River Mouth Echoes reviewed by The Wire

Maja Ratkje is a scary new typ of composer: trained to write for orchestra, a member of the all-female Improv quartet SPUNK for 12 years, a noise freek and still in her early thirties. Har to imagine such a wide-ranging maverick prospering in the UK, but in Norway, according to Keith Moliné’s interview in The Wire 278, she’s “in danger of becoming the elder stateswoman of experimental music”. This Tzadik collection has six pieces from the last 10 years and is bookended by two chunks of processed sax. Sinus Seduction as a title may conjure catarrh cocktails for two, but Torben Snekkestad’s tenor sax sits between two electronic versions of his sound, one distorted and the other sine waves. Ratkje slowly empties out the space, but then hits very hard with her noise approach. Likewise ØX, with Rolf-Erik Nystrøm’s alto, takes no prisoners. These banshees shrieking over grinding drone are stimulating alright and it seems that in noise, composers like Ratkje have discovered a whole new way to piss audiences off. A trio for accordion, alto sax and double bass is written with great assurance and crisply performed. Up to a point there’s an improvisatory quality, but then you hear flickering melodies on sax and accordion in unison and block chords like massive sculptures. Ratkje’s skill at the careful placing of contrasting sounds is evident again on Wintergarden, where she layers up her own voice, from bell-like chords to horrendous but disciplined cackling. The 20 minute title track is something like a string quartet, but beautifully played on four bass viols by the British group Fretwork. A number of stunning textural passages suggest this is a major work. In fact the only letdown is Waves IIb for The Oslo Sinfonietta. Hectically virtuosic but uninvolving, this is more of the heartless orchestral acrobatics we’ve heard too many times before.

(Clive Bell)

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