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Håkon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal

 

HUBROCD2544
Norwegian release: 21.03.2014
International release: 14.04.2014

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Meditative asceticism: on his new solo album, Håkon Mørch Stene has combined music by Britons Laurence Crane and Gavin Bryars with a new work by the distinctive Norwegian improvisational musician and composer Christian Wallumrød.

It is not necessary to take more than a quick glance at Norwegian percussionist Håkon Stene’s CV to realise that here is a musician with a broad horizon and a fearless attitude towards new instruments and genres. Stene has played folk music with Nils Økland and Benedicte Maurseth, electronica with Pantha de Prince and the Bell Laboratory, baroque music with Rolf Lislevand and contemporary music with asamisimasa, winner of a Spellemannspris (Norwegian Grammy).

After many years of focusing on noise-based and complex contemporary music, Stene found it important to once again be able to work with clean, simple and harmonious expressive idioms. On the album he plays, in addition to melodic percussion instruments, both piano and guitar – the latter being an instrument he had not touched for nearly 20 years.

“I am definitely not to be regarded as a guitarist any more (and absolutely not as a pianist!), but all my experience as a contemporary percussionist, where one must constantly adjust oneself to new playing situations and instruments, somehow makes it feasible. I don’t approach these instruments, for example the piano, as an altar, but as a tool for playing these relatively simple pieces. This is the kind of attitude that percussionists often have: instruments are tools one uses in order to produce a particular sound.”

British compositions dominate Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal. Both Gavin Bryars (born in Yorkshire, 1943) and Laurence Crane (born in Oxford, 1961) belong to the classic experimental scene in England, a scene that developed in the wake of the conceptual New York School music in the 1960s. The Englishmen draw inspiration from composers such as Cage and Feldman, as well as from earlier cult figures such as Eric Satie, who anticipated genres such as minimalism and ambient as far back as the early 1900s. Unlike the music of the New York School, where everyday noise, atonal harmonics and extreme duration were central elements, that of Bryars and Crane is based on a concentrated diatonic material that is liberated from a traditional tonal logic and is treated as an abstract sound object.

Through his work with the ensemble asamisimasa, Stene has had close contact with these circles for the past ten years, and the ensemble presented Crane’s John White in Berlin for the first time at the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in 2008. Stene was fascinated by this ascetic, protracted, subdued music. It does not clamour for attention. It is reserved, unassertive and pragmatic. The musical scores are clean cut, offering only the most necessary instructions, and any change in the music is regarded as essential as it is so transparent.

“I admire the ability of this music – to put it pretentiously – to probe in a profoundly emotional way although it is in its nature unpretentious, objective and unaffected, entirely free of the often feigned affect that can characterise musicians and music that strive towards expressiveness,” says Stene. “These are features that I recognise in people such as Nils Økland and Christian Wallumrød, who are both musicians and composers whom I regard very, very highly. This is why it has been interesting to connect Laurence’s music to Christian’s on this record. They have a great deal in common, without having known about each other previously.”

The piece Low Genths was written by Christian Wallumrød on commission from Stene in 2009, and Wallumrød also plays on the album.

When searching for the final piece on the record, Stene discovered Bryars’s Hi Tremolo, which suited the melancholic but sumptuous soundscape on Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal.

In addition to Wallumrød, Stene invited pianist Heloisa Amaral, cellist Tanja Orning and cimbalom player Hans Kristian Kjos Sørensen to participate in the recording.

Some listeners would undoubtedly place this music in the large drawer labelled “contemporary”, but it could equally well find a natural place in the record collections of post-rock, ambient or drone music fans.

