Origami Arktika – Absolut Gehor

Origami_Arktika-Absolut_Gehor-cover

Origami Arktika – Absolut Gehor

It took me a minute or two to discover that the title of Origami Arktika‘s seven track album isn’t a Norwegian phrase but a German one, translating as ‘Absolute Hearing’. This is explicable by the fact that part of the Norwegian band’s album was recorded at Einsturzende Neubaten’s Berlin studio, in 2010, and if anyone is wondering why it has taken over four years to release Absolut Gehor that is perhaps explicable by the amount of work that has gone into the sleeve design and accompanying 16 page booklet and its woodcut graphics. I’m unsure as to the availability of vinyl copies but I would expect that even the CD version has a lot to offer, and the booklet has much to say about the background to those tracks that originate as folk music, such as the lyric of third track “Háttalykill” coming from a 12th century Norse poem.

One thing the booklet doesn’t reveal is the significance of the albums title, and while I am reluctant to make guesses about why Origami Arktika chose it, first track “Ro Og Hamle” provides a slightly obscure answer, with its booklet text describing how ‘in the distant northern seas, one has to know the will of the water’, while the music with its tingling, creaking percussion and sonorous harmonium backdrop evokes images of a Viking longship marooned for centuries amongst the tendrils of the Sargasso sea, or some similarly eerie seaside scenario, like when you found something a bit gross while beachcombing on a family holiday. I won’t apologise for making such personalised responses to Origami Arktika’s music as responses such as these are very obviously what they want to provoke from their listeners and second track “Brygga Te Jol” follows a similar route but with a vocal, and while the lyric is a tale of a Christmas wedding and eloping bride and groom (says the booklet), the music manages to convey a slightly different image, that of the last sun maddened survivor of the previously mentioned marooned longship, stranded thousands of miles from home with no hope of survival and nothing left to eat but the ship’s cat. This, I would suggest, is what can happen when a band seem to overstretch themselves – the music works very effectively on its own but throughout at least the first half of Absolut Gehor the vocals and lyrics often seem to oppose rather than complement the instrumentation, although folk musicians the world over very often do similar things.

After the multi tracked vocal interlude of “Folkestadvisa” the tone of the album alters. Strummed chords of an autoharp introduce us to the tale of “Tora Liti”, and it’s here that the band, of whom there are up to eight members, refocus their playing, losing the more chaotic percussive sound that the album began with and turning in a measured, more disciplined performance that’s comparatively minimal in its approach and all the more effective for that. “Tora Liti” is only really an introduction to the next track though, the unquestionable album highlight “Det Syng For Storegut” where Origami Arktika suddenly transform themselves into a watertight prog rock outfit, recalling Neu and Tago Mago era Can and (only on this track) bringing powerfully reverberating guitars into their instrumentation, with shades of Spacemen 3 and Hawkwind half hidden in the background. It’s a resonant exercise in controlled guitar dynamics of a type that I would want to hear more of from Origami Arktika, intricately impressive as the first half of the album is.

Absolut Gehor is, I decided, a concept album, although it is being left up to the listener to decide exactly what that concept is, with the music and the booklet only providing clues as to what Origami Arktika’s real purpose is. The first half of the album is deceptively experimental, verging on atonal, and when they do decide to turn into a more conventional rock band the results are made all the more notable. The work of some very skilled and imaginative musicians, Origami Arktika produce music of a kind that can verge on aural sculpture, creating and developing moods and scenarios and at the same time they’re unafraid of delving into traditional Norwegian culture and reinterpreting it nearly beyond recognition. Years ago on a holiday I saw a more traditional group of Norwegian folk performers singing and dancing in a very different and more conventional type of performance and had they suddenly turned into an experimental avant garde rock troupe I’m not sure what I would have thought. Absolut Gehor will require more than one listen to allow its listeners to decide exactly what it is Origami Arktika are really about.