More Voice reviews in English

Fabulous Jackpot Records: “There is no limit to what you can do with the human voice, especially when you have plenty of electronics at your disposal with which to manipulate it. This record serves as a similar milestone to the work of Patty Waters. Pushing the human voice to the limits and then further, this record will bring you to the brink of sanity and back again. Essential.” “Maja Ratkje is the female equivalent to Mike Patton – a freestyling, uninhibited, logic-defying one woman music making organism that sings with the angelic harmony of Bjork at one moment and squeals like a posessed pig the next. Her vocal recordings have been dismantled, obliterated and re-assembled with the help of Jazzkammer, creating the ultimate headf*ck record – and that’s meant in the most complementary way. To head from the sheer nastiness of “Octo” to the trembling fragility of “Vacuum” in one short minute is, quite frankly, nothing short of remarkable – illustrating, if nothing else, that you’d truly be hard-pressed to find a more puddled collection of tracks on one release anywhere else. Mental, but beautifully so.”

KZSU Zookeeper Online, reviewed 2003-11-18  “This is one of the more intense rollercoaster rides I’ve ever listened to. Ratkje is from Norway and has been part of the Scandinavian and European improv scene for a while, including her great all female improv group SPUNK. This is her first solo record and it’s ALL her VOICE. She sings, screams, talks, babbles, makes sounds, makes kid voices, ponders, and duets with herself all in English and Norwegian. There are so many moods and sounds from experimental to playful to angry and crazy. At times chaotic and others it’s serene and beautiful. Sometimes out like David Moss, other times playful and demented like Mike Patton, entire languages like Anna Homler, and unique delivery like Iva Bittova. Some of this was recorded while following her around in life and includes not only studio tracks but recordings from the Emmanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, a roof, two different basements, in an elevator, and a parking garage. There are some electronic manipulations of the vocals, slowing down, speeding up, singing with her self, some tracks to the point were words are not discernable and create an ambient electronic sound.
1. Very quiet beginning and what sounds like almost glitch electronics shows up. There are some whispers and sped up spoken words that sound like a little girl.
2. Shorter and more out with vocal sounds more than words but some long drawn out singing in the background.
3. Angular, harsh vocal sounds very much like David Moss. Improvised sounding, and percussive with no noticeable words. Full on harsh noise and screams (I mean spine tingling, crazy, serious in the I believe there is something wrong type screams). This quickly changes to a cute, playful set of sounds.
4. Short, noisy.
5. Long track with lots of changes that starts with beautiful vocals in what sounds like a tunnel. Lots of playing with the natural reverb and echo. A droning “ahh” gets taken over by some dark electronic sounds. Then a right turn into heavy breathing. Be prepared for some near silent parts in this track. Actually 1/3 of the way in it is silent. What sounds like a flock of birds or bugs starts creeping out of the silence. I love this track I’m just not sure how radio friendly it is.
6. Dark with some manipulated quiet screeching and then wammo some screaming, into some vocal acrobatics. She then sings a cute tune over the top of the acrobatics. You can hear she is outside and might even be walking really fast. I think we have 3 or 4 of her at once at times.
7. Minimal with lots of drones with reverb and echo. Then she starts speaking slowly over the top. She also starts singing in a beautiful jazz manner over the top of the both.
8. Some quiet droning and then, like the title implies it sounds like a couple of Chipmunks talking and eating.
10. The title of this track is Acid and you know, it is a bit on the trippy side. A couple things going on at once, some speaking, some conversation, and some lip and mouth noises. Some only in the left or right channel. Great.
11. Another long track that start out sounding like heavy machinery. This stops cold, she laughs, giggles and then screams bloody murder. I’m talking one of the scariest fucking screams you’ve ever heard. Sort of a demented scream and then she manipulates it to make it super noisy, like Merzbow type noise. This stops about 4:12 into the track and it goes silent. After about 30 seconds there are a couple loops of her singing/saying things. The track gets very quiet again and really there isn’t much after the 5:36 mark.
(Michael Howes)

