As poet and composer, Bengt-Emil Johnson is greatly fascinated by materials. His poetic career began with collections in a concretist spirit, and his music was also inspired by the thought of coming to terms with different kinds of acoustic material. And yet he has seldom figured as a technically preoccupied composer. His works often have literary ramifications, sometimes relating to poems of his own, sometimes to those of other poets (Carl Jonas Love Almqvist). He is a pioneer of text-sound composition, an amalgam of poetry and musical composition which acquired especially powerful standing in Sweden during the 1960s. He has taken a close interest in improvisation and collective composition. A more refined technique of composition underlies Disappearances for piano and recorded tape, the ensemble piece Mimicry and Colloquium.
Experiences of nature, awareness of death, reflections on contemporary phenomena — these are some of the ideas recurring in his musical compositions, with Night Chants, to words from ceremonies of the Navaho Indians as something of a high-water mark. The singer Kerstin Ståhl has played an important part in inspiring and interpreting several of Johnson's works.