Voice reviewed twice by Stylus Magazine

Stylus magazine, May 2004: “The Aging Human Voice. There is an abundance of timbre in the human voice, which no orchestra possesses. Nature seems to have endowed the curious instrument, with subtle nuances for which music has no equivalent. (…) To me, a voice in conventional form, (verse/chorus/verse) or expression (strained emo cries), seems akin to a poets use of rhythm. Poets mockingly turned their backs on rhythm (though not all) long ago, and though the musical version may have a longer life span, unless it finds new habitats, I wonder whether it too must die at some point. These are a few reasons why I was pleased to discover Maja Ratkje’s album entitled, Voice, a number of weeks ago. Made up of eleven pieces, Voice, utilizes Ratkje’s flexible voice as a sound source. Throughout, Ratkje’s vocal prowess is exhibited and the results simply stunning. Often she plays with contrasts (seductive/painful), as on “Vacuum”, where her a-capella singing is threatened by a squall of echoes, or “Insomnia” wherein torturous screams are interrupted by laughter. Once the album closes it becomes quite clear that there remains an abundance of trails for the voice to pass through, if it should so please. A voice can communicate with the listener as a beautiful fluting sound, but also, perhaps just as well through these unorthodox, almost bestial snarls and screams. At times these wordless stirrings are able to better communicate than words (one of the reasons why I enjoy Sigur Ros), and though I don’t believe anyone should run away from words (or traditional forms) altogether, a place where they don’t reign supreme, definitely makes for a nice vacationing spot.” (Max Schaefer)

Stylus Magazine 2003:

“Halfway through my first listen into “Trio”, the third track from Maja Ratkje’s debut solo album Voice, I stopped the CD, put it into the disc drive of my computer and ripped the song to a WAV file and then set to work cutting it up into a rhythm. Now I’m no skilled riddim scientist, but I had thought I heard an obvious breakbeat constructed from her beatboxing bridge. Apparently I was wrong, as I continued to find the loop that made rhythmic sense and failed. After about 15 minutes of attempting this fruitless task I gave up.

This anecdote perhaps encapsulates the whole of Voice. At times, the music feels as though it can be grasped and understood. And yet, when you examine further it becomes more alien. Tellingly, immediately after the beatboxing interlude the sound is stopped for a moment and followed by uncontrollable screaming that is neither joyful nor scared- instead it’s animalistic and seemingly without origin.

As with most releases on Rune Grammofon, the phrase “without origin” is probably one of the best ways to describe anything put out by the label. With obvious reference points of Bjork, Phil Minton, Jaap Blonk, and Yoko Ono; Ratkje here creates something different from these reference points and totally original. It is the sound of a voice being examined- and reexamined- in all sorts of different ways through production, effects, and placement within the mix of other sounds that inhabit the same space.

Ratkje is perhaps best known for her work with the all female improve group SPUNK (also on Rune Grammofon). This record isn’t too far off from what you might hear there, except for the intense emphasis upon the voice as instrument. Ratkje and Jazzkammer have fashioned an album bent on surprises that, upon reflection, make complete sense. Abrupt changes in mood, the destruction of comfort, and schizophrenia are all elements at work here. Underlying this, though, is a fearlessness toward experimentation that imbues the work- even when it veers close to painful frequencies- with enough charm and expectation that keeps interested listeners engaged.

But this is perhaps the problem. Unless a listener is devoted to this sort of experimentation in music this record will appear to be incomprehensible- and held as an example of ultimate pretension. In contrast to Supersilent’s recent release, Ratkje’s work is much more uncompromising in tone- whether it benefits from this is up to the listener, but nonetheless this album is an example of a striking solo debut of confident purpose and polished execution. While it may not be for everyone, for adventurous listeners it will be a treasure that reveals itself fully on multiple listens.”

Todd Burns

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