The Milk Factory: “The human voice is by far the most complex, and perhaps the least recognised of all instruments. Maja Ratkje knows the importance of the voice as a musical element like no-one else. Her first solo album, simply entitled Voice and based entirely on her vocal performance, reveals the vast array of sonorities and contrasts that can be found in one’s voice. Born in 1973 in Trondheim, in the centre of Norway, Maja Ratkje has already an impressive CV behind her. Although she claims that her main commitment is with all-female improvisation quartet Spunk which she formed with friends in 1995, and with whom she has released two albums, her extra curricular activities, as a composer, singer, violinist and electronics and Theremin player, have won her numerous international accolades. A former student at the Norwegian State Academy Of Music, Maja Ratkje first got noticed through her orchestral and electro-acoustic work in her native Scandinavia, but it is with Spunk that international recognition came, when they released their first album, Det Eneste Jeg Vet Er At Det Ikke Er En Støvsuger, which roughly translates as The Only Thing I Know Is That It Isn’t A Vacuum Cleaner, on Norwegian premier experimental imprint Rune Grammofon in 1999. The album offered the perfect platform for the band to promote their tongue in cheek approach to improvisation, and triggered the interest of a wide range of musicians, from Kim Hiorthøy and Phonophani to Svalastog and Lasse Marhaug, eventually developing into a remix project, Filtered Through Friends, released last year. Maja now publishes her first solo effort, only a few months after the release of the second Spunk album. Produced by Norwegian duo Jazzkammer, Voice is a weird a beautiful record. At times dense and fierce, at others peaceful and controlled, the music presented here never ceases to surprise, amuse and disconcert. Exposed in its most minute details, twisted, filtered, lacerated, layered, the voice becomes drone, beat, texture or wave, deflected from its natural course to rise above its organic structure or crash in convulsive distortions. Using a mixture of Norwegian and English, the songs serve no other purpose than convey the extreme diversity of the vocal input. The frontier between the actual singing and the processed elements is irremediably blurred, and the listener soon loses touch of what’s real and what is not. The twelve minute epic centerpiece of this album, Vacuum, encompasses all of what makes this voice such a particular instrument. From its delightfully introverted beginning to its majestic peak, which is not without evoking part of Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse De St Jean, and its uncomfortable silences, the track throws out all expectations by constantly changing focus, as Ratkje toys with the listener’s mind and emotions. Balancing the raw recording of her voice on a Dictaphone with digital processing, Dictaphone Jam is as unsettling and fascinating. The title track, which follows, opens up new doors again, as the voice seems to be captured in its most natural form. Enveloped in whirlwinds of echoes, almost bare of any other elements, Voice is beautifully ethereal. At last the listener is able to contemplate the purity of Ratkje’s singing, almost undisturbed by the reintroduction of digital processing on Chipmunk Party. The album concludes with the most disconcerting moment on offer here. After an outburst of layered screams and laughter forming the main body of the piece, the three remaining sections cascade onto each other to draw this magnificent album to a close. Very few records give such space to vocal performance, and very few artists would be able to carry such a piece of work with ease. More challenging than her work with Spunk, Voice is a unique experience, at once charming and disturbing, and Ratkje can only be admired for undertaking such a project. Let alone achieving beyond all expectations.”

The Milk Factory Best of 2003: “It is with all female Norwegian improvisation combo Spunk that Maja Ratkje came to the attention of most. Yet this international award-wining artist proved with this solo release that her talent goes far beyond the playful ground of her band. Entirely built around her voice, this album is simply stunning. Exposed in its most minute details, twisted, filtered, lacerated, layered, the voice becomes drone, beat, texture or wave, deflected from its natural course to rise above its organic structure or crash in convulsive distortions.”

