One of the first times I met Maria w Horn, I noticed a sticker on her laptop from the UK anarchist group Class War, with the slogan ‘We Found New Homes for the Rich’ imposed on a picture of a graveyard. Curious, I asked whether Class War had formed a new sect in Sweden. Mats Erlandsson, also in the room, responded: ‘class war is everywhere’. Since then, Horn has produced a flurry of projects, including a cassette with Conditional (‘Excitation - Frustration - Excitation’), an audiovisual piece of synchronised sound and lights (‘Interlocked Cycles’), a string quartet piece inspired by black metal (‘Epistasis’), and a choreographed Tesla-coil performance at Norbergfestival (‘Alternating Currents’). It seems that as well as class war, Maria w Horn is also everywhere.
Her new album, Kontrapoetik, goes right back to her roots, featuring sound sources, texts and even pressed flowers from her home region of Ångermanland. The area is interesting for several reasons. It’s known in part for its strong labour movement, with a long history of strikes and socialist organising. But before that, it was also the site of Sweden’s largest documented execution of women accused of witchcraft, in the form of burnings and decapitations. Since the 1970s, the area has seen a rapid de-population and disintegration of the welfare state. This turbulent history has formed a character profile of Ångermanland as a — forgive me — anger-man-land: a place of frustrated workers rights, misogynist killings and economic desolation.
Sweden is at an interesting juncture in that, since the election last month, the incumbent red-green coalition were unable to form a Government, with the Social Democrats receiving their lowest vote share for over 100 years. This is in part due to the rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, a party with origins in white nationalism and Swedish fascism. Like the populist movements of Brexit and Trump, the Sweden Democrats cynically seek support from a disenfranchised white working class, appealing to a nostalgia for a world that is pre-migrant and pre-modern. Alongside a virulent anti-immigrant hatred, part of the Sweden Democrat’s popularity comes from their promise of a return to ‘traditional Swedish culture’: the craft, music, and dance of a bygone folk era; the bread & butter of the Swedish volksgeist as it was constructed in the latter part of the 19th century.
Like Trump and Brexit, the Sweden Democrats have also weaponised a rural-urban dichotomy. In 2016, Trump and Farage successfully built a suspicion of elites in the metropolis. Whether in the Washington, Westminster or Brussels, metropolitans were cast as the fat bourgeoisie, the white-collar intellectuals out-of-touch with the rural proletariat. This is not a new formulation. The notion of civilisation is coterminous with the rise of urban life. The words ‘city’ and ‘civilisation’ share civitas as a common etymological root. If modernity can be marked by one thing alone, it would be our migration from agriculture to industry; from the horizontal plains of landscape to the vertical summits of the skyscraper. Even our speculative understanding of the future views the city as the locus of change. Baudelaire wrote of living in an “Ant swarming City/City full of dreams/Where in broad day the spectre tugs your sleeve”, and in the young art of cinema, Fritz Lang imagined our future destined for a dystopic Metropolis. The arrow of history seems to point in one direction only. And the Sweden Democrats hope to build support by collectivising populations at its tail-end.
This makes Kontrapoetik a timely piece of music. The name itself implies a counter-reading of traditional narratives. Alongside research of the region, Horn worked as part of a satanic feminist sect, developing ceremonies and rituals based on counter-readings of the book of Genesis to unpick its misogynist tropes. In these counter-myths, Horn performs a kind of hermeneutics from hell, recasting Lucifer as a feminist liberator of womankind and an ally in the struggle against a patriarchal trinity: God, the father, and the male priesthood. Several of the pieces on Kontrapoetik were composed specifically for these ceremonial practices, as in the case of ‘Ave’. Moreover, the sound sources themselves are re-read into the work, drawing on organ-like textures reminiscent of music common to religious services. Here, the ceremonial music is re-appropriated for modern ends. The traditional croons of the pipe organ are sampled and re-synthesised for a piece that has more in common with satanic metal than it does with Sunday School.
Finally, Horn’s side project, TMRW, counter-reads her own background in Ångermanland. The TMRW project examines the metaphor of car-culture and motors from different perspectives. Anyone who knows Horn personally will have picked up on her passion in that most Swedish of motors: the Volvo. She has even started an events series called ‘Motorave’, an analogue to ‘Algorave’ which puts the old technology of car stereos in place of the modern computer. But perceptions of cars also have a class divide. In the country, the car is an emblem of progress, a literal vehicle for social and geographical mobility. But in the cities, ‘car culture’ means ‘low culture’: the instant gratification of speed, smoke, and the smell of burning rubber. These paradoxical viewpoints — of the car as both the technology of ‘TMRW’ and yesterday’s news — is perhaps best put in the sleeve-notes for her Ångerland EP, in which she writes, “…we cruise through towns made of burned out shops, broken down gas stations and gaping empty store windows. We used to believe in the future. Now we believe in the past…”
This week we caught up with Maria w Horn to talk about the Swedish election, satanic feminism, and motoraves.
