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Folklore by Ståle Storløkken and Helge Sten

Folklore (Traditional Customs, Tales, Sayings, Dances, Or Art Forms Preserved Among a People)
by Ståle Storløkken and Helge Sten

The celebrated improvising vocal group Trondheim Voices and two of Norway’s most important composer/producers, Helge Sten and Stale Storlokken, explore the boundaries of sound in a series of thirteen other-worldly pieces that act on the ears of the listener like magical invocations to a secret ceremony. 

Led by Sissel Vera Pettersen, the nine female singers combine in rich and varied ensemble effects, from choral polyphony to extended-vocal techniques that recall Cathy Berberian interpreting Luciano Berio, or the expressive use of voices by Norway’s Arne Nordheim. Throughout, the intense focus of the music, with the sequence of pieces alternating between compositions by Sten and by Storlokken, helps to cast a powerful cumulative spell. Dark, ritualistic chants are mixed with whoops, wails and ecstatic ullulations, while the acoustic purity of the unaccompanied voices is brought into sharp relief by a very sparing use of subtle electronic enhancement and rhythmic percussion. Recorded with perfect clarity by Jo Ranheim at Ora Studio, and mixed and produced by Helge Sten and Stale Storlokken, the result is a work of great beauty and meditative power. 

Originating in a 2018 commission for Sten and Storlokken to compose for Trondheim Voices, ‘Folklore’ has more to do with the present than the non-specific historical past so often associated with ‘folk’ forms. Like Ari Astar’s hallucinogenic folk-horror film ‘Midsummar’ from 2019, there’s an abiding concern with ritual and magic, evident in song titles such as ‘Chant For The Multipresence’, ‘Facing the Outerworld’ and ‘All Stand, Head Erect, Eyes Open’, and the emphatic, wordless intonation of the ensemble. 

“The overall idea was to base the full piece around the concept and scope of folkloristic traditions”, says Helge Sten, who composed seven of the thirteen songs as well as co-producing with Stale Storlokken. “I think this helped us to find a common platform that would support our different approaches to composing music, and thus consolidate the various parts into one unified piece. Folklore traditions often point towards an abstract, esoteric and mental landscape, which opens up a wide scope for composing music. The initial idea was to work heavily with digital sound processing technology, focusing on the human voice, but before we started work an almost opposite idea started to take shape: being composers and performers using technology extensively, it seemed more intriguing to explore ideas in the direction of crude and primitive folk traditions, where the human voice has always been central in language and music. These traditions often connect nature, society, rituals and the esoteric into powerful imagery that’s often lacking in today’s technology-driven society.”

Referencing the work of the influential Cornish artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun (1906-1988) and the great contemporary German film-maker Werner Herzog, Helge Sten feels that the use of folklore does not restrict experimental artists to the world of the past. “It is very much a reflection of current and future mysteries that we in many ways choose to ignore, much in the same way we choose to ignore the powerful tools brought to us by esoteric folkloristic traditions”, he says. “The compositions on the album are not derived from folk themes, even though it seems unavoidable to explore these ideas without some reference to folk music and culture. We also worked extensively with quarter-tones throughout, which is closer to the world of folk music than the chromatic twelve note scale, as well as using a set of microtonal handbells. Another interesting aspect of choosing the folkloristic traditions as a base for our work was that it slowly reintroduced some of the technology we initially rejected, and helped to make the overall piece much more integrated than we had anticipated.”

This sense of integration extends to the experience of listening to ‘Folklore’, too. The sepulchral-sounding reverb of the intensely focused sound, the huge dynamic range of the recording, and the sheer beauty and collective strength of the ensemble’s voices, help to elicit a very powerful response. Whether heard attentively or as an ambient, contemplative backdrop, ‘Folklore’ acts as a kind of magical sacrament. 

Helge Sten (born 1971, also known as Deathprod) is a composer, musician and producer who over three decades has become perhaps the most influential figure on the contemporary Norwegian music scene. A founder-member of the group Supersilent, and a mainstay of the Hubro, Smalltown Supersound and Rune Grammofon labels, he has composed for Ensemble Modern, collaborated with Biosphere, among many others, and produced many of Norway’s new wave of experimental artists. 

Stale Storlokken (born 1969) is one of the most prolific and eclectic figures in Norwegian jazz and experimental music, with a recording career dating back to 1991. He has longstanding musical relationships with a host of artists, from Terje Rypdal and Arve Henriksen to the bands Supersilent, Motorpsycho and Elephant9.

Trondheim Voices, voices & percussion:
Sissel Vera Pettersen (artistic director)
Anita Kaasbøll
Tone Åse
Ingrid Lode
Torunn Sævik
Kari Eskild Havenstrøm
Heidi Skjerve
Siri Gjære
Natali Abrahamsen Garner

1. Chant For The Multipresence
2. Ascend
3. Facing The Outerworld
4. Aether III
5. Descend
6. Choral
7. Aether I
8. Illumination II
9. Counter-Earth
10. Illumination I
11. All Stand, Head Erect, Eyes Open
12. Facing The Innerworld
13. Aether II

Ståle Storløkken: Kyma processing track 3, 6, 7, 10.
Helge Sten: Electronics track 5.

Mixed and produced by Ståle Storløkken & Helge Sten.
Recorded by Jo Ranheim at Øra Studio.
Aether III was recorded by Ingar Hunskaar at Nasjonal Jazzscene.
Mastered by Helge Sten at Audio Virus LAB

Track 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 & 12 composed by Ståle Storløkken.
Track 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 & 13 composed by Helge Sten.

Cover design: Yokoland (Aslak Gurholt & Thomas Nordby)
Hubro Music / Grappa Musikkforlag 2020

Trondheim Voices is a department of Midtnorsk Jazzsenter, and is supported by the Norwegian Arts Counsil and the city of Trondheim.

Photo Carsten Aniksdal and Thor Egil Leirtrø
Photo André Løyning
Cover design by Yokoland (Aslak Gurholt & Thomas Nordby)