utorak, 30. travnja 2013.

Nick Hudson - Letters to the Dead (2013)

Album, film, živa izvedba i knjiga istovremeno.
Viktorijanska groblja, sablasti i loše majke.
Epski spoj prog-rocka, jazza, lo-fi popa i psihodelije.




Posted by Clara

In the latest issue of One+One Filmmakers Journal, Brighton-based musician and filmmaker Nick Hudson writes about the process of making his cross media project Letters to the Dead. The project tells the story of a bad mother’s search for her lost child, a Victorian spirit medium, a seance, ocean-dwelling undead sprites and a trial, all against the backdrop of the wild and haunting English sea. It comes in various forms, it is an album, a film, a book and a live performance. In the following interview we talk to Nick about how he feels now the project is completed and explore further some of the ideas he presents in his article.

Since writing about Letters to the Dead for One+One you have completed the film, the record and the live performance, how do you feel about the project now it’s all over?
Predominantly relieved, and excited to have witnessed the various strands come to fruition; also astonished and flattered by the dedication everyone involved has demonstrated. The première of both film and performance went very well and were well-attended. The show itself did however pass in a blur, as we’d spent the entire day loading in, dressing the set, fixing the lights, sound-checking, etc, so come the actual performance I was too focused on ensuring everything was proceeding as it should, to really enjoy it, beyond knowing that it seemed to be doing just that!
There’s the libretto booklet still to attend to, and then of course shed-loads of promotion for the album itself in its various guises. We’re also seeking to take the show to various art festivals across the UK and Europe, and there’s tentative discussion of touring it along the West Coast of the US come summertime.

In your article you talk about how important collaboration is for you, can you tell us a bit how this collaboration worked in Letters to the Dead, did everyone have equal creative input or was it more that people would suggest things and you would have final say?
Sure. So, I conceived of and wrote the narrative outline and the basic musical framework myself – so all the text itself is mine, as are the compositions in their rawest state. In terms of arrangement and tonal colour, that’s where the various contributors really imprinted themselves upon the work. Tim Byrnes (Kayo Dot/Hazel Rah) is an astonishing NYC-based horn player and composer to whom I gave a simple demo of ‘Bad Atoms’ – the overture – and he composed a five-piece horn arrangement that really illuminated the piece – and the same is pretty true of all the guest contributions – my standpoint being ‘why collaborate with someone whose work you enjoy for its original voice if you’re not going to permit any of that original voice to breathe within the collaboration’. So yeah, Toby Driver of Kayo Dot contributed a spidery, fractured and dissonant guitar line, intended for ‘Letters Number Three’, which I couldn’t fathom how would layer within the track, so for that one I composed a new piece around his contribution.
In terms of the film aspect, Chris Purdie and I largely improvised the framing and angles on location – quite an urgent but intuitive dialogue developed – ultimately I ended up more directing the performers and let Chris get on with composing the shots. The performers would generate entire sequences – such as Karin’s dance – the wind billowed about the diaphanous blue shawl she was wearing, and so we just pointed the camera at her on the beach and filmed her doing whatever she was doing – it’s proven one of the most dynamic sequences in the work.

