Knut Wiggen - Biography

Knut Wiggen (S) - Ultima 2003

Knut Wiggen, born in 1927 in Buvika near Trondheim, Norway, has always been passionately devoted to trying to understand how music and technology complement each other in today's society. His radical ideas on this subject were put into practice in his work in Sweden, both at Fylkingen, Swedish Radio and the electronic music studio EMS, and we can therefore say that Wiggen contributed to Stockholm's position as a central hub for new and radical art and music in Europe during the 1960's and '70's.

Wiggen is something seldom found - a pioneer in electronic music. This in spite of his classical music studies: Piano studies with Gottfrid Boon, Hans Leygraf and Robert Riefling, composition studies with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, and some music history at the Uppsala University. His first contact with musique concréte, elektronic music and composers like Pierre Schaeffer, Yannis Xenakis, Bruno Moderna, Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen came during the early 1950's in Paris and Darmstad.

Inspired by these composers, and after working in Darmstad for two years, Wiggen returned to Stockholm. Here, as chairman of Fylkingen (1959-1969), he reformed the organization's goals and artistic activities, moved its venue to the Modern Museum, lead its series of around 100 concerts, planned and lead the festival 'Visions of the Present' (1966), as well as UNESCO's international expert meeting 'Music and Technology' (1970).  Wiggen also took the initiative to organize concert tours with new music between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, thus increasing people's awareness of the composers and letting the musicians play several paid radio presentations.

In 1964 he began to plan, build and lead an advanced electronic music studio for Swedish Radio:  Elektronmusikstudion i Stockholm (EMS). Here Wiggen created a new musical instrument consisting partly of the world's first digitally-steered electronic music studio, and partly of a new composition program which gave composers the possibility to work with a new concept of space, i.e. simulated variable space,  similar to today's  5.1. This composition program, MusicBox, which is similar to the early simulation languages Simula and Smalltalk, was the world's first object-oriented simulation language of hybrid type. In other words, MusicBox controlled the digital equipment as well as the quadraphonic sound with the help of process steering techniques.  

Pierre Schaeffer said the following words when Wiggen presented  EMS at the 20 th Anniversary of Musique Concréte in Paris in 1968, (Teddy Hultberg's  book Fylkingen, 1994, p. 50, my translation): "I believe that this conception is completely unique in the whole world…",  and "This tool, this super technique in the ear's service, is something the third millennium needs".

Fate stepped in when Karl-Birger Blomdahl died. His successor at Swedish Radio showed less interest in the EMS project. Together with a group of composers, he dismantled the visionary part of the studio in 1976.

Knut Wiggen only had time to compose 5 pieces with MusicBox at EMS: Summer Morning (1972), Etude (1972), Journey (1972, ISCM 1976), Tornado (1974) and EMS on its Own (1975).  Other early compositions are Composition for solo flute (1956), Quartet for piano, violin, clarinet and bassoon (1955, ISCM 1956), pieces for instrumental theater and Sweden's first happening. Knut Wiggen is presented internationally and at home, i.e. at ISCM World Music Days (1956 Baden-Baden, 1976 Boston), at Oslo Concert Hall's opening (1977) and at the Ultima-Festival in Oslo (2003, 2004).

Among Wiggen's publications can be found: Att spela piano (1966), Kunsten ċ spille piano (1969), De tvċ musikkulturerna (1971),  Electronic Music in Sweden (together with B. E. Johnson, 1972),  Den strukturerende verden (1991) and Musikkens psykiske fundament (2004).

'Studio Wiggen' was established by NOTAM – Nettverk for Teknikk, Akustikk og Musikk in Oslo in 2003.

Knut Wiggen is still working full time today – both writing and composing. He has given a lot of thought to digital technique's demands on today's society and the changes that come as a result of these demands. Like many others, he feels that music is facing a crisis, and during the last few years Wiggen has worked to understand what has happened, what the future might possibly bring, and what he feels could be done with new music in order for it to be able to meet these changes. His ideas make room for a new type of music, and Knut Wiggen is hoping once again to be able to make a contribution in the area of music.

Text: Carol van Nuys
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