Göran Arnberg talks to icethesite
Göran Arnberg will be familiar to many icethesite readers as being the keyboard player in Benny Anderssons Orkester and as an arranger on many of Benny’s projects. We’re delighted that he said he would be “honoured” to appear on the site and answer some questions about his work with Benny.
How and when did you and Benny Andersson first meet?
I was hired to play the keyboards and rehearsal piano in the Stockholm version of Kristina från Duvemåla at the end of the last century. One day when I sat alone in the pit (we were rehearsing Vildgräs), I suddenly jumped when I heard someone behind me playing along on an Indian drum. I turned around and saw a big ‘grinning beard’ and I immediately realised what a cool cat Benny is!
Can you describe to us what your role is in terms of working with Benny as an arranger?
What usually happens when Benny has a new piece he wants to have transcribed is that I go down to his office and he plays his demo for me and explains what he has been thinking. Benny’s demos are in most cases very close to what the end result will be (or at least what he thinks will be the end result at that moment), so my work as an arranger is mostly about distributing the parts, i.e. making certain that we literally have ‘enough hands’ to perform what is written and that the musicians each have a part that is playable.
Having said that the demos are in most cases very similar to the end result, Benny is a dynamo of creativity in a recording or rehearsal situation, so everybody involved must be prepared to make changes on the fly. This makes my job rather nerve-wracking in the sense that I must try to keep track of what he changes in the players’ parts so that I can update the scores for future performances. It’s a never ending process of creativity, so to speak.
Is it easy to balance working with Benny and your other work?
I try to keep my schedule clear during the periods I work with Benny as it always turns out to involve more work than it seemed to at the beginning. It’s not a problem in the least though as we always have a good time when working.
How has technology affected the way that you work?
I have been dabbling with computers since the early eighties so I pretty much grew up with technology. My workflow with Benny is that I get the audio file and sometimes a MIDI file from his Synclavier and depending on the nature of the material, I either transcribe it by ear or with the MIDI file as a reference for that extra hard-to-hear or inaudible stuff.
What projects have been your biggest challenge musically since working with Benny?
An ever present musical challenge comes with working with BAO. For example, finding the musical balance between “folky” and “academic”. We want the arrangements to sound “folky” in the sense that they preferably sound quite free and spontaneous. On the other hand we don’t want it to sound too home-made as such, in the sense of just plain bad voice leading. We always strive to find a musically satisfying phrase, smooth and enjoyable to play, avoiding awkward jumps and turns. There is an ever ongoing – always very interesting process that we work with quite a lot that is pretty nerdy!
Another musical challenge is the actual notation itself of, for example, the time signature changes in Benny’s music. There are more of them than you might think, but you seldom notice them, as they are “as slick as snail slime on a bowling alley” as the American music professor Robert Greenberg once put it.
For example the piece En skrift i snön contained a theme which Benny said was “simply a polska with some extra beats here and there”. Those “extra beats” caused me many hours of thinking and experimenting of how to notate them in the most correct and readable manner!
Was your work on Benny’s latest theatre piece Hjälp sökes the first time you had been involved with music directly for the stage? If so, how did the process differ from your usual work with Benny and BAO?
Yes, Hjälp sökes was the first time I worked for the stage but the work process was the same as always. I don’t really know any other way to do it.
Benny did, however, come up with a couple of new pieces after the rehearsals had started. They were mostly for underscoring as a result of director Lars Rudolfsson discovering that certain passages of music had to be a little longer here and there.
There were some pretty Felliniesque moments when Benny, on the floor of the set sang new lines up to me on the stairs above the cows and goats and geese, which I then had to interpret and communicate to the band squeezed under the theatre roof! Unforgettable and unreal memories.
At Orionteatern Hjälp sökes is performed by a 5 piece band – have you made many alterations for the CD?
In the early stages of planning Hjälp sökes, we discussed the possibility of using backing tracks for the band to play along to for some of the numbers. Soon though, we realised that it would not work for the actors and the animals so we dropped that idea. Benny’s demos were in many cases a lot more orchestral than what is performed during the show.
For the CD we have added a little string section and Benny will overdub some more instruments to get closer to his original intentions.
I must point out though, that I think we did a pretty good job of making the five players (woodwinds, violin, keys, percussion/keys, bass) sound like more than five. Extra credit must go to the percussionist Jörgen Stenberg (from BAO) who got more than his fair share of keyboard work in addition to his percussion duties, which he managed with total excellence!
What is it like to join up with the rest of BAO every so often and hit the road? It always looks like such good fun…
You are perfectly right! Going on tour with BAO is like the Ultimate Happiness Trip! After all these years we have become like a family and everybody just has a great time. The only problem is that we eat too well and too much! Görel always appears on the tour bus with freshly baked cinnamon buns and huge baskets of candy. So it’s ‘diet and detox time’ for a couple of weeks after the tours.
Is there a particular funny BAO experience from the road that you can share with us?
Most of us have a very childish sense of humour, so we find great pleasure in ‘enhancing’ the lyrics and singing them to each other on stage. So if people in the audience suddenly see one of us on stage almost choking with laughter you can be pretty sure that an extra-bawdy line has hit the spot! I always sit next to my good friend ‘Tuba-Calle’ (Calle Jakobsson) and it is great fun if I can sing him a good one just before a solo, so I can see him twitch and sweat while playing, all without missing a beat, of course!
So, after the Hjälp sökes CD release and the BAO live gigs in the Summer, do you know what your next Benny related challenge might be?
I have absolutely no idea what we are going to do after the summer tour. But we have joked about doing sequels to Hjälp sökes. They will be called The Return of Hjälp sökes, The New Adventures of Hjälp sökes or Watch out for Hjälp sökes!
And I will continue with my wacky musical experiments as always, some of which can be seen on my YouTube channel.
If you had to name just one Benny composition that is your absolute favourite to perform, which one would it be and why?
It’s impossible to just pick one, there are just too many – but I must say that when we hit that first chord of Du är min man on a hot summer night and the audience goes totally bonkers it is a very, very special feeling…and by the time we get to Why Did It Have To Be Me? we are in Nirvana!
Many thanks to Göran for his time and great answers.