Still Eating Ginger Bread for Breakfast reviews (in English, Norwegian, German)

StillEatingCoverBoomkat: Pre-eminent free improv unit SPUNK offer a feast of uncanny, otherworldly sound in Still Eating Gingerbread For Breakfast, which is a recording of both sets from their 20th anniversary concert at Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo, December 2015. It forms their 9th album together, and evidently demonstrates that Maja S.K. Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Kristin Anderson and Lene Grenager have lost none of their unparalleled ability to beguile and hold our attention like no other.

Produced and mixed by the golden ears of Maja S.K. Ratkje, and mastered by Helge Sten (Deathprod), the results are unflinching, perspective-morphing portraits of the ineffably tight unit at their most attuned, putting 20 years of finely honed, near-telepathic intuition at the service of searching out fascinatingly odd new structures, timbres and sensations from an indefinable intersection of free jazz, modern composition and total improv.

It’s essentially a highly complex sort of aural alchemy, carefully combining the naturally reverberant tones of trumpet, recorders, french horns and cello with the electronic/synthesised sounds of a theremin, live processing, sampling and oscillators to create something which feels like a darker evolution of the Darwinian aesthetics applied in their previous album, Adventura Botanica.

The 43 minute first section starts tightly focussed on the interplay of Maja’s animalistic purrs, growls and slurps and the tentative buzz of Lene’s cello, before slowly zooming out to reveal a crepuscular scene of whistles and bat-baffling spatial dynamics where the cello becomes more panicked in a skirmish with Kristin’s recorder, triggering the entrance of much larger imaginary creatures, like brobdingnagian giants to the pygmys of Rashad Becker’s notional species. The effect is somehow, simultaneously daft and yet scarily unforgettable; you’ll need to pinch yourself at some point.

Allowing for an intermission, the 2nd part captures the quartet at their most possessed and kinetic, with frenetic french horn darting around wrenched cello strings and utterly manic vocals, and Maja diffracted into a coherent cacophony channelling myriad voices from beyond and within, from the spirits of Joan La Barbera and Trevor Wishart to Albert Ayler and the sounds that occur in nature when nobody’s listening.

In effect, it’s practically as close as you’ll hear to otherness in contemporary music, and, as the title Still Eating Gingerbread For Breakfast suggests, they’ve definitely not lost the wide-eyed wonder or characteristic SPUNK of Pippi Longstocking.

The Free Jazz Collective: A few years back Maja Ratkje (a member of Spunk experimental quartet along with Lene Grenager, Hild Sofie Tafjord and Kristin Andersen), when asked why she was making ‘Noise’, she replied “ in order to forget all the noise of everyday life”. Maybe I’m a bit paraphrasing here, but you get the picture.

My first impression, when I read that, was not exactly understanding. Time has passed and I’ve come to terms with what, at least in my opinion, this anathema was. Music – art in general – has numerous functions. Personal, social and political. Music has powers. It really, as Ratkje clearly stated, has the power to make us forget, to eliminate the vulgarities of everyday life, to provide a safe zone from the evils of the world. Since you are reading these lines, I guess you are pretty aware that there are a lot of them.

The democratic procedures of SPUNK’s music (as presented also in a live setting) oppose, again, the functions of a society of hierarchy, sexism, patriarchy and racism. Before you comment on all this, just think of how many women are there in the music world of Noise, of experimental music? Of the avant-garde as a whole? Not many I’d say. Here we have a quartet of women trying to find their way in a male dominated but so called free thinking genre. It must be pointed out.

SPUNK’s music has always been, at least in my perception, about process. I guess the collective way of thinking and reacting is transferred to the ways they present their material too. This also applies to their live recordings. This CD is a live recording too, a 20th anniversary concert held in Oslo in December 2015. The two tracks that comprise the bulk of this release are built layer-by-layer and follow a gradual process. Both tracks certainly fall into the category experimental, one which by now, of course, includes a trillion different sounds…

Their main sound generators (I do not say ‘instruments’ on purpose) are a cello, a trumpet, a French horn, a theremin, various electronics and the voice. Ratkje’s voice, following her solo experiments with her voice, seems to take a bigger part in the recordings that previous Spunk’s albums. I do not hear any preconceived ideas, just a general plan of how they react to each other attempts. They are freely improvising in real time. After so long of playing and most importantly, interacting together, they manage perfectly to combine their unique musical voices into a collective improvisation.

