Album Reviews : Transportive albums from Rune Clausen and Bobby Jewell which guide us beyond ourselves.

The Breakdown

Two impactful albums from the new age of new age. Both use their deceptive sonic powers and fearless integrity to persuade us listeners to lose themselves in the natural world, the world where humans are just a part, and to re-think our shared responsibilities.
Katuktu Collective 8.9

For their February releases the ever – probing Katuktu Collective label have delivered two impactful albums from the new age of new age. ‘Svartor’ by Rune Clausen and Bobby Jewell’s ‘Wind & Water’ present intensely contemplative sounds less concerned with self-improvement, or finding the inner calm and more at looking beyond the ‘me’. Both albums use their deceptive sonic powers and fearless integrity to persuade us listeners to lose themselves in the natural world, the world where humans are just a part, and to re-think our shared responsibilities.

Clausen has been resolutely mapping the vastness and intricacies of the Norwegian forests in sound for some time now, meshing the raw with the richness, the mystery with the might. Each release has seen development, welcoming refinements to his incisive electronic exploration of these landscapes. In 2017 ‘Mannen Faller’, made with Oslo based sound artist Anders Brørby, merged noise and ambient to reflect the haunted terrain whereas his solo effort, 2019’s ‘Tones Jul’ retained some black metal darkness but tangled the shadows with sinewy twists of folk. These melodic hints surfaced closer on the more introspective ‘Before Your Birth/After Your Death’ from a couple of years ago, but the field recordings from the winter forests remained as foundational as ever.

No surprise then that the birds’ song, the creature calls and most definitive of all, the creaking trees continue to frame the sonic canvas on which Clausen captures the musical detail throughout ‘Svartor’. Conceptually the recording is structured around the arboreal, each track named after a different species (the elder, the aspen, the holly, the spruce…) but seems inspired by the whole natural tangle of the forest and how this landscape lives.

Take a track like Gran where the dense rainfall and ripping wind foreground the atmospherics while fluted sounds banshee, choirs groan and garbled voices add to the elemental chill. Or maybe Fagerrogn which melds an ominous gothic chord progression with the chirping insistence of birdsong to create a synergy through which the power of this otherworld is spoken.

However Clausen’s graphic music does not depend solely on natural sound recordings for context. ‘Svartor’ is an album where he uses a canny range of instrumentation to ease the landscape into our imaginations. The title track follows the careful creep of a sombre guitar and quivering strings as they descend into voluminous cavern of operatic grandeur. The fade here, an echoing cloistered voice over the scrabble of slipping rocks, is brilliantly poised. Elsewhere during Slape piano chimes skitter desperately amongst the granulation and on Slik vant hun over nevene hammered dulcimer-like tingles add tension to the unsettling loop of a child’s chant.

In many ways Clausen’s music on ‘Svartor’ prompts a different kind of meditation, taking you deep into an unforgiving place where you become almost insignificant. In the closing track, the stately gamelan of Hassel, the vocal narration is distorted to a non-human sound, but the message of respect and reset is clear.

The parallel release to ‘Svartor’ comes in the form of ‘Wind & Water’ by Glasgow-homed experimental musician and activist Bobby Jewell. Perhaps parallel is the wrong word because the two works have an allied sense of purpose and motivation. As Jewell has written in his covering notes to ‘Wind and Water’, his aim “to evoke imagery of the natural world: oceans, expansive landscapes, and the outdoors” was tempered by the realisation that “just referencing nature without that reflection feels empty as a gesture”. So like Clausen the music on ‘Wind & Water’ demands listening with attention.

Loosely close to the ambient/new age demographic, ‘Wind & Water’ is resolute in its focus on allowing the listener space and time to dwell within these deeply elemental pieces. The instrumentation is kept sparse, flutes and singing bowls sculpted through layering and sprinkled with field recordings, but the impact is resoundingly moving. Wind 1.1 takes to the air on lively looping flute patterns that flutter rhythmically over a slow bass swell like a flock above the ocean. From here the pace calms, Wind 1.2 follows a breathy, wafting float through gradually opening tones while Wind 1.3 introduces rippling waters and the hypnotic revolving ring from those singing bowls. There is an edge to Bobby Jewell’s music here that requires involvement, drawing you quietly out of any comfort zone to a place where you are less sure what will happen next.

He has explored such subtle unsettling previously on two releases from last year, the dramatic sound collages of ‘Earth Burning Red’ and the intricate, questioning ‘Protest Ambient’ where he bathed the real sounds of street protests in more ethereal soundscapes. But here on ‘Wind & Water’ the contrasts are more refined, set carefully within a musical frame that encourages contemplation in much the same way as those essential Japanese works of the eighties from Hiroshi Yoshimura or Haroumi Hosono.

The expansive Water 2.2 is pivotal to the album’s immersive achievement. Stretching out on the slow tide of a swelling monotone and sky-bound harmonics, the flow rolls through the crash of storms, before arriving at the shore to sounds of children splashing. It’s an uplifting resolve to Bobby Jewell’s latest statement, with people just part of the natural world, as incidental as Rune Clausen’s tiny voices in the forests.

In the last couple of years it’s become more apparent that experimental/electronic music is at the forefront of helping us reflect on the crisis the earth faces and the mind-shift needed to bring a new equilibrium. Matthewdavid’s ‘Mycelium Music’, Loren Chasse & Juho Toivonen’s ‘Aclod’, ‘Cloud Suites’ from Nico Georis, the list goes on, all messages from the margins that are there to turn to because orthodoxy is proving increasingly empty. Both ‘Svartor’ and ‘Wind & Water’ add significantly to this quietly determined ground swell, contributing to a diligent, supportive soundtrack that allows us to look beyond ourselves.

Go to Katuktu Collective for your digital or cassette version of ‘Svartor‘ by Rune Clausen HERE and ‘Wind & Water‘ by Bobby Jewell HERE

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