River Mouth Echoes reviewed by Signal to Noise

Singer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje has a sensibility that comfortably embraces a wide range of styles, and she has an impressive ability to synthesize them in her own compositions. Her liner notes to River Mouth Echoes mention her interest in sonic extremes, and the opener “Ox,” a duet for Rolf- Erik Nystrom’s alto saxophone and Ratkje’s processing, hits the listener with a piercing high tone set against fiery white noise. Over the piece’s 10 minutes, the maelstrom is softened by occasional warm details (Ratkje has a wonderful ear for coloristic variations), but also reaches Merzbow-like levels of volume. Accordionist Frode Haltli and bassist Håkon Thelin join Nystrom on the dark, intriguing “Essential Extensions,” a 1991 trio composition whose textural and rhythmic play makes the group sound much larger. The shorter “Wintergarden,” composed for a film directed by Daria Martin, is a solo piece for Ratkje’s voice and synthesizer; it’s stark and wintry music, with a striking lyrical purity at times. The title track is performed by the string quartet Fretwork, a 20-minute pool of woody textures that run from warm hues to liquid glissandi. It’s great stuff, which will appeal to fans of 20th-century string writing. Ratkje writes that once she and producer John Zorn settled on the disc’s track order, it struck her that “the other compositions on the disc relate to” the closing “Sinus Seductions (Moods Two),” another saxophone/electronics duet, this time featuring tenorist Torben Snekkestad. Its textural and dynamic extremes are often quite startling, scraping up all manner of chaotic detritus in a manner guaranteed to bring a smile to noise-lovers worldwide. My favorite track here, though, is “Waves IIB,” an astounding piece for the Oslo Sinfonietta, conducted by Christian Eggen. Reminiscent of the constantly morphing writing of composer Wolfgang Rihm, executed with a Xenakis-like violence, it rounds out a potent collection.
(Larry Nai)

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