Dusted Magazine: “Maja Ratkje might be best known for her work as a member of the anarcho/punk/noise/chamber/improv/electronic/everything quartet known as Spunk. She also is a lecturer and composer and has performed with artists as varied as Masami Akita, The Oslo Sinfonietta, and Evan Parker. Oh, and she also released a great monster of a noise record as one-half of the duo Fe-Mail, with fellow Spunk-ite Hild Sofie Tafjord. The concept behind her first solo effort, Voice, is simply the use of her distinctive voice as the basis for all the sound on the record. What’s really intriguing and sometimes utterly beguiling about this release is the many ways in which she twists this framework into something dizzyingly chaotic, insane, and energizing. “Intro” uses processed bits of her voice, pulled in various directions, as a background for an almost call and response interaction between an adult and a child. “Joy” juxtaposes beautiful measured reverberations of the title word with wild blasts that vacillate between striking, melancholic, beautiful, and downright insane. “Trio” vocalizes explosions, both live and using processed cut-ups of Ratkje’s voice – sounding at times like no wave composed only of drums and digital noise. Intense begins to describe it, but ultimately ends up falling short. This must be heard to be believed. Ratkje uses her voice more conventionally on “Vacuum,” as she sings hushed melodic lines and allows them to echo off into the distance. With a balance of subtle ambient backgrounds, this piece is one of the more relatively straightforward contained on the disc. It builds in intensity until collapsing to the sounds of Ratkje’s own breathlessness, only to rise once again like the sound of a steam kettle, giving way to what sound like organ tones playing an underwater melody. “Dictaphone Jam” breaks from a rising swell of static into bizarre cut-ups of already odd vocal lines. The editing and processing she subjects her voice to are absolutely insane, as she mutates her own voice into alarms, whirlwinds and explosions. The title track explores the recurring theme of the possibilities of echo on her voice, creating long passages that ring out into what sounds like a giant cavern, coming back again and again to ring out with her. She sings beautifully on this track as well, over subtle layers of sound that allow her voice to achieve a beautiful tone. “Chipmunk Party” begins with phrasing similar to that of the previous track, only with the vocal lines more chopped up, until frenetic tape edits imitate, yup, chipmunks. It may sound a little kitschy, but it still works. “Acid” relies on some sense of lysergic displacement hinted at by the use of the stereo to create waves of different non-sensical talking heads – a good soundtrack to trying to get the shadows on your ceiling to stop moving late in the night (or perhaps at that point, early in the morning). “Insomnia” closes this incredible solo release with a return to the noisier pastiches of earlier in the record, with the chaos giving way to simple bits of screaming, as much out of joy as insanity, all before breaking into a competition between the lone voice and the swarm of millions, each one trying to outdo each other. The track fades away into nothing but voice and faint tones. Voice often features passages so intense it’s almost hard to believe that the sounds were all generated with a single voice, and they mingle with beautiful sections that never once seem out of place.” (Michael Crumsho)

“What this record has against lot of other noise/electronic records that it’s compositionally very original, rather than just a bunch of stretchy sonic landscapes and interesting sounds.”
Jorrit Dijkstra, to Dusted Magazine

Vital Weekly, number 384, week 33: “Often albums of solo experimental vocal works appeal to a limited audience, but this album cleverly uses Maja’s voice as material and then is processed using a whole array of tools, from computer to cheap dictaphones and different locations from the studio to an elevator. It’s this multi-pronged approach that makes this cd such a fresh and varied listening experience. Maja is a talented vocalist and displays her full range of abilities. At times her voice is so processed and deconstructed that its hard to realized that the source material was her voice. The opening track “Intro” is akin to old Nurse With Wound, with backwards samples and speed-up voices reciting nonsense texts.The fifth track entitled “vacuum” is my favorite with its constant changes both radical and subtle, its a haunting composition composed from different vocal samplings. Other times its like a cross of Yamatsuka Eye and Schlimpfluch-quite a heavy load albeit a very listenable and enjoyable one.” (JS)

