There are certain projects that you
somehow think you never be able to pull off. I'm not exactly sure why,
but that's how I felt when I first got the idea to try to get in touch
with Pärson Sound for an interview. This might strike you as odd
since these radical rock practitioners, which appeared in the late '60s
at the crossroads of rock weirdness, psychedelic shamanism, jazz and
not the least drone experimentalism, are based in Sweden, my own neck
of the woods. The only way I can explain this initial trepidation about
the project spurms partly from the fact that this communal trance/drone
rock ensemble always has struck me as somewhat mysterious and otherworldly,
so its fair to think they could be hard to track down.
Until very recently most people only knew them by name (if even that), as an
earlier incarnation of International Harvester, Harvester, and Träd Gräs
och Stenar because no Pärson Sound album was ever cut during their all too
short existence in the late '60s. Thanks to the fine folks of the Stockholmbased
Subliminal Sounds label, the much-discussed archival recordings (various rehearsals
and live recordings) finally made it to a beautifully packaged double CD release
in 2001. It's no exaggeration to say that the response was overwhelming, and
as far as I know just about everyone that was fortunate enough to hear the music
was blown away. In the review section of this very publication we described them
as "tribal improv/drone rock that you can bury your head under for hours
at a time, but it's the mellower, and more minimal asides thrown in along the
way that keep it interesting. This one's for fans of seriously damaged psychedelic
excess only". Although the repetitious and atonal sound world of Pärson
Sound surely isn't everyones' cup of tea, its hard to think of a better time
to reach out to the masses as bands like Bardo Pond and Acid Mothers Temple have
brought a lot of attention to the genre of late. These talented Swedes were not
only about 30 years ahead of their time in the drone rock spectrum; they also
let their Swedish roots shine through in these striking aural documents, giving
the music a native folk feel and tribal quality that almost all of the contemporary
drone rock units lack.
With the overall, far-reaching goal to bring a revolution against the modern
imperialistic era and to take their side in the general clash between Western
Culture and Nature, the band might not have been so unique for the time. But
the instrumental sonic goods that came out of these political statements can
not be denied, and they remain inimitable to this very day. We got in touch with
Bo Anders Person, Thomas Mera Gartz and Torbjörn Abelli, three of the founding
members of Pärson Sound, via email for the discussion that follows.
Tell us about the start? Who was in the band? Where did you all come from musically
BP: As I remember it started while I was still attending the composition class
in Stockholm. Why try to write these complex structures in notation when you
could possibly improvise them? And maybe have more fun in the process! This idea
was sort of in the air (ah, well, maybe not the "fun"), there was in
fact a regular seminar on the subject. So the idea to form a group with "modern
improvised music" as the aim came quite naturally. Arne Ericsson (flute,
keyboard) and Urban Yman (bass) were both students attending instrumental classes.
I had met Torbjörn Abelli on various concerts in town and I knew he was
a student of music history. By now I've forgotten what he played in the group,
I just remember that on some occasion I made him buy that Hofner electric bass
that was just lying around. And myself, I mostly run the tape loop.
The music was mainly consisting of various static noisy structures, sometimes
with a beat to them. The tape loop contributed much of the noise, but it also
made a regular 4/4 beat more or less meaningless. That was Persson sound, the
modern music ensemble.
We were attracted to rock music, but that kind of music was apparently existing
in another world. That is, until I met Thomas Tidholm in the spring of 1967.
He had recently traveled in the US, been to Berkeley. "You can play the
way you are", that way you can sum up these meetings. Thomas was thinking
of starting a rock group, and we tried to make use of the people already at hand.
We found out that Thomas Gartz, a drummer in one of the best bands in Stockholm
at that time, was willing to join for some gigs. Arne switched to cello, Urban
to violin, Thomas T. bought an alto sax, I bought an electric guitar and that
was Pärson Sound the rock group.
TA: Completing Bo Anders' answer: I was making sounds using that bass guitar,
deep scratches, buzzes and bums. (spring -67). Later I learnt a little bit more
how to play the bass.
Some of you had academic musical training. Do you think this affected
Was the creation of Pärson Sound somehow a reaction towards the atmosphere
(and limitations?) at the University?
BP: In a way, yes. But even more it was a reaction against the time, the obvious
clash between Western Culture and Nature, the US way of using its industrial
strength to bomb North Vietnam "back to the stone age" in the name
of Humanity. We wanted to take side, the other side. But things have not changed
very much nowadays. It's hard to claim that we made it.
TA: We tried to find an opening in the wall of theories and abstractions, to
reach an encounter with profound feelings. Or: We made efforts at playing without
Initially there was a reaction towards the cultural climate in Stockholm and
Sweden — a stiff, narrow-minded culture. With astonishment we discovered we had
an audience! Later on an ambition grew out of frustration making psychedelic
music, a reaction more towards the atmosphere and limitations of the World and
its selfappointed leaders.
