Exercises in Style No. 5 & 6: Precision and Narrative

performed by Gunnar Flagstad. Audio & video: Bartosz Sosnowski.

We are proud to present two new chapters in our ongoing grandiose project Stiløvingar [Exercises of Style]: Precision and Narrative.



Back in 2003, when we were assigning different musical styles to each of the 99 variations in Raymond Quenau’s Exercises In Style, we decided with almost no discussion that no. 16 in the book – Narrative (the Norwegian term is more similar to «story») – should be presented musically as a fugue, preferably one in the style of J.S. Bach.

Looking back, it is now a bit difficult to understand why this seemed so obvious at the time. A sonata or symphony, with their extensive development sections filled with dramatic contrasts, tension, and release, would perhaps be a more obvious choice. But in hindsight, I think we zoomed in on one particular trait of stories, especially short stories, which is character presentation and development.

In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices (in our case – three), built on a subject (a short musical theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition (Wikipedia).

The Bach-fugue is structured by functional harmonic principles, with extensive use of modulation, which means that during the course of the fugue, the theme is presented in several different keys, both major and minor, and in all the voices both successively and simultaneously.

So, basically, we start off with our main protagonist (the «I» on the bus), who is 1) witnessing the tall guy with the hat starting a brawl with his fellow passenger, 2) watching him throw himself onto a vacant seat, and then later, 3) observing the same man getting advice concerning the buttoning configuration on his overcoat by a friend. For each of these incidents, the harmonic setting of the theme sort of echoes the observer’s emotional reactions. One could say… 🙂

Or, there’s even a case to be made that the theme in fact represents the tall guy with the hat himself, and the music depicts HIS emotional roller coaster ride through these different encounters.

Anyways, we were incredibly fortunate to get the amazing pianist Gunnar Flagstad to record this one for us. An incredible musician, and for several years head of the piano section at The Norwegian Academy of Music, Gunnar first played with Panzerpappa in 2016 at the release concert for the Pestrottedans-album. He not only contributed a marvelous interpretation of this variation but also organized the shooting of a beautiful music video, courtesy of the extremely gifted Bartosz Sosnowksi (who also recorded the sound). Thank you so much – we are forever grateful!



When arranging this piece, we wanted to create a nagging feeling – almost like the musical variety of putting the finger repeatedly in someone’s chest to make them get the point. We imagined the musical equivalent of insisting, as having no embellishments or expression of musical feeling, only the raw rhythm, melody, and harmony.

Every instrument is electronic – soft synths or hardware synths – and there is almost no dynamic variation. There is also a very dry ambiance so that nothing distracts from the actual sound.


The Stiløvingar [Exercises in Style] album is a work in progress and will continue to grow as we compose and record tracks. If you buy the album now you will be informed when new tracks are added to the album as long as you follow us on Bandcamp.

We will add a handful of new tracks every now and then. By 2025 the album will contain 99 tracks, one for each of the exercises in the book Exercises in Style (1947) by Raymond Queneau.

In other words, the price you pay is for the full digital album with all 99 tracks.


Early bird price for a limited time only: 19 Euros.
Regular Price 33 Euros.
Progress: 6 of 99 finished.



In 1947, French writer Raymond Queneau published a book called Exercises De Style. Queneau was part of a literary group called Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: “workshop of potential literature”, stylized OuLiPo.

Other notable members of Oulipo include Georges Perec, Harry Mathews and Italo Calvino.

The Oulipians used constraints,structures and patterns as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration. Such constraints could be

  • Lipograms (avoiding certain letters)
  • Palindromes
  • S+7 (Replace every noun in a text with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary)
  • Mathews’ Algorithm (elements in a text are moved around by a set of predetermined rules).

Exercises De Style tells a rather mundane, unremarkable story about a bus ride and a random encounter in Paris. This story is told 99 times (!), each of the variations in a different style, grammatical tense and with varying types of constraints.

In 2003, Panzerpappa started toying with an idea of making a musical equivalent of Exercises De Style. During one (of many!) beer-soaked, post-rehearsal hangouts at the legendary Mingles Bar & Restaurant in Trondheimsveien 4 (Oslo), the band conceived a rather ambitiuos plan:

Write a single musical theme, and then make 99 variations on this initial idea, all in different musical styles and for wildly differing musical line-ups.

Then, record all 99 pieces, with a total of 60 external musicians and singers participating (including a big band and a small orchestra!).

And finally, release this grand, conceptual masterpiece as a 3-CD set – with 33 variations on each disc – as STILØVINGAR (the Norwegian translation of “Exercises De Style”).

So, then, the members of the band, still young and idealistic, went to work and started writing. First, the initial theme, and then a solid dozen variations. The world was our oyster (soup…), and we were going to conquer it.

But, eventually, the sheer magnitude and scope of the project made it somewhat self-implode, and we ended up shelving the whole thing for an indefinite period of time. It was just SO much easier to release “regular” albums spanning 40++ minutes.

Before STILØVINGAR was altogether abandoned, Jarle was able to secure a live recording of variation no. 92, “Modern Style”, performed by the Ett Fett Big Band. And in 2016, Panzerpappa recorded no. 8, “Spådom” (Prophecy) as the opening track of the album Pestrottedans.

Now, in 2021, this particular composition have turned out to be just that: prophetic… Because now, in the age of streaming, the decline of “the album” and the rise of “the song” as the ultimate musical entity, and due to the fact that the members of Panzerpappa have gotten older and maybe a TAD bit wiser, we now intend to finish what we started!

Stay tuned!

2003 – 2025