The relationship between money and creativity is one of the chief concerns discussed in your article, you talk about an approach to making projects which works with available means and instead of payment to collaborators you exchange skills and artworks. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the relationship between money and the distribution and exhibition of your project? Will your album/film be available for free and do you charge for people to attend your screenings/concerts? If so do you think the fact that if people have exchanged money to see your work has an effect on their experience of it?
In terms of the concerts/screenings being thus-far self-produced, we obviously didn’t want to actually lose money, so we sold tickets for a minimal fee – a church is an expensive venue to rent so it was essential that we cover that, plus the fee to the hired sound/lighting engineer. Everyone involved in it will obviously be given copies of the film/album/booklet when they’re ready, as will everyone who participated in the Crowdfunder campaign with which we partially funded the record. If other parties/promoters decided they want to stage ‘Letters…’ and pay everyone, obviously that’s wonderful, and indeed were we to have made a sum beyond that sufficient to cover basic venue/engineer hire costs, then I’d of course rather have paid people than not – we’d all rather have this work be our day job in a sustainable manner. And that’s something I’m looking towards now – grants and trusts that may wish to invest in this kind of work and those contributing within it. In all honesty, we only just pulled off the show – it’s the most logistically demanding and multi-faceted endeavour any of us have attempted to put stage – there were around thirty people involved altogether, and although I stand by my initial musings on the rather utopian idea of an economy based on skill-sharing, I obviously am not averse to the idea of this work actually constituting a source of income that can support in the sense of bills being paid. I think the skill-sharing economy can work between artists and mutual collaborators, but I see no reason why the public who interact with the art shouldn’t pay to experience it – not all of the time necessarily, but certainly in situations where there are huge costs involved in presenting the art.
Otherwise, we filmed the concert and have made that available for free online, and the ‘Letters…’ film itself comes with vinyl, and I think Chris and I would be happy to have it screened for free – as the film is an artefact, not a performance requiring thirty people to have it manifested! Also, the record will be stream-able on various Bandcamp pages. This is being released by Antithetic Records in a fairly limited edition.

Tell us a little about your inspirations, what artists, filmmakers and musicians have inspired and influenced Letters to the Dead?
In terms of general inspiration seeping into my world-view and artistic considerations, Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Wilson and Scott Walker are true pillars within their respective media, and elements from the works of each I’m fairly certain permeated my creative process regarding ‘Letters…’ Obviously there are hundreds more – Meredith Monk, Peter Greenaway, Kenneth Anger, Bjork, Maya Deren, and many others.

I am interested in the relationship between the various forms of Letters to the Dead, why was it important to for it to be a live performance, an album and a film? What was gained from each of these different incarnations that couldn’t have been achieved from the others alone?
I’ve always made albums, and I’ve always performed, and albeit less frequently, I’ve always made films, and so I wanted to explore what would happen if one were to situate a single project across all three endeavours, and I think the relationship is one of environment – one occurs and is digested in a church, one in a cinema, and one (I’d in most cases presume) at home. The way people behave in each of these environments is quite different. Also, in terms of sheer quantity of data being transmitted, they’re each very different – with the album being purely audial, aside from the artwork, the film packaging visual and audio data together, and the performance incorporating the film, staged sequences, the architectural grandeur of the performance space, and the spontaneity of improvised musical sequences. So at the most basic, each strand behaves in each own way, while still being recognisably built around a cohesive whole. I wanted to have the narrative manifest on so many levels and across so many media that an extra credibility might be lent to the story content – with the same visual and audial prompts appearing around every corner.
It will also evolve – if and when we’re able to summon funds for bigger sets, more lighting, etc, then the performance will expand.

What projects do you have planned for 2013?
I need to complete the film-making MA I began last year. And I hope and wish to take ‘Letters..’ on tour, as mentioned briefly above. I’ve also got various collaborative EP’s on the horizon. And am currently composing a score for a film by Michael Salerno, an excellent director based in Paris. This is called Dans Le Silence and looks to be a beautiful film. - oneplusonejournal.co.uk/

A Day Without Comfort (2012) streaming

'Following on from 2010’s epic "My Antique Son" (made with his sometime ensemble The Academy of Sun), "A Day Without Comfort" sees Nick again in solo guise, offering up a platter of eleven hauntingly-executed songs dealing with the biography of a dear friend and with Nick’s own manifold political/spiritual/social concerns.'

Dedicated to Dr. John Bacchus.