No album was ever cut during your all too short existence in the late '60s. How
TMG: Most record companies didn't understand the underground movements at that
time in Stockholm. They were all staring with blind eyes to the West and didn't
understand a thing on their own backyard — luckily for us and the leftist hippie
music to come. Only Mecki Mark Men and Hansson & Karlsson of that time's
new wave music made better known records and that thanks to very few persons.
It took some time for the "movement labels" to establish and release
underground music, and at that time the band already had gone into the Harvester
TA: In fact, Pärson Sound - International Harvester - Harvester is the same
group, just developing during two years. After change of name we made two albums,
Sov gott Rose-Marie, released '68 and Hemåt '69. But I don't remember we
even thought of the possibility making records during the Pärson Sound time.
About 35 years after you called it quits the Stockholm label Subliminal Sounds
released the archival recordings that in some circles would be considered the
finest release of 2001. How did the the CD come about?
TMG: It was due to the long work made by the man Reine Fiske, much younger than
us, who love the music and the social thing we made. He listened to every recording
of our music he could find, of course digging our own archives. He had contact
with his friend Stefan Kéry who runs the Subliminal Sounds label, and
who put some money in the project. Reine himself had to go in some personal financial
traps to get the thing through. And the State Council of Art, dep. Phonograms,
put in some money too. When he had found the best music, mostly mono recordings
of quite bad sound quality, I joined him to make the first generation of cleaning
and filtering on my simple studio stuff. He copied the analog tapes to DATs and
we worked from them through my 12 band stereo graphic equalizer, maximizer and
simple Fostex mixer back to new DATs. Some tunes several times to get them right
to the ears. Later Per Gud, the guy who made the most live recordings of Träd,
Gräs and Stenar, made a second filtering and final mastering, and I think
it's a good one.
You've received massive critical acclaim for the album. Were you surprised by
the generous reviews?
TMG: When we were playing the music you hear on the record there wasn't so many
people around to bother about it, not even at the Andy Warhol exhibition when
we played at The Modern Museum. Later on more people joined the concerts. I am
not surprised today — this music wouldn't be possible to do at any other time
than at the moment when it was done — as all true music, simple as that. Music
that's true to you as a musician is played in the moment of your whole present
life, including the society and the cosmos. To really play is to play in the
trust of "may the force be with you" and you don't even think about
it when you do it. You just play with your whole being, in grace, as Bo Anders
likes to say. At that time we happened to discover a simple musical formula for
an open minded process and we were not the only ones trying to find such a thing.
Other music were much more far out than ours. Our way at that time, thanks to
Bo Anders, Terry Riley and others, was to simplify the patterns and connect to
the drone of the heart of real and spiritual daily life — even as a road of loud
TA: In the old days we were an odd, freaky underground group playing border-line
music with an enthusiastic bunch of friends in the limited audience. Now we find
some kind of natural response in surprisingly wide circles — feels like a late
acknowledgement, we are very happy!
In the middle of styles as diverse as West Coast psychedelic music, drone and
minimalism I think that you still hinted where you come from. To some extent
your Swedish roots are evident in these striking aural documents. Do you think
I am dreaming things up?
TMG: No, you are not. In our childhood we could hear different kinds of music
that don't exist today. Perhaps our parents were old enough to be closer to the
old culture of farming, fishing and hard factory work. And perhaps the children
heard some old tunes on the radio (only one channel existed). We had some faint
remembrances of "people music" and when we listened to the recordings
of other peoples' "folk music" (the World Music of that time) we were
convinced of the right to use our own roots. Bur these recordings were made before
we tried to play some old tunes in the way they "traditionally should be
done". That's right, you just hear "the dream".
TA: We had no intentions of forming the Swedish version of psychedelic
but of course our roots were in the backbones (weird picture :-)
There's a haunting, if not even claustrophobic, feel to the album. Were you intentionally
looking for these darker sonic realms?
BP: Our intention was to react to the times at hand! I don't think we had the
skill to reach for these feelings in a more technical way.
TMG: Not intentionally. This was the time, and you hear it.
Perhaps you can understand
the long process from simple life outside "the market" into the modern
imperialistic era of nuclear bombs and huge capitalistic money manipulations
and your own very fife degraded to some "goods" to sell or be thrown
away. A big machinery treating all nature as nothing but something to explore,
change and sell. Of what's real today we saw some seeds, therefore the darkness.
Our future was not hopeful — that's why we tried to make revolution.
TA: I use to describe our group the years 1967-72 as a continuous
seminar. When we were touring there were endless discussions on the state of
politics, Sweden, the World — and the conclusions drawn were not hopeful. But
there was no conscious intentions of describing the World by making dark music.