The gradual procedures they follow build up as time passes by into a less complex but more loud and noisy trajectory that, at times, become more and more chaotic. Do not think you have it figured out though… Although on the second track the climax reaches an apex when it’s time to end, on the first track things are different. Like a snake trying to devour it’s own tail, every time you think it’s coming to end by a catharsis of free noise, it comes back to haunt you with another audible gesture of four individual instrumental voices. They follow parallel lines conjuring something new and unexpected every time. I strongly believe that this is the core of SPUNK’s collective improvisation.

Record link

Skug: (…)Dies wird locker mit SPUNK aufgeholt, dem Frauenquartett des Improv schlechthin, auch weltweit. RCD2188a.jpgKristin Andersen, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Maja S. K. Ratkje und Lene Grenager befinden sich auf »Still Eating Ginger Bread For Breakfast, The 20th Anniversary Concert« (rune grammofon/Cargo), eingespielt am 2. Dezember 2015 im Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo, in Höchstform. SPUNK bauen auf dem 43-minütigen »SPUNK 20 First Set« einen grandiosen Spannungsbogen mit Hundertschaften an unorthodoxen Geräuschen, die auf konventionellen Instrumenten sowie mit Live Processing, Sampling, Recordern, Spielzeug und Oszillatoren erzeugt werden. Das alles wächst aufgrund des jahrzehntelangen Zusammenspiels organisch zusammen, auch wenn zunächst einiges durcheinander zu geraten scheint. Nach Minute 11 zirpen plötzlich unterschiedliche Vogelstimmen. Verfremdete Waldhorn- und Trompetensounds gehen ab Minute 14 in getragene, lang angehaltene Töne über und alsbald mit dem Cello auf Achterbahnfahrt. Ab Minute 21 hebt Maja Ratkje mit ihrem Theremin zu einem orgiastischen Sphärenritt an und wenn die Flügel wieder eingefahren werden, singt Ratjke einen Folksong, der trotz manch verquerer Zutaten Wohlklang verströmt. Hohe Klangdichte, intuitive Anarchie und subtile Elemente: SPUNK vereinen all das phänomenal auf Langstrecke, auch im kurzweiligen 34-Minüter »SPUNK 20 First Set«.

Bad Alchemy: Wer Unästhetik derart auf die Spitze treibt wie beim Cover von Still Eating Gingerbread for Breakfast (RCD2188), der vertraut auf andere Reize. Oder schlicht auf die Zugkraft des Namens SPUNK. Der Mitschnitt der beiden Sets ihres 20th Anniversary Concerts am 2.12.2015 in Oslo kitzelt dann auch gleich die Abenteuerlust wie Ameisen in den Langstrümpfen. Kristin Andersens Trompeten- & Blockflötenklänge, das brummige Cello von Lene Grenager, das dröhnende und röhrende Waldhorn von Hild Sofie Tafjord, die Vokalisation, das Theremin und die Oszillatoren von Maja S. K. Ratkje, sie und Tafjord auch noch mit Live-Processing und Sampling, die saugen einen in einen Traumfluss, in dem es kein Halten gibt. Alles changiert, fluktuiert, pfeift, keckert und jault, schabt, quietscht und heult. Mit anschwellender Erregungskurve erreichen die ersten 44 Min. auf halbem Weg ein Maximum an Brownscher Hexenkesselturbulenz. Mit flatterndem Blech, pfeifenden Glissandos, bohrenden Trillern, dicken Backen. Dann lässt der Druck wieder nach, die Walküren entspannen und räkeln sich, greifen zur Zigarette, kauen an Grashalmen. Im Hintergrund klappern und zucken aber weiter Kentaurenhufe, klingeln Schellen, der Groove will nicht abreißen. Emsig klopfend, mit zuckelnder Flöte, schnaubenden Nüstern, windschiefem Gefiedel, launigem Singsang zum Klingklang von Spieluhr und Krimskrams. Ratkje jubiliert auf hohen Gipfeln, Tafjord tutet Alphorn, die Zeit fließt wie Honig. Denn alle Lust will bekanntlich Ewigkeit. Die zweiten 35 Min. beginnen mit Attacco, als Krawall in der Schachtel, kandidelig, hechelnd, knarzend, mit trappelnden Pfötchen, Schnäuzchen, die an einer Mund- harmonika schnuppern. Frettchenalarm, Zeitrafferhektik Auch das Waldhorn bringt keine Ruhe, Münder pressen, blubbern, zerren am Blech, Maja kirrt, der Bogen surrt und kratzt. Was rappelt, wimmelt, brodelt, flötet, das lebt, lebt sogar sehr. Motorisches Brummen legt sich darüber wie ein Schatten, löst Alarm und Panik aus, hinterlässt Trauern und Klagen. Aber Spunk wäre nicht, was Champions frühstücken, wenn nicht im Horndunkel aus gewürgter Kehle widerständige Codes ausgestoßen und neues Gebrodel sich abzeichnen würden.