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Reviews:

  1. Fingerdirrende betagende.
    - Dagens Næringsliv (N)

  2. Stene contributes just one original composition to the affair. Christian Wallumrod, who guests on this recording, also contributes a composition to the effort. The others belong to fellow minimalists Gavin Bryars and Laurence Crane, whose aesthetic sensibilities are clearly birds of a wing for Stene. Perhaps the best example of these composers’ similar flight patterns can be found in the Crane composition “Riis,” originally adopted by Crane’s Apartment House ensemble… Stene’s rendition mirrors the original with a series of long drones pulsing intermittently, of keyboard washes of harmonic warmth, walking a near identical path as the original…A mesmerizing album with an enchanting point of view.
    - Bird Is The Worm (USA)

  3. Perkusjonisten Håkon Stene har samarbeidet med såpass forskjellige artister som Nils Økland, Rolf Lislevand og det eksperimentelle elektronikaprosjektet Pantha de Prince and the Bell Laboratory. På sin nye plate har han satt sammen musikk av britene Laurence Crane og Gavin Bryars og et verk av Christian Wallumrød. Her er det bare å åpne ørene og bli fascinert av platens både stringente og detaljrike lydbilde.
    - Bergens Tidende – anbefaling (N)

  4. Wie schon bei Etude Begone Badum (Ahornfelder, 2013), wo er Kompositionen von Marko Ciciliani, Lars Petter Hagen, Alvin Lucier und Michael Pisaro spielte, hält HÅKON STENE seine Interpretationen für so wesentlich, dass er auch bei Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal (HUBROCD2544) seinen Namen groß als Kopfzeile setzt. Diesmal bringt er Stücke von Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars und Christian Wallumrød unter einen, unter seinen Hut. Mit Vibraphon und Marimba, mit Gitarren, Keyboards und Piano intoniert er Musik, die sich durch einen hohen Dröhn- und Tremolofaktor auszeichnet. Letzteres gilt insbesondere für Bryars ‘Hi Tremolo’, dessen Puls durch die Pianorepetitionen von Heloísa Maral und das Cimbalum von H. K. Kjos Sørenden bestimmt wird. Der Titel verrät schon alles – das Trempolo strebt und drängt einem Höhe-, einem Kulminationspunkt entgegen, hi meint high. Cranes ‘Bobby J’ wird mit E-bow auf einer akustischen Gitarre ‘gestrichen’, der Minimalismus kommt in seinem melancholischen Duktus dem sehr nahe, was Bryars bei etwa ‘After the Requiem’ und ‘The Old Tower of Löbenich’ entfaltet hat. ‘See Our Lake I’ intensiviert diesen Eindruck mit den langsam pendelnden, atmenden Cellostrichen von Tanja Orning, zu denen Stene ganz wenige Vibestupfen setzt. ‘Riis’ – wir sind immer noch bei Crane, der dieses Stück 1996 ursprünglich für Klarinette, Cello und Elektronische Orgel für das Ensemble Apartment House geschrieben hat – ist hier ein großer, summend um den einen oder anderen Halbton changierender Orgeldrone von Keyboards und E-Gitarre. Bei ‘Holt’ setzt Crane durch Stenes Hand dann bedächtige Vibesschläge über einem brummenden Bordun (bowed marimba?). Von Stene selbst stammt das sanft dröhnende Intermezzo, das überleitet
    zu Wallumrøds ‘Low Genths’, das Stene als auf ähnlich unprätentiöse Weise gefühlvolle Musik mit der von Crane in Beziehung setzt. Vibestupfer und ein summendes Cello versuchen dabei, verstimmte, hellauf erregte Pianonoten, die der Komponist eigenhändig trillert, zu dämpfen und zu beruhigen. Crane schließt den Kreis mit den monoton tickenden Pianonoten von ‘Blue Blue Blue’ auf seine eigene, wieder ganz bedächtige, nie von einer leisen Melancholie ganz freien Art. Mir scheint dieses Lamento dennoch kein Lamento zu sein, sondern nur der Versuch, Gott einen guten Mann sein zu lassen.
    - Bad Alchemy (DE)

  5. Eine Art »thinking man’s lounge music«, wenn man so möchte – was durchaus als Kompliment gemeint ist. Die Briten Gavin Bryars und Laurence Crane sind als Komponisten ebenso vertreten wie Håkon Stenes Landsmann Christian Wallumrød, der in seinem Stück »Low Genths« den obertonreichen Klavierpart selbst spielt, über weite Strecken im Dialog mit dem Vibraphon. Dies ist Neue Musik, die freundlich auftritt, ohne unverbindlich-wattig daher zu kommen – stattdessen Wohlklang mit Biss.
    - HHV-mag 7.7 (DE)

