Music for Gardening reviews (in English and Swedish)

Maja S.K. Ratkje /Lasse Marhaug: Music for Gardening
CD – Pica Disk, Norway – 2009

Read about this album and listen to a track [intlink id="1363" type="post"]here[/intlink].

Our favourite Norwegians Lasse Marhaug and Maja Ratkje have unleashed another collaborative piece of ugly-ill-formed noise as Music For Gardening (PICA DISK PICA009). The very title and the presence of strange tuber-like objects on the cover, drawn with painterly flair by Si Clark, all suggest that certain organic and vegetative associations are appropriate for this stew of cut-ups, groans, chaotic eruptions and semi-mechanical looping rhythms. I found this a slightly messy and indigestible listen, but recognise at the same time it is full of invention, humour, absurdity, and a distinct lack of preciousness that is a welcome antidote to many over-manicured laptop releases. (The Sound Projector)

In an interview I read Lars von Trier (“Antichrist”) stated that he likes gardening, but that in his view gardening is not at all the peaceful, easy labor that it is regularly pictured to be. In von Trier’s view gardening is like playing a brutal god, in that you decide first what will grow and what is going to die in the field and then, when finally it has grown, you cut it up and eat it. He therefore claims that gardening is a brutal and cannibalistic act. But then he also says that he likes taking anti-depressiva and that he has no ethical predicaments about it. Yeah, right.

The king and queen of pure Norwegian avant-noise, Maja S.K. Ratkje and Lasse Marhaug, probably have a different viewpoint as well, since Ratkje likes to live in the country, but then again all of this is probably completely besides the point and all that is important is the fact that “music for gardening” is a singular, destructive trip through a mind completely set in noise. Moreover, the pureness quality seal incorporated here is completely different to that of, let’s say, Vodka, where even the bottles in the factory are cleaned with the same brand of vodka to ensure highest purity and hygiene. Picadisk, Lasse Marhaug’s own label, has its own seal of purity, meaning it only presents rarely refined noise of the most extreme manner. This has been proven with albums by e.g. Hijokaidan or Birchville Cat Motel.

Anybody who know Lasse Marhaug – and despite what he writes in his bio, that is quite many people in interested circles – also know that his vision for noise is quite hectic, manipulated / manipulative, chaotic, suprising and bound for extreme eruptions. Ratkje is quite the opposite in her working methods, structurally very formal and consequential, but definitely not in the reaches of extremity. So the six pieces on here, made for gardening, are a bit of a mixture of the two poles, though it seems that the random and chaotic element wins out finally. Who has added the Japanese samples to the mix? Who the speed up beats? Who the sampled string sections? And who was responsible for the cuts and cut-ups? I don’t think it really matters, as much as I think it won’t ever be found out.

This complete disregard for stylicstic formulas, the wide variety of sounds incorporated in the noisy bricollage and the always soaked in fun acts of suprising additions to the mix, make “music for gardening” a fantastic listen. Definitely not an easy one, on top, actually for most people a hard one – which is not the least due to some harsh and unexpected eruptions of noise – but also one filled with fun. Heavy, distorted bass here and mangled field recordings there and then some high-pitched, ear piercing frequencies on top. The crazy holiday goes on and on and on.

What else is to add? This CD is the fourth entry in a series tending to “shopping”, “loving”, “faking” and now “gardening”. An interesting progression, methinks. Suprisingly, a lot of sounds on “music for gardening” sound like small animals being tortured and sampled, which is sick, but then again, a lot of these sounds are obviously synthetic, most are manipulated, and then some sound like little kids. Another theory for the realization of this CD (or this series) is that Lasse Marhaugh wanted to show his old friend John Hegre a thing or two, and in a way that worked out, too, though in other ones than insinuated here. A final hint to the young gardeners: let everyting grow in its own time. If you pull at young plants to make them grow faster, they will give it up and die. (

Here’s a collaboration between Lasse Marhaug and Maja SK Ratkje. Both household names these days I’m sure you’ll agree and here on this, their 4th shared outing they tackle the thorny issue of gardening.. Yes ‘Music For Gardening’ is exactly what it says on the tin. This is music created to hopefully inspire you, the hapless listener into spending more time in your garden, tendering the needs of your plants and all things green and to hopefully get you off that sofa and get your hand out of your arse. It’s reasonably difficult music where samples and electronic noises are spliced together to make uncomfortable rhythms and otherworldly oddness. The track ‘complaints won’t help’ sounds like it’s been constructed with loads of cat’s meowing samples and when I close my eyes I feel like I’m in cat flavoured Hieronymus Bosch painting. For all it’s weirdness it’s reasonably good fun and not too harsh on the ear and worth checking out if you’re feeling adventurous! At times it reminds me of People Like Us and that sort of Plunderphonic sampletasticness. (

