“The idea for this project was mine and Øyvind’s”, says Stephan Meidell. “We wanted to write music for us together with friends and colleagues in Bergen, musicians who inspire us and are a part of the same milieu that has some of the same attitudes towards music-making: what I like to call a communal approach to play. The sum of the music that comes out is the essential part; making music together, not impressing through individual virtuosic skills in the traditional sense. We do still strongly believe in the individual voices, but it’s the totality of those voices together that is most important to us. This is at the core of our music-making, and especially for this project. Me and Øyvind stand firmly as the founders and composers of the project and the music, but at the same time, we want each individual voice to be heard. It’s tricky but worth the effort in the end.”
The musicians involved in the album’s sextet ensemble also reflect the house identity of the Hubro label, with the prolific solo artist Stein Urheim, Building Instrument’s Mari Kvien Brunvoll, and Super Heavy Metal’s Kim Åge Furuhaug among the multi-instrumentalist team. The role of the two singers/vocalists, with Brunvoll partnered by Eva Pfitzenmaier, is particularly key to the overall sound, and to the notion of voice contained in the new name of Voice & Strings & Timpani. Their rhythmically precise but wordless choruses can recall the work of singers in the minimalist projects of Steve Reich and Meredith Monk, while the addition of nonsense words or dadaistic poetry adds a further layer of defamiliarization – a Norwegian alienation technique? – to the thickening soup of influences and elements.
“Regarding using voice, we treat it mostly as an instrument, and it’s something means Øyvind have not explored so much before”, says Stephan Meidell. “Both Mari and Eva have unique approaches to using their voices that are both instrumental and lyrical. They both use loopers and can blend in using effects, while their characteristic voices complement each other both in timbre and register. They both have solo projects where you can hear this: Mari’s eponymous one, and Eva’s ‘By the Waterhole”. As to the pan-linguistic lyrics: “We were looking for a sound and a feel-a texture-when lyrics were involved and Norwegian just didn’t fit”, says Meidell. “Amix of English and French did the trick. There are probably plenty of grammatical mistakes!”
Where the music ultimately comes from is beguiling and mysterious, as ‘Voice &Strings & Timpani’ can sound like various influences and exemplars while remaining entirely itself, so thoroughly are individual musical moments or movements in corporated into the macrocosm of the album as a whole. A bucolic Grantchester vibe provided by softly strummed acoustic guitar and wispily insubstantial ambient effects can give way to a hieratic vocal chorus with ritualistic-sounding percussion as if from some strange update to ‘The Wicker Man’, while odd bleeps and bloops suggest chill-out techno. “Although it seems inevitable that people hear references in our music, the process of making it has been completely without any specific bands or artists in mind”, says Meidell. “We have simply opened up our heads and let it all out.”