Boomkat Product Review:
Maja S.K. Ratkje’s spellbinding ‘Sult’ is based on her soundtrack for the ballet suite by Jo Strømgren for the Norwegian national ballet. Leading on from her previous solo LP ‘Crepuscular Hour’, Ratkje is here accompanied by a wildly modified, out-of-tune pump organ in 9 wonderous songs that attest to her non pareil, improvisational brilliance.
Stemming from the ballet adaptation of ‘Sult’, Knut Hamsen’s classic novel about a starving writer in late 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo), Maja’s treatment closely follows its themes in the lyrics and music, but works as a distinctive document in its own right. Under song titles taken from the novel, Maja unfurls surreal, anachronistic scenes akin to a steampunk echo of olde Oslo.
Using an era-appropriate pump organ rigged with metal and PVC tubes, and a wind machine built in, along with resin threads, metal and glass percussion and bow - which she had to learn to play before recording - Maja regales the narration with a fine but beautifully loose grasp of her instrument’s chaotic analog nature, skilfully harmonising with her own, incredible vocal abilities.
Despite having never read the book or visited Oslo, Maja’s music and singing takes us right there, to the same cold cobbled streets where Hamsen wrote his semi-autobiographical account of a starving artist trying to make it, and where you might encounter images that gave rise to Edvard Munch’s ’Skrik’ . Through the resilience of her voice and the queasy, off-kilter shanty feel of the pump organ, Maja most romantically and acutely connotes that atmosphere with the timeless charm of a bard, troubadour or dramaturgist, or quite simply the ambiguous, dreamy nature of the most potent art.