The Royal Bell of Stockholm

Swedish musician Egil Kalman seems to be a bass player by trade, but is also a composer and has made records demonstrating his prowess with the modular synthesiser, such as Weaving A Fabric Of Winds (with Fredrik Rasten) and Alkekung (with Zoe Efstahtiou).

To that complex instrument he turns again on Kingdom Of Bells (iDEAL RECORDINGS iDEAL213), his first solo album, where he plays the Synthi 100. I mention this fact as it’s in the press notes, but a little research reveals that it’s quite a “beast” of a device; first introduced in 1971 or 1974 (reports vary), it’s pretty much a massive expanded version of the popular – and portable – VCS3 model, with three times the capacity of the VCS3 and with added oscillators, filters, and envelopes. It’s from a time before miniaturisation, and if you wanted one of these monsters in your recording studio, rest assured you had to remove doors, windows and walls to get it inside. Less than 50 were ever made or sold, which must be why the press note audibly salivates over “this rare instrument”, also known colloquially as “Peter Zinovieff’s revenge”. Evidently one of these giganto-devils is squatting in the KSYME in Athens, which is where Kalman made today’s record. To his credit, he did it all live and in a single take with no overdubs. He’s clearly managed to tame the tiger, going by the assurance and deliberation with which he goes about his work.

These ten tracks make for a satisfying listen over two sides of a Rashad Becker-mastered vinyl LP, and yet to my ears Kalman isn’t doing anything especially experimental or challenging. The sound is certainly somewhat “raw”, but he steers away from truly wild or alienating non-natural noises, in favour of something that’s not far apart from a distorted electronic organ. Calming hypnotic drones are one ploy, on top of which he picks vague and uncertain patterns which more or less coalesce into melodies; on ‘Cloudless Daybreak’ and to a lesser extent on ‘Translinear Princple’, he’s living the Terry Riley dream. He’s arguably being true to the precepts of the Synthi 100, but he’s not seizing the moment to realise radical new compositions of his own, very often settling for extemporising on top of a root note in a single key. The press notes assure us that Egil Kalman is aiming “to dissolve the…barriers separating traditional Scandinavian folk and contemporary electroacoustic music”, so this may account for these lilting sea-shanty type tunes rethought as minimal keyboard exercises. My own tastes for more outré and surprising sounds is drawn more to such tracks as ‘Diffraction’, a vague experiment in just intonation producing queasy tones; the odd squawking sounds at the start of ‘Yellowhammer pt. 1’, which promise much but turn out to be a conventional pastoral portrait of avian wildlife; and the staccato stabs and swooping bursts on ‘Iannis’, sadly only 1:36 in length. Not an unpleasant record, but it’s not exactly My Brother The Wind Volume II. From 19 April 2022.