Boomkat Product Review:
Swedish sound artist and composer Lo Kristenson, a graduate of the Master's Programme in composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm (where contemporaries Ellen Arkbro and Maria W Horn also studied), considers tension, impulse and longing on a magnificent debut album for XKatedral, an hour-long immersion in slowly unravelling arrangements for alto flute, baroque violin and baroque viola, highly recommended listening for disciples of Mary Jane Leach, Catherine Lamb, Lucy Railton, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros.
The Swedish word förnimmelser translates to mean both sensations and perceptions. In the context of the album, it signifies the perception of other beings. Alongside Rakel Emhjellen Paulsen (alto flute), Julija Morgan (baroque violin) and Tove Bagge (baroque viola), Kristenson refines her sound over a series of "collective exercises, conversation and experiments," designed to help the ensemble unlearn their rehearsed musical gestures together. The process was explicitly developed by Kristenson to challenge the bodily and musical expectations associated with playing instruments in a traditional manner. To achieve this, it was essential for each musician to focus intensely on the listening process and maintain an awareness of their own body, harnessing naturally occurring friction and resistance to create dynamic waves of musical energy while playing.
The score was provided in fragments, giving the players the option to choose between notated phrases and more freeform directions. Tempo wasn't specified, but an approximate duration was offered for guidance, in the hope that whatever timing would emerge would come from intuition rather than design. Kristensen encouraged each player to think about their breathing patterns, and let that guide their performance. And that's starkly visible on the album's 20-minute opener 'I', where oddly pitched string phrases graze each other softly, strangled to silence periodically to emphasise negative space. Paulsen's ascendent flute tones melt into the strings, and the music appears to balance precariously between folk-y tenderness and sounds more regularly associated with experimental classical minimalism.
Kristensen intersperses these longer, core pieces with shorter, more abstracted compositions titled 'mellanrum', meaning the space in-between. These interludes add an important pause for breath, rupturing the silence with scant, virtuosic gestures. 'III' is almost funereal in tone, but the humanity of each vibrating string gives it a level of uniqueness that's hard to turn away from. Sustained tones waver and warble like strained voices, and tones seem to oscillate against each other, either forming subtle harmonies or languishing in phased dissonance.
Förnimmelser is confident, mettlesome music that asks the listener to reconsider the character of each instrument, but also that of the players and composer. Deep listening not only recommended, but fully rewards.