My Antique Son (2010) streaming

 'like something geared to the kind of person who visits Victorian graveyards for kicks...' - Penny Black Music

TERRitORies of disSENT (2010) streaming

On his excellent debut album TERRITORIES OF DISSENT, Nick Hudson sounds occasionally like Bill Nelson singing Scott’s ‘Angels of Ashes’, elsewhere glimpsing the same solitary late summer glows of Robert Martin’s mythical cassette-to-vinyl LP THE LONG GOODBYE. If Richey ‘Twelve Steps’ Manic hadn’t got quite so tragically Jason Pierced at that evangelistic St. Pauline saviour machine they call the Priory (Burn THAT fucker down!), you could almost imagine His Edwardsness having turned something like this out once he’d come back from the Living Dead. It’s Gay in the old sense, highly fucking beautiful in a ‘gazing together into Biba mirrors with smeared lippy’ kind of manner, archly male in a La Düsseldorf stylee, exquisitely bed-sit in a rather schooled and possibly seaside manner … oh, and full of short, near Classical instrumentals that always fuck off way too quickly to destroy Nick’s metaphor. Search out TERRITORIES OF DISSENT by accessing www.myspace.com/nickjackhudson. Oh yeah, and next time do put yourself on the front cover, Mr. H.; there’s far too many ugly cunts pushing their septic imageless phizzogs in the media, we need a few pretty men with their own IQs to lively those homophobic cunts up. Yow-fucking-Tsar! - Julian Cope

Polymath Flukeworm (2004) streaming

subota, 27. travnja 2013.

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (9 Hour Time-Stretched Version)

Pjesma je izvorno duga oko 10 minuta no onda su je rastegnuli na 9 sati. Mučili su je dok na kraju nije nešto priznala.

izvorna verzija:

Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” or…
The last sound a subway train hears before it dies.
The sound of God sucking it up.
Townsend’s tinnitus.
The Empire State Building snoring.
Beelzebub taking a massive bowel movement. - dangerousminds.net/

Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky (2013)

Norvežanka Hval je književnica (ima roman o kući čija se unutrašnjost postupno izokreće prema van) a radi i izvrsne zvukovne instalacije i snima suludo dobre albume. "Nemaju svi udovi erekciju, neki se svijaju prema unutra", ili "Stigla sam u grad s električnom četkicom za zube stisnutom uz klitoris".



Film clip! An excerpt from the opening concert of the Innocence is kinky sound installation @ Henie Onstad Kunstsenter this summer. Enjoy!

Is here!
Design: Peder Bernhardt

Jenny Hval - Innocence is kinky

Jenny Hval is one of Norway`s most prominent young artists. She is renowned as writer, recording artist and sound artist both in Norway and abroad. Now she shows the sound and light installation Innocence is kinky at the Henie Onstad Art Centre.

As part of the Øya music festival autumn 2011, Jenny Hval performed a silent movie concert in Oslo. Her own music accompanied the film La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (the Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s portrait of Jeanne d’Arc that dates from 1928). The public performance rights weren’t obtained until the end of July, so she eventually had to compose and rehearse the score in merely three weeks.
When Henie Onstad Art Centre approached Hval in 2011 to commission a site-specific sound installation, she decided to follow the thread she had started in the work of hastiness. During intense work periods in March and April of 2012, Hval worked at Høvikodden both to record sound and vocals, and to produce text. The work expanded in parallel directions, becoming a book, a record and the sound and light installation Innocence is kinky that opens July 3rd at Høvikodden. During this process she also expanded the range of materials that were to define the basis of the work. Le passion de Jeanne d’Arc works primarily as a close study of Jeanne d’Arc’s face. Innocence is kinky continues this study, but at the same time it allows the film to be interrupted by other films, other faces: an overexposed Paris Hilton in night vision, Nancy from a Nightmare on Elm Street laying in a bathtub, reeking with fear, the notable nihilist-porn pioneer Sasha Grey, Mia in Fish Tank running away in her jaded armour, Inger dying in childbirth in the movie The Word and people from the reality show Paradise Hotel. All in all as a string of pearls constituting what Hval herself refers to as white trash of Orléans.
Multidisciplinary and transgressive are words often employed to describe the work of Jenny Hval (b. 1980). But her polyphonic artistry in fact seamlessly consists of musical, literary, visual and performative modes of expression. Despite her young age, she has already infused, carved and modulated an artistic voice that is altogether present, accessible and obscurely complex at the same time.
Innocence is kinky is a 25 minute long sound and light installation. The light design is created by Kyrre Heldal Karlsen, in cooperation with Jenny Hval. During the vernissage Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden will perform an exclusive live version of the commissioned piece.
Innocence is kinky is a part of the ”Kunstgave”-project, a donation to Henie Onstad Art Centre from the DnB NOR Savings Bank Foundation. - www.hok.no/

