A truly unique album of solo harmonica and voice from Bay Area performer and composer Laura Steenberge, who's studies in folk music, psycholinguistics, acoustics and medieval Byzantine chant brings a sense of the ancient to modern experimentalism, transforming the instrument in a variety of illusive ways that are both enigmatic and entirely embraceable.
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Catalog ID: nueni #007
Squidco Product Code: 25511
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded by the artist. Mastered by Ilia Belorukov.
Laura Steenberge-harmonica, voice
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1. Ritual For Harmonica 12:06
2. Chant - Harmonica 20:10
3. Spheres 1 3:15
4. Spheres 2 1:58
5. Spheres 3 2:10
6. The Lady Of Shalott 4:28
7. Pan And Apollo 2:14
8. The King's Ears 4:21
9. Rip Van Winkle 6:23
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"It goes without saying that there's never enough harmonica in contemporary experimental music, so Steenberge's fine recording has a leg up from the get go. She attended Cal Arts and I'm guessing studied with Michael Pisaro (she appears on his recording, 'Tombstones') and perhaps James Tenney. Not that their influence is marked--it's not--but a vague glimmer of the kind of gentle individualism they teach is apparent on this very unique effort.
There are nine tracks, in three groupings. The first two, 'Ritual for Harmonica' and filezi 'Chant - Harmonica', are the longest pieces at about 12 and 20 minutes respectively and, as their titles might indicate, are the ones with a ritualistic aura. On both, Steenberge hums/sings at the same time as she plays the harmonica, the latter often acting as a kind of drone or pedal point. 'Ritual for Harmonica' uses long tones, burled and complex in their layerings, the vibrato of the voice offset against the subtler vibrato of the harmonica chords. When pitched higher, she almost gets a Lucier-like effect of adjacent tone interference. But the overall cast is one of solitary reflection, thoughts unfurling in strings that are emitted in a quasi-regular manner but vary--intuitively, one feels--in any number of characteristics. (I pick up a glass-like sound as well, as though she's also blowing through, perhaps, a bottle). 'Chant - Harmonica', delves deeper, a series of rich, dark, undulating lines seemingly lasting as long as a breath, the low, buzzing harmonica chord bracing the simple "melody" atop, a sung line (anywhere from 3 to 15 notes) that indeed obliquely recalls the idea of "chant", though from what culture I'd find impossible to say. Her bio references a study if Byzantine chants, but I also find myself thinking along didjeridoo lines. The piece is extremely immersive as well as demanding, developing intensity and intricacy as it progresses--you really have to give yourself up and just wallow in it. Very beautiful.
The trio of pieces bearing the title, 'Sphere' (1, 2 and 3) are quite different, tending toward the high range of the instrument and involving swirling, airy patterns, sometimes reminding me of some of Guy Klucevsek's more abstract explorations (there's some accordion kinship here, I think). Mysterious and enticing, sparkles in an ice cloud. The final four compositions are more songlike in nature, though only vaguely so; maybe the titles nudge one in that direction. On 'The Lady of Shallot', the harmonica takes on a character that sometimes resembles a recorder before splaying out in shimmering, prismatic chords. Thinking of it, maybe it's the title of the following piece, 'Pan and Apollo' that got me thinking of pipes. Here, a rapid cycle of notes alternates between a medium-high, repeating swirl and a much higher, oddly distorting one, eventually overlapping and intermingling--oddly disorienting and quite effective. 'The King's Ears' has a bit of a fanfare quality as well as great sonic depth between both pitches and timbres. It shifts from the initial "announcement" aspect to a kind of chorale, a sung and sighed paean and, finally, to a kind of fast jig. 'Rip Van Winkle' closes thing out sleepily and dreamily, billows of gentle snores, in and out, in and out, yawning and stretching.
A wonderful and unusual recording."-Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Get additional information at Brian Olewnick's Just Outside
• Show Bio for Laura Steenberge
"Laura Steenberge is a performer and composer in Los Angeles who researches language, the voice, mythology and acoustics. Influenced by folk music, psycholinguistics, acoustics and medieval Byzantine chant, collectively her work is a study of nonsense and the boundaries of knowledge. A multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and public speaker, Steenberge uses voice, contrabass, viola da gamba, objects, images to create works in traditional and site-specific locations throughout California, including SF MOMA, the Sutro Baths, the Hammer Museum, REDCAT and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She holds BAs in music and linguistics from the University of Southern California, an MFA in composer/performer and integrated media from CalArts, and a DMA in music composition from Stanford University. She teaches experimental sound practices at CalArts."-Laura Steenberge Website (https://laurasteenbergeportfolio.com/)
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