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Album Review

Experimental singer Maja Ratkje released her first solo album a few months after the second CD by her main group, Spunk, racked up a fair number of positive reviews from the avant-garde press. Expectations were high and Voice surely meets them. The album is co-produced by Ratkje and Jazzkammer's John Hegre and Lasse Marhaug, although the term "co-produced" remains a bit vague and the collaboration could run a little deeper. The 11 pieces use only Ratkje's voice as a sound source, but they cover a wide spectrum of textures and dynamics, from echo-drenched a cappella singing (at the beginning of "Vacuum") to torturing noise assaults ("Insomnia"), going through a number of sample- and processed file-based constructions in between. Ratkje is messing with listeners' minds as she toys around with sharp contrasts of quiet/loud, soft/harsh, and seductive/painful. She knows she has a beautiful, flexible voice that can both charm like Björk and puzzle like Phil Minton — and she purposefully deceives the listener. "Trio" starts softly with overlaid, droning textures and a voice-derived beat, only to burst into mad, distorted screaming. "Vacuum" is the magnum opus of the disc, a captivating 12-minute composition that takes listeners up close and personal with her voice. "Dictaphone Jam" makes the best out of the low fidelity of the recording device. The closing "Insomnia" is the strangest track: After an outburst of multi-tracked screams interrupted by laughter (probably recorded on a dictaphone again), the piece adds three postludes, each quieter than the previous one, like short dreams. Harsher than what most people were expecting and closer to Jazzkammer than Spunk, Voice hides Ratkje's impressive vocal prowess under a wall of electronics. After the initial shock wears off, one can only admit that it was a good idea. Recommended, but definitely not for the faint at heart. ~ François Couture, Rovi


Born: 29 December 1973 in Trondheim, Norway

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Composer of orchestral works, composer of electro-acoustic works, opera performer, free improviser, and experimental electronica artist: Maja Ratkje was able to claim all these titles before her 30th birthday. The Norwegian singer has been active on many fronts since the mid-'90s, winning composition prizes in her home country before starting to build an international reputation, first as part of the all-female free improv quartet Spunk, then as a solo artist. Her first solo album, simply titled...
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Voice, Maja Ratkje
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