Potrait of the young girl as an artist (from Viscera, 2011. Video by IJ.Biermann)

Blood flight (from Viscera, 2011. Video by Håvard Volden and Jenny Hval)

How gentle (from Viscera, 2011. Video by Håvard Volden and Jenny Hval)

And here is the video for Grizzly Man (from Medea, 2008. Video by Tundra)

Live, Genoa, October 2011:

Live, Iceland Airwaves, October 2011:

Live, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, June 2012:

Live, by:Larm festival (2011):

Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre, (2010):

Live, by:Larm festival (2009):
A cover of The Velvet Underground @ Lydverket (TV, 2008):

Grizzly Man live @ Store Studio (TV, 2008):

Viscera (2011)  streaming

Viscera (LP, 2011) is out now on cd, double vinyl and mp3 via Rune Grammofon. This album has received some absolutely wonderful reviews!
“Viscera” is set in the body. The songs are stories of flesh and travelling, both sensual and provocative. I wanted to make free music, without a conceptual framework, but realised after recording the album that all the songs deal with travelling in one way or another. Some songs have a modernist protagonist – an unknown and yet present I – whereas other songs take place in the body, visceral travelling. Inside becomes outside, the body is turned inside out.
Going back through my notes when writing the songs and improvising, I remember that I was working with different themes that have later been pushed aside. At the very beginning, I was influenced by the harsh, repetitive and pornographic language of Elfriede Jelinek and Pauline Reage, and then at some stage the focus shifted completely to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Perhaps what I’ve made is an explicit, visceral Orlando for our time? A being in metamorphosis, a traveller through time and body?
The music for Viscera was composed and arranged by improvising. It follows my lyrics wherever they go: spoken word, surrealist imagery, or just sound. Modernist fantasy? Fantastic anatomy?
Viscera is my first album using my own name, and also my first on the label Rune Grammofon.

The body, this holiest of temples, is the subject of Jenny Hval’s new album, but it is its most visceral functions and primal organs that are the focus of her attention. Blood, piss, spit, sweat, erections, clitoris, eye sockets, tongues, finger nails, pores and skin, senses are all exposed in the cold light of day, used and abused in every song. Yet, if nothing is too crude or taboo for the Norwegian songstress, Viscera is actually a poetic journey like no other, carried by Hval’s deeply moving voice, part Liz Fraser, part Björk, part Mari Boine, yet totally and utterly unique.
Hval made a name for herself as Rockettothesky, under which banner she released two albums, To Sing You Apple Trees (2006) and Medusa (2008). Viscera is quite a different offering. As she shakes off the guise and ditches the pop influences that scoured her previous effort to investigate much more delicate atmospheric musical forms, largely served by acoustic instrumentation upon which Helge Sten, of Deathprod fame, underlines with subtle electronic touches, Hval steps into a much more contrasted terrain, reflected in the intricacy of her melodies and the impressive level of control she has over her vocals. Indeed, it is Hval’s mouth and larynx which should be celebrated above all here. While it sometimes appeared out of control in the past, her performance is here so nuanced and exquisite, at times soft and graceful, at others sharp and angular, solitary of layered into spine-tingling harmonies, it is the focal point around which everything else revolves.
Hval coveys brutal imagery in very angelic fashion, making even the crudest words sound natural and relevant. And she confronts the listener head on on all fronts right from the opening line of Engines In The City, and continues to do so all the way through, from the spellbinding Blood Fight, punctuated by an earthy bass drum and airy guitar motifs, the haunting Golden Locks, first aired on the excellent Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep at the end of last year, to the beautiful pastoral expenses of How Gentle, A Silver Fox and the title track, and the deeply introspective This Is A Thirst, upon which the Deathprod hand can be felt very strongly. On Portrait Of The Young Girl As An Artist, she adopts a much more angular approach as subtle acoustic touches are replaced with heavy stabs of electric guitars, a nod perhaps to her former incarnation, but even here Hval’s voice cuts through to appear at once primeval and ethereal.
There is such urgency throughout this record that it is quite astonishing how Hval manages to retain any lightness in her music, but she does, and Sten picks up on just enough to bring it all to life in sprightly bright colours and tones. Viscera might deal with crude aspects of life, but it does so in an inspired existential fashion that, while one would expect such venture to be voyeuristic and pornographic, it is actually evocative and celebratory. And it is fair to say that the word ‘cunt’ was probably never delivered in any more poetic fashion anywhere than on this utterly flawless record. - www.themilkfactory.co.uk/

