Knut Hamre &|
Typically bowed for traditional dancing, the Norwegian hardangerfiddle (hardingfele) is equally well suited for pure listening. It satisfies in the audio chair by virtue of the intricate music played on it as well as the instruments own striking tonality. Asymmetric time signatures, where beats within the same measure can be of disproportionate lengths, combine with rustic harmonics to produce an irrational, organic sound. This is perhaps exactly what intrigued Steve Tibbetts, guitar adventurer and recordist, for his next ethnographic makeover: its affinities with his own metrically elusive soundworld. With hardangerfiddle master Knut Hamre and musician/arranger Turid Spildo, Steve Tibbetts and Marc Anderson have created whole new fields of pure listening for the hardingfele teeming with possibilities on Å.
First contact with a Tibbetts production initially gives the listener a helpless feeling, of immersion in a universe constructed with evanescent strings of ornament and seeming little else. Tibbetts has been laying his trail to a new kind of parlor music for 20+ years. His approach is evocative of imagined place and scape, of time that is elastic, colored with distinctive, austere tunings, and marked by a serenely (and sometimes violently) free sense of motion. For the listener it is a realm that requires, at times, daunting feats of concentration while capable of fruiting enormous rewards.
This is the second such exercise, whereby Tibbetts has gone afield to record idiosyncratic but jewel-like musicians in a faraway place (Nepalese chanter Choying Drolma was the first). Some real-time collaborative moments are captured on location with his Nagra recorder, but for the most part Tibbetts plays to the tapes after the fact in his studio until exactly the right accident happens. Tibbetts is a perfectionist, and it can take a long time before the requisite amount of details begin to accrue for a completed product.
Tibbetts and long time percussionist/partner Anderson play with non-repetitious, Zen-like stealth to Hamre who makes music with unflinching deliberateness, focusing almost entirely on lean, ancient-sounding melodies, adorned with flawless trillwork. The twelve selections form a suite of Nordic chamber songs, slow, musically simple but texturally complicated. Tibbetts blends the multiple occasions of recording together as though of one piece with a brushstroke-less touch and cryptic, specially prepared "treatments".
The sound quality is as good as the recorded variety gets in these digital days. All instruments are immaculately focused but never etched, displaying a warmth that whispers sweet, secret analog. A remote stone church in Utne and in Tibbetts' St. Paul studio provide a modest amount of room ambience that suits the intimate air of the collaboration. Though not credited, Tibbetts takes great pains to produce sleeve art which resonates with the music, and this he has done with a grayscale (90s speak for black & white) photograph palimpsest. Medieval-modernism, folkloric sound sculpture or post-pastoral improvisation do not quite sum up what happens on Å. Words never stand in for the experience of music, particularly in an encounter with someone like Steve Tibbetts. - Steve Taylor