Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen - C.V.

Günter Heinz and Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen in Dresden, 2006

Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen was born in Copenhagen in 1951.

In 1970 he began music studies at Copenhagen University. From the next year on active in the Group for Alternative Music. Its members composed, played each other's works, improvised, published a magazine and organized concerts.

1983-2014 assistant teacher at Music Therapy, Aalborg University, responsible for teaching and examination in the subjects of Intuitive Music and Graphic Notation which he has developed.

In 1984 he finished his studies as cand.phil (similar to MA) with a thesis in Danish: "Investigations around the Concept and Role of Experiment in Western Art Music since 1945".

The development of notations which leave room for the creativity of the musicians is of central importance to him. Often one finds in his works a complex sound pattern changing in gradual ways.

He plays piano, organ, French horn and various small instruments.

He has played among other places in Group for Intuitive Music (1975-), ABFA with John Tchicai and Jan Kaspersen (1978-79), and in Intuitive Music Group (1990-). He also played with among others Frode Andersen, Lotte Anker, Peter Friis Nielsen, Hasse Poulsen, Morten Carlsen, Peter Ole Jørgensen, Kresten Osgood, Steve Beresford, Rhodri Davies, Mark Sanders, Heiner Metzger, Blaise Siwula, Mauro Orselli, Luca Miti, Nina Polaschegg, Ge-Suk Yeo, Günter Heinz, Hans Fjellestad, Stephen Nachmanovitch, Kumi and Yu Wakao, Hideo Ikegami, Haruhiko Okabe, Camilla Barrat-Due, Gerd Rieger, Viola Kramer, Jack Wright.

As a composer he collaborated with among others Baird contemporary Ensemble, NYC (with Yvar Mikashoff and Jan Williams), Karl-Erik Welin, ensembles Edges (with David Ryan, UK), Vestjysk Kammerensemble (DK), Madam Press (DK), IST (Mark Wastell, Rhodri Davies, Simon H. Fell, UK), MW2 (P), Septima Practica (AR), Skræp (DK), GRIPI (F), Kwartludium (P), Moscow Contemporary Ensemble (RU), Makoto Nomura (JAP), Michal Górczyński (PL) as well as many others.

Radio lectures, organisational work, publications. Practising music therapist 1984-2014.

Courses in Intuitive Music (improvisation/composition) of more than one day outside Aalborg University: Danish Society for Music Therapy Svendborg (DK) 85, Musikhögskolan Stockholm (Sweden) 89, Musica Artes Växlö (Sweden) 90, Conservatory of Krakow (Poland) 94, Conservatory of Funen (DK) 94+01, Creative Music Festival Kawamotocho (Japan) 99, Novosibirsk State Conservatoire (Russia) 03, DKDM (Royal Danish Conservatory of Music) 12, Birmingham Conservatoire (UK) 14, Föreningen Svenska Tonsättare Stockholm (Society of Swedish Composers) 15, Rhythmic Music Conservatory (DK) 15.

Various official commissions and prices. Represented at Numus Festival 1988 (DK), Composers' Biennale 1992 and 1996 (DK), Warsaw Autumn 2016 (PL) and Nordic Music Days 2019 (N). A number of his compositions are published by 2015-16 censor at postgraduate composers' exams at the Royal Danish Academy of Music

Member of Danish Composer's Society, the former London Musicians' Collective and German Ring für Gruppenimprovisation.

Performances in 25 countries.

Biographical note by Svend Ravnkilde - from the programme book for music festival 3rd Composers' Biennale, 1996:
Bergstrøm-Nielsen is a singular figure in Danish music, precisely because his efforts in music and with music place the centre of gravity within the creative consciousness of the individual and are at the same time so universal in their appeal that boundaries dissolve. As a theoretician, teacher, organiser, performer and creative artist Bergstrøm-Nielsen has chosen alternative music-making as his main field of activity. Intuition is of prime importance in the philosophical and musical world of this reflective, quiet man who insists on the value of being truly present in every single moment while at the same time being free of preconceived notions. He himself plays several instruments, both ordinary and less ordinary; in his work he has taken a particular interest in improvised music as well as music performed according to ad hoc rules, and music played from sheets and scores with graphically designed non-standard notation.


"... Your score has interested me, and I find your

improvisational method very fruitful."

Composer György Ligeti on TUTTI for recorder ensemble in a letter, 15 May


"... Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsens "Sonata" for four horns which is

carried by a fine sound fantasy and a highly developed

instrumental way of writing"

Reviewer Jens Brincker in Copenhagen Newspaper Berlingske Tidende, 30/3 1976.

 "Not only the structurally most concentrated results but also the

most varied and vigorous music had introductions by Carl


Reviewer Jan Jacoby in Copenhagen Newspaper Information (Cph) 25/7 1977.

"The last composition is Bergstrom-Nielsen's "Fire-Music", a score which fits on the back of a matchbox but yields two and a half minutes of arresting music and could have provided quite a bit more"

Richard Cochrane at the defunct about CD BF 28, available here (Febr. 1999).

"Bergstrøm-Nielsen is a singular figure in Danish music, precisely because his efforts in music and with music place the centre of gravity within the creative consciousness of the individual and are at the same time so universal in their appeal that boundaries dissolve"

Svend Ravnkilde in: Young Composers 1960-1996, programme book, 3rd. Composers' Biennale, Copenhagen, 2-17. March 1996.

