It is near impossible to avoid relationships; the human urge to cooperate with others, in some capacity, will always follow us. For the majority, relationships take the form of family, friends, partners, and colleagues, all of which come with their unique trials and tribulations. For others, relationships are artistic endeavors, that is, getting to know someone through the language of art. Though the lone-wolf savant archetype has a respected place in the public imagination, utilizing the dynamics of interpersonal relationships creates something not achievable through solo efforts; the blending of different viewpoints.
On Kompisitioner, sound artists Kajsa Magnarsson and Marta Forsberg fuse botched samples, spoken word, and electroacoustic experimentation in an exhilaratingly eccentric manner. According to the press release, “Friendship and physical distance are the fuel when short sentences and words are sent between Stockholm and Berlin to be processed and transformed into small magical works in the sound art genre.” This sense of symbiosis gives Kompisitioner its whimsical yet restrained character.
There are two distinct personalities on these recordings; a sarcastic voice and a more sinister one. However, they complement each other well, not allowing the listener to be led by either, ultimately making for a deeper listen. The duo declare this theme on the back cover with the maxim “Collaboration is love”. While the album operates on the boundaries of compositional theory and digital production techniques, it’s the human aspect represented through conversations, audio notes, and spoken word, delivered in alternating Swedish, German, and English, that carries the thematic weight.
Both artists are formally trained, Magnarsson with a BA in Composition and Sound Art from Gothenburg University, Forsberg with a BA in Electroacoustic Composition from the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Their academic sensibilities are on display throughout the 13 short tracks on Kompisitioner. With echoes of Reich in their words-as-notes approach, the artists work best when emphasizing their sense of play in contrast to their theoretical noodling.
The longest track is the opener, “Anthem for a twenty nine year old girl”, coming in at three minutes, 25 seconds. This story-cum-poem polyphonically describes a disturbing dream about someone who finds her body half exposed at a party: “Fortunately I found the big white t-shirt, then I could feel safe.” The track’s 1980s synth, mangled by processing, runs throughout the song and helps mirror the distorted narrative of the story. It also prepares the listener for the challenging listen ahead.
On “Ja, visst gör det ont” (which translates to English as “Yes, it does hurt”), vocals are pitched down to sepulchral depths, resting on a bed of bending static, while others are pitched up and angelic, floating upon light xylophonic touches. “Lur, tjur, hur, mur, filur, djur, kur” (an alliteration lost in the English translation: Lur, bull, how, wall, dodger, animal, cure) sees a touch of beauty come to the fore with flourishes of empyrean synths gently playing over recordings of nature. Where “Moscovium” is a foreboding experiment in atmospheric tension, rhythmic splutters bouncing under translations of the synthetic element it is named after, “P.A.L.M.E.” is a more beat-heavy track, distorted hits crackling around the disorienting mix of delayed and layered vocal samples.
“You could also say” artfully loops a short phrase over ambient soundscapes of accordion, glitches, and swirling feedback. It is one of the more focused pieces on the album, a focus found on album highlight “Det var en gång” (Once upon a time), several obscure phrases morphed as they are translated from English to German to Swedish. “A bird” becomes “ein vogel”, while birdsong plays in the background, “in space” becomes “i rymden” over a cosmic soundscape, “a family” turns into “eine Familie” over jovial voices, while finally “in Germany” becomes “i Tyskland”. This element helps to reinforce the sense of transnational distance, which overarches the collection; the impression of two voices communicating from different places.
Released on the ever-reliable Swedish imprint Lamour Records on fetching double seven-inch vinyl, the album artwork by Swedish animator Gustaf Lord does a fine job of portraying the album’s eccentric but sophisticated nature. Though certainly not for all music fans, Kajsa Magnarsson and Marta Forsberg can entertain the more adventurous listener with their variegated worlds of sonic experimentation and this thoughtful exploit into high-concept sound art.