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The Pohjola music – created from prog-rock, classical, avant-garde and technological innovation

Bjørn David Dolmen disputerer for ph.d.-graden onsdag 30. januar 2019 med avhandlingen «Etter rockens gjennombrudd: Fire impulser i Pekka Pohjolas musikalske estetikk». (Foto: Privat)

The main point of the thesis is that the three recordings should be considered as the result of a “prog-rock impulse”, a “classical music impulse”, an “avant-garde impulse”, and a “technological impulse”. Fanatic Answers, Ordinary Music and Metropolitan are recordings converging these impulses in Pohjola’s aesthetics; they are a synthesis of his production.

Bjørn David Dolmen

PhD Candidate

Pekka Pohjola was a Finnish multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer who played with bands and made recordings far beyond the borders of Finland. Best known as a prog-rock bass player, but also a classically trained pianist and violinist. See the article in JazzFinland.

In the thesis he defends for his PhD on Wednesday 30 January 2019 Etter rockens gjennombrudd: Fire impulser i Pekka Pohjolas musikalske estetikk, Bjørn David Dolmen analyses three recordings by Pekka Pohjola.

Dolmen has been enrolled in the doctoral programme at the Faculty of Fine Arts, with specialisation in Popular Music Performance.

Summary of the thesis by Bjørn David Dolmen:

Pohjola’s aesthetics – a synthesis of prog-rock, classical, avant-garde and technological innovation.

This thesis discusses Pekka Pohjola’s musical aesthetics. The ambition is to present a composer and musician who, despite his popularity, has been given little scholarly attention.

Studying three recordings and four analytical impulses, the thesis investigates the complexity and qualities of Pohjola’s music, from the 1970s to his death in 2008.

The thesis also discusses terms like ‘progressive rock’ and ‘avant-garde’, terms that in musicology have served to clarify, invoke disputes and create confusion. 

Prog-rock, classical, and avant-garde music and technological innovation

Central to the thesis are the recordings Fanatic Answers (1992), Ordinary Music (1997) and Metropolitan (2001).

These compositions are indebted to the musical traditions Pohjola finds himself in, progressive rock, classical music and avant-garde. As studio productions they are expressions of his familiarity with and use of the recording studio in the process of artistic creation.

The main point of the thesis is that the three recordings should be considered as the result of a ‘prog-rock impulse’, a ‘classical music impulse’, an ‘avant-garde impulse’, and a ‘technological impulse’. Fanatic AnswersOrdinary Musicand Metropolitan are recordings converging these impulses in Pohjola’s aesthetics; they are a synthesis of his production.

More on the same track

Pohjola was obviously not alone in combining impulses from classical music, art music and popular music.

Neither was he alone in taking advantage of the possibilities provided by technological development. 

In the same category we find composers like György Ligeti, Arvo Pärt, Frank Zappa, Magnus Lindberg, Ian Anderson, Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett and John Zorn (to mention a few).

Some of these have been the subjects of studies, particularly those defined as contemporary music composers, such as Lindberg.

Others have been ignored, among them Anderson, Hackett, and Pohjola, whose later productions have been overshadowed by their more commercially successful contributions to the 1970s prog-rock genre. 

One-sided perspectives on composers of contemporary music

Established perspectives on contemporary music composers are characterized by one-sidedness.

For example, many have written about how Lindberg attempting to find new ways for ‘serious’ music gets his inspiration from popular music; less has been said about how he also grew up in a time when rock music was a central musical style. 

This thesis points to a larger problem, the ambiguity of some of the terms we use to grasp, understand and describe contemporary music compositions.

Beyond presenting Pohjola as a contemporary composer, the thesis claims that Fanatic AnswersOrdinary Music and Metropolitan are compositions that, due to the instrumental sound, the texture, the virtuosity, the eclecticism, and the frequent occurrence of dramatic contrast, suggest clear associations with 1970s prog-rock.

However, they also have characteristics diverging from prog-rock.

Compositions with elements of rock

Even if the compositions have characteristics of rock music, the music is formally closer to classical music; it is not unreasonable to claim that they are not rock with elements of sounds and structures adopted from the great European musical tradition (as the case was with 1970s prog-rock), but rather passacaglias, symphonic poems and aleatorian works partly played on electronic musical instruments.

The aleatorian elements in Ordinary Music give the piece an avant-garde character. The same can be said of the elements of expressionism in Fanatic Answers and minimalism in Metropolitan.