So right now you’re in Ångermanland, which I believe is your hometown and features heavily in your new album. Why did you decide to focus on this place?
Due to a commission from a local museum in my home region Ångermanland I got access to the museum archives, and as I researched the history of this area it gradually started seeping into my work. One of the pieces on Kontrapoetik, ‘Ångermanländska bilder’, is based on Super-8 material depicting the environment during 1930-1940, the steamboats transporting timber along the river and sawmills before and after being closed down. The research I made in connection to this commission enabled me to politicise and see my own experiences of this area in another light to the point of being almost painfully introspective. Therefore the process of assembling Kontrapoetik turned into a kind of counter-exorcism, a way of exposing the traumas of the past in order to move on.
What’s the political make-up like up there?
Well, historically and currently the real strongholds of the right-wing and national socialist movements have always been in the south of Sweden. The north on the other hand has a strong political history based on socialist ideals. That being said, it is true that the Swedish Democrats have grown more popular in the northern part of the country during the last couple of years. There is this overall phenomena of women leaving due to better prospects in the big cities, while men — particularly working class men — get stuck without the intellectual tools to properly analyse their situation, resulting in a growing misguided general frustration.
The idea of people in the countryside as backwards and racist has gained a kind of renaissance, connected to the Swedish Democrats rising votes outside the big cities. It’s a sad state of affairs, if people were to care about wealth distribution they would recognise that the cause of their despair are not the immigration streams but the economic system itself. Every time I return to Ångermanland, another store or hospital had to close down due to this eternal cycle of drawbacks in social services and a lack of people to keep the economy alive.
Tell us a little bit about how this place fits in with your new record, Kontrapoetik.
While researching the commision piece I mentioned previously I spent a lot of time looking through photos, videos, and objects. All of this stuff was basically donated to Härnösands Museum by two siblings who were the owners of one of the saw mills. The siblings were wealthy and travelled the world, gathering art. The curators at the museum only recently started looking through the collection and found Matisse paintings and stuff [laughs].
Going through that collection made me focus on our construction of history, which stories are told and what heritage is passed on. In this case for instance, I could not find any information about the workers in the industries that was the actual source of the wealth of these siblings. This in turn led me to focus my further research on the erased stories of Ångermanland.
A fairly recent example would be the rebranding of the area of Ådalen. Events in the early part of the 20th century has led that name to be linked with the workers uprising. In the aftermath of the deindustrialisation of the region, the municipality, trying to attract tourists, has given the area a more mundane name: Höga Kusten ( the high coast). Another example is the toxic waste that rained down over Ångermanland after the Chernobyl Nuclear accident, making it dangerous to ingest fish and berries due to a high level of toxins. Due to this there is a high rate of cancer in the area, but this is never officially talked about.
It was also the site of a lot of witch burnings right?
Just a few days ago I visited ‘The Witches Mountain’, the site where women accused of witchcraft by the church were executed in 1674. A huge monolith sits on top of the mountain with an inscription which reads ‘the faith of time befalls men’. This was one of largest documented executions in Sweden, and Christian moralism is still a strong undercurrent in Swedish society. There is a certain mentality that strikes me each time I get back here. The villages around here are small enough for people to know each other and be really involved in each other’s lives and be judgemental to the decisions of others, leading to a certain kind of conformity.
Do you remember that after the black metal-related church burnings in Bergen in the early nineties there was a heightened sense of paranoia about teenagers becoming satanists? I was a goth kid at that time and I got thrown out of church - the priest called my family and said, ‘she’s a satanist!’ [laughs]. But I still can sense these latent expectations of fulfilling a predestined path, getting a normal job, buying a house, forming a family and so on. At the same time, I think that this mentality of always being involved in each others business plays a role in the historic strength of the area, and may prove an explanation as to why the labor movement grew particularly strong here.
I seem to remember you talking about doing ‘satanic feminist rituals’ with Sara Fors when we first met.
During the period when I was making Kontrapoetik, I was oscillating between two projects: the local history of Ångemanland and Satanic Feminism in Stockholm. So these processes were really informing each other. I think it all started when I found this book, a doctoral thesis by Per Faxneld called ‘Satanic Feminism’, and I started making music based counter-readings of the genesis narratives that I translated to Latin for a choir piece that never got performed [laughs].
I started researching the subject in more depth with Sara Fors and we applied for some funding to start a satanic feminist sect. The aim from the beginning was to gather material for a future performance but gradually it turned more and more into a closed practice. The goal was to work practically with sectarianism and separatism and see which artistic practices could develop in that context.
So what were you doing as a ‘sect’?