LostAtSea: “”Why not be more surrealistic or irrational? The world becomes boring if you don’t see as much potential as possible in new things” – Maja Ratkje, a twenty-nine year old native of Norway, is something of an enigma. In the fastidious, homogenized realm of the avant-garde wherein novelty is sought, as though it was a Holy Grail, the human voice is often strewn aside as though it were a tattered article of clothing. And yet 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. For those who do venture out to seek more foreign musical terrains, it is thus rather unfortunate that they will eventually happen upon a bridge and be caught aloof by a suspicious little troll who will not allow them to cross without paying forth a toll. The troll declares: “Either you trod back through those traditional planes where the human voice rises and falls, warbling as though from the throats of birds, or you cross and abandon it forever.” As he spits at you with arms akimbo, he casts a rather daunting shadow and few dare deny him. So we cross, head drooping like a wilted flower and heels kicking up musty clouds of dirt as we remark “this is what I came for!” Memories of that most peculiar noise, that human voice, that lovely fluting sound, are shaped into florid love letters we read to ourselves after months of harsh glitch hailstorms leaves us mentally kicking ourselves. An elaborate plan to throttle that sourly little knave in his sleep is constructed, paid months of meticulous attention, only to be thought silly at last moment. Thankfully, with her fine album Voice, Maja Ratkje has crossed this dilapidated bridge and thrust that troll, that abhorrent cretin to another haunt. Using her flexible voice as a sound source Ratkje plays with contrast. She is a member of the anarchist female improv quartet Spunk, while also sharing a stage with many of contemporary music’s most endearing artists. A rare breed of composer, Ratkje is still expanding her sonic horizons as well as her person.” (Max Schaefer)

Fjords #9: “(…)Maja Ratkje is in short the Beck of contemporary music.(…) Fascinating, disturbing and at times thrilling.” (Stig Jakobsen)

All Music Guide: “Experimental singer Maja Ratkje released her first solo album a few months after the second CD by her main group, Spunk, racked up a fair number of positive reviews from the avant-garde press. Expectations were high and Voice surely meets them. The album is co-produced by Ratkje and Jazzkammer’s John Hegre and Lasse Marhaug, although the term “co-produced” remains a bit vague and the collaboration could run a little deeper. The 11 pieces use only Ratkje’s voice as a sound source, but they cover a wide spectrum of textures and dynamics, from echo-drenched a cappella singing (at the beginning of “Vacuum”) to torturing noise assaults (“Insomnia”), going through a number of sample- and processed file-based constructions in between. Ratkje is messing with listeners’ minds as she toys around with sharp contrasts of quiet/loud, soft/harsh, and seductive/painful. She knows she has a beautiful, flexible voice that can both charm like Björk and puzzle like Phil Minton — and she purposefully deceives the listener. “Trio” starts softly with overlaid, droning textures and a voice-derived beat, only to burst into mad, distorted screaming. “Vacuum” is the magnum opus of the disc, a captivating 12-minute composition that takes listeners up close and personal with her voice. “Dictaphone Jam” makes the best out of the low fidelity of the recording device. The closing “Insomnia” is the strangest track: After an outburst of multi-tracked screams interrupted by laughter (probably recorded on a dictaphone again), the piece adds three postludes, each quieter than the previous one, like short dreams. Harsher than what most people were expecting and closer to Jazzkammer than Spunk, Voice hides Ratkje’s impressive vocal prowess under a wall of electronics. After the initial shock wears off, one can only admit that it was a good idea. Recommended, but definitely not for the faint at heart.” (François Couture)

Semantics: “here’s a solo album from maja ratkje – usually to be found as part of improvising group SPUNK. songs created from recordings of maja’s voice bent, blended and bastardized out of all proportion but into something very lovely. another reason why i love this label so much.”

