Echo Chamber 3.0 reviewed by The Wire and The Free Jazz Collective

Julian Cowley, The Wire:

Echochamber is all about what it means to have a voice, metaphorically as well as physically,” explains Maja Ratkje at the outset. Composing this intricate work she interviewed members of Trondheim Voices, and made exact transcriptions to serve as spoken text. The all-female ensemble weave a choral continuum from an astonishing range of sounds, extending from flurries of clicks, hisses and croaks to jazz vocalese and soulful gospel wailing. It is openly a conceptually driven work, yet despite the artifice that involves, especially talking head spots, where individual singers share observations and memories of music that inspired them, this performance of Echochamber 3.0 is dazzling and emotionally uplifting. At one point an a cappella recollection of Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow” surfaces. Who would have thought it could sound so radiant?

Eyal Hareuveni, The Free Jazz Collective:

Echo Chamber is a work-in-progress, written for Trondheim Voices by composer and vocal-artist Maja S. K. Ratkje as a concert performance for the ear. The 2.0 version of this composition was premiered in 2015 and its 3.0 version was recorded in December 2019 and March 2020.

This composition investigates how we relate, conceptualize and remember the human voice, as an expressive mean of communication and a unique instrument – a physical and metaphoric one, a verbal and emotional one, deeply connected to our body and soul. The nine vocalists of Trondheim Voices – Mia Marlen Berg, Siri Gjære, Kari Eskild Havenstrøm, Anita Kaasbøll, Ingrid Lode, Sissel Vera Pettersen, Heidi Skjerve, Torunn Sævik and Tone Åse – tell their own personal experiences with their voices, and what did they wish to express with their voices, in two versions of the composition, English and Norwegian. Their spoken texts were arranged and edited by Ratkje into a coherent script, in a way that all the thoughts and answers crisscrossing, extending, and complimenting each other. Actress-playwright Marianne Meløy added an introduction to the vocalists’ texts.

Ratkje managed to illustrate – sonically and verbally – the crucial liberating and therapeutic experience of finding your own voice, realizing that “this is my voice… I want to linger and linger and linger in it”. The Trondheim Voices ensemble is employed as an imaginative, provocative instrument. The personal thoughts and stories of its vocalists accumulate more nuances and insights about how they began to use their voice as an artistic expression, beginning with lessons from seminal vocalists (Sidsel Endresen and Joni Mitchell are mentioned), through the tasking musical training, and later, the freedom and the physical sensation found through experimenting and improvising with the voice, alone and in a shared experience of Trondheim Voices. The ensemble injects into this composition engaging and irreverent quotes from Mike Oldfield’s pop hit ”Moonlight Shadow”, Marlen Berg’s song ”Searching”, traditional Norwegian wedding march ”Bruremarsj fra Gudbrandsdalen” and the traditional folk song ”Working on a building”.

The Norwegian version worked better for me. The natural melodic phrasing of this intelligible language – for me – intensified the magical abstraction of the human voice as a musical instrument.

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