Album of the Week: Maja S. K. Ratkje

My introduction to Norwegian composer and vocalist Maja Ratkje came in 2006 with her album Stalker, a picture disk, which is about as hardcore as you can get on one side, and softcore on the other.  I was hooked.

Then I found my way, rather quickly, to her bands Fe-Mail and Spunk which are anything but easy listening and reserved for those times when in need of some sonic assault. Lovely.

Now we have her new record Sult, released on Rune Grammofon, which is something new and something softer and lovelier, i.e. it’s filled with beauty,  than her usual sonic signature. From the label:

Based upon Ratkje´s music created for the ballet ”Sult” (”Hunger”) by profiled director Jo Strømgren for the Norwegian National Ballet, this is a departure from records and live settings normally associated with Maja S. K. Ratkje, as we find her placed behind a modified, wiggly and out of tune pump organ, singing songs and improvising. Metal tubes, PVC tubes and a wind machine were built into the organ; guitar strings, a bass string, a resin thread, metal and glass percussion and a bow are also utilized. With little or no previous experience, she had to learn to play the thing live, using both hands and feet at the same time as singing.

Don’t let that “wiggy and out of tune” thing foll ‘ya—Ratkje is in clear command of a purposefully unwieldy instrument, allowing for the unexpected, even for her. This is music making in its primitive form, making Sult a nearly primeval tour de force. The ballet for which this music was written, is based on the novel Hunger, published in 1890, by Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun and if you haven’t read it, you want to:

The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun—Isaac Bashevis Singer

If you’re not familiar with Ratkje’s work Sult is a friendly place to start.

Hard and soft copies available from Boomkat. Listen here: