Maja S.K. Ratkje - Sult [Rune Grammofon - 2019]Sult is the latest release from the highly talented Maja S.K. Ratkje- Norwegian composer, singer, genre blender & noise maker. The nine-track album sees her taking Norse folk music as a starting point- to create a work that moves from low-key & awkward harmonic grandeur, powerful & stirring vocalisations, and moody-to-playful subtle noise making.
Sult is the Norwegian word for hunger- it’s also the title of the 1890 novel by Knut Hamsun, for which quotes are used from here for all but one of the track titles here. The nine-track album is based on the music Rakje wrote for a 2018 production of Ballet, also called Sult by Jo Strøgren- though the music does sound in any way traditionally scored ballet music.
For the album Ratkje users a fairly pared back, and seemingly fairly organic blend of pump organ – which had a wind machine built into. Metal & PVC tubes, guitar & bass strings, resin thread, metal & glass percussion, and a bow. And of course, Ratkje voice which goes from rich & soaring, to melodic & grand, onto jittering & slightly deranged.
The album has a runtime of forty-one minutes, with each of the tracks lasting between three & nearing eight minutes. The album opens with the instrumental & slowly plodding awkwardness & stop/ start melodic forlornness of “Introduksjon – Denne Forunderlige By”. With the third track “Den Sprættende Bevægelse Min Fot Gjør Hver Gang Pulsen Slår”, the pipe organ has picked up a pace, and is added to by scraping & spiralling textures. Fairly soon Ratkje’s almost jazzy spluttering-to- rising powerful voice appears, along with the very effective addition of dragging & scaping chains, and tinkling glass- all creating a wonderful otherworldly blend of wonky beauty.
Track six “Øine Som Råsilke, Armer Av Rav” is a spaced-out tapestry of twanging guitar, hovering pipe organ, and Ratkje's rich & emotive vocalising- that sail around the track like a warming 'n' haunting wind. The second to last track "Jeg Fornemmer Mine Sko Som En Sagte Susende Tone Imot Meg"- starts in a slightly sourly jaunting-meets- off-kilter cabaret way feel, as we get the churning loops of slightly wavering pipe-organ & Ratkje smoky wails. Before turning quite manic & unpredictable with clip-clop percussion, springing fairground horn bellows, bounding noir like bass, and sudden-though- fleeting pained vocal billowing. The album dips out in wonderful forlornly harmonic simplicity with "Kristiania"- with it’s rising curls of pipe organ drone & spiral.
As an album Sult feels both intimate & felt, yet playful & powerful- blending instrumental honesty, with creative & quirky sound making. It’s an album that creeps up & slowly charms you- certainly something a little different from Ms Ratkje. Roger Batty