Sound Bytes : Sidsel Endresen, Stian Westerhus, Tuusanuuskat and Lau Nau

Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus
Didymoi Dreams
Rune Grammofon
Rune Grammofon has been at at the forefront of Norwegian electronic, experimental, and improvised music since the late 90s. The label is responsible for releasing albums by Biosphere, Skyphone, Alog, and Supersilent, as well as the solo works of the latter members’, Deathprod and Arve Henriksen. The latest collaboration between Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus, titled Didymoi Dreams, is an avant-garde and free improvisational jazz piece featuring the outer limits of Esterhus’ guitar studies stretching beyond the scratchy and drony riffs. At the center of this performance, recorded live during the Nattjazz festival in Bergen, Norway, are the extreme vocal improvisations by Endresen. These are the choppy and stuttering voice glitches which immediately make me picture her face during the concert. It must have shown cringes of stress, agony and slight madness, as her repetitive, incomprehensible, and rhythmic gibber restructured the patterns around the guitar. This is a challenging piece, demanding as much attention as an abstract sculpture in a garden full of outdoor installations. One must walk around the figures to fully comprehend this whole. Wish I could have seen something like this live.

Stian Westerhus
The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers
Rune Grammofon
In another album by Stian Westerhus, also appearing on Rune Grammofon, the guitar is completely concealed in a shroud of performance, real-time effects, and post production. The instrument sounds almost orchestral, reminding me instead of a groaning cello swallowed in agony of a burning soul. The piece contains elements of contemporary classical music, rather than the experimental and improvisational jazz, where the guitar sounds anything but like guitar, with the instrument’s sound stretched beyond all its limits. Most of the material on the 40-minute composition was recorded in a 5-degree Celsius tomb at the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, where the famous 20-second natural reverb cradles the sound in a pure sonic bliss. The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers is an extraordinary album, evoking memories of dark modern classical and experimental compositions of Murcof‘s The Versailles Sessions (Leaf, 2008), Kreng‘s Grimoire (Miasmah, 2011), and Ben Frost‘s By The Throat (Bedroom Community, 2009). Rune Grammofon once again convinced me to keep up with its catalog, as I bookmark its past releases by Westerhus.

Nääksää Nää Mun Kyyneleet
My upstairs neighbor decided to start banging with his hammer this morning. His progress into abysmal rhythm is within permitted hours, so all I can do is put on this pair of headphones and turn over to noise. This agonizing condition reminded me that I have an album from Fonal that I meant to cover. Tuusanuuskat is a collaborative effort between Sami Sänpäkkilä (known for his alias Es) and Jan Anderzen (recording under the moniker Tomutonttu). Sänpäkkilä happens to be the head of Fonal Records, and [for me] it’s usually interesting to appreciate the output of the label’s curator. That being said, Nääksää Nää Mun Kyyneleet is an experimental foray into circuit bending noise, synthetic gurgles and barely distinguishable acoustic manipulations. The name of the project itself is a play on words from a Finnish saying, which describes something broken, in a tongue-in-cheek context. Perhaps the deconstructed guitars turned into a shimmering cacophony of trembling glitter can be describes by “tuusan nuuskana” [tr. “total shambles”]. Perhaps it’s my upstairs neighbor, who’s furnished apartment is “tuusan nuuskana”. But most likely it’s just my mind. The debut album from this group comes in a unique packaging, featuring a striped acetate film, which creates a striking animation when moved over the dithered cover art designed by Jari Suominen.

Lau Nau
Having ripped through the splintering frequencies of the Fonal Records‘ founder, I turn my attention to Lau Nau. Laura Naukkarinen first came onto the scene with an acclaimed critical reception of her debut, Kuutarha (Locust Music, 2004). On Valohiukkanen, Lau Nau continues to explore her psych-folk roots, through near-orchestral arrangements, cinematic passages, and of course her lovely voice. The ten tracks on the album are delightful acoustic songs (including one cover), and although I can not understand Finnish, I’m glad that the label decided to include English translation of the lyrics on the inlay of the album’s packaging. Being partial towards instrumental works I tend to gravitate towards music where the voice is the greater instrument, as is the case with the silky mysterious vocals in Lau Nau’s songs. The album is an enchanting collection of experimental folk pieces, at times including a synth-disco beat, reminding me of the days when I first fell in love with Fonal, upon hearing Paavoharju‘s Laulu Laakson Kukista back in 2008. It’s no wonder that Naukkarinen already opened for Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Helsinki, and played in festivals all over the world. Be sure to also pick up her second album, Nukkuu released in 2008 on Locust Music. Fonal continues to occupy a very special place in world music: one I suggest you check out.