We're curious to hear about your inspiration to blend Terry Riley-ism and native
folk influences into a rock context. There are a few contemporary bands (Bardo
Pond, Acid Mothers Temple ... ) doing this glacial, super heavy approach today
but it was so groundbreaking for the time! Did you realize how new and innovative
your music would seem to the audience?
TMG: Well, there were so much new and innovative music around
already, so to my mind this was just to connect to the other modern streams going
on, but in
our special way, in our "dialect". Stones, John Cage, African drumming,
Gesang der Jünglinge by Stockhausen, James Brown soul, Balinese gamelang,
Jimi Hendrix more than ever, psychedelic free form like John Coltrane and friends,
strange sounding clusters from Ligeti, stoned jefferson Airplane etc etc — so
what, play to find your own way. A lot of music was far out — but it didn't
take so long time to get listeners to all forms — because of what have been said
— all of it appears in the context where people already are living — music can
sometimes tell before people turn conscious about something.
TA: I don't think we were fully aware to us it was just the only way to do
Terry Riley seemed to have played an important role in the formation
Sound. Could you tell us about his early visits to Stockholm. What was it like
to play with him?
BP: I took part in the first Swedish performance of In C and it was absolutely
magic! But apart from that we did not play together. We sure met, we had the
same friends. He's a charming human being, but I felt too Swedish stiff to get
TA: I just met him casually on some occasions, deeply impressed (I was very shy
Another reference point, which I guess comes from the hypnotic nature of your
music, which many people tend to come back to, is Velvet Underground. Do you
think this is an accurate comparison?
TMG: Of course, a great band but I don't think we were listening to them to
compare with them or to play like them. They were there in New York and made
their thing. We made our thing at some other place on Earth. Sometimes — or quite
often — things develops in parallel without knowing about each other.
TA: We were at that time now and then compared to Velvet Underground, of course
there is a relationship. Also we were ignorant of the fact that similar groups
were formed in Germany simultaneously.
How important is repetition in psychedelic music?
TMG: It is suggestive but repetition in itself is not the thing.
A dull, stupid and boring machine is also repeating. No one wants to be a machine
— so why be
one? The thing in this case is a "mood" created by making things over
and over again, a shamanistic seance or ritual to put yourself into another awareness.
You can say that psychedelic is an awareness to do anything, also to repeat a
beat or a tone. If you have a very simple pattern to play with it's possible
to put conscious attention to every part of it and you can make small changes
any time to any part of it — and sometimes "explode" the wheel by leaving
all rhythmic repetition into investigating the pure sound you happen to use to
study the aspects of "the drone" of all involved. Hopefully this makes
you to discover some new sounds, and a couple of new friends. This is like Indian
raga music where some few tones are varied in thousands of ways by small changes.
Similar in rhythm — you put your interest in different aspects or parts of the
rhythmic wheel to discover new aspects, and change them.
When we happen to play boring music, which of course happens, Torbjörn (the
bass player) and I (the drummer) talks about us as "the machine, the engine,
the machinists". This is what you can do with a sequencer — and then we
are not needed. We are there to put human life to this simple pattern or wheel.
And — psychedelic, "expanded", was not a special "style" of
music but opened the mind and heart so deeply that it felt like the whole world
and empty space is your whole living body — and you don't know why!
TA: Repetition is (my theory) profound to life. The little child learn by repetition,
life reproducing itself is repetition, Earth is turning and so on. (Well — the
predator in the too small cage in zoo gets stuck in repetition.) Repetition can
have a hypnotic effect but I don't think repeating is necessary to make music
psychedelic. This is a topic for a good work of research.
I read somewhere that your key phrase was "We, Here and Now!" Care
TMG: There is really no other "place" to do anything. Therefore neither
the past, the future or the present exists — but you have some ideas and stories
about it like "some thing moving from the past over now into the future" (like
this writing of "past" things). Our music was a kind of reaction to
these ideas of 'Iinear development' from the "stupid past" to the "brilliant
future" of mankind which is just to invent new tools and powers to manipulate
the existence of nature and mankind. There is nothing "better" without "worse" —
just a "stream of changes". The action you do "now" is how
things are "tomorrow" — therefore the thought "pity I did this
stupid thing yesterday". "In the eyes of God there is only One Day" as
Meister Eckehart put it.
TA: We felt sick and tired of the wide spread opinion that the important things
were happening somewhere else to other people. Too many youngsters were longing
for London or New York where the real life was in progress. This is to be regarded
as an instance of cultural imperialism, to minimize the value of everyone's life.
If we thought and talked about our concerts as parties around the center of Universe
where the music was the force putting us together, all of us present in this
place at this very moment — We, Here and Now — perhaps it could a little bit
strengthen the cultural self-reliance of these people for a while...
What was it like to play such relentlessly non-commercial music in Sweden in
the late '60s? How would you describe the musical climate of Stockholm era 1966-1968?
