Border Music


USA 12K 12K1081 CD (2014)

The Norwegian duo Pjusk team up with label owner Taylor Deupree and trumpeter Kåre Nymark Jr., to produce a record that evokes the crisp glacial air and fjords of their homeland. There is something in those there climes that produces these slow-moving ambient works which are bathed in reverb-soaked trumpet. Comparisons will be made with Nils Petter Molvaer, this though comes minus the jazz and beats, supplying a much more mediative experience. Pjusk, with Deupree adding additional manipulation, are more intent on creating atmospheres and moods.

The trumpet is at the core of the work and the overwhelming majority of what we hear are the results of its being played in one form or another, left as is, or manipulated and transformed. The slow natural lines will be recognisable as such, cascading over the processed remnants of itself. The musicians explore the trumpet’s tones, its nuances, they reverse, loop and tease it, to leave it lapping like waves on a shore. Awash with tone-colours, there is a circularity to the tracks, a retelling, acting possibly as a metaphor for the re-birth of what the trumpet has already delivered. There is an insistence to this music. Moving forward through subtle change allows Pjusk to avoid repetition, small noises are inserted, a glitch added, all without taking away the feeling that we’ve been here before. There is a comfort in this reiteration, after all its what some of the best music is built upon.

‘Falmet’ starts with the sound of a softly manipulated piano note, twisted, stretched, repeating but continually changing. One must assume that this is not a piano, and that no pianos were harmed in the making of this album, although the voice and guitar that adorn the track are real. There is a calm conveyed through minimal electronics, although the music retains an eeriness. The trumpet overlays a motif from the guitar, slightly altering as it proceeds, before being joined by spoken French. Repeating but almost not, sounds wrap around each other.

‘Diffus’ starts with a trumpet in terror. This is more than mere wailing. Opening into postures of eternal pleading, it is played over and over again, assuming more and more menace as it goes. Notes of despairing appeal fall like a cold hand upon the earth science electronica below. The answering alarm provides no solace from the physicality of the resonating sound waves. Demring brings to mind a station concourse, complete with undecipherable announcer, wind chimes follow, at times resembling those that used to precede notifications of impending departures. In between we have ghosts of radio interference, percussive effects, sultry trumpet and hints of rhythm. To my mind, the track which works the best is ‘Blaff’. Reminiscent of Brian Eno’s collaboration with Jon Hassell, this could quite happily reside on their classic album Possible Musics. Starting with a slightly industrial edge and infected with a pulse and Nymark’s tightly tongued trumpet, it is the piece that seems to have a direction, a purpose, a confidence in itself and hints at other worlds.

The pieces should be heard more as ambient textures rather than contiguous narratives. Discontinuities in sound, discords of themes, revisited, transformed and elemental in their nature. Although some sounds could be interpreted as mechanistic in their quality, they could equally be heard with a more grand temporality in mind. By escaping industrialisation, time has a different meaning, the grinding of the glacier replaces the whirr of the machine. The resulting sound fragments, the moraine, driven by the hypnotic, pulsing, even soulful mantra which underlies most tracks, positively shimmer in their delicacy. There is enough repetition to hook a listener, but not enough to make one turn away.

There are reservations though to all of this, ones that offer a divided affection. After nearly an hour of suggestive “border” music, you come away sensing its calm, yet noticing it drones on in a way that will soothe but never excite. Via ‘Central Images’, we are promised the beauty of the fjords, shimmering swarms of icy lakes, miles of snow-draped heights, but end up being presented with the fenlands of Cambridgeshire instead.