" spite of the lack of knowledge of "secret music", a hint of it begins to shine through a little in Huxley's essay and in Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen's, who in 1980 finished a treatise on Western Art Music after describes quite clearly how to listen."

Swami Janakananda, founder of Skandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, Bindu 18, 1981.

"Both disciplines are new at the university level. Both embody new thinking worthy of a young, experimenting university, and they deserve a natural place in every music education on the higher levels."

External examiner Hans Holm on improvisation in piano playing - and in Intuitive Music which has been developed by CBN since 1983. From Expert Opinion on the Music Therapy Education at Aalborg University, 1987. 

"The course was experienced as profitable to a very high degree, and participants wished for a follow-up.

There was much playing and strong musical experiences both individual and collective".

Christina Norlén in an article about an intuitive music course by CBN arranged by Swedish Society for Music Therapy, Stockholm 1989, Musikterapi 1, 1990.

"Intuitive music. That sounds like a flipped-out philosophy from the seventies that has no validity longer in the well-groomed decade of the nineties.


All an all I must conclude that intuitive music is incredibly liberating to deal with.

It is nice for a while to play one's mind, to enter into a musical communication taken care of by musicians theirselves.

The freedom and easiness characterizing the music is valuable to remember - when one is faced with the task of performing a composer's work.

Play as if it were improvised, listen to yourself and others - That's what we are to learn - and intuitive music has shown itself to be a short cut!"

Music Conservatory student Mikkel Jønch-Clausen from Carl Nielsen Music Academy at Funen, Denmark, about an intuitive music course, 1994, in "Primavista" 1,4, sept. 1994.

"Within the field of music therapy Bergstrøm-Nielsen has put forward an interesting proposal of alternative ways of notating. His model of "stenographic graphic notation" shows how a piece of music can be described in a relatively uncomplicated and rapid way spatially and thus visualised. Elaborate descriptions demand more training and time for their production. These are, however, also propagated by Bergstrøm-Nielsen who teach them in specially designed courses, and they lead to impressive and clear results"

Michael Langenbach: "Zur körpernahen Qualität von Musik und Musiktherapie und der Angemessenheit ihrer graphischen Notation", Musiktherapeutische Umschau 19, 17-19 (1998). German original transl. by cbn.

"... could be an invaluable tool for many...this is exciting material!"

"This is a subject which deserves more attention in the teaching and study of music therapy"

"This is an important subject that could have great significance to music therapy and especially to clinical improvisation...excellent ideas"

Reviewers' comments to the proposed article "Graphic Notation as a Tool in Describing and Analyzing Music Therapy Improvisations", 1992. The article was printed in the American magazine Music Therapy vol. 12 no. 1, 1993, issued by the American Association of Music Therapy.

"The graphic notation of clinical improvisation (Bergstrom-Nielsen, 1999) is an important development in making available evidence of sessions other than audio or video recordings, as means of transcribing music therapy diagrammatically and pictorially... provides information that is insightful and creative"

Colin Lee: The architecture of aesthetic music therapy, 2003, p. 132.

What some opponents have said...

"Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen still holds the belief of the sixties that one can make a kind of ludo game for five instrumentalists and count on keeping the attention of an audience with the random results of randomness. This is still not the case. Forget Bergstrøm-Nielsen"
Robert Naur, Politiken 11. januar 1981
"Postcard-Music. A beneficial title suggesting conciseness, Dear Aunt Olga, we are well, with love. Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsens' postcards are not like that. They are long. One hears strange, chaotic sounds. (He says so himself in the program notes). These sounds, consisting of bumping, glissandi, slapping, are to be expressions of 'sensitivity' according to the composer. If one threw a pile of instruments into the ape cave in ZOO one would have the same result, perhaps even better"
Jurij Moskvitin, Politiken 16.februar 1982
"An attempt to find new ways - OK, but intuitive musical processes are not nescessarily innovative. How much new has happened within intuitive music during the last 25 years?"
Jakob Wivel, Jyllands-Posten 24.maj 1997
This question astonished me and made me realise that even a number of music people do not know about the historical development in this area. This prompted me to start writing about the subject myself. Until my sketches are maybe one day published, I can refer to David Borgo, Christoph Cox and others (see the bibliographies.)
"The issue of how much the composer is involved in the creation of music like this is, really, rather a red herring. The point seems to be simply that the music gets played, and whether the composer prescribes pitches and durations or just suggests frames of mind is neither here nor there."
Richard Cochrane, Musings website, 1999.
It's an interesting paradox that this writer likes a lot what he hears (see link above for the full review), he just seems not to be able to imagine what's the function of the compositions.
"La musique Intuitive travaille donc une commune intuition de musiciens face à un système de signes qui guide leur action. Cette intuition ne circule pas entre les musiciens mais entre les signes du compositeur et les musiciens; entre les musiciens il s'agit d'écoute."
"Intuitive music thus elaborates on a common intuition of musicians opposed to a system which guides their action. This intuition does not circulate between the musicians but between the composers' signs and the musicians; between musicians, listening is that which is required"

Noël Tachet, Improjazz 86, Juin 2002, p.46.

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