By the time Maja S. K. Ratkje graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2000, the twenty-seven year old had already won one of the most prestigious awards in Norwegian music, an Edvardprisen. This came in 1999, when Waves 11b won an Edvardprisen in the contemporary music minor work category. This was the perfect start to her nascent career.

Maja’s recording career had begun in 1999, when improv quartet Spunk released their debut album Det Eneste Jeg Vet Er At Det Ikke Er En Støvsuger in 1999. Back then, Maja was still studying for her diploma in composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. However, by the time Maja graduated, she was already thinking of her musical future.

A year later in 2001, Spunk released their next album Filtered Through Friends. Just like their debut album, Filtered Through Friends was heralded a groundbreaking album. Later in 2001, Maja won another prestigious award, the Arne Nordheims Composer Prize. Maja’s star was in the ascendancy.

And so it proved. 2002 was an important year in Maja’s career. Not only did Spunk release their third album Den Øverste Toppen På En Blåmalt Flaggstang, but Maja released her debut solo album Voice. It was released on Rune Grammofon, who recently released Maja S. K. Ratkje new album Crepuscular Hour. It’s one of the most ambitious albums of Maja’s long and illustrious career.

Later in 2002, formed noise duo Fe-Mail with Hild Sofie Tafjord. Fe-mail and eleased their debut album Syklubb Fra Hælvete. It was a low profile release, with just 500 vinyl copies of the album pressed. However, by 2004 Syklubb Fra Hælvete was released on CD in America by Important Records. 

2004 would prove to be another important year in Maja’s career.  Fe-Mail returned with their sophomore album All Men Are Pigs. It featured another leading light of the Norwegian experimental music scene, Lasse Marhaug. The result was a captivating collaboration. The same cane be said of another album Maja released in 2004.

Already, Maja  was collaborating with other artists. She had featured on the album Sinus Seduction, which was released in 2002. Two years later, in 2004, Maja  released Majaap, which was her first collaboration with Dutch composer and sound poet Jaap Blonk. By then, Maja had won the second Edvardprisen of her career, when  No Title Performance and Sparkling Water won the open category. For Maja, was further recognition that she was one of Norwegian music’s most innovative composers, musicians and performers. 

Buoyed by having won her second Edvardprisen in 2004, Maja’s career continued apace. She released Post-Human Identities, her second collaboration with Jaap Blonk in 2005. Then in November 2005, Spunk returned after a three year break with their fourth album En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom. It was a welcome return from the improv quartet. En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom was a reminder of an exciting and innovative group. Equally innovative was Maja’s sophomore solo album, which was released in 2006.

For Maja, 2006 proved to be one of the busiest years of her career. Fe-Mail, who released their third album Bixter Toad. Then later in 2006, Maja released Ballads, her collaboration with John Hegre. However, one of the most anticipated albums of 2006 was Maja’s sophomore albium Adventura Anatomica. It was a cerebral, challenging and groundbreaking fusion of abstract, avant-garde, experimental and noise. Adventura Anatomica proved to be worth the four year wait.

There was  no four year wait for Maja’s third album. Instead, Telp was released in 2007, and was the start of a four year period where Maja released an album each year. River Mouth Echo was released in 2008, with Cyborgic following in 2009 and Danse Macabre in 2010. During this period, the only side project Maja was involved with, was Kantarell, Spunk’s fifth album. It would be another four years before Spunk returned.

Over the next few years, Maja collaborated with a variety of artists. She collaborated with the ensemble Poing on the 2011 album Watch Auf. Then as 2012 dawned, the album Treasure Hunt was released in January. It was a collaboration between Ikue Mori, Simon Balestrazzi, Sylvie Courvoisier, Alessandro Olla and Maja. However, in 2013 a project that began in 2008 came to fruition.

This was the album Janus, which Joachim Montessuis and Maja had been collaborating on since 2008. It wasn’t until 2013 that the album was complete, and released. Janus was one of the most ambitious albums Maja had been involved in. Experimental mouth music, sonic poetry and improvised electronics were combined on Janus. However, it wasn’t the only collaboration Maja released during 2013.

Her  other collaboration was Scrumptious Sabotage. It was  a collaboration between Maja and Ikue Mori. They had collaborated as part of a collective on the album Treasure Hunt in 2012. Following the Treasure Hunt project, Ikue Mori and Maja began work on Scrumptious Sabotage. It was released to critical acclaim in 2013. The following year, featured another collaboration, and a comeback.

Maja’s next collaboration came in 2014, when she released Maja S. K. Ratkje In Dialogue With Eugeniusz Rudnik. This album of Musique Concrète was released to critical acclaim, and further reinforced Maja’s reputation as a musical pioneer. That included the music she released with Spunk. 

Five years after Spunk released their last album, they returned in 2014 with not one, but two albums. The first was their studio album Adventura Botanica. It was followed by Live In Molde, where Spunk were joined by French double bassist, vocalist, and composer Joëlle Léandre. She had involved in the European improv scene since for over thirty years, and released her debut album Taxi in 1982. Since then, Joëlle Léandre had released over one hundred albums, including countless collaboration. Live In Molde was just the latest. Maja had a long way to go before she caught up with Joëlle Léandre.