Jenny Hval – When Viscera takes control

Compelling and disturbing examination of the power of the body over the senses from Norway

Viscera, the new album by Norway’s Jenny Hval, is a striking, often disturbing, surreal examination of how the body can take control, winning out over thought. Hval enfolds her explicit, literature-inspired lyrics in music that suddenly shifts from the impressionistic to the surging. Her voice can be disquietingly detached, narrating, as she puts it, “a partly uncomfortable listen”.
Jenny Hval was a highlight of February’s by:Larm festival. Live in Oslo, the interplay between her, Håvard Volden and Kyrre Lastad – both of whom have backgrounds in improvisational music – brought to mind Lorca-era Tim Buckley, the point when his voice became at one with his jazz-inspired arrangements. Hval wasn’t playing jazz, but the ebb, flow and electricity coming from the stage paralleled that of Buckley’s TV appearances from around 1970. Like Buckley, like a medium, Hval was channelling the music and lyrics.
Hval previously made two albums as Rockettothesky, but used her own name this time around. “I wanted to appear more like a writer on this album,” she says. “That said, the name change was highly overdue. I started out as Rockettothesky mostly to avoid the ‘girl with guitar’ stereotype. Now I don’t care anymore.” She studied performance and creative writing at the University of Melbourne and writes for Norwegian magazines and newspapers as well as recording. Her novel Perlebryggeriet (Pearl Brewery) was published in 2009.
The point of entry to Viscera (released this week) is “Engines in the Sky”. “I arrived in town, with an electric toothbrush, pressed against my clitoris”, she intones. “After a few weeks, it ran out of batteries, humming silently between my lips, I am the engine now”. “Blood Flight” describes switching the senses and features of the body’s organs – “from the ears grew two tongues… and the edges of the cunt grew little teeth”.
“I was inspired by The Story of O as well as other works using pornographic language,” explains Hval. “As well as The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille - probably the most inspiring due to its Surrealist, free language - and Lust by Elfriede Jelinek. Very, very different books. The Story of O was a frustrating read as it deals so much with submission, but it has an incredible drive - a sort of subconscious, explicit and direct urgency. I hated and loved it all at once. It made me want to voice explicit language, but at the same time find a language - also musically - that didn’t have to be limited by the master-and-slave hierarchy of pornography. The inside of a body and its senses became a home for this language, as well as a Surrealist logic. Because I was influenced by pretty disturbing literary works, this record had to be a partly uncomfortable listen. At the same time, it is also quiet and melodic. It’s quietly uncomfortable, rather than loud and raw.”
Asked if Viscera could have existed without the language and imagery, and whether it could have succeeded on broad allusion alone, Hval says, “No, I don’t think so and I wouldn’t have been so interested in making it. There is so much music made with metaphors, with hinting. I didn’t want to explore that. Without the detail and the directness of the words, I wouldn’t have had to think through all these visceral ideas musically. I wouldn’t have been trying out this quiet visceral way of singing and playing either, the guttural sounds, out of tune whispers and dynamic shifts.”
“I’ve always written a lot about the uncontrollable body, or the body rather than the mind,” she continues. “I think I have a certain awareness or sensibility of the visceral as a resistance to the controlled, mundane, clichéd understanding of human beings. I’ve also read a lot about the body in French feminist theory - Hélene Cixous’s Ecriture Feminine, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva. The body has been a monstrous and troubling concept in philosophy through the ages, the female body especially so. The solution to the frightening body these days in reality TV and newspapers is the body presented as a clean surface. Again, pornography. I want to see the body differently - as a space, pioneer territory, something surprising and eye-opening. Psychedelic? Frightening, but also ecstatic.”

