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The Alvaret Ensemble + Co: Skeylja

img  Tobias Fischer

Everybody loves a happy ending. Even the Alvaret Ensemble, forever surrounded by an aura of sweet gloom and doom, doesn't believe in such a thing as complete darkness. Instead, the music of this international experimental ensemble, working with elements of ambient, drone and acoustically tinged improv, always contains the promise of things turning towards the better. Perhaps they actually have: Whereas their eponymous debut album felt like a sceletised nocturnal fever, gradually building from infection to blurry visions, follow-up Skeylja offers even more gradations on the grey scale.

At the same time, it goes without saying that the cloth of Skeylja, too, has been sewn with the needle of the night. This time, meanwhile, the journey is less seamless, with the players constantly moving at the border of cool restraint and noisy explosions, announcing their outbursts with nothing but the slightest of intimations. And yet, within seconds of the cathartic release, the music has returned to its recognisably hypnotic mode of spartan trance, in which Jan Kleefstra's voice, mumbling a few Frisian words on top of Greg Haines' ghostly piano dabbers, is opening up vast inner spaces.

It is more than likely that homogeneity of these polar opposites can be explained by the unique recording process for Skeylja, which led the members of the Alvaret Ensemble all the way to Iceland. There, the formation fused with a group of local musicians to first write the compositions to the work, and in a second stage, perform them live in a series of nine concerts in the Netherlands, each of which was individually curated by one of the band members.

It was only then that the tracks were committed to tape. You might call this an act of sonic mnemonics, each gig taking the music into a different direction and towards new shores, before the material was finally recorded. Remarkably, meanwhile, the de-centralised, open-ended process never once destroyed the coherency and inner logic of the compositions. One can't help but marvel at the beauty of it all: It's still dark in the world of the Alvaret ensemble, but there certainly is a light at the end of the tunnel.

By Hellmut Neidhardt
Translation by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Alvaret Ensemble
Homepage: Denovali Records