  6. There is music that quickens the pulse, and there is music that slows the heart rate. This is the latter kind, a series of meditations by Norwegian percussionist Stene, with a little help from other musicians, using compositions mainly from Great Britain…A fascinating and highly original album.
    - TheJazzBreakfast (UK)

  7. It’s hard to find a language in which to write about this music. In its meditative tone and the beauty of his textures, it reminds me strongly of my favourite pieces by Morton Feldman, “Rothko Chapel” and “For Samuel Beckett”. It’s also reminiscent of some of the Necks’ work. And some of it (like Crane’s “Blue Blue Blue” — here’s a snatch of it) reminds me of what happens when the Beach Boys’ more experimental records are stripped right down to the basic rhythm track(…)To me, this is a wonderfully pure distillation of what music can do.
    - Richard Williams / The Blue Moment (UK)

  8. Moving form noise and contemporary composition, percussionist Stene connects diatonic minimalism with Christian Wallumrød´s spare Norwegian jazz on an album of calmin drone-harmonies.
    - Mojo, Andrew Male 4/5 (UK)

  9. This meditative, minimalist album is quietly addictive. Stene is a Norwegian percussionist who specialises in contemporary music and the nine works here feature marimba, vibraphone, e-bow guitar, piano and more. Much of the music is by British composer Laurence Crane. The pieces may be built on straightforward chord changes but slowly and remorselessly they achieve a shimmering, hypnotic power. Makes almost any other music sound fussy and overwrought.
    - The Times, John Bungey (UK) 4/5

  10. It’s cinematic, divine and heartbreaking despite being so straight forward, as is the very quest of this music. Eventually the pieces, and Lush Laments For Lazy Mammals, comes to a simple and noble close. While virtuosity and complexity have always imbued compositional music with a certain baroque merit, Håkon Stene – like this album’s ancestral British minimalists – has removed any frivolous intricacies, and let the notes and ideas ring out and true. For the listener it removes the question of “how” the music happens, and allows us to focus on the “why”. Listen closely, and you’ll find the answer for yourself.
    - The Quietus, Tristan Bath (UK)

  11. These soundscapes have an accumulated hypnotic quality, demonstrating the suggestive power of abstract, slow tones. Its expressive, unpretentious innocence, reserved tone, and melancholic touch bring to mind key elements from the Norwegian folk music, as in the music of Stene’s collaborator, hardanger violinist Økland. Wallumrød’s “Low Genths,” featuring himself on the piano, with spare accompaniment by Stene, stresses the fragility of this reserved aesthetic. The flow of rippling sounds from the piano and the vibe is so light that these nuanced sounds are almost gone immediately after released into the air yet eventually create a strange, disquieting sonic experience. The following, last composition, Crane’s “Blue Blue Blue” intensifies this disturbing, melancholic vein with a simple, repetitive piano module, clearly inspired by the minimalist works of Feldman, still, an impressive conclusion for a provocative, rare work of art.
    - Allaboutjazz.com (USA)

  12. Je kunt dat een meditatieve staat noemen. Hoe dan ook, het is goed en lommerrijk toeven onder de behaaglijke deken aan vervoerend minimalisme die percussionist Stene (hier ook op e-bowgitaar en piano) met een paar collega-muzikanten over je heen drapeert. Stene & Co. voeren werken uit van onder meer Crane en Bryars, waarbij vooral opvalt dat ogenschijnlijke eenvoud de boventoon voert. Geen denderende erupties of ingewikkeld academisch gedoe, ook geen conceptuele en mathematische afstand of kilte, maar ingetogen, bijna gereserveerde kalmte.
    - Kindamuzik (NL)

  13. Hubro is a refreshing label, home to Håkon Stene´s new Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal, with a glowing sequence of composed pieces by Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars and Christian Wallumrød.These share a calm, unaffected style.
    - The Wire, Clive Bell (UK)

  14. Musikens färger flyter ut, blandas till ett slags impressionistiska efterdyningar… ett dis som måste anas mer på ett själsligt plan än ett visuellt eller auditivt. Ska man benämna musiken ambient, vilket inte är felaktigt, måste det samtidigt klargöras att den inte hör hemma inom technospektrat, utan i Brian Enos, David Sylvians och Robert Fripps mer intellektuella register.