Jazznytt: Kvartetten SPUNK kan godt kjennast som eit forstyrrande element i kvardagen. Eg blir i alle fall litt forstyrra av korleis Maja Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Lene Grenager og Kristin Andersen gir meg hakeslepp gang etter gang etter gang. I fjor fylte kvartetten heile 20 år og no kan begge setta frå jubileumskonserten på Nasjonal Jazzscene nytast på plata “Still Eating Ginger Bread For Breakfast” (kanskje fordi det blei spelt inn i desember?). For ein konsert det var! Og for ei plate det har blitt! Innanfor kollektiv, fri improvisasjon er ei plate på nesten 80 minutt lenge, men her er det så mykje som skal skje og feirast, at det må vi nesten unne dei. Frå mystisk og smått aggressiv plystring, skraping, susing, pusting og rassling, til vakre, atmosfæriske, meditative passasjar og lydlandskap. Spennet av uttrykk, stemningar, digitale og analoge effektar, og ikkje minst ulike instrument er for mykje å gjengi her, anna enn å seie. Det heile har blitt miksa og produsert til eit fantastisk velklingande og klårt lydbilete. Alle nye møter med SPUNK er rein glede.

Tor Hammerø: Spunk – ulikt alt annet på denne planeten i alle fall.

Den eksperimentelle og spennende kvartetten Spunk har eksistert siden 1995. Her får vi bli med på 20 års jubileet og nå er det bare å håpe på 20 nye år.

Om trompeteren Kristin Andersen, cellisten Lene Grenager, stemmekunstneren Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje og hornisten Hild Sofie Tafjord så for seg at Spunk skulle bli en 20-åring da de satte i gang på midten av 90-tallet, tviler jeg vel egentlig på. Det har de heldigvis blitt og årsaken er vel ganske åpenbar. Spunk har aldri stått stille, de har vært tro mot sine idealer og de har vært totalt kompromissløse. La det være klart med en gang: de som innbiller seg at Spunk består av fire instrumentalister, tar feil – alle bidrar med masse annet også, spesielt mye elektronikk av ymse slag.

Her får vi være med på jubileumskonserten på Victoria, Nasjonal jazzscene den 2. desember for vel et år siden. Den bestod av to sett og varte i nesten 80 minutter. Vi blir servert hele festen og det er en enorm bekreftelse på at Spunk er et like unikt kollektiv som det alltid har vært.

Alt er sjølsagt fritt improvisert og de fire henter hemningsløst fra alle sine kilder det være seg samtidsmusikk, friimpro, jazz – og sikkert mye annet også. Her lekes og utfordres det med et enormt antall kjente og ukjente lyder og det fører til samtaler på kryss og tvers der lytteegenskapene til de fire og til oss som mottakere blir satt på prøve. Musikken er på ingen måte lettvint og enkel å ta til seg og hvorfor i alle verdens dage skal den være det når alt annet skal være så forbanna enkelt og greit og motstandsløst?

Spunk går sine helt egne veier – som de alltid har gjort. Det har helt sikkert ført til at de fire hele tida føler at Spunk er ei utfordring og at de greier å utvikle både seg sjøl og bandet. Det opplever i alle fall jeg at de gjør og jeg gleder meg til de neste 20 – minst!

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