Viscera is Jenny Hval’s first release under her own name (she has previously released two albums as Rockettothesky) and her first for Rune Grammofon. It’s a highly ambitious project that looks to explore the relationship between body and space, between high-concept ideas such as the Modernist I and the Modernist eye, and the effects of travel and stasis on the most intimate areas of our minds, and of our bodies. Sonically, it’s a fascinating mix of the experimental and the warm and lush, echoing the Cocteaus, Kate Bush and even spectral folk figures from the early part of the 1970s such as Linda Perhacs. Like any project with such far-reaching ambitions it teeters at times on the brink of tipping into melodrama and pretension but Hval manages the terrain skilfully. It’s a fascinating record.
Hval’s technique on Visceral is essentially literary/poetic. The album was created around a series of notes she had made, the music improvised and extrapolated outwards from a series of core themes. Those themes are loosely based around ideas of metamorphosis. Hval cites Virginia Woolf as an influence, and the shape-shifting gender-swapping figure of Orlando in particular. Another antecedent might be the characters Angela Carter created in Wise Children or the Gothic fairy tales of The Bloody Chamber. The figures (or the fluid I/eye) in these narratives are embroiled in a world of (willed and otherwise) sensory confusion: there’s at once a kind of synaesthesia in which sensory organs are swapped and melded (‘I carefully rearranged my senses/so they could have a conversation’) and a notion of flesh expanding and taking on monumental proportions – the world becoming an extension of internal organs and genitalia and vice-versa: the clitoris becoming a sphinx, the body described as a ‘one way street’ and thighs like train tracks. There is also something of the animal in all this too, the body frequently described in animalistic terms – as sprouting gills, and producing feathers or swathes of new-grown hair.
Yet, for all its insistence on fantastical ideas and metamorphosis, Hval also insists on representing the body as a body. It’s reminiscent of a kind of anti-pornography in places, the secretions and excretions (even all that missing hair) that pornography eliminates from its smooth surfaces are reintroduced like a particularly pungent return of the repressed. As such, the other writer I’m reminded of is JG Ballard, who was similarly intrigued by the mechanics of the body, and the ways in which we merged ourselves into our surroundings, the erotics of the body extended to the rigid angles of technology (the angle of two walls). For all that, Ballard was largely amusical and always observed with a clinician’s eye and certainly never produced anything this lush, this erotic.
And let’s be clear, Viscera is a voluptuously erotic record. From these descriptions you might imagine something distant and distancing, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The production is warm and clear, almost velveteen in places, pitching muted string sections and washes of broad keyboard tones. Then there is Hval’s voice which has a fantastic depth and allure – whether she’s biting into clipped syllables or crooning a phrase like ‘golden showers’ and making it sound like she’s singing from a hymn book. To invoke Woolf once more, what Hval’s doing here is finding a musical and poetic language for exploring what Woolf called ‘the things we do in the dark’. It’s a dazzling achievement. ‘Speak body and bone marrow’ indeed. - 

