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Håkon Stene and Kristine Tjøgersen – Michael Pisaro: Asleep, Street, Pipes, Tones

Hubro

Håkon Stene and Kristine Tjøgersen - Michael Pisaro: Asleep, Street, Pipes, TonesSince 2009, the good people at Hubro have been diligently documenting the expanding Norwegian music scene that encapsulates jazz, improv, minimalism and whatever else lurks in the mysterious frozen spaces of that fascinating country.

Three of their albums have recently come across my path, all coming from a mysterious direction and going some way to shedding light on the divergent strains and extraordinary ideas pulsing in the snowy wastelands and blossoming in the kindly atmosphere of Hubroland.

First up and most minimal is the latest from percussionist Håkon Stene and clarinettist Kristine Tjøgersen, performing a piece originally written by experimental American composer Michael Pisaro in 2009 entitled Asleep, Street, Pipes, Tones. Pisaro is fascinated with the sounds of everyday life and how that intersects with the part music as such plays in our lives. His original composition was almost an aide memoire in sound form, a way of reflecting things we take for granted by using eyes and hands and circumventing the aural world. If we sit down with the original piece, we are experiencing elements of the world purely by ear and allowing those to soak in, unspoilt by other sensations.

Håkon and Kristine have taken this premise and expanded it by emulating some of the sounds using guitars, bowed piano and clarinets. There are still some field recordings, but they are used sparingly. The album, spread over seventeen tracks and taking up around an hour, slowly works its way into your psyche. It is best listened to with eyes closed as the effect that the minimal instrumentation and extraordinary use of silence has is magnified without any other external stimulus.

The disc opens with the sound of water rushing and a clarinet droning gently in the background, vehicles pass at intervals and it evokes a calm Autumn day, sat in a suburban garden, life passing around you as you give yourself up to sensation. The clarinet is a fine instrument for maintaining a mood, and it is either subtly droning in the background or pulsating with on-off notes that are more shocking for the drama that single notes give when you are being lulled. At points, what sounds like a tumble drier appears through a mist and road noises are prevalent here and there.

It is generally rhythm-less, but the kind of overall rhythm of the street or the gentle oscillation of a drone rising and falling in pitch gives a certain amount of structure to the drifting pieces. Imagine if when we are walking, being conscious of passing through certain neighbourhoods and those different areas each having their own unique hum of life. Somehow though, we do end up feeling at one with the composer and performers. It is as if we have a vantage point overlooking the process of construction, and we can feel the natural flow of ideas as the pieces are sequenced and gradually honed. I can almost see myself perched in a drone looking over the shoulders of Håkon and Kristine as they walk their way through the basic outlines.

Simple keyboard notes, the slowly descending and ascending clarinet notes, high-pitched twittering and the perennial drones at various pitches weave in and out of our experience, the mood altering from peaceful to intense as the pieces either warmly place their arms around your shoulders or roughly shock you into moving as and when the mood changes. Drums appear during track six and are piercing for the surprise by which they take you. Other unexpected vibes, sinister organ tones and stabbing clarinet notes ensure that this is not a one-dimensional existence for us. They go a little way to shaking us out of what could have been a peaceful reverie, in much the same way as the liberal use of silence and space give us greater appreciation for the sounds that filter their way into our waking dreams.

Asleep, Street, Pipes, Tones is a fascinating, intense and lovingly produced example of what can be made if you come from a completely different direction to the music-making process. It is life-affirming and somehow subtly insinuating. It is a soundscape, if you like, that can perhaps make us all appreciate our basic existence just that little bit more keenly.

-Mr Olivetti-

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