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Mikkel Ploug, Sissel Vera Pettersen and Joachim Badenhorst: Equilibrium

Matt Marshall By

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Controlled breathing is a centering, grounding device at the heart of many cultural and spiritual traditions. It is appropriate then that it should be the primary force and focus of Mikkel Ploug, Sissel Vera Pettersen and Joachim Badenhorst's Equilibrium.

Human breath not only fuels Pettersen and Badenhorst's wind instruments, but is fully present in the resulting sound, the instruments used as much to project the breath as to transform it into musical tones. Pettersen's ethereal, often piercing singing eschews lyrics to likewise emphasize more primal human intonations. Steeped in the music of Celtic, African and Asian natives, her voice regularly crosses beyond the human, becoming an instrumental tone that mixes with the sound from Badenhorst's clarinet or sax, itself in an arc toward sounding more human.

Ploug completes the trio with his effects-laden guitar that screeches, squawks and screams along with Pettersen's voice and voice-like electronics. The echoing effects also join with Ploug's more traditional looping lines and chord changes—on both acoustic and electric guitar—to provide a rhythmic, percussive thump, occasionally augmented by the clicking of Badenhorst's clarinet keys.

As its title suggests, the album is a constant exercise in exchange—between the human and the mechanical, the traditional and the cutting-edge, the frightful and the bittersweet—aimed at achieving a certain flowing equilibrium. On "Epiphora," placed at the album's center, Pettersen releases bird calls that morph into human panting, a dynamic echoed on the penultimate "Ambiente," where the breathing is more stressed, the calls more desperate. As the fourth and final part of "Chorale" closes the album (as the first had opened it), the breath cries out its last, dipping into a prolonged, electronic groan. It's an ominous finish to a work that explores the cycles of life with a ceremonial air that offers few lighthearted moments, but is deeply forceful.

Visit Mikkel Ploug, Sissel Vera Pettersen and Joachim Badenhorst on the web.

Track Listing: Chorale I; November; Cathedral; Fri; Soft Spoken; Epiphora; Chorale II; Chords; Aeroide; Takt; Chorale III; Warmth; Ambiente; Chorale IV.

Personnel: Mikkel Ploug: electric and acoustic guitars; Sissel Vera Pettersen: voice, soprano saxophone, live electronics; Joachim Badenhorst: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone.

Title: Equilibrium | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings

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