Øra Fonogram announces the worldwide release of RÖKKUR, the joint album of Norwegian composer and performer Maja S. K. Ratkje and Icelandic ensemble Nordic Affect (Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Marie Stockmarr Becker, Hanna Loftsdóttir, Guðrún Óskarsdóttir).
RÖKKUR on streaming other services (pre-save before Nov. 10)
What is ‘rökkur’?
‘Rökkur’ is the Icelandic word for twilight — the hour when shadows fall, a time of transition, ambiguity, and magic. When ‘rökkur’ fell in pre-electric times, a space appeared for storytelling, reading, yarn spinning, singing, or even a dreamlike state of dozing. Inspired by this shared tradition, Maja S. K. Ratkje and ensemble Nordic Affect have embarked on a sonic journey allowing ‘rökkur’ to become a path for morphing and shifting between the familiar, the atmosphere from the past, and the yet to be imagined future.
Since their first appearance together at Dark Music Days in Iceland in 2019, their music making has evolved in relation to each new performance, always exploring and revealing new shades of noise and timbre. Ratkje blends her extended vocals with the Baroque instrumental sound of Nordic Affect, at times treated and re-established in real-time by the cyborg electronic extensions of Ratkje’s live electronics.
About the music on RÖKKUR
This album contains a careful selection of compositions that embody our vision of the ‘rökkur atmosphere’ as music of today.
Into The Dark, the opening piece, forms an arch that departs from light shimmers and transcends into the deepest corners of Rökkur. Here the harpsichordist employs objects such as sticks with rubber balls inside the instrument i.e., trusted tools from years of exploring contemporary and improvised music. The piece ends by hinting at George Herbert’s poem Love (III), which appears in its entirety as the album’s fifth track.
George Herbert (1593 – 1633) was an English poet and priest associated with metaphysics. It has been noted that Herbert uses puns and wordplay to “convey the relationships between the world of daily reality and the world of transcendent reality that gives it meaning. The kind of word that functions on two or more planes is his device for making his poem an expression of that relationship.” (Hodgkins 2010). One of his most famous poems, Love (III), embraces the “unworthy” soul with forgiveness. Starting with an invitation (from God?): “Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back. / Guilty of dust and sin”, the situation eventually resolves by accepting the invitation to join Love’s meal.
I Cannot Look and Love Took My Hand (quotes from Herbert’s poem) are continuations of Ratkje and Nordic Affect’s take on the poem. Through silent gaps, focusing on finding the right sound palette, and the introduction of harmonious music, the mood is set for a journey that will take you through a wide range of colours, and perhaps also with a drop of witchery involved.
Den sprættende bevægelse min fot gjør hver gang pulsen slår is a composition originally created by Ratkje for a solo performance accompanying the Norwegian National Ballet in Jo Strømgren’s choreography Sult (Hunger) in 2018. It has found a new and playful form in the hands of Nordic Affect. This album includes two versions, the first allowing space for Ratkje’s vocal improvisations, and the second, the last track on the album, featuring Halla Stefánsdóttir’s improvisations on the baroque violin.
Passing Stranger is a meditative and ambient composition that features the strings of Nordic Affect together with Ratkje’s live sampling and real-time electronic treatments. Recorded live (as all of the tracks) in one go at Øra Studio. Such a process is all about finding the right timing for the musical structures to evolve naturally, in this track much like a sustained breath during dusk, all the while attending to the small shimmers and reflections that ‘rökkur’ brings forth.
Passing Stranger is also an anticipation of harmonies used in the song Du som fremmed (You as stranger (our translation)) which comprises the album’s eight track, hence referring to its title.
Norwegian poet Karin Haugane published her beautiful and aching poem “Du som fremmed” in Oktavfeltet – Kjærlighetsdikt (Gyldendal 2001). Ratkje composed the music together with her husband Frode Haltli on commission from Josefine viseklubb, a local singer-songwriter club in Oslo, the same year. The sung text is about the closeness in a love relationship and the simultaneous feeling of being strangers to each other. It starts like this: “jeg legger hjertet mitt / inntil kroppen din, fremmede // fordi våre sorger er større enn gud / mister dagene sin blå tid” […] Our translation: “I lay my heart / close to your body, stranger // because our sorrows are greater than God / the days lose their blue time” […]
The seventh track Lokk is a collective improvisation, the title associating a Scandinavian ‘lokk’, a herding call.
And Smiling Did Reply (another quote from Herbert’s poem), is a response to the juxtaposition of Ratkje’s noise and Nordic Affect in Love Took My Hand, but now the noise of analogue electronics is exchanged with the acoustic noise of Ratkje’s vocal cords.
Introducing Love is the album’s most noisy track. The acoustic instruments are thrown into a boiling cauldron before the harpsichord emerges with a harmonic progression assumedly anticipating the song Love (III) which at this point is already played and heard, so the musicians leave it there to linger. Instead they move on to the albums second last track, Martes nattasang, a soothing lullaby written by Maja’s daughter Frida Helene Haltli for her younger sister Marte: “nå skal du sove, min lille skatt / stjerner lyser her i natt / månen skinner som en sol / la alt mørke dra vekk, vekk”. (Our translation: now you will sleep, my little darling / stars glow here tonight / the moon shines like a sun / let all the darkness go away, away”.)
Recorded live by Nordic Affect (Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, baroque violin; Marie Stockmarr Becker, baroque viola; Hanna Loftsdóttir, baroque cello; Guðrún Óskarsdóttir, harpsichord) and Maja S. K. Ratkje (vocals, various objects, and live electronics).
All music composed by Ratkje and arranged by Ratkje and Nordic Affect except 8 (co- composed by Frode Haltli), 11 (composed by Frida Haltli) and 2, 6, and 7 (composed by Ratkje and Nordic Affect). Lyrics by George Herbert (5), Karin Haugane (8), and Frida Haltli (11). Quoted lyrics by George Herbert (1 and 2).
Recorded by Jo Ranheim, Øra Studio and Dokkhuset, February 2022. Mixed by Maja S. K. Ratkje, Svartskog, 2023.
Mastered by Karl Klaseie, Øra Mastering, 2023.
Produced by Maja S. K. Ratkje with Nordic Affect.
Cover Photos by Eva Schram.
Cover Design by Guðlaug Friðgeirsdóttir.
Supported by Svartskog Music AS, The Norwegian Society of Composers, Reykjavík City, and the Ministry of Culture’s Music Fund in Iceland.
- Into The Dark
- I Cannot Look
- Love Took My Hand
- Den sprættende bevægelse min fot gjør hver gang pulsen slår
- Love (III)
- Passing Stranger
- Du som fremmed
- And Smiling Did Reply
- Introducing Love
- Martes nattasang
- Den sprættende bevægelse min fot gjør hver gang pulsen slår 2
Catalogue number: OF212 / OF212LP
Release date: Nov 10, 2023