Maja S. K. Ratkje-Sult.

Rune Grammofon.

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,  a church organ and an impressive light installation. The result was an album where the music veers between dramatic and intense to ruminative, mesmeric and hypnotic and becomes ethereal and elegiac and other times, spiritual and serene. It was a captivating,  ambitious and innovative album which pushed musical boundaries and was a sonic and visual feast. However, the big question was how would Maja S. K. Ratkje followup Crepuscular Hour?

Three years after the release of  Crepuscular Hour, Maja S. K. Ratkje was back with the followup Suit, a  a balletic interpretation of a Knut Hamsen novel which was premiered in Oslo in spring of 2018. Sult which has just been released by the Rune Grammofon label, and is another ambitious and innovative album from a true musical maverick and pioneer.

The music on Sult was originally created for the ballet Hunger by director Jo Strømgren for the Norwegian National Ballet. This was a first for  Maja S. K. Ratkje whose more used to playing live and recording albums. However, Maja S. K. Ratkje is a versatile, imaginative and inventive musician. 

Proof of that was the arsenal of instruments Maja S. K. Ratkje used to record Sult. This included an out of tune pump organ which had been heavily modified. Metal and PVC tubes were joined by a wind machine in S. K. Ratkje as she sang and played the pump organ, which she only learned to play relatively recently. Despite this, S. K. Ratkje is a confident player who is able to play the pump organ with both hands and feet, while singing. This was no mean feat as an array of disparate objects are transformed into makeshift musical objects. Among them are , a bass string, a bow, guitar strings, a resin thread and metal and glass percussion. This alternative orchestra accompanied S. K. Ratkje each night as she played live during each and every performance. It was a remarkable and breathtaking performance from S. K. Ratkje that had audiences spellbound each night. They were lucky to see the performances of Sult.

Later, the music was modified and recorded with Frode Haltli co-producing with S. K. Ratkje and became Sult. It stands alone, and works without the visual stimuli of Hunger, which was Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian author’s  breakthrough novel from 1890. 

It’s an atmospheric and semi-autobiographical novel  which takes place in the dusty city of Kristiania, which nowadays, is better known as Oslo. In Hunger and on Sult, street sounds are replicated on Sult are part of the backdrop as the story of a struggling and starving young writer takes shape. Little did Knut Hamsen know how important his breakthrough novel would be.

Nowadays, it’s said that the whole modern school of fiction starts with Hunger, with its twin themes about mental states and the irrationality of the human mind. These are subjects that writers would revisit over the next 129 years, following in Knut Hamsen’s footsteps. So would Maja S. K. Ratkje on Sult.

The best way to describe Sult is an ambitious and innovative album that is captivating and engaging. As Maja S. K. Ratkje plays the pump organ, it’s obvious that musically, it’s seen better days. This doesn’t matter because its creaky, dusty  and unpredictable sound is part of its charm. It’s augmented by the alternative orchestra where chain links, curved steel sheets and metal bars all play their part in the sound of Sult. 

So does Maja S. K. Ratkje’s playing style and vocal, which both dictates how Sult develops. Blurry organ chords and her improvised vocal join forces with the neo-mechanical sound of the alternative orchestra as the tracks take shape. They may not follow traditional song structures, but the music on Sult captivates, is enjoyable and isn’t short of a hook. Especially where while the organ adds a playful refrain during Sult. It’s a truly groundbreaking balletic soundtrack from  musical maverick and pioneer Maja S. K. Ratkje, who continues to push musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes beyond in pursuit of musical excellence, and succeeds in doing so on Sult.

Maja S. K. Ratkje-Sult.


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