Fourth release in this near-decade-long collaboration between maja solveig kjelstrup ratkje and lasse marhaug … nestled somewhere in the nether-regions between harsh noise, electro-acoustic improvisation, and plunderphonic collage-work, the two are obviously having a blast running the proverbial gamut (esp. on the respective cat and dog-themed pieces ; listen to the sound-sample for the former – yeah, like i wasn’t going to put that one up) … great stuff !!! (

As the fourth in their long standing domestic activity collaboration series, Marhaug’s harsh noise penchant meets Ratkje’s nuanced and bizarre collaborative techniques to create an album of random cutup sounds, occasional harsh noise blasts, and everything plus the kitchen sink instrumentation that rivals the absurdity of the Schimpfluch Gruppe crew in the best possible way.

The opening title track makes the intent of the album known immediately, with squawking cut up sounds, wheezing, feedback, and what could be balloons being rubbed together. Lasse’s noise penchant is present, though reigned in to focus more on the collage sounds. “Complaints Won’t Help” begins with randomly dialing through an antenna-less radio, which becomes a rudimentary noise loop to provide the rhythm. Above this, a full chorus of meowing cats becomes the focus of the track, providing the complaints referenced in the title. I have yet to audition this track for my own two feline terrors, but I’m expecting some confused faces.

Not to be exclusionary, “Call In The Dogs” literally lets the canines have their say, constant barking over fragments of music, piano banging, and cartoon sound effects. The cartoon sense continues into “Merry Go Round Circus In Town”, which throws in some cartoon jazz stuff while adding in ringing bells and random electronic chaos.

“Sound Check” makes more concessions to traditional music than anything else here, opening with what sounds like the lost theme song to some 1970s game show, mixed with junk loops and flatulent white noise blasts before ending with actual “music” while people have conversations over it.

Marhaug seems to seize the reigns for the latter two tracks, infusing both with a greater sense of the harsh noise he is known for. “Stuck In The Roundabout” showcases his electronic shards of sound far more than the prior ones, but still allowing pieces of melody and the random cutup here and there to come in to mediate things. The closer “Like A Prayer” ups the ante with shrill, piercing squeals and overdriven bass frequencies, moderated a bit with cut up music and burbling sounds before falling apart into pure noise hell.

Having not heard the previous volumes of this collaborative series, the spastic randomness of what I’ve heard here makes me want to track those down. It has the sheer Dada of Sudden Infant and Komissar Hjuler & Mama Bar down quite well, but with a greater sense of composition, in the loosest definition of the word. It also is more than happy to infuse a good dose of old fashion noise into the weirder parts of the proceedings, which is a good combination. (Creaig Dunton,

Gardens and, perhaps more importantly, the act of gardening hold a romantic place in our civilized minds. Plato and other Greek philosophers used to teach in them, and gardening was associated with leading an ethically good, flourishing life. It allows us to connect to the natural world and, as Kant claimed, to mix it with our creative powers. Voltaire taught us the importance of tending to our own, and Rousseau strolled through them while reflecting on his life, finding some sort of companionship with the natural world in their presence. Although gardens became retreats for the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie that followed them, and later a way for suburbanites to falsely connect with nature by transplanting it indoors, there is something organic about them that at least equally connects to the common folk. Gardening embodies a form of self-sufficiency when it is focused on produce and edible plants rather than mere ornamentation. For at least the last 40 years, gardens in urban areas of the US have grown increasingly popular. Whether they are an attempt to balance the spread of concrete, to provide healthy food options for (as the grant-writers would say) underserved urban communities, for strictly aesthetic reasons (for the sake of the established community or for gentrification), or for all of the above, gardens and gardening are nonetheless important parts of human history and our relationship with the natural world, providing us some sort of connection with the Other of nature: that thing that Rousseau and Strauss claim we move further and further away from as we move forward in history.

But because gardening necessarily requires the human to manipulate nature for its own ends, it is almost antithetical to the more extremist approach of letting nature ‘do its own thing.’ There is certainly something romantic about gardening, in that it allows us to connect to nature in some ‘meaningful’ way — and this becomes especially important as our contemporary forms of living are always more removed from the natural world — but it is also a violent act, since we are determining what will live and what will die. In the act of gardening, we are determining the history of nature, yet this doesn’t necessarily exclude the fact that we are simultaneously connecting with it in some ethically flourishing and positive way.

Norwegian artists Maja S.K. Ratkje and Lasse Marhaug’s Music For Gardening — the fourth release in a series of collaborative “music for” releases that was preceded by After Shopping, Loving, and Faking — embraces these two components of gardening: the violence and the flourishing. The artists have claimed that their intention is to promote the listener to spend more time gardening, and Ratkje, who recently moved to the countryside, has certainly been inspired to do so. The title track instantly throws us into the violent act: weeds and existing plants are ripped from the ground to be replaced by what the human eye determines to be more beautiful or beneficial, soil turned over and displaced in order to be more conducive to a human’s conception of growth, worms and bugs relocated against their wishes (or at least with no consideration for their interests), stakes and markers plunged into the earth, the chaos of nature replaced by human order in the form of brick walkways and stones that designate where the garden starts and where nature ends, and so on. Ratkje’s vocal screeches and Marhaug’s outbursts of manipulated sound express the pain of nature as it is forced to assume a new, human-determined form.

But none of this excludes flourishing, which always requires that old forms are thrown aside and new ones created and enforced. There is something beautiful about the thrashing glitches, chorus of meows, harsh splices of AM broadcast, and ear-grinding friction, just as there is something beautiful about humans transforming nature with their creative powers and the full blooming garden that ideally follows. But the important thing to realize — and what is so compelling about this release is that it promotes this realization — is that this flourishing within the context of the garden cannot be plausibly divorced from the violence that is not only intimately connected to it, but is also concealed by more idealistic and romantic notions. Even if Music For Gardening does not compel the listener to rush out to the yard with a shovel and a handful of seeds, it will at least provide an invitation to think about our relationship with nature. It could even lead us to critically investigate the romantic interpretations of other seemingly benign acts — curing, farming, speaking, listening, tasting, loving (as Ratkje and Marhaug arguably already explored with the second release of this series), etc. — that ultimately include some form of violence. (Tiny Mix Tapes)


Maja Ratkje och Lasse Marhaug öppnar grindarna till helvetets trädgård. Vildvuxna och otämjda storheter sprider ut elaka rotskott och obeskrivbara förgreningar. Under varje sten öppnas nya fantastiska scenarion, psykedelisk rock filtreras och förvrängs, karuseller hakar upp sig, hundar skäller, katter gnäller, elektronik brusar upp, en cello förintas, röster ropar (dock inte Ratkjes) i sju stycken under nära 25 minuter. Maxad surrealism, André Breton i Bruce Willis kropp! Med en sekatör i handen. Farligt. Och så fruktansvärt häftigt.

Ratkje och Marhaug brutaliserar tillvaron. Gör den hård och tuff. Inte utan anledning. Ingen av dem pekar dock med hela handen. Deras stora musikalitet och humor ger möjlighet till nyansering och ifrågasättande. En samplad fågel kan sjunga vackert, likaväl som den kan falla död ner. Osäkerhet öppnar upp musiken, gör den spännande. Noise har ju annars tendensen att sluta sig och vara förutsägbar. Visst, den kan vara ett omruskande statement, men likafullt blir det ofta ett tråkigt sådant. I Ratkjes och Marhaugs händer blir den inte det. (Magnus Nygren,



Sammen om støy.

Støy- og samtidsparet Maja S.K. Ratkje og Lasse Marhaug er ute med sitt fjerde album i serien «Music for… ». Duoen leker seg med lydbrokker og vekker interesse gjennom manipulasjon, effektmakeri og dynamikk. Dette er angrepsmusikk, intenst pulserende og kompakt informativ. Støyelementene detoneres mens riff, dyrelyder og samtaler slynges rundt i miksen. Ratkje og Marhaug skaper spenning. Behag står ikke på programmet. Uttrykket deres legger beslag på rommet, fyller inntaksapparatet og egner seg dårlig til hagearbeid. Tross innslag av lystighet, er det den insisterende kvaliteten som dominerer. Duoen forfører med rått grep og byr på gledelige opplevelser. Det er ikke hver uke et album trenger igjennom på denne måten.

Arild R. Andersen

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