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Eldbjorg Raknes: Vocal Mastery

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Norwegian singer and music educator Eldbjørg Raknes specialises in setting poetry by other writers to her own music. She began her career collaborating with keyboard player Christian Wallumrød and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and later sang with vocal groups featuring other notable Norwegian vocalists like Sidsel Endresen, Solveig Slettahjell and Kristin Asbjørnsen.

Raknes has been releasing her own albums since 1997, with her band Tingeling and as a solo artist, offering idiosyncratic interpretations of works by Frederico Garcia Lorca, Kurt Schwitters, William Carlos Williams and Swedish poet Karin Boye, among others. Her two latest discs, released simultaneously on her new label, offer further evidence of her originality and creativity.

Eldbjørg Raknes
Solo
My Recordings
2006

Solo begins with a slow, dreamy reading of "Kjetnofaje," in which Raknes sounds as if she is reading a religious psalm (an engulfing, echoing vocal sample enhances the church-like atmosphere). Her formal and rather distant reading of "Strange Fruit" powerfully portrays the horror of a lynching, an act made more awful by being committed in beautiful countryside. Raknes continues with a lovely interpretation of a short song by one of the most famous Norwegian poets, Olav H. Hauge, evoking a charming domestic scene. She whispers a short excerpt from Lorca's Oxbow, overdubbing her vocals with playful, childlike pleasure.

Raknes experiments with sound and language on the rhythmic "Againgain", with guttural squeaks, and as an a capella choir on the beautiful "Two Ways To Waltz Alone." The chilly "Fly? Away?" serves as an introduction to the text of "Comforted?" by Doris Q, a poem which tells of a couple's alientation. She builds rich, multi-phonetic textures on the intricate "I Bære Høre på" and "Operafantomsmerter", and harmonizes magnificently with her dark and expressive voice.

Solo ends with a solemn reading of another poem by Hauge, and a simple recitation of a traditional Swedish song. The dream-like poetic textures of the disc offer a unique musical experience.

Eldbjørg Raknes' Tingeling
I Live Suddenly
My Recordings
2006

On I Live Suddenly Raknes is accompanied by her band, Tingeling, which features such veterans of the Norwegian jazz scene as pianist Maria Kannegaard, guitarist and bassist Nils-Olav Johansen, and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen. Kannegaard's use of the electric piano cradles the album in subdued funky colors, and the economic playing of the two Johansens contrasts effectively with the richness of Raknes' voice.

On this disc, Raknes interprets four works by the Jewish-German poet Paul Celan, one of the most virtuosic verbal poets of the 20th Century. Celan, who never lived in Germany, was a holocaust survivor, and is widely considered to be one of the most important German poets of the post World War 11 era. He committed suicide in 1970. Raknes' straight readings of "You, Lucky" and "I", both excerpts from longer poems, focuses on the way that verbal expression defines, and sometimes defies, human communication. Kannegaard softly cloaks her fragile delivery and the two Johnsens add background vocals.

Radknes' interpretation of one of Celan's most cryptic poems, "There Was Earth Inside Them, And They Dug" is masterful. This poem reflects Celan's personal experience in Nazi concentration camps. It can also be interpreted as a commentary on the human life cycle, or as dealing with absence of god. Raknes emphasises the life-cycle perspective. Her adaption of "I Know," given a funky trip-hop vibe, explores the idea of a "void" in all verbal communication.

Raknes continues with quiet and gentle readings of Robert Frost's "A Minor Bird" and an excerpt from Pablo Neruda's Waltz. She set her music to the poem "Move On" by a fellow Trondheim vocalist, Siri Gjære, that deals with the fleeting nature of life, a theme that is common to all these poems. The reading of Emily Jane Brontë's "Spellbound" suggests a declaration of feminine independence. She gives a stormy rendition of Lorca's "Knock, Knock!," and concludes with a childlike interpration of Dorothy Parker's "Sanctuary."

Raknes' unusual and challenging music requires careful listening to properly appreciate, but the effort is tremendously rewarding.

Visit Eldbjørg Raknes on the web.


Tracks and Personnel

Solo

Tracks: Kjetnofaje; Strange Fruit; Sleep; Pipetrang; I Want To Go Back; Againgain; Two Ways To Waltz Alone; Fly? Away?; Comforted?; I Bære Høre på; Operafantomsmerter; Regnbogane; Vem Kan Segla/Til All.

Personnel: Eldbjørg Raknes: voice & live sampling.

I Live Suddenly

Tracks: See Y; You; Lucky; I; There Was Earth Inside Them, And They Dug; A Minor Bird; I Live Suddenly; Move On; Knock, Knock!; Spellbound; I Know; Sanctuary.

Personnel: Eldbjørg Raknes: voice & live sampling; Maria Kannegaard: electric piano; Nils-Olav Johansen: guitar, bass, voice; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums, voice.


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