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Go to the Hilde Marie Holsen website  Hilde Marie Holsen - Lazuli [Hubro - 2018]

Hilde Marie Holsen is a Norwegian trumpet player who blends her processed brass playing with the sort of noirish Scandinavian sound we associate with the likes of Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang and Nils Petter Molvaer. This is her second full length album coming after the critically acclaimed Ask from 2015.

The unprepossessing cover to the record which features the front of a rundown house with rubble in the garden gives nothing away of the sounds to be found within. The theme of the record (or at least its titles) is coloured minerals; hence the songs Orpiment, Eskolaite (a rare greenish variant of Chromium oxide) and Lapis Lazuli. All of these minerals were used as the base for pigments prior to the development of modern paints. The implication then is perhaps a riff on the notion of tonal colour or of the creation of artistic forms using natural materials.

Certainly something like this seems to be going on with Holsen's music which deploys a raft of found and processed sounds alongside her ghostly drifting trumpet playing. Orpiment is something of a vignette opening the record with low drones, organ-like sounds and Holsen brass which rises mysteriously like a spectre stalking a desolate landscape. Eskolaite brings in more rhythmic electronics, drawn again from what sounds like found material; little glitches, scrapes and audio artifacts. There's an uncomplicated way in which she uses these sounds, choosing to focus in on a limited pallet rather than try to overwhelm the listener with a complex layered soundscape. This approach, which draws comparisons both to Jan Bang and even Thomas Koner, gives her space to situate the trumpet centre stage; at times calling out forlornly across the skittering electronics, then bubbling away in the distance under reverb and delay.

On Lapis Holsen brings the trumpet further forward, allowing it to open the piece with long breathy notes using less processing. Soon enough though the electronics join in and a lovely spectral delay/reverb is applied to the horn, casting lilting shadows across the piece. There's a good deal of bass drone here neatly offsetting distant clicks and rustles of activity which here and there threaten to move forward but never quite get there. As with all the music presented here the electronics and brass playing sit beautifully together, responding to and complimenting each other in subtle tonal movements.

The title track Lazuli at nearly 17 minutes duration is the longest on the album by far and affords Holsen the time to sculpt something of a drama. Perfectly arranged distorted synth brass rises like waves against her equally distorted trumpet while the found sounds ebb and sway across the mix. It's never aggressive, but like the whole of the record hits a combination of sound design and instrumental virtuosity with aplomb. Past ten minutes Holsen let's her trumpet rest and we're immersed into that strange world of drones and found sounds that has shadowed us this far. Again the range of sources is carefully limited and chosen seemingly for the counterpoint they provide to the brass which soon again rises, like Virgil leading us through the gloom of a hellish landscape.

While not a household name Hilde Marie Holsen has produced a remarkably coherent and mature work of contemporary composition, one which easily stands alongside the best produced by the likes of Henriksen, Molvaer and John Hassell. Her sensitivity to tone colour and the possibilities inherent in audio processing make Lazuli a mysterious joy to listen to.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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