Thursday, February 22, 2018

Laura Steenberge / Taming Power

Laura Steenberge - Harmonica Fables
Nueni #007. CD

Taming Power - Selections For Fort Evil Fruit
Fort Evil Fruit. FEF63. Cassette/DL
100 copies.

By its own admission the Bilbao/Berlin based label Nueni Recs goes in for ‘risky’ music. They also adopt an ‘anticopyright’ stance meaning you can share at will. Its a stance I wholeheartedly applaud and with music of such a difficult nature it should be encouraged. If you’re in this game for the money you’re in the wrong game. The audience is tiny here it needs all the encouragement it can get.

According to her online bio Steenberge’s work is ‘a study of nonsense and the boundaries of knowledge’, medieval Byzantine chant plays a part too. That doesn’t sound too difficult does it but then here comes Harmonica Fables.

Which is Steenberge blowing up and down a harmonica. Not that this is an hours worth of Larry Adler does Bob Dylan on drugs but the first two tracks ‘Ritual for Harmonica’ and ‘Chant - Harmonica’ are the hardest to endure [and for the most part I did endure] both being lengthy explorations in to the sonic vibrations created when lips meet instrument and deep breaths resonate with reed plate. With ‘Ritual for Harmonica’ Steenberge alternates lengthy rasps on the harmonica with breathy incantations, the much longer [twenty minutes worth] of ‘Chant - Harmonica’ is a connected series of shorter blasts where Steenberge combines breathing and harmonica creating a dual pitch drone that depending on your bent is either aurally stimulating or just plain annoying. I have to admit to being drawn in to it at one point but trying to key in to its abrasiveness is a difficult task. There are two further sections; three ‘Spheres’ where the blowing and breathing is sweeter and four final tracks that are the nearest we’re going to get here to melody. ‘The King’s Ears’ ventures in to Laurie Anderson territory with an eruption of wordless tones to compliment the sawing while last track ‘Rip Van Winkle’ is, as its title suggests a lullaby. After all that gone before its a welcome relief.

Comparisons with Norway’s Askild Haugland and his mighty Taming Power project are worth considering with several Taming Power works verging on the unlistenable. His work for feedback-ing reel to reel tape recorders and the over amplified clanging of guitar harmonics are the kind of sounds designed to empty rooms of people of a nervous disposition, the latter managing to create that not really sought after trapped inside a grandfather clock feel.

'Selections for Fort Evil Fruit' is what it says on the tin. This is only the second time this has happened with everything else coming through his own Early Morning Records imprint. Not all of it is unreleased but by its nature its hard to come by and will for most people be a first time listen.

As ever all the track titles [and there are 14 of them] are the dates on which they were created with the first three tracks all composed in the year 2017 all three being thee most exquisite melancholic electric guitar pieces, each note a delicately struck and rung tremulous thing of ectoplasmic beauty. They have the making of a soundtrack to a film about Norwegian winters, or a Nordic road movie where nothing much happens. As we go further back [and we go as far back as 1998] the mood takes a darker turn with the emergence of reversed tape loops and primitive electronics with their frozen lo-fi drone blasts. Some tracks veer in to experimental territory with the ghosts of what was recorded being laid to rest on the magnetic strip in a cloudy swirl of echo. 

Haugland’s work under the Taming Power moniker is instantly recognisable. He's managed to create his own soundworld and by the sound of it he's happy doing that with little in the way of feedback or interaction. Here’s someone working in isolation and relative obscurity with little in the way of influence to guide you and little in the way of a web presence. Its partly why his work has such impact. It comes at you as if from nowhere while leaving behind it the vividest of memories.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to have most of the Early Morning Records back catalogue through these doors. Its a motherlode of vinyl delivered as if from a higher being. We can only watch and listen and hope he carries on recording. For now though this collection of his work, one of the few available online, is where those who’ve been slow to the show can start playing catch up.

Fort Evil Fruit

Nueni Recs

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