Trondheim Voices + Asle Karstad
Rooms & Rituals (Grappa Musikkforlag; CD/DL)
Though we primarily focus on instrumental music, sometimes the human voice is uncannily transformed into something completely other, as is sharply evidenced on this phenomenal recording from Norwegian sound designer Asle Karstad and the collective Trondheim Voices (maccatrols developed by: Asle Karstad and Arnvid Lau Karstad). The voices you experience here belong to: Sissel Vera Pettersen, Tone Åse, Heidi Skjerve, Anita Kaasbøll, Mia Marlen Berg, Torunn Sævik, Live Maria Roggen with Siri Gjær and Ingrid Lode appearing on three of the dozen tracks. Rooms & Rituals is a curious delicacy for the ears, but unlike most anything out there choir-wise.
Rather than a typical traditional set-up of vocal talent, here we have vocalese that unfolds like birds waking at sunrise, whistling softly, delicately making their presence known over bleary percussion. On Steamsaw there’s a sensitive lullaby in a layer of intertwined chords that simply floats. The Karstads developed the maccatrols, a wireless controller which works in unison with the live voices, following each breath. Pulser harkens back to some early Meredith Monk work in its layering and elongated spoken word (Sardin Cluster), yet creates its own bottomless vortex where the aching voices descend into the void. This piece alone could be the center of an entire full-length feature, however, the vignetted edit is effective as a taster. The voice here is more like a combination of wind and percussive instruments, floating, punctuated, in flyaway snippets.
The singers use not only their outward vocals and treatments thereof, but pops, clicks, gurgles and breathy tonalities to dispense an experimental record that at times sounds like wildlife, at others like pure science fiction. Berlin Memorial is particularly peculiar with its dramatic flutters and creeks, combining mysterious microsound filled with rushes of drone and other sudden gusts. Their sound is alive with action aplenty.
When Björk set out a few years back to work with throat singers and native female choirs atop her already odd Icelandic twang, I never thought I’d hear anything quite like it. But here the dichotomy between voice and endless experimentation busts any glass ceiling above. The purr and jibber-jab of Room #6 alone is worth the price of admission, it’s likely the closest your ears will ever get to the purr of a sleeping dragon, ever. Throughout the range of style ranges from minimalism to the profane, at times with Celtic overtones (Hymn), at others like a vivid Disney cartoon gone psychedelically awry (Room #10) – still elsewhere its this mechanical cross between analogue of dial-up and a big fat siphoning snore (Cph Night).
Gleam takes back the night as voices open shyly like animated flower petals. It’s mid-eastern essence is sweet yet slithery – but the voices, like the knobs, buttons and keys on a vintage Moog, bleep and dance in harmony. I’d imagine combining this with an intricate a/v presentation would be a sensation for the senses, and they I’ve heard they are on tour. For the finale, Below / Ritual #4 croaks and whispers with a sultry though despondent subtle wave to eternity.