In addition to being one of the most exciting vocalists and noise musicians working within the contemporary avant-garde scene, Maja Ratkje should also be regarded as one of Europe’s foremost young composers. This album collates recordings spanning over a decade, making some of Ratkje’s most important compositions readily available to the record-buying public for the first time. The considerable dynamic range of her work is revealed by the contrasts between ‘Wintergarden’ (with its madwoman-in-the-attic vocal howls and primitive synth bloops) and the grand orchestral piece ‘Waves IIB’, as performed by the Oslo Sinfonietta. In between these two extremes Ratkje creates electroacoustic works for alto and tenor saxophone (the droning overtone dissections ‘Ox’ and ‘Sinus Seduction’) and works with fellow Norwegians and long-term collaborators Poing, featuring virtuoso accordionist Frode Haltli (whose wonderful Passing Images album of last year featured contributions from Ratkje). This Poing collaboration, ‘Essential Extensions’ sounds quite unlike anything you might ordinarily expect to hear from an accordion/sax/double-bass trio, occupying a dizzyingly complex harmonic range. Elsewhere, ‘River Mouth Echoes’ is performed by a string quartet, and demonstrates Ratkje’s grasp on micro-intervals, creating a relationship with dissonance that might be viewed as an acoustic, more academic alternative to her noise output. Ratkje is an intensely experimental composer, penning music that draws not only upon the work of modernist 20th century composers but a wealth of jazz influences, and even the scuzzy underbelly of the electronic, improvising underground too. Very highly recommended.
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