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Erik Honoré: Erik Honore: Heliographs

John Kelman By

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If patience is a virtue, then Erik Honoré is, indeed, one virtuous man. Over the past few decades he's built a busy career as a novelist and record producer in his home country of Norway, and has come to increasing international attention as co-Artistic Director of the Punkt Live Remix festival—that globe-trotting festival with a philosophy that is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary in its hometown of Kristiansand in September, 2014. He's also become a more active participant on recordings over the past few years, performing on recordings by trumpter Arve Henriksen like Cartography (ECM, 2008) and Places of Worship (Rune Grammofon, 2013); with fellow Punkt co-Artistic Director Jan Bang on ...and poppies from Kandahar (SamadhiSound, 2010) and Narrative from the Subtropics (Jazzland, 2013); and shared the marquee with Bang on Uncommon Deities (SamadhiSound, 2012) and life partner/singer Greta Aagre on the more song-based Year of the Bullet (Jazzland, 2012). But he's never released an album under his own name until now, and if it's been a long wait and very gradual lead-up to the keyboardist/sampler/producer's Heliographs, it also brings to mind another adage: that good things come to those who wait—except that, in this case, it's not just a good thing, it's a very, very good thing.

Joining Honoré on his leader debut is a mix of Norwegian musicians, many of whom have been active participants at the Punkt Festival since its inception in 2005, including perennials Bang, Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and singer Sidsel Endresen, along with occasional attendee, percussionist Ingar Zach. Dutch violinist Jeffrey Bruinisma guests on "Red Café"—largely driven by Honoré's spare synth bass and only occasionally augmented with additional string samples and hints of flutes buried in the mix, it's one of most spartan and, most importantly, grounded pieces on an ethereal, nine-piece recording that often feels as though it was made either on or under water—and that's not a criticism; it's a wonderfully evocative sensation that Honoré has somehow managed to achieve from his decades of experience working in the studio.

Honoré's reverb-drenched synth bass, deep, swelling drones and harmonically static ambient colors combine with Zach's texture-rich percussion—which includes bells that sound like navigational buoys and a bevy of electro-processed instruments—to make the darkly evocative "Last Chance Gas & Water" both an album centrepiece and highlight; Heliographs' longest piece—taking up nearly a quarter of its 37-minute duration—the piece also incorporates samples from Norwegian electroacoustic experimentalists Okvango towards the end of its near-nine minute journey, with just a brief hint of trumpeter Mathias Eick emerging from the ocean depths before the piece submerges, once again, into the obsidian deep and fades to total dark.

Paralleling music's ability to convey messages with Heliographs' titular, solar telegraph instrument, "Strife" is a cacophonous miniature that blends a chaos of bells, gongs, Zach's trademark massive bass drum—laid flat on a stand and across which he rubs other instruments as well as using electronic devices and toys that he sets in motion on the massive drum head to create sounds for which the instrument was certainly never intended—with Honoré's synths and some unexpectedly jagged guitar work from Aarset, creating a sonic tension that is only released with the following "Sanctuary Revisited." Earlier, on "Sanctuary," Endresen only hints at the more fully-formed melodies that she would bring to bear on the hauntingly beautiful "Revisited." Recent years have found the innovative singer building a new vocal language—literally from the ground up, based on tiny vocal cells that she combines to build larger constructs—but even in the extremes of her more improvisational contexts with others including Humcrush and, in particular, guitarist Stian Westerhus, she has never turned her back on a capacity for greater beauty. and deeper lyricism Still, it's rare to hear her sing something that more closely resembles song form these days, making "Sanctuary Revisited"—one of three appearances by Endresen on Heliographs—a particularly notable one.

Elsewhere, on the opening "Navigators," Endresen is more decidedly about using her voice as an instrument. While her work largely blends seamlessly with Honoré's, there are brief moments where she emerges in the forefront—magically evoking, with nothing but her voice, the same underwater sensations shaped by Honoré's layers upon layers of samples, synthesizers and field recordings.

Norwegian trumpeter (and Punkt regular) Nils Petter Molvaer doesn't make a real-time appearance on Heliographs, but a looped sample of his playing from "Dead Indeed"—first recorded on Solid Ether (ECM, 2000)— drives "Pioneer Trail," the album's most groove-driven track that use Molvær's contribution as the context for a piece of electro-centric minimalism. Aarset's soundscaping can be found on both "Pioneer Trail" and "Strife," but it's at its most discernible on the closing "Departed," a brooding, elegiac miniature that, rather than submersed in the deeps, seems to reach for the heavens, a tranquil closer to an album that manages to traverse a broad range of emotional landscapes.

Having worked together with Bang since their teens, it's always been something of a challenge, given the electronic nature of their work, to discern who is doing what when watching the two in a live remix at Punkt. Thankfully, first with Bang's solo recordings beginning with ...and poppies from Kandahar, and now with the equally superb Heliographs, the delineation between their work is becoming more evident. In performance, Bang has always been the one driven by an internal rhythm (even when there is none seemingly there to be found), while Honoré has been the sedentary one who—albeit with eyes and ears always open—provides but the slightest of smiles to suggest how he's feeling about the music. With Heliographs—an album rooted in precedents like Brian Eno, David Sylvian and Jon Hassell, but which could not have occurred were it not for his ten years co-directing Punkt and participating in countless live remixes, both in Kristiansand and abroad—Honoré may have taken the long route to these paths far less travelled, but the end result is an album that eschews convention and utilizes sound as a driver that challenges the mind to keep up, even as it digs deeply at the heart and soul.

Track Listing: Navigators; Halfway House; Sanctuary; Pioneer Trail; Red Café; Last Chance Gas & Water; Strife; Sanctuary Revisited; Departed.

Personnel: Erik Honoré: samples, synthesizers, synth bass, rhythm programming, field recording; Sidsel Endresen: voice (1, 3, 8); Ingar Zach: percussion (2, 3, 6-8); Jan Bang: samples (1, 4), rhythm programming (4); Eivind Aarset: guitar (4, 7, 9); Jeffrey Bruinsma: violin ( 5); Arve Henriksen: trumpet (7); Jo Wang: samples from “Between Fingertip and Key” (3); Okavango: samples from “Fountain” (6), from the album Okavango, produced by Erik Honoré; Nils Petter Molvær: sampled from “Dead Indeed” (4).

Title: Erik Honore: Heliographs | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Hubro Records


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