Maja Ratkje
Voice
Rune Grammofon
2002
B-

halfway through my first listen into “Trio”, the third track from Maja Ratkje’s debut solo album Voice, I stopped the CD, put it into the disc drive of my computer and ripped the song to a WAV file and then set to work cutting it up into a rhythm. Now I’m no skilled riddim scientist, but I had thought I heard an obvious breakbeat constructed from her beatboxing bridge. Apparently I was wrong, as I continued to find the loop that made rhythmic sense and failed. After about 15 minutes of attempting this fruitless task I gave up.


This anecdote perhaps encapsulates the whole of Voice. At times, the music feels as though it can be grasped and understood. And yet, when you examine further it becomes more alien. Tellingly, immediately after the beatboxing interlude the sound is stopped for a moment and followed by uncontrollable screaming that is neither joyful nor scared- instead it’s animalistic and seemingly without origin.


As with most releases on Rune Grammofon, the phrase “without origin” is probably one of the best ways to describe anything put out by the label. With obvious reference points of Bjork, Phil Minton, Jaap Blonk, and Yoko Ono; Ratjke here creates something different from these reference points and totally original. It is the sound of a voice being examined- and reexamined- in all sorts of different ways through production, effects, and placement within the mix of other sounds that inhabit the same space.


Ratjke is perhaps best known for her work with the all female improve group SPUNK (also on Rune Grammofon). This record isn’t too far off from what you might hear there, except for the intense emphasis upon the voice as instrument. Ratkje and Jazzkammer have fashioned an album bent on surprises that, upon reflection, make complete sense. Abrupt changes in mood, the destruction of comfort, and schizophrenia are all elements at work here. Underlying this, though, is a fearlessness toward experimentation that imbues the work- even when it veers close to painful frequencies- with enough charm and expectation that keeps interested listeners engaged.


But this is perhaps the problem. Unless a listener is devoted to this sort of experimentation in music this record will appear to be incomprehensible- and held as an example of ultimate pretension. In contrast to Supersilent’s recent release, Ratkje’s work is much more uncompromising in tone- whether it benefits from this is up to the listener, but nonetheless this album is an example of a striking solo debut of confident purpose and polished execution. While it may not be for everyone, for adventurous listeners it will be a treasure that reveals itself fully on multiple listens.


Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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