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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Naaljos Ljom - Naaljos Ljom 2 (Motvind Records, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Norway is sending a lot of good things to the world. Naaljos Ljom comprises Anders Sundsteigen Hana on jaw harp, langeleik (Norwegian stringed instrument), fiddle, and guitar, and Morten Johan Olsen Joh on analogue synths, drum machines, and SuperCollider. The duo has played at a number of festivals including the Rewire Festival in The Hague, Unsound Festival in Krakow, Fri Resonans in Trondheim, Elevate Festival in Graz, Sonic Protest in Paris, UH party in Budapest, Motvindfestivalen in Oslo, Tuvas Blodklubb at Riksscena, Wonderful World in Stavanger, Fanø Free Folk Festival, and more. They release Naaljos Ljom 2 on 1 st December on Motvind Records.

The music is a fusion of microtonal folk music and electronic sounds and noise. The musicians used materials they found at recycling stations and antique centres and united the sounds created by these old, discarded, misshapen objects, with tonally asymmetrical and rhythmically straight angles. Well, this is what the PR notes say anyhow. What Naaljos Ljom has actually done, and which comes across in the music, is to create layered, textural, and multi-dimensional layers of sound that form a collective mix that feels as if it draws elements of ancient Nordic culture and modern musical nuances together.

They have dived deep into the meaningful side of objects and sounds and merged them. They have taken phrases of folk music, elements, and textures from a variety of sources, and from the eclectic nature of their findings – both sonic and physical, they have developed music that makes sense, yet contains surprises and unexpected textures and shapes.

Throughout the music, a connection to their origins and the origins of the music that influences this release is prevalent. There is a sense of desolate, windswept mountains, boulders rolling, deep, grass-layered valleys, and sheer cliffs where a turn in the wrong direction may see you plummeting hundreds of feet toward a rock-strewn floor. It is difficult to put into words, but the music seems to create its own environment and landscape – rather as if the elements have come to life – these dark, cold, imperfect, tossed-away objects, somehow have united with sonic ideas from the past and present and found new lives, and purpose. Using folk music means the musicians seek atonal nuances usually only present in vocal numbers because of the imitations of instruments (and players) but here, they find those microtones using a variance of electronic and physical means.

The album opens with music under a statement from Eivend Groven, a Norwegian music theorist and composer with a background steep in folk music. The statement is from a radio program broadcast in 1966 with the title "False or pure in our folk music? Lecture by Eivind Groven with musical examples". He explains (approximately translated as it is in Norwegian). "Today we are going to hear music, not performed on an ordinary organ or piano. These are folk tones, containing pitches or intervals lying outside the usual tonal system." He is honoured later in the release on the tracks, Tolvtalsvisa" and "To visetoner etter Eivind Groven og Ola Brenno (Two songs after Eivind Groven and Ola Brenno).”

They use different rhythms, repeated often as in ‘Fiskaren’ and over these, the electronic music adds textural levels and percussive variations. Or they use a mix of rhythms and patterns, most taken directly from folk songs, and create a new way of hearing the music.

Traditional tunes from different villages, inspired by musicians such as Andres K. Rysstad, Torleiv H. Bjørgum, Ivar Fuglestad, Gunnar Austegard, Sigurd Brokke, Daniel Sandén-Warg, Anders E. Røine, Thov Wetterhus, and Kenneth Lien, follow with twists using electronic and sounds created on different surfaces. They even include their take on a folk dance – or Halling - inspired by Trygve K. Vågen. They copy the melodic material from unique 1930s recordings by Groven and Brenno, (more of which the label (Motvind Records) promises next year.

The release is neither folk, jazz, or classical Norwegian music but free, improvised in many places, and wholly inspired by the unique culture of Norway and its historical music.

From the weirdly ethereal ‘Foss Fugelstad’ (Fugelstad waterfall) to the folk imbued ‘Rammeslatt,’ the album is original, different, and a journey that links modern music perception to the historical music of the past.