Rituals and ceremonies. But I don’t want to talk too much about that because the nature of a sect is that it is secret. Generally speaking, manifesting anger in different ways was a major theme. Counter-readings as a means of seeing who benefits from certain moral foundations, and validating the anger of those who do not benefit from it.
How have people in Ångermanland responded to your work?
I can’t say that the satanic feminist and counter reading approach has been well received. A few people reacted with complete confusion and even anger towards me lifting the violent parts of Ångermanland’s past, and most people stop listening as soon as they hear the words ‘Satanic’ or ‘Lucifer’. I guess it’s a generational divide, as well as a theoretical approach that is easier to grasp for people with academic backgrounds. I don’t have to mention names, but a person close to me in Ångermanland got very upset and claimed that I have destroyed my future and reputation in the area, that nobody will hire me ever, and that I have violated the parish at Högsjö church by connecting it with satanism [laughs].
Tell us about some of the sound materials you were using for this record.
‘Ångermanländska bilder’ is based heavily on the super-8 material I found in the archive, and I wanted to create sounds that did not seem too alien in comparison to the analogue pictures. Therefore I used the EMS Buchla 200 and tape machines blended with field recordings as a means of reconstructing the environment through the filter of my imagination.
Also, I found this woman who was taking a course with Pierre Schaeffer in Uppsala in the ’60s and after that she started making field recordings in this area. After corresponding with her I also ended up including some of her recordings in one of the pieces. Overall Kontrapoetik has been informed by my interest in combining contradictory modes of expression, finding points where more controlled compositional methods such as minimalist and formalist approaches can be combined and balanced with indeterminate procedures such as feedback or chance operations.
The vinyl also comes with some pressed flowers right?
Yeah, last summer I was obsessed with picking flowers and drying them and laminating them [laughs]. I don’t know if you know about the Swedish midsummer rituals? During the longest night of the year, you are supposed to collect seven types of flowers and you sleep with them under your pillow. Then you’re supposed to dream about your future love. I was really into that ritual as a kid.
It also seems like a continuation of the Dufwa project with Mats Erlandsson, which incorporated a lot of the local environment too.
Well, I guess that is true to some extent — that project was the first one were I utilised field recordings extensively. I used to be really purist about my sound and I was always very keen to make synthesis from scratch. So this is a new approach for me.
You also have this spoken word part to the album on ‘Ave’, what is being said here?
Someone else asked me to translate it to English before and I couldn’t. But the text is one of the outcomes of the sect, it was written by Djuna Michelle Jangmyr. It is an invocation, a means to mould a gateway to our fellowship with Satan and the values connected to them. She actually wrote her master’s thesis arguing for a trans-theoretical and -activist fellowship with Satan. It’s a beautiful text, called ‘To Make Chaos in a Cisnormative Cosmos’ and that was one of the texts that really informed us as a group.
Am I right in thinking some of the sounds are also sampled from Swedish pastoral music?
I found a record which is called ‘Ancient Pastoral Music for Pipes and Horns’ and it has these very simple folk melodies. The stuff you hear on the album is layered and heavily processed through tape machines, so I’m not sure that you would even be able to identify the source. I wanted to involve some older traditional material and trace a history through the music. It felt natural to include those components, but fracturing and processing them as a musical extension of the counter-reading theme.
How does this fit with your TMRW project?
TMRW is my for-fun project without any obligations. This far I have not really connected it with my own name in an attempt to keep it free from expectations, but at this point it’s getting top complicated to sustain a secret moniker, so I just decided to stop keeping it a secret. The TMRW project is even more connected to Ångermanland, but in a more personal, almost therapeutic way. I grew up in the countryside in a working class environment. My dad used to be a car mechanic before he moved on to work in the engine room of an oil tanker, so from him I inherited a special appreciation of motors. Instead of a christmas tree he used to bring in his Harley Davidson motorcycle to the living room and pimp it with glitter and christmas decorations.
I grew up with the car as this a symbol of ultimate freedom. Being stuck in the countryside, the car is like your way out of humdrum life, it’s literally a vehicle to an exciting life in the city. When I moved to Stockholm to study composition, I realised I had to rebuild my whole repertoire of cultural references. Contemporary classical music is such a playground for people with upper-middle class backgrounds, and many of them grew up with a similar set of references. Somehow I got annoyed with the fact that all the references to motor culture, as well as the music that I listened to growing up — a lot of metal and rock — where considered ‘trash culture’ and did not fit into the world of the contemporary composer. This led to a kind of personality split: on the one hand, I thought of myself as Maria-the-composer, who is able to appreciate a good Brandenburg Variation once in a while and so on [laughs], and on the other hand the TMRW moniker who doesn’t give a shit and recaptures the impact of trash culture in her music. It’s another counter-reading I guess, of my own background.
‘Kontrapoetik’ is out now on Portals Editions / XKatedral.