Freq Magazine: “Some artists’ work can produce extreme responses in a listener. When I first heard Maja Ratkje my response was pretty extreme. I was introduced to her as part of the improvising quartet Spunk and I really didn’t care for much of what I heard, to put it mildly. Then I received this, a solo project, and feared the worst. The title describes the contents, it is a project conceived using just her voice. But this isn’t “just” a voice. I have listened to it dozens of times and have had to re-assess my initial misgivings and revise my opinion. This CD has gradually worked some kind of magic on me. I am completely converted me to the way in which Ratkje uses the voice. What she does, with the help of co-producers Jazzkammer, is take a range of recordings in various locations, sample and process them and then deliver the mixture in a breath-taking demonstration of what can be done with the human voice – and some imagination. Her voice when more or less untreated is a remarkably pure and strong instrument in its own right, capable of traversing a wide range. There are examples of this on the title track, a piece which showcases with her spookily atmospheric vocal multi-tracked and intimately recorded. When presented like this it is easy to hear her singing a variety of musics. Jazz immediately comes to my mind. There is a sense of controlled power waiting to be unleashed. And on some tracks she lets that happen. That was what I found a little hard to take at first. Listen to the blood curdling onslaught on the opening of “Joy” or in parts of “Vacuum”. Strangulated screams and ritualistic howlings attack the senses. It is a kind of full body workout for the ears of any unsuspecting listener. However, I’d recommend anyone to start, if it doesn’t seem too obvious, with the aptly named opener, “Intro”. It is an utterly entrancing piece where she intones Jon Oystein Flink‘s scrambled narrative in a child-like manner. Samples of her voice are treated and act as a more abstract foil for the very human and delicate quality of her spoken words. “I want to hear all about-.” she chants unfolding an idiosyncratic text to its softly spoken conclusion. I realised after a few listens that it reminded me of James Joyce reading parts of Finnegans Wake. There is a similar musical quality in the voice and language. What a pity Joyce didn’t have access to the current technology! The variety of recording locations contribute a good deal to the overall sound too. She has used the Emmanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, a place which also added atmospheric resonance to some of Arve Henriksen‘s work on Sakuteiki. Ratkje has also recorded on a roof, in basements, in an elevator and more conventionally in a couple of studios. Some of the sounds were caught on minidisk, hard disk and dictaphone, the latter producing “Dictaphone Jam”, a collage of chopped and speeded up tape repetitions with some snatches of her natural voice submerged murkily in the manic brew. It is fascinating and compelling mixture. I have to say that this graft of sublimely melodic vocalising, panic attack breathing, hysterical laughter and wonderfully woven samples of all manner of vocal treatments has made a profoundly persuasive impression on me. It is full of her joy in exploring sounds. How did I miss that first time around? Whatever, I am a convert now.” (Paul Donelly)

Some translations from Norwegian (from Rune Grammofon’s homepage):

“It´s hyper-creative, without compromise and chaotic, and shows that Ratkje, not yet 30, quite possibly is the most complete crossover artist we have these days; a fantastic free reigning fury that with ease runs rampant between musical genres. In short, “Voice” is a completely brilliant experience.” Ballade

“The mood scuttles from silly girlish charm to dreamy melancholy and angstridden madness. In short, all you can wish for. “Voice” beats the crap out of everything else I´ve heard of Norwegian, experimental electronic music this year.” Universitas

“This is crazy, the goosebumps this reviewer is left with after hearing Voice for the first time are totally unreal. With a soundscape that shares as much with Mr. Bungle as with Diamanda Galas, Maja Ratkje has come up with a lovely masterpiece of an album.” Panorama

“Even if the electronic manipulations are responsible for much of the variety in the soundscapes here, the range in Ratkje´s voice is incredible. The music invites to reflections around it´s distinctive character. A brave, cheeky and thought-provoking release.” VG

“Challenging release from Maja Ratkje in double role as singer and composer. There is a unique sound in her voice and the sheer physical impression never lets go. This release is welcome in that it reintroduces the performing artist in the role of the composer.” Dagbladet

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