The Watchful Ear

There is something about Sval Torv, an impressively attractive twin vinyl set on the Sofa label by the Norwegian duo Streifenjunko that is really hard to pin down with words, but somehow slips into your consciousness after listening for a while, something subtle and oblique that makes the music here different from much else you are likely to hear, but quite why, its hard to say. Streinfenjunko are Eivind Lønning (trumpet) and Espen Reinertsen (tenor saxophone). The duo also form two fifths of the group Koboku Senju, who we were lucky enough to host in Oxford a year or two back now. This is their second duo release. A quick perusal of my shelves confirmed that I don’t own the first, but I will seek it out now I have listened and enjoyed Sval Torv a great deal.

The duo make music that is incredibly sensual, but in a really restrained, unassuming way. The liner notes allude to the fact that while the music is not exactly improvised, the only notation used is the act of recording as a compositional tool- so Lønning and Reinertsen would play together and record themselves, before using the resulting recording as a guide for how to refine the playing for the next time around. If this approach sounds charmingly enigmatic, so does the music as a whole. The pair play very softly and use gentle extended techniques but no electronics to produce mostly soft purring tones and calm rasping textures. These they combine in slow, very gradually progressing patterns which remind me a little of late Feldman in the way they feel faintly repetitive, but on close inspection aren’t entirely so. There is something very restrained, yet hauntingly affecting about Sval Torv that just seems to place you in a relaxed, contemplative mood. This sounds cheesy, I know, but I can’t really explain it any better. The music here, at its calmest seems to just seep into the room, nagging at you rather than pushing itself into your face. It is less of a drone than some kind of instrumental reinterpretation of waves lapping gently against a harbour, but even then its not all ambience, little pops and bursts revolve in delicate little patterns quite often. My favourite piece here however is the four minute long track that opens the third side, Langt inn i krypdyrhjernen (Babelfish, probably ncorrectly, translates this to Far into the brain crawling animals). The piece consists of just low, barely present moans that shift over one another in a slightly oblique, yet still very gentle manner. While some of the more clockwork-like mechanics of the album are not present in this little track, it still represents the album nicely for me- gentle, beautiful and yet also something naggingly awkward about it.

I have to admit that while the gatefold sleeve with images by Kjell Bjørgeengen is lovely, I listened a few times to the vinyl release before switching to a digital version of the music kindly sent to me by the label. Without getting into old arguments about which sounded better, this music just doesn’t lend itself to having to get up and flip the disc over every fifteen minutes or so. Putting all of the music onto one CD and just laying back to let it wind its individual sensuality around you is a far more agreeable option. Lovely music indeed then, beautifully recorded and produced and a credit to an already fine label.