Maja made a start in July 2015, when Celadon was released. It was another collaboration. This time, Maja was joined by Jon Wesseltoft, Camille Norment and Per Gisle Galåen. Celadon was an album of avant-garde music where a quartet of sonic pioneers pushed musical boundaries to their limits. The resultant album was released to critical acclaim, and hailed as a truly ambitious album. So would an album Maja released in 2016.

As Maja prepared to release her first solo album for six years, a collaboration she had recorded in 2013 with Saka was released. Rasaka was released in February 2016, and was billed as Saka with Maja S. K. Ratkje. However, the next album Maja S. K. Ratkje released, saw her take the star billing.

That’s no surprise. Crepuscular Hour is one of the most ambitious projects that Maja S. K. Ratkje has been involved with.  It was inspired by the phenomena of crepuscular rays, where rays of sunlight stream through gaps in clouds or any number of other obstacles. Having discovered and investigated  the phenomena of crepuscular rays, Maja S. K. Ratkje set about writing Crepuscular Hour, which would be performed by a rather unorthodox lineup of three choirs, three pairs of noise musicians and a church organ. 

Crepuscular Hour was performed at the concert at the Huddersfield Town Hall. The performance featured RNCM Chamber Choir, the University Of Huddersfield Chamber Choir and The 24 Choir. They were joined by Antoine Chessex, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Lasse Marhaug, Mark Durgan, Nils Henrik Asheim, Phil Julian and Stian Westerhus and The 24.  While this one hour performance took place, Aideen Malone took charge of an impressive light installation. However, there was one major difference in the way Crepuscular Hour was performed.

When Crepuscular Hour is performed, the noise musicians and choir surround the audience. They’re accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a church organ. It adds to the drama and plays an important part in Crepuscular Hour’s impressive sound.

Along with the noise musicians and choir, the organ produces a sound that’s variously impressive, dramatic and intense to ruminative, mesmeric and hypnotic. The listener is drawn in, and soon, is spellbound at music that becomes dramatic and intense. Sometimes, the best way to describe the music is ethereal and elegiac. Other times the music takes on a spiritual quality. That’s not surprising.

The texts that are used in the recording of Crepuscular Hour, have been taken from the Nag Hammadi Library. This was discovered in Egypt in 1945. and is a collection that comprises thirteen ancient books which feature in excess of fifty texts. These texts proved hugely important, and resulted in scholars reexamining early Christian history. However, nearly seventy years later, these texts would play an important part in Crepuscular Hour.

As the performance of Crepuscular Hour takes place, the listener reflects on music that’s thoughtful, cerebral and occasionally, challenging. However, for much of the time, Crepuscular Hour has an inherent beauty. There’s a serenity to music that’s ethereal, elegiac and has a spiritual quality. Always though, the music on Crepuscular Hour is captivating,  ambitious and innovative as the choirs combine with the noise musicians who push musical boundaries. The result is an album that’s a sonic and visual feast.

Earlier, I said that Rune Grammofon’s recent release of Crepuscular Hour was a double album. The first disc is a CD, while the second disc is a DVD, which features a recording of Crepuscular Hour. It was recorded on 20th November 2012, at the Huddersfield Musical Festival. This was only the second time The Crepuscular Hour was performed. The premiere took place at the prestigious Ultima Festival in Oslo in 2010. However, when Crepuscular Hour was premiered, the performance wasn’t being recorded, with a view to releasing it as a double album.

Everything had to go to plan when Crepuscular Hour was performed at the concert at the Huddersfield Town Hall. The performance  began at 10pm, and fortunately, everything went to plan. This sonic and visual feast features on the DVD.

As Crepuscular Hour plays, the audience were encouraged to walk around and experience the light being filtered between the various obstacles and musicians in Huddersfield Town Hall. This meant that the audience were able to experience firsthand the phenomena of crepuscular rays. The result is an impressive, captivating and mesmeric experience. It’s truly memorable, and one that hopefully Maja S. K. Ratkje will decide to revisit. 

Crepuscular Hour is a project that deserves to be heard and seen by a much wider audience. However, putting on such an event is expensive and complex. Even finding musicians and choirs capable of performing Crepuscular Hour isn’t easy. Everyone involved in Crepuscular Hour was hugely talented, and determined to make the project work. However, taking Crepuscular Hour to a wider audience would be expensive and logistical nightmare. 

Fortunately, Crepuscular Hour was recorded and filmed at the Huddersfield Music Festival in 2012. Four years later, and  Crepuscular Hour can be enjoyed by a much wider audience. That’s thanks to Rune Grammofon, who released this lovingly curated double album. It’s a welcome reminder of Maja S. K. Ratkje’s truly ambitious and innovative multi media project Crepuscular Hour.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: