BBC Music, Colin Buttimer 2003-04-07
Voice begins and ends with glacial figures from ambient Aphex territory. At the end these figures are succeeded by silence, at the beginning they’re interrupted by elfin voices. Events quickly become unpredictable, unsettling, scary, as if small creatures had stolen into your skull and were busying themselves spitting out stray words, oaths, nonsense. It’s as though Laurie Anderson’s vocoder had been infected by a gleefully disruptive software virus.
“Joy” continues and diversifies into a chorus of different voices; strong and gentle, idiotic and innocent, whispering and cajoling, humming and screaming. On one hand there’s evident joy in the sound of words, of sounds all made possible by one set of vocal chords. On the other hand, whole histories of persecution justified by accusations of insanity, witchcraft, etc are also conjured. There’s a sense of patrolling and transgressing the boundaries of the known, of questioning sanity (perhaps in the best traditions of Dada). Listening to Voice is like occupying the head of somebody experiencing multiple personalities.
“Trio” fires off explosive screeches and spits, spats, strangled laughter, duck quacks, raging screams, evoking human beatboxes, cartoon violence (think Carl Stalling cut up and reflected in a kaleidoscope).
“Vacuum” clicks and crackles in the emptiness. Whorls of sound grow in volume only to be interrupted by breathtaking breathlessness, breathiness, breath caught and expelled, the breathy, quiet sound of near tears, of trying to breathe which is succeeded by a passage of spooked, echoing beauty.
All sound on Voice originates from Maja Ratkje’sthroat, though it has been much manipulated, processed, torn, stretched, pitch-shifted and who knows what else. The human voice is as close to home as an instrument can be and the impression of this music is of naked immediacy despite its manipulation. But that immediacy does not result in yet another restatement of the known but in revelations of strangeness, of travels beyond the known.
The cover of the cd shows Maja Ratkje’s face. She might be assumed to be sunk in meditation but on listening to her music a new possibility arises: instead of peacefulness, the suspicion increases that the closed eyes and mouth signify containment or communication with spirits, or a state much stranger, less quantifiable still. I look at the picture and fully expect the face to animate at any moment into a grimace, snarl, cry, smile, plea…