Originally Testbild! was the brainchild of a Swedish scientist, who wishes to remain anonymous. This man, a 53 year old, was a chemist who had lost his faith in the value of his research. Wishing to communicate his ideas about the world and the nature of reality in another form, he started writing a book with the name Testbild!. In 1994 Petter Herbertsson met the author/chemist at a train station, waiting for a train that was delayed. They started talking and he told Petter about his, by this time abandoned, book-project. He said he was moving abroad, that he was retiring and had given up trying to get recognition for his ideas. Petter expressed an interest in the book. Before their ways parted Petter was given the only existing manuscript, with the inscription “do what you want with it, it doesn’t matter in what form it comes out”. He added that if Petter wanted, he could inherit the name Testbild! and the ideas communicated in the book (by now, Petter has read it hundreds of times and says it reads differently each time).
In the late summer of 1998 Petter found himself dead tired of playing and writing what was expected of him. He was fed up with streamlined songwriting and adjusting to prefabricated sound ideals, and longed for a way to rediscover the joy of making unexpected and meaningful music. With the scientist’s words in mind he wrote a manifesto, renouncing genre values, and music and/or art for commercial purposes. And so in the year 2000, brandishing a portfolio of his most recent tunes, he persuaded his good friend Erik Hjärpe (musician and producer) to help him record an album in the NIM studio in Lund, Sweden. With the help of fellow musicians Clemens Mårtensson, Lars Ymer Bokander, Mattias Nihlén (see below) and the mysterious Don Van Steel he and Erik recorded what was to become the first Testbild! album. Swedish record companies were moderately interested in the results, but the intense emailing with Stefan Zachrisson (who by that time was chief editor of Swedish fanzine “Benno”) and Magnus Boman (Dilettante Records) led to recommendations to check out the American label Radio Khartoum…however Petter didn’t have to contact them, since the R.K. boss himself, Alexander Bailey, had heard rumours of an album that would suit his label perfectly (and two years later “The Double Life of Testbild!” was released).
Mattias was recovering from a motorcycle-accident on the Island of Santorini, Greece, when he received an email from Petter, asking him to participate in the making of the first Testbild! album. Mattias had also been looking for new ways of making music, and remembered that he and Petter had similar ideas about this. In the room next door, in the hospital in Santorini, Greece lay a famous Swedish singer, who had been bitten by a snake, but that is another story…
OK, after the first albums release, Petter and Mattias started to cooperate full time, which led to the recording of hundreds of strange songs and poems (and some 8mm filmmaking as well). They decided that music as such didn’t exist, and that they had to reinvent the tonal systems in order to create a new form of language (based on visual impressions rather than on notes). This idea proved to be very hard to realize, so the two of them decided to stick to more or less traditional forms, but added an element of random chance and a few subliminal messages. To communicate what was written in the book Testbild! was no easy task, but something they felt had to be done. Just as Madonna is influenced by the Kabbalah, and tries to sneak those ideas into pop, Petter and Mattias wanted to leave traces of a certain philosophy in something that appears to be popular music (for some reason, the first Testbild! record has become very popular within a small Brazilian community that practices a mix of Catholicism and African religion…so you could say it is popular music…and furthermore, a norwegian journalist once said that Petters songwriting reminds him both of Harry Nilsson and the eighties film “Bonfire of the Vanities”…we have no idea what he meant by that). Well, moving on, one of the most hilarious episodes in the Testbild! history was when Petter and Mattias played at the “Kulturkrock” festival in Katrineholm, Sweden, in September 2002. After having waited for supporting act Janne Schaffer (Swedish jazzfusion guitarist and studio musician) to finish, they found themselves performing harsh noise to an audience of ten wildly screaming 16-year-old goths. Afterwards they were asked to write autographs on a cassette recorder, and then they were driven to an abandoned school building where they were supposed to spend the night. Inside the dark, haunting classroom they found a strange note, where it basically said that the personnel would call the police if they (Petter and Mattias) as much as thought about using cigarettes or alcohol.
