live synthesizer music, they sing about what to do to get subsidy money. They have been to seminars and have lengthy and layered research material; they have been freelancing for so many years, but they still have to do this, and find it hard to know what to write in the application so as to please the gatekeepers who give out the money. Here, I collected and looked into what I would call “Art-English” language and its uses, and meditated on how knowledge of it can influence careers of artists, both young and older. 


Next, a mysterious guy from New York suddenly shows up at the rehearsal studio. He offers them a record contract, but then a person from his past shows up. All of this is accompanied by New York-influenced minimal music. The way that the talent scout himself becomes hijacked by his former singing teacher from high school is a small revenge fantasy on power-hungry record company executives who manipulate artists and tell them what to do in order to achieve success. 

The Ane Marthe-character practising a miniature piece, an etude by the fictive Josefine Tarantino, works as an interlude between the scenes. Then, in the last part the Jennifer character reveals how she desperately would love to sing, but suffers from stage fright. The Sigrun character, however, has just inherited a dummy from her uncle who was a ventriloquist, and they have the fine idea that she could perhaps sing through the ventriloquist’s doll. This is set as a musical number, with relatively low production values. Furthermore, we learn that the doll has actually been a spy for the government, and being an expert on disguises and dressing up, it knows that the more you dress up, the more you end up looking like yourself. [1] This teaches Jennifer an important lesson. She can be the singer in the band from now on, supported by the others. 

[1] This is a quote from Jose Saramago’s novel The Double, in Norwegian Den andre mannen: «Jo mer du forkler deg, desto mer vil du ligne deg selv.» Saramago, José: Den andre mannen. J. W. Cappelens forlag a.s., Oslo 2005, p. 143.



Aftenrøde (Evening Red) is a concert piece that deals with the similarities between music and spoken language. It is a study into the melody and musicality of speech, as well as into the rhythmic patterns at play in language.

The piece is scored for a trio of alto saxophone, accordion and double bass, plus pre-recorded soundtracks that combine a female voice teaching anger management, crowd sounds that are edited and transformed with ring modulator, and bubbling analog synthesizers. At the core of the piece is a passage of spoken language from my personal collection of “strange audio”: found sound from an uncredited cassette about how to achieve personal success, bought at a flea market, that I transcribed as a melody and gave to the double bass. 


This was one of the first projects I did during the research period, and it was influenced by how the Czech opera composer Leos Janacek worked intimately with the inherent speech melody in the Czech language – something which actually enabled him to develop his own new vocal style. For me, however, the melodic writing from this piece, bordering on the atonal, was not followed up explicitly in the pieces that came after. But who knows, maybe it was as a result of this that I started to hear melodies in speech? Accepting speech as musical material is something we find a lot in the works of Robert Ashley, such as Perfect Lives[1]

Perhaps because it was done with found sound, it was easier to free myself from the meaning of the words and focus on the more abstract musical qualities of the sound of speech. What about the title? It does not have anything to do with the text within the piece. It was put there as a dedication to my father, who died a few months before the concert. The sense of humor he had was quite like the humor in this piece. Before the premiere I spoke to the audience, and asked the question: why dedicate a slightly nonsensical or whimsical piece to somebody who had just passed away? This I did because he was a funny guy, and I wanted to remember him with something funny. But there is, of course, much more than fun in this piece, especially with the topic of anger management; it isn’t funny to be someone who needs help with that. The bubbling synthesizer sounds were meant to represent the “boiling” qualities of rising anger. I see this, not as making fun of those with anger problems, but hoping it can be inclusive. Taking the found sound out of its original context, as in a collage, connects to the theme of collecting and presenting something in a new form.

[1] [accessed on 14.12.2021]. 



Since 2002, long before I started on the Ph.d. program, I have been collecting photographs that I have found on the street. It has gradually turned into a collection of two hundred and fifty pictures. And since then I have also been wondering if, and how, they could be used in an artistic project. 


To display them as they are, for instance in a gallery, is not an option, for the sake of the privacy of the people depicted. A short story will illustrate the dilemma: One evening my wife and I visited a friend, where we were introduced to his new girlfriend. On the way home, both of us were wondering where we had seen her before.

Suddenly it struck us: She is the girl on the photo series with the birthday cake! No fewer than twelve pictures of her, next to a huge cake with burning candles, featured in a set of photos that I found by a paper container at Sagene in Oslo, in November 2015. 

But last winter it struck me: How about writing about the photos instead, describing the situations and the persons verbally? Then nobody will know who they are, and nobody’s privacy is invaded. I can share everything I see in them without “the real thing” being displayed.

Listen to Aftenrøde (Evening Red) here:



When working on artistic projects, I have often experienced a personal resistance and aversion to planning, instead preferring to keep an openness for things outside my control and overview to happen of their own accord. 

One side of this is that I don’t have to make all the decisions. Some decisions are made for me, already, by the method I have chosen, and I don’t have to decide and wonder about everything. [1]

Going out of the academy building to work in cafes observing strangers, was one method I used to try to create a project in a new and more open way. Writing about found photographs was another. 


And a second reason to do things like this is that I can hide behind procedures and methods, giving myself a distance from, and less direct relation to the work, and, in the process, taking a pause from my own personality. As a composer and researcher in this program, I have thought a lot about being hidden and displayed at the same time. I am displayed at the many seminars, where I receive a level of attention from the other candidates and supervisors that I am not at all used to. But I am also hidden, in the sense that I am trying out the use of constraints and methods that “think” for me, enabling me to access material that does not necessarily come from myself but, rather, arises from my having been pushed into something like found objects, or observations instead of inventions. Instead of composition being an act of ‘making it up’ it has become one of ‘writing it down’ and then, as the word implies, choosing how to ‘put together’ the things that have been written down. 

[1] There is an anecdote about Barack Obama only having blue suits, in order to reduce the amount of choices to make during the day. Ravatn, Agnes: Operasjon sjølvdisiplin. Samlaget, Oslo 2014, p. 24. 

The original self-help-cassette:


Achieve success with a strong personality


Secrets with success





© Lars A. Skoglund 2021