Music

Two Noted Polish Musicians Improvise Music for the 1922 Silent Film 'Nanook of the North'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Two musicians from Gdansk team up as Nanook of the North to weave ambient magic for an old silent film of the same name.

Nanook of the North
Nanook of the North

Denovali

2 March 2018

Violinist Stefan Wesołowski and electronic musician Piotr Kaliński, who records under the name Hatti Vatti, have had strong musical careers of their own before they decided to collaborate. The two of them were invited to improvise alongside a film of their choice at the Sopot Film Festival in Gdansk, Poland. Going with Robert J. Flaherty's 1922 film Nanook of the North, their duo performance sowed the seed for future recording sessions in Reykjavík, Iceland.

They kind of took the easy way out by naming their band and their album after the film they spontaneously scored, but that should be the least of one's worries when a new "group" releases their debut album on the Denovali label. This German label has been giving us some startlingly unique jazz, drone, ambient, modern classical, and every other fringe genre that can fall between them for 13 years now. If a Denovali artist gives all the effort of a shoulder shrug into naming their band or album, you better believe they make up for it in other places.

In a musical genre known for hypnotizing listeners with the subtle use of mysterious sounds arranging in oh-so-compelling ways, Wesołowski and Kaliński still manage to stand out from the pack of other ambient masters. And like most great music released in this area, it's just so bloody simple in its structure that you'll find yourself wondering why no one stumbled upon it before. On "Siulleq", three bass notes ascend while a mild yet tense noise spreads itself over the top like a distant swarm of mosquitoes.

"Tulleq" samples two notes in the lower register, a perfect fifth apart, while a simple three-note minor key figure plays over and over in the upper register. "Arfernat" lets the beats do the talking (and walking) as two little chords glide over the background noise. The sample behind "Pingajoq" has a little more going on, though I'd still stake it as minimal. The searing buzz that flies at you every few bars is probably the least subtle and most frightening thing to happen throughout the entire album.

Wesołowski and Kaliński also allow their tracks to take unusual and refreshing shapes. Just when you think you know how "Siulleq" is going to end (in my case, by doing more of the same), it suddenly drops out of sight and it replaced by a woman's voice wordlessly singing a small assortment of notes. "Arfineq-aappaat" straddles the line between ambient and noise with building static, followed by a fast fade with a full 40 seconds to go. The Falling action is something they certainly didn't need to include, but the fact that they included it means that they are thinking outside the confines of some kind of box, somewhere out there in the land of Eastern European electronic ambient.

But if you have followed any artist from Denovali thus far, you've come to expect these little tricks of the trade tucked away inside such glowing music. Within their label, Nanook represents the rule. Outside of Denovali, they are one of the exceptions.

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