Anyway, it certainly seems like everything was all hunky dory from then on, doesn’t it? You couldn’t be more wrong, man! Soon little differences in the songwriting of our two heroes (Petter declared that he wanted to compose Canterbury-ish popmusic in ultra-slow motion, where you’re just allowed to hear one note a minute, while Mattias said that he’d like to go out in a forest, putting moss in his ears and hammering away at tree logs and just see what happens) began to grow to big time problems, developing into a kind of cold war. At one point Mattias got so mad that he quit the band to form another constellation, by the name of Testbild! (yes it’s spelt the same way but pronounced differently…and you’re supposed to use different colourings for the letters and…you know what, just FORGET IT, you wouldn’t understand anyway!). Thankfully, their mutual friend Henrik Kihlberg (a very mean looking and muscular guy for those of you that don’t know him) put the two antagonists together again saying, and this is a direct quote: “You guys better start doing music together again as a band, or I’ll bash your bloody heads in, so help me God..! HEY YOU! Get back here when I’m talking to you!!” (this Henrik’s got no memory of; he claims that he was abducted by aliens when it happened). Well, putting it that way neither Petter nor Mattias could refuse, naturally, so they decided to make a sort of compromise where thay would share the name in a way so that everybody gets satisfied. This led to a Testbild! release on Henrik’s mp3 label Rocketscience, which contained three of Mattias’s songs (without any help at all from Petter). Meanwhile in Skarpnäck (that’s in the outskirts of Stockholm, folks!), Stefan Zachrisson had formed the soon-to-be prolific record company Friendly Noise with his buddy Mattias Holmberg. They were looking for interesting Swedish acts to contribute to their compilation “Friendly People Making Noise”, and so they asked Testbild! to compose some songs for it. The compilation proved to be rather successful, and soon Petter and Mattias found themselves working on not one, but TWO full length CD’s; “The Inexplicable Feeling of September” on Friendly Noise, and “The Lolita Wagner Case” (the follow-up of the first album) on Radio Khartoum.
In March 2005 Testbild! were invited to play at the IDEAL festival, in Gothenburg, Sweden. Petter and Mattias invited two of their closest friend to join them, since they felt that their music would sound too thin with just keyboard and guitar. The gig went quite lousy (due to a completely off key synth played by Petter), and the band swore never ever to play in front of an audience again. The two friends did a pretty good job though, and after a quick discussion they were invited to stay in the band forever. Here’s what you need to know about them:
Douglas Holmquist: plays different synths and keyboards, vibraphonette, guitar and percussion. The rumour has it that he’s an extraordinary singer as well. Douglas is a very handsome young fellow who likes chocolate, picnics, Charlie Chaplin and long walks at Österlen. Former member of sadly departed Dr Higgins, Douglas also plays with post pop/symphonic punk band Piotor when he’s not at the Testbild! head quarters.
Pontus Lundkvist: plays different objects, a home made instrument he’d like to call the "Gramophone Guitar", electric toothbrush etc etc. Pontus is a rather notorious zero budget film maker ("Nazi Shit Lovers" and "Phantom Miscarriage" are two of his best known titles), editor of the chaotic fanzine "MINA ÖGON!!! MINA ÖGON!!!", comic book artist and noise musician with Det Här Är Straffet. Among other things. Pontus spends almost all of his waking hours creating things like strange dolls and art objects, comics, films, music, odd letters and small peculiar notes. No one really knows how he manages to record stuff for Testbild! as well, but apparently he can cope.
Well, that pretty much sums it all up.
So, finally to the big question: is Testbild! really pop music?
The answer is Yes, if you want it to be. But Testbild! is also an abstract idea that is everywhere around you. A strange conspiracy of thoughts and musical beliefs, always dedicated to hummable tunes, otherworldly sounds and song writing. You are always welcome to join us, if you think you can see trough the web of lies and hypocrisy of commercial music. Because, and this is important, ANYONE can be a member of Testbild!. And anyone IS. You know that guy with the glasses sitting in the corner of your local café, staring at you all the time? Most certainly a Testbild! member. The old lady selling apples at the market square, always humming on a strange tune? Testbild! member. The little girl in a school uniform standing on a balcony, looking up in the sky? OK, now you get it.
Once again: we’re all around you. You can see us if you choose to believe it.
Keep watching the horizon.
/ Sir Joshua Whitepaper the3d, Testbild! Management
Official members so far:
Siri af Burén