    Jag blir osäker om ”impressionistiska efterdyningar” egentligen är en riktig beskrivning av ”Lush Laments”. Kanske konkretiserar den snarare skenbarheter? Lockar fram substans ur något flyktigt och diffust? Just att jag inte riktigt bestämma mig för var någonstans musiken befinner sig mellan det knappt anade och det redan förflackade, först i efterhand åskådliggjorda kanske är en beskrivning så god som någon. ”Lush Laments” ska kanske förstås som en belysande länk mellan två otydligheter. Jag nöjer mig med det och konstaterar att ”Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal” är en skiva som ingjuter substans i den ambient som med åren dränerats av så många pseudokonstnärliga dilettanter.
    - Tidningen Kulturen (SE)

  15. Hakon Stene cok enstrümani calabilen bir müzisyen olarak aslinda bugüne dek Pantha Du Prince ve Nils Okland´in da aralannda oldugu farkli isimlere degisik projelerde yer almis yetkin bir müzisyen. Vibrafon, gitar, piyano, marimba ve klavye caldigi bu ilk solo albümünde agirlikli olarak Laurence Crane eserlerini yorumlayan Stene, albüme bir de ünlü ingliz besteci Gavin Bryars´in bir parxasini dahil etmis. Akustik tinilarla bezeli ambient bir calisma olarak yorumlanabilecek albüm boyunca oldukca dingin bir yolculuk bekliyor bizleri. Seslerin üste ürste bindirilmeden arka akaya sialandigi albüm dinleyende oldukca meditatif bir etki birakiyor. Her bir notanin kendi kisa ömrünü yasayip bayragi bir sonrakine devrettigi sessiz bir gecit gibi önümüzden akiverdigi parcalarda hayatin gercekliginden ve kesmekesinden bir an olsun uzakasiyoruz. Bu vesileye tanistigimiz Norvec orijinli Hubro etiketinin gecmis kataloguna bir göz atmakta da fayda var elbette.
    - Babylon – Okan Aydin 8/10 (TR)

  16. Stenes Interpretation ist nicht nur eine Hommage an die klassische britische Musikavantgarde, sondern auch
    Ausdruck seiner (im weitesten Sinne) Pop-Vorlieben, die von Folk über Postrock bis zu elektronischer Musik
    reicht, denn von all dem scheint auch vieles in seinen Crane- und Bryars-Interpretationen auf. Ein
    Schreiberkollege zog kürzlich “off the record” den Vergleich zu den Current 93 der “Sleep Has His House” und
    “Horse Hospital”-Phase, den ich trotz aller Gewagtheit nachvollziehen kann.
    - AfricanPaper / Uwe Schneider (DE)

  17. Håkon Stene won a Norwegian Grammy in the Contemporary Music category for his album Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal: I return you to the cultural-political points I began to sketch out above. This album contains compositions by Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars, Christian Wallumrød and Stene himself. Crane checks Cage, Feldman and Satie. I hear Scelsi and the Modern Jazz Quartet. ‘Holt’ is all gorgeous vibes, before ‘See Our Lake’ deploys them against a string backdrop, re-inserting tradition again, somewhat sombrely.
    - The Sound Projector, Steve Hanson (UK)

  18. Décidément, la récente distribution en France du label norvégien Hubro peut concourir au titre de meilleure nouvelle de 2015. Après le génial Heliographs d’Erik Honoré « Top » ici même le mois dernier, voici Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal du percussionniste Håkon Stene. Bijou d’ambient clair-obscur, bouquet de minimalisme boréal, brise faussement candide, le disque s’amuse à jouer à cache-cache avec le peu, le silence, le subtil. Sur des compositions signées Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars ou Christian Wallumrød, le garçon triture son vibraphone pour générer une sorte de transe infinitésmale. On pense á Morton Feldman ou Terry Riley, mais on les oublie très vite tant Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal se révèle fascinant d’immobilisme fertile.
    - Jazz News, Mathieu Durand (FR) Les Tops Du Mois