VA: Until Human Voices Wake Us And We Drown
Kim Hiorthoy's instantly identifiable design and illustrative work has always been a critical component of the Rune Grammofon aesthetic and nowhere is that more evident than in the remarkable Until Human Voices Wake Us And We Drown, a 19-track collection celebrating the label's 50 releases. Each of the set's five 10-inch discs is encased in a full-colour slipcase, then housed within a sturdy box and accompanied by a 16-page booklet displaying the label's catalogue to date—the presentation alone making the purchase worthwhile. Equally interesting is the sleight-of-hand that occurs when content is ‘packaged' this way. Each vinyl side contains about 10 minutes of music, with each artist represented by a single piece in the five- to 10-minute range. Not only does restricting the material to a 10-minute sampling concentrate one's focus upon it, but the sumptuous morsels whet one's appetite for a larger portion of the artist's work. Had the label issued the material as two 50-minute discs, the material would have settled into collective wholes, lessening the focus on its individual parts. In addition, a 10-minute side flashes past in an instant, a fact that overshadows the set's actual 100-minute length—a duration that might have proved wearying had the material been presented in a double-disc format. But enough about the format: put simply, the presentation is masterfully conceived and executed, though not so brilliant it renders the music secondary.
Revealing careful consideration in its diversity and sequencing, the set follows classical composition with jazz ferocity, meditative soundscaping, poignant balladry, and finally electronic experimentalism. On disc one, Fartein Valen's “The Churchyard by the Sea” plunges the listener into a deep and timeless orchestral ocean that in its brooding character recalls Sibelius, before Supersilent's “4.3” incinerates disc two with a writhing monstrosity of grinding bass squabble, eviscerating guitar, and slippery drum polyrhythms. The tumultuous jazz trip continues with Scorch Trio's frenzied “Taajus” and MoHa's volcanic “B1” before Alog's “Severe Punishment and Lasting Bliss” cools the pace, subtly morphing incandescent organ tones into a languorous, slow-burning drone that, in its later moments, recalls Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting. After Phonophani dusts off the vocoder for the folk-psychedelia of “Lavenderloops,” t he ululating whisper of Nils Økland's hand-carved Hardanger fiddle dominates the entrancing “Månelyst.” Disc four's folk emphasis continues with Arve Henrikson's solo spotlight “Sanmon-Main Entrance,” his trumpet sounding uncannily like a Shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute, while Food's elegant “Daddycation” calls to mind similarly lovely ballad settings by The Art Ensemble of Chicago (which Food closely resembles here, Henriksen in particular evoking Lester Bowie). On disc five, as much of a wildcat as the second, Svalastog's nightmarish “Feil Remix” rumbles and groans with elephantine purpose, Strønen/Storløkken's “Sport'n'Spice” lifts off to Jupiter following eruptions of loose-limbed drum invention, and Maja Ratkje's aptly-titled “Chipmunk Party” swarms with rabid animal chatter.
On the one hand, it seems a shame that Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and Deathprod, to cite two examples, are represented by single songs, in this case the devastatingly beautiful “Believer” and predictably funereal “Twin Decks” respectively. But in the next breath, one realizes that while, yes, the practice is strategic—the label presuming that an enticing teaser of an individual artist will draw the listener further into its catalogue—it's also reasonable, as it's the one way the label can showcase its roster within a 100-minute running time.Those who can't get enough of Deathprod, incidentally, would be wise to seek out the 10-inch 6-track, a natural complement to the box set and, needless to say, an equally stunningly release in its presentation (the charcoal black gatefold sleeve and disc are free of text, with details relegated to an accompanying black insert) and content. The disc includes five remixes of material by Nils Petter Molvær, Murcof, Larsen, and Cloroform plus one Deathprod original, “Deerstalker” from the Money Will Ruin Everything compilation. It's ultimately moot, however, whether the contents are originals or interpretations when it's all shrouded in Deathprod's signature gloom; anyone listening for traces of Molvær's guitar playing, for example, will hear little trace of it. The six pieces roll like black clouds over decimated plains, offering an understated portrait that's more placid than unsettling. In the end, 6-track hardly rivals the more seminal Morals and Dogma but remains a worthy addition to the Deathprod catalogue.