A Special Moment In Norwegian Music: Vriompeis 2021 Reviewed

photo by Maja S. K. Ratkje, from outside BLÅ on the concert day

The Quietus:

(…)On day two, the internationally acclaimed composer Maja Ratkje is headlining with a noise show. It’s still 40 people sitting on barstools. A person in the audience is doing fist-pumps, moving his closed hand up and down several times as a sign of victory. Nothing wrong with a good dose of Viking dancing. Earlier, people were air drumming from their chairs. But the context is quite peculiar: is there any other country where the top contemporary composer plays a noise show in a former squat for 40 people, including a lone fist-pumper sitting on sports bar furniture? Maja Ratkje is unparalleled. She composes for distinguished orchestras, works in the jazz field, and also knows her underground noise. With this set she shows that, to her, those totally different fields are not separate entities. Calling it noise is too easy. Calling it improv is too easy. Combining extraordinary craftsmanship on both electronics and voice, she shows what a great musician she is. There’s always a sense of structure, of composition, but not within the traditional forms. Ratkje challenges her listeners and knows exactly where she’s taking them.

At first it sounds like a Pierre Henry remix of Tom Tom Club, with gliding and sliding noises reworking the voices of female rappers. At the end of the set the listener is transported to totally new territories. Ratkje puts a piece of styrofoam between her microphone and throat. Then, with her own voice, altered with electronics, she produces a primal scream that’s so intense, so scary, so real. It makes Coil’s Hellraiser soundtrack, or Suicide’s ‘Frankie Teardrop’ — considered by some to be the scariest music ever being made — sound like easy listening. Nordic culture has a long history of screaming. Of course there are the screams of Munch, the sax sound in free jazz, and the typical screams and growls of black metal. It all goes back to Galdr, an old word for “magic spell,” which is a falsetto-like primal scream. Some are used for magic healing.

Ratkje’s voice is unforgettable. Her performance is unforgettable. 18 months of fear of death, of isolation, have been squeezed out by one throat. My memories about this period will not be about doomscrolling and home shopping. This scream. At that transformative moment. From a real voice. From a real PA. With real people. With real emotions. That’s what life is about.” (…)

Joost Heijhuijsen

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