Fe-mail, dual creators of sounds unfamiliar, have teamed up with experimentalist Carlos Giffoni from Brooklyn and released a five track album bearing the incestuous title “Northern Stains”.
The parties met when Giffoni booked Hild Sofie Tafjord and Maja Ratkje –the two Fe-mail Norwegians- to his experimental “No Fun Fest” festival in 2005.
This year it was he who was booked, by Tafjord and Ratkje into their Oslo studio, where “Northern Stains” was recorded.
-Such a name for an album; it invokes images of shame and intrinsic taint, of stains hidden from the eye; for the north is pure as glacier green and snow-glazed fields. Is it the noise that stains the northern airs?
Fe-mail have made it their enterprise to sample, mock, tweak and juxtapose noise, sounds and music -dissolving fragments of all kinds audible- into a vapour; a sonic fog. To the clean sheets of “true” music they might very well represent the conceptual stain. What happened to the gleaming rails of structure, harmony and melody; the musical vehicles of transcendence?
And it is true, concedes Pitchfork media’s review, this project; merging Giffoni’s “rapid-fire compositions” with Fe-mail’s “sliced vocals, horns and samples,” could well have drowned itself in a self-equalizing interferential cacophony, were it not for the timing…
“One simple strength characterises the entire project,” writes Marc Masters, “timing.” It is this simple, yet all-decisive tool, that makes “Northern Stains” and its creators diverge from the solid walls of noise that noise artists usually seem to erect, to little interest and effect. The subtle timing means that Tafjord, Ratkje and Giffoni achieve instead dispersing a “careful arrangement of small aural events.” Rather than a wall there is a weave, and, as were they true Manicheists, the (artistic) soul is not whole –in heaven or hell- but in fragments of light swirling in the aural air.
“Northern Stains" blurs the line between structure and abstraction,” writes Masters, “but the craft behind is crystal clear.” This craft is the way the trio structure, time and dynamically steer each little fragment. And this makes the weave “uncannily rich.”
As they have manifested before, these artists challenge the very basic premise of music and even of language, for what is oscillating in their art is the very principle of human recognition; of sound impressions as something, i.e. the fundamental ability to structure and categorize the audible world -and appropriate its entities- which is the condition for "aural" meaning.
The “blurring of the line between structure and abstraction” is the blurring of the systemic blueprint of meaning. “Northern Stains” presents us with cascades of piips and beeps and robotic sounds a la R2D2, as well as with fragments of speech, instrument samples, distortions and screeching oscillations. But, if one is able to listen trough it, and battle with the confusion and elusiveness of recognition, “Northern Stains” is “uncannily rich.”