By Eyal Hareuveni
It took five years to prepare the first documentary DVD about Norway’s most renowned female composer-vocalist-electronics player-improviser Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje and when you watch this arresting film it makes perfect sense. Ratkje is an artist for whom it is almost impossible to encompass in a short, brief encounter. She is a musician who follows only her instincts; strong-minded, nonconformist who does not care much about any conventions, genre or styles; always in a search to find new means for expanding her artistic freedom and sonic vision; always challenges the listener with music that has an edge - as term she uses while describing the selection of songs that she performs with the trio POING - even with noise music, or as she calls it, “energetic blowout, a celebration of life”.
Biermann and Miedendorp decided to let Ratkje present herself in her own words, and she is the only one who speaks about her art, her thoughts about the role of an artist in society, the urge to create art, her conscious decision to work outside of any mainstream art and how she balances between having a family with children and being on the road, far from home. Her voice - when she talks or used as a musical instrument - is placed in scenes in her beautiful, countryside home and through journeys to different performance locations in the magnificent, wild natural scenery of Norway and Europe. There are many insightful scenes that feature Ratkje perform - solo vocals with electronics, her compositions for chamber ensemble and orchestras and different collaborations with the long standing all-female free-improvisation ensemble Spunk, her husband, accordionist Frode Haltli, electronics master Ikue Mori, French double bass master Joëlle Léandre, and many more.
Ratkje speaks about her fascination with sounds, all kinds of sounds, but she wisely transforms this innocent, almost childish fascination, from the calls of birds or invented and manipulated sounds, to new sonic contexts. Sometimes it becomes clear how her classical music background, her deep understanding of what it means to be being fully immersed in music while free improvising or her care about preserving the the rough, natural scenery of Norway inspires her compositions. Still, her rich imagination and sense of invention pushes these inspirations even further. It can be seen even in one of the most composed scene of this film, as she conducts a strings trio and a vocalist who perform her composition, based on a poem of Karin Sveen, still, searching for how to push the musical envelope beyond the musicians comfort zones.
Ratkje is shown as a composer who prefers experimenting over repeating conventional means of composing, creating her own universe of sounds and voices. A sonic universe that is strange yet tempting, sometimes disturbing but still playful, full of excited passion and fun, and moving sense of theatrical drama. She is seen communicating her art with completely different audiences, often ones that rarely listen to music associated with free-improvisation or the avant-garde. These audiences, including children, look totally entranced by the way Ratkje produces free, imaginative voices and sounds; entranced by her manner of finding release and freedom in sound and voices - liberating her and the listeners - from subscribing to any artistic regime, political order or social hierarchy.
Voice present beautifully the immediate appeal of the art of Ratke. Her complex portrait present her as a determined, uncompromising artist with a clear, far reaching vision but also as an artist that still looks to be at home with her voice sounds, to balance her artistic vocation and family. You cannot but surrender to her highly personal creativity, enthusiasm and honesty.