Embodying the Disembodied: Leif Elggren at LAMPO

August 28, 2012 | Published Articles, Writing

This article was originally published on the Art21 blog on August, 28th, 2012.

Presented by Lampo, a Chicago-based nonprofit presenter of experimental music and intermedia events, and the Graham Foundation, an organization that makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and also produces public programs, Leif Elggren performed last November as part of LAMPO’s performance series at The Graham Foundation. Elggren has a varied and interesting past — along with Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Elggrene is, for instance, one of the kings of Elgaland-Vargaland: a digital territory that “consists of all Border Territories: Geographical, Mental & Digital.” It is one of the most visited territories in the world. He was born in Sweden in 1950, currently lives in Stockholm, and creates experimental music that integrates visual components. He has many albums to his name, has been working with Kent Tankred under the moniker Guds Soner (or The Sons of God) and represented Sweden at the Venice Biennale in 2001. I was thinking about his LAMPO performance because of the way it dissolved the space between myself (the listener) and the sound.

We gathered in the upstairs auditorium of the Graham Foundation to watch Leif Elggrenperform. Elggren is known for the ways in which he engages a liminal space, whether by collaborating with ghosts, or annexing the borders. He tries to access and name the marginal space between things, between what is alive and what is dead, what is a this and a that.  In this particular instance, he first screened a video of drawings with music. Then he described a process by which he collaborates with the long-dead Emanuel Swedenborg, a scientist, philosopher and theologian from the 1700s. Towards the end of his life, Swedenborg began to have visions wherein he believed he was communicating directly with God. Elggren communicates with that spirit via invocation and an embodiment.

During the second part of his performance Elggren explained that the house belonging to Swedenborg had been torn down, but that the summer vestibule/one-room cottage where the man occasionally worked in his garden still remained. Elggren and a collaborator worked on-site, in this small room, conducting a series of recordings as Elggren read some of Swedenborg’s original writing. This was then mixed in a sound studio and came together in an album. He played a recording from this record — it sounded like a fuzzed-out, layered and thick hunk of distortion; the human voice was hard to discern, its words all the more impossible to distinguish. In many ways, I feel like this “song” was sort of like an entry point into Elggren’s Swedenborg collaboration — what would consume the rest of the evening. (read more)