This shows how forms, components and methods from prog-rock, classical music and avant-garde music come together in new and different connections from the ones studies of contemporary music usually focus on.

The result also testifies to Pohjola’s search for a unique musical expression, something he simply named ‘Pohjola music’.

Technological innovation

Pohjola worked with structures that were to be included in and operate within a soundscape. When working with the scores, technological innovations such as advanced types of microphones, multitrack recording mixers, panorated sound sources, gating, etc. were thus considered.

However, during the recording process, he often impulsively ignored his preconceived notions. Fanatic AnswersOrdinary Music and Metropolitan all testify to a composer who actively used technology in his quest to create ‘Pohjola music’.

The thesis also discusses whether Pohjola’s music should be considered as hybrid, or whether there are other terms that better describe his music.

One point is that Fanatic AnswersOrdinary Music and Metropolitan can best be considered an attempt at a ‘genuine synthesis’.

Another descriptive term is ‘compositional music’; this is because Pohjola had composer status at the time when these pieces were written, and because he worked as composers often do, with scores and orchestras.

Even though ‘compositional music’ is not a perfect term - as it does not take into account the technological impulse in his aesthetics - it is better than the term ‘contemporary music’ which is too open-ended, and which has been seized by art music.

Finally, it is a point that by force of its texture rock music is the underlying stylistic basis for his music. 

That the boundaries between rock music, classical music and art music have been transgressed is old news. However, rock and prog-rock’s persistent influence on compositional music - and vice versa - needs more studies.

This thesis shows how Pohjola made his compositional music after the breakthrough of rock music.

Disputation facts:

The CandidateBjørn David Dolmen(1982, Trondheim). Bachelor in Musicology at Norwegian University of Science and Technology - NTNU (2006); Master in Musicology at NTNU (2009); PPU - Post graduate teacher training at NTNU (2010).

Teacher at Charlottenlund secondary school and at Dagskolen in Trondheim (2010 - 2015). Alongside this, Dolmen has been working as a music teacher in school of music, primary school, Steiner school and secondary school, as well as in academia as a university teacher, student assistant, lecturer and he has been published in books and journals. 

PhD Candidate in Popular Music Performance at UiA (from 2015)

Aside from the thesis Etter rockens gjennombrudd: Fire impulser i Pekka Pohjolas musikalske estetikk he has published two articles: one in a textbook ‘Musikalsk postmodernisme – globalt fenomen eller eurosentrisk familiekrangel’, in T. Dybo and K. Oversand (ed.), Musikk, politikk og globalisering, 2012; and one in a journal ‘Om progressiv rock og postrock i Pekka Pohjolas musikk’, NTM Norsk tidsskrift for musikkforskning, vol. 2, 2014.

Dolmen has also over the years been an active musician and producer, including as songwriter and guitarist in the band Gallery, which has resulted in two album recordings. Since 2001 he has been a permanent editorial member of Monster Magazine and Norway Rock Magazine. In that connection, Dolmen has done a series of interviews and written articles and reviews.

Apart from his musical education and teacher training, Dolmen has studied and passed exams in art history, philosophy, Scandinavian studies and comparative studies of literature.

The trial lecture and public defence takes place in Room 1, Sigurd Køhns hus, Building K, Campus Kristiansand, Wednesday 30 January 2019.

Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts, Marit Wergeland-Yates, will chair the public defence.

Trial lecture at 10.15 am

Public defence at 12.15 pm

Given topic for trial lecture: Om internasjonal populærmusikkforskning og studiet av progressiv rock

Thesis title: Etter rockens gjennombrudd: Fire impulser i Pekka Pohjolas musikalske estetikk

Search for the thesis in AURA - Agder University Research Archive, a digital archive of scientific papers, theses and dissertations by academic staff and students at the University of Agder. The thesis will be available at the University Library, and some copies will also be available for loan at the auditorium where the disputation takes place.


First opponent: Docent Susanna Välimäki, University of Turku, Åbo, Finland

Second opponent: Professor Paal Fagerheim, Nord University

The assessment committee is led by Professor Tor Dybo, Department of Popular Music, University of Agder

Supervisors were Professor Michael Rauhut, Department of Popular Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Agder (main supervisor), and Professor Stan Hawkins, Department of Popular Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Agder (co-supervisor)