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Håkon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal is an exception in the catalogue of the Norwegian label, Hubro Music, but so is the art of percussionist Håkon Stene. Unlike other releases of the acclaimed label, the music does not draw inspiration from improvised music, modern jazz or fusion, prog and post-rock, but it offers distinct meditative compositions by British contemporary composers Laurence Crane and Gavin Bryars, and new original work commissioned by and featuring Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrod, that corresponds with the works of the Britons. Stene's vocabulary is clearly unconventional and spans a rich sonic spectrum beginning with Norwegian folk music. He's also collaborated with hardanger violinists Nils Okland and Benedicte Maurseth on electronics, as the symphonic-techno work Elements of Light (Rough Trade, 2013) with Pantha de Prince and the Bell Laboratory also, baroque music with glutist Rolf Lislevand and, contemporary music with the Norwegian asamisimasa ensemble.

But more important, Stene succeeds to arrange these atonal, ascetic and subdued abstract compositions, as Bryars' "Hi Tremolo" and Wallumrød's "Low Gents," as abstract, ambient soundscapes. These highly expressive, ethereal compositions influenced musicians who later focused on minimal, sound-oriented improvisation, ambient or post rock. Just as Crane and Bryars were inspired by the innovative, iconoclastic work of composers Morton Feldman and John Cage, but chose to alter their language toward abstract sound objects, liberated from conventional tonal logic.

Stene, with his minimalist ensemble presents these contemporary minimalist compositions as simple yet profound and surprisingly emotionally-charged sonic textures. These soundscapes have an accumulated hypnotic quality, demonstrating the suggestive power of abstract, slow tones. Its expressive, unpretentious innocence, reserved tone, and melancholic touch bring to mind key elements from the Norwegian folk music, as in the music of Stene's collaborator, hardanger violinist Økland. Wallumrød's "Low Genths," featuring himself on the piano, with spare accompaniment by Stene, stresses the fragility of this reserved aesthetic. The flow of rippling sounds from the piano and the vibe is so light that these nuanced sounds are almost gone immediately after released into the air yet eventually create a strange, disquieting sonic experience. The following, last composition, Crane's "Blue Blue Blue" intensifies this disturbing, melancholic vein with a simple, repetitive piano module, clearly inspired by the minimalist works of Feldman, still, an impressive conclusion for a provocative, rare work of art.

Track Listing: Prelude for HS; Hi Tremolo; Bobby J; See Our Lake I; Riis; Holt; Sit; Low Genths; Blue Blue Blue.

Personnel: Håkon Stene: vibraphone, quartertone vibraphone, bowed marimba, electric guitar, acoustic guitar with e-bow, keyboards, piano (9); Heloísa Amaral: piano (2); Hans Kristian Kjos Sørensen: cimbalom (2); Tanja Orning: cello (1, 4, 6, 8); Christian Wallumrød: piano (1,8).

Title: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Hubro Records


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