BP: We soon gained a small crowd of followers. They were essential for the music.
If everyone had turned away nothing would have happened. We also, in 1968, got
a sponsored tour from Rikskonserter, touring the northern part of Sweden. That
sure helped us a lot.
TMG: There were many things going on compared to some years before, and I guess
all different records and concerts we listened to, the growing awareness of the
world as a whole planet (through the Vietnam war, the third world and the imperialism
and the visit to the moon), the revolutionary thoughts expressed in May '68 in
Paris, by hippies and Anti War movements, this created a mixture of new meetings
in not only music but all arts. You could mix anything, there were nothing "high" or "low" as
in traditional arts. Art could also be a situation or an action. And you had
some ideas about "the people" as the real world to care about. As said,
the control of the commercial companies and authorities were for a moment left
behind so there was some freedom to make real experiments. And often a few persons
started, and many joined after some time. One shall not forget Miss Marijuana.
All of it made the ground for a Movement.
Did you guys get to play live a lot? How was the Pärson Sound received
audiences at the time? Any interesting gig stories?
TMG: First of all there weren't so many people listening except occasionally,
some liked it and some were offended and said we made this noise just because
we could not play. And for the youngsters who only know about "pop music" our
music first seemed from another planet, but they understood the energy. Some
contacts among "arty" people made it possible to make the first tours,
as Bo Anders mentioned. "If you remember anything you weren't there" as
hippies say. Once after a gig in Gothenburg we would sign our names for a fan,
and after he could only read "Pärson Sound" written in six different
TA: One of the very first tours (to Lund in Skåne) we stopped for a cup
of coffee on our way home. Some young boys asked for autographs and we wrote
our names, a little bit surprised. After we understood — we had rented a trailer,
that had been used by the Kinks and their name was still on the side of the trailer.
The boys thought we were the Kinks.
Could you tell us about your involvement with International Harvester
Gräs och Stenar, and how these bands differed from the Pärson Sound?
TMG: Bo Anders, Torbjörn and me play in Träd, Gräs och Stenar,
the continuation of Pärson Sound. Pärson were the lively meeting and
experiment, Harvester some kind of establishing the musical form and ideology,
and Träd, Gräs och Stenar were the hard working group trying to practice
some of the ideas.
TA: As I said before, PS - IH - H was a continuous development,
just changing name. But when Thomas Tidholm left Harvester summer 69 it was like
we had to
form a new group with a new name — TGS. To us the distinction was very important
even if our audience felt it was the same group reformed. As a matter of fact
— three of the original members are still remaining.
Träd, Gräs och Stenar plays the occasional gig in Sweden. Any chance
to catch Pärson Sound live again? Any more releases in the pipeline?
TMG: There will be no more gigs in the name of Pärson Sound. No one have
the intention to even try to reach these levels. Reine Fiske has an idea to make
a compilation of early Bo Anders recordings.
TA: No more Pärson Sound live — TGS is the natural continuation, the transmitter
of the tradition. I think Reine has found the most interesting recordings but
you can never tell. The two live-LP:s (TALL: Djungelns lag and Mors mors) will
be released, we hope this fall/winter. I would like to see some marvelous recordings
of Arbete & Fritid released — wild improvisations from late 70's (Thomas
Mera and I were members of Arbete & Fritid for some years). But that's another
Dreams for the future?
TA: In my opinion we have a lot more music to find and to give — more gigs until
we can't go on any longer
TMG: The return of the oppressed (including nature and animals) — and some more
fun and far out gigs.
Pärson Sound was interviewed by Mats Gustafsson and Lee
Jackson during the
fall of 2002.
Pärson Sound Pärson Sound (1967-68) 2CD (till'indien/Subliminal
International Harvester Sov gott Rose-Marie LP (Love Records) 1968,
on Silence Records in 2001
Harvester Hemåt LP (Decibel) 1969, reissued on CD by Silence in
Träd, Gräs och Stenar S/t LP (Decibel) 1970, reissued on CD
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Djungelns lag LP (Tall) 1971)
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Rock för kropp och själ LP
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Mors Mors LP (Tall) 1972
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Gärdet 12.6.1970 CD (till'indien/Subliminal
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Ajn Schvajn Draj CD (Silence) 2002
Solo albums/records with main responsibility of group member/s:
Bo Anders Persson Proteinimperialism LP (Wergo) 1967
Thomas Mera Gartz Sånger LP (Silence) 1975
Hot Boys Varma smörgåsar LP (Silence) 1973
Bröderna Lönn Säg det i toner... LP (Musiklaget) 1980
Thomas Mera Gartz Luftsånger / Cloudsongs LP (Silence) 1984
Thomas Tidholm Obevakade ögonblick LP (Silence) 1985
Published in The Broken Face Issue Nr 15 january 2003