Norwegian Winter/Scandinavian Minimalism

-8°C and occasionally snowy, 'tis the season of frozen monochromatics! Say goodbye to the colours of the rainbow, say hello to white snow and black night, the tidy distinction between the two non-colour colours increasingly blurred until the snow is a polluted grey melting on top of everything beneath those grey skies, which are neither day nor quite night. Need a pick-me-up?

The download above is pure winter music. It's got the industrial atmospherics of a city, yet sounds more like the cosmic hum heard only in an arctic landscape, between winds. The static made by molecular clouds of atoms, the waves inside a stone, a snow crystal or anything else you might care to think of. There aren't any familiar-sounding instruments or other recognisable sounds that otherwise give rise to associations or prejudices, limiting your experience. This is audio as meditation, without mantras, words, melodies, rhythms, patterns or other emotional cues reducing the complex into just one perspective, feeling, thought, memory or hope. This music is a sliding scale free of absolutes, which is what makes it not only difficult but wrong to try and describe it. But if you're skeptical of the old Scandinavian Minimalism, so often neat, sterile and functional, this is minimalism as mysticism, rather than design. If less is more, then the least is the most.

These recordings are by a Norwegian artist whose specialty is sound—an audio savant with an ear that seems to be able to capture what escapes ours entirely. (The record company that releases his music refuses to make its catalogue available in mp3 format, due to the inferiority in sound.) He started out as a minimalist noise/ambient solo artist, but is now almost exclusively a producer who no longer records or performs his own solo material. He once said in an interview that the pride of Norwegian New Age jazz, the internationally acclaimed Jan Garbarek, should be shot for what he's done to Norwegian folk music. (I don't recall him elaborating, but I'm sure Garbarek playing Norwegian folk schematics in the insipid tone of the soprano saxophone and dipping it liberally in synthesizers, taking any grittily sincere significance it may have had and reducing it to housewife demographic «spirituality», would do it.) Now he's making a similar kind of atmospheric jazz himself, as member of an acclaimed improv outfit. He has also worked with Garbarek's artistic kissing cousin, Nils Petter Molvær, who does exactly what Garbarek does, only with a trumpet, condemning the soul of Norwegian music to easy listening for urban dwellers with a nostalgia for nature.

This compilation, however, focuses on our noise artist's solo music, which doesn't err on any side of such bland existentialism. You can buy all of his albums in one box set now (even the ones initially limited to editions of 500 copies), as well as a dreamy remix project CD, all of which come very highly recommended. You can't find better music from Scandinavia (or finer ambient noise from anywhere).

This compilation collects none of those readily available recordings, only the non-album tracks that you can't find in one place or release, and which are more likely to disappear in the respective obscurities of its special interest compilation albums, remix projects, EPs and singles. Most of these tracks tend towards the subtle, insular fuzziness of the artist's later recordings, rather than the more grandiose noise of his early stuff or the experimental instrumentation of his mid-period pieces. Much of it may not be his best material (although some of it comes close), but it's the sound of winter. They're saying this year's going to be a cold one.

So curl up in a ball to conserve your warmth and let your mind drift off to the sound of inside…

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