Released on 23 July 2008
Maja Ratkje is a remarkable vocalist and composer based in Norway. Her work ranges from orchestral and chamber works to electronics, improvisation and creative combinations of all of the above. This special collection of Maja’s work showcases several aspects of this composer’s unique and intense approach to sound and features two of her most personal chamber works along with electronic and electro-acoustic works for voice, saxophone and more.
The 20 minute title track is something like a string quartet, but beautifully played on four bass viols by the British group Fretwork. A number of stunning textural passages suggest this is a major work.
Clive Bell, The Wire
Scored for four viols (violas da gamba), the twenty-minute title composition likewise explores the full sonic potential of a single instrument with scrapes, swoops, and pizzicato effects appearing in episodes that range from serene to agitated and everything in between. On paper, it might appear to be the most classical of the album’s pieces by virtue of its baroque instrumentation but labeling it as such is superficial at best. Ratkje brings the same wide-ranging sensibility to “River Mouth Echoes” as she does to any of the others and never lets genre conventions constrain her handling of the material.
The title track, composed for the strings of the group Fretwork, is the most straightforward piece on the album. The long, droning tones from the four viola de gamba capture the same gorgeous dissonance that Ratkje achieves with her voice, although if played on its own I do not know if I would recognise it as Ratkje.
“River Mouth Echoes” stands out as the central work of the record, its violas da gamba referencing Bartók and Ligeti, Boulez and Kurtág, stretching the instruments to their fullest. The viola da gamba, being a progenitor of the contemporary violin and cello, sounds inherently antique, suited more for music of the 16th century than the 21st, but Ratkje manages to imbue them with an intense sense of the contemporary. It almost sounds as if a composition by Purcell were torn apart, laced with sounds from the noise scene, and then reformulated for acoustic instruments. That is the key element of her aesthetic, in fe-mail or Spunk or on her own—taking the old, radically reconsidering it, and making it something new.
Catalogue number: Tzadik 8051