Maja S. K. Ratkje & Lasse Marhaug - Music for Gardening [Pica Disk - 2009]One of the first noise albums I ever owned was The Hanatarash’s mind-boggling fourth CD. Unbelievable, the things one guy could accomplish with nothing more than a broken tape recorder, records and tapes from the thrift store around the corner, random stuff from the radio and an apartment full of junk. I thought of it a great deal after hearing Music for Gardening, because the latter record sounded a bit like someone had heard the former and decided to try for the same territory. The sad truth is, despite the participation of Lasse Marhaug, this is sonic collage in a minor key, a footnote to the careers of both people involved.
From what I can determine, Ratkje and Marhaug pooled a bunch of samples from their respective libraries and did a little head-to-head laptop sonic warfare. Most of what comes out is a jumble rather than a collage, and the few interesting moments are more despite themselves than anything else—e.g., when the meowing of a cat pops out of the mix. That one had me whipping around in my chair, because somehow they picked a sample that sounds exactly like the stray I rescued and took in a couple of years ago. Oh, and one point during the track labeled “Soundcheck” I recognized the opening bars of Crass’s “Punk Is Dead”. But they’re moments, and they’re easy come, easy go. The last track, “Like a Prayer”, is not a Madonna cover; it might have been that much more interesting if it had been.
Back on my own blog I’ve written about how it’s sometimes tough to filter the, uh, signal from the noise when it comes to records like this. Why does the newest Merzbow sound so compelling and absorbing when this doesn’t—especially when to most people they’d probably sound completely indistinguishable (“Jesus, you call that bullshit ‘music’? I could do that!”)? I’m not sure it comes down to any one thing—some of it is pedigree, but I’m sure at least as much of it is not something that can be put into so many words. It’s the difference between a pedestrian cocktail piano player and Art Tatum. Call it alchemy, I guess, and there just isn’t very much of it here. As a further mark in the minus column, Gardening is more of an EP than a full album, clocking in at only 25 minutes. Whether or not that’s a plus, I leave entirely up to you.Serdar Yegulalp