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In the Heart of Nature: Køs and Mare Berger

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Human beings have always tried to figure out their relationship with nature. We look at nature from a distance, but we are also a part of it. We dream of wild nature in the city and seek the answers to the future in the past. The dream of unspoiled nature keeps popping up as a pre-industrialized mirror image of what we used to be, and yet, the electronic roots of the post-industrial society create new versions of utopia.

Music is one of the ways in which to imagine a better world, or perhaps just a way to describe and sense what is already there. The following two records both get to the heart of nature, but in different ways. One is an instrumental journey in sound and the other uses vocal to grasp the beauty of nature. Both are complex and poetic musical explorations of melody and texture.

Køs
An Uncaught Bird
Forlaget Kornmod
2020

Køs is a Danish trio from Copenhagen consisting of alto saxophonist Maria Dybbroe and drummer Kristian Isholm Saarup with Valdemar Kragelund adding electronics. As a part of the experimental underground in Copenhagen, they have played in different constellations, but in Køs they have created a very special project.

While each track on the album, An Uncaught Bird, works as a world of its own, the sum is greater than the parts. The connection between the tracks is underlined by the titles that form a poem when pieced together and read chronologically. The Anthropocene perspective is transgressed, and instead the music can be understood as the journey of a bird taking flight from the first steps on "Earth's Green Carpet" to the final release "Through Rays of Light" and "Freedom Feathers." The sounds of land, sea and sky are in the music.

Dybbroe plays the instrument of another bird, Charlie Parker, but the way she treats the alto is closer to the wide-open landscapes of Jan Garbarek. But Dybbroe has her own approach and plays strong melodic lines and finely woven tapestries of layered saxophone, spiraling and echoing in pure delight on the aforementioned "Through Rays of Light," and all the while, the differences between the saxophone, atmospheric percussion and electronics are blurred and something extraordinary happens as the trio finds its own way in the lush landscape they conjure. Nature is reflected in the music, but the music also becomes nature. The bird of music is set free.

Mare Berger
The Moon Is Always Full
Self Produced
2020

Nature also plays an important role in the music of Mare Berger whose intimate acoustic chamber pop uses the core components of voice, piano, strings and guitar. It's music that emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things, as Berger sings on the opening track, "Even When We Forget": "We are the roots of the tree / we are its leaves falling."

The pantheistic nature of the lyrics fit the romantic mood of the music, but the lyrics reach deeper than just the immediate connection with nature. It opens an emotional landscape of paradoxes, like the intimacy of distance in "Step Away My Dear": "When light's too bright / we cannot see / A sound too loud / We cannot hear / plants too close / cannot grow / step away / step away, my dear."

In the same paradoxical way, Berger surprisingly praises the unwelcome feeling of fear in the softly picked guitar piece "Praise This Fear," simply because it's part of life.

Musically, the songs drift softly with a glowing poetic presence. The strings change between the top and the bottom and the piano carries a melody like a drifting cloud. The songs become arabesques that grow organically, preventing the forms from becoming stale. Instead, Berger finds a careful balance between form and freedom while pondering deep philosophical questions about existence. These are not only songs of love, but also an examination of what it means to live and embrace the complex world of nature.

Tracks and Personnel

An Uncaught Bird

Tracks: Earth's Green Carpet; The Rushing Sea; An Uncaught Bird; Hovering, hovering; In Lifting Fog; As a Reflection; Ascending; Through Rays of Light; Freedom Feathers.

Personnel: Maria Dybbroe: alto saxophone; Valdemar Kragelund: electronics; Kristian Saarup: drums.

The Moon Is Always Full

Tracks: Even When We Forget; Step Away My Dear; Already Whole; Stardust; The Moon Is Full; Praise This Fear; Wondering; You Are Within.

Personnel: Mare Berger: voice/piano/guitar/compositions; Rebecca Sullivan: voice; Jean Rohe: voice; Ludovica Burtone: violin; Abby Swidler: violin; Joanna Mattrey: viola; Kristen Drymala: cello and Ilusha Tsinadze: guitar/voice.

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