Music Reviews

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Artist: MARHAUG/ASHEIM
Title: Grand Mutation
Format: CD
Label: Touch
Rated: *****
The Spire series on Touch (www.spire.org.uk) has already given space to an impressive number of creative and unorthodox performers (from Z'EV to field recording master Toshiya Tsunoda) working with church organs, with often amazing results. This full-length by Norwegian performers Lasse Marhaug (electronics) and Nils Henrik Asheim (organ) is possibly the most daring and successful of the whole lot, and immediately ranks among the best fringe recordings of 2007. The two, collaborating since the 2004 All Ears festival, met again in 2006 to improvise in Oslo Cathedral, and recorded one hour worth of material, which was then structured into five pieces and mixed down by Marhaug last January. Both must have been in a state of grace, because the interplay and the power of these 56'35" are incredible. In "Bordunal", a suspended drone fills the air, with floating high frequencies and ebbing low tones. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine it as smoke or fog layers. Then, Asheim starts emitting higher wails, like whale calls, soon pierced by Marhaug's noise bursts; then, the latter's interventions drown everything in an electric storm. "Phoneuma" is equally varied, with airy, slowly modulated tones made thicker by electronic throbs, then ground by darker frequencies and mechanical loops, up to an epic crescendo; Asheim eventually breaks loose accumulating exhilarating clusters, and Marhaug tries to fight back, tooth and nail, with his devices. At the end, you start feeling dizzy. "Magnaton" is a short touch&go piece where abrupt organ notes battle with the screeching chaos of the oscillators, and such a tempest is followed by the two quietest tracks, "Philomela" and "Claveolina". The former is a static quicksand puddle of low-end tones and sinewaves, streaked by Asheim with menacing higher tones. Any intemperance is finally quenched in the lulling drones of "Claveolina", closing the often physical ambience of "Grand Mutation" with a dreamy catalepsy.



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