An album born from improvisation, by a woman whose last album, Medea, was inspired by the murderous and abandoned sorceress of Greek legend, is duty bound to sound like an incantation. For her third album, Jenny Hval serves up lengthy tracts of serene siren song, with a pinch of acid folk, a touch of post-rock and a soupcon of goth. That makes Viscera sound slavishly retro whereas it’s anything but; note the fact the cutting-edge Rune Grammofon label are on board. If the album does tap the shivery lure and lust of ancient North European song, it’s all on her own terms. In any case, Hval doesn’t have to force the mood for a second; it’s in her Norwegian blood.
Viscera actually means the body’s internal organs, specifically in the chest and abdomen. Research into the musical impact on the pancreas or intestine is still in its formative stages but it at least sounds like Hval’s heart is in freefall. Perhaps it comes after trying out mainstream pop gloss on her 2006 debut To Sing You Apple Trees, released under the pseudonym Rockettothesky. Released in 2008, Medea’s choral-electronic tone poems pointed a way to Viscera, but under her own name at last, Hval sounds like she’s finally come home. The mood is more earthbound and primeval. Intuitive to Viscera’s pale guitar extemporisations and matching colours (synths, church organ, zither and its sadly sidelined six-string cousin, the psaltery) is the feel of endless winter darkness and summer dusks. The eight-minute This Is a Thirst sounds like Hval is channelling the dawn chorus itself, Golden Locks and Black Morning are more concentrated pastoral-misty, while Milk of Marrow and Blood Flight could be long-lost tracks from The Wicker Man soundtrack.
But for all the efforts of Hval’s cohorts Håvard Volden and Kyree Laastad, it’s her vocals at the heart of the spell. Her range of Elysian chanting, siren song and occasional growls isn’t groundbreaking but the delivery – almost theatrical at times – might stop you in her tracks. If she’s reminiscent of anyone, it’s nobody Scandinavian but exalted Canadian Mary Margaret O’Hara.
There’s one track that suggest Hval isn’t content to get lost in nature. The backdrop to Portrait of the Young Girl as an Artist begins as an eerie electronic haze over distant drums, unexpectedly slides into fully-charged Viking rock throb, and ends in a blizzard that buries Hval’s wailing protest. With Viscera, she’s clearly onto something. This may be just music but your internal organs will know exactly what sorcery she’s casting here. - Martin Aston

Medea (2008) 
was my second album as Rockettothesky. It was largely electronic and inspired by ancient literature. The acoustic guitar loomed in the background: the singer-songwriter made her appearance as a haunting ghost.
The album was named after the Greek tragedy Medea, and inspired by this, I made a concept album about death, the mothering silence and metamorphosis. I think of the music free form surrealist pop; at the same time gloomy and glowing, absurd and sacred, ethereal and catchy.
Medea was written, recorded and produced by me, and mixed by Helge Sten.
Here is a track from the album: M

Jenny Hval Takes a Rockettothesky

Even just by reading her own personal thoughts on the art of music alone, one can easily gather that Jenny Hval is one of those literary types. By this, I refer to individuals who seem to have a personal connection with works of literature, interpreting them as if it is their own life and experiences being foretold in the process. Sure, many of these types can be pretentious, but others can be uniquely invigorating in a way that causes the people they interact with to look deeper into the thematic meanings of literature and art in general. Hval is more applicable of the latter description, fusing her love of music and literature together for the “one-woman band” of Rockettothesky. It would make sense too, as the young songwriter from Norway also happens to be an aspiring writer who has had her works published in a handful of anthologies; she describes herself as constantly being busy with “pieces of fiction, articles, essays, [and] spoken word pieces” in addition to her music. That being said, she certainly seems like a fascinating person to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. The aspect that drew me to Hval’s music, though, was not the way she looked upon the art of writing and music. Instead, I became enthralled by the way she was able to fuse the two together in producing a sound and style that is truly and distinctively her own.
In accordance to her literary ideology, I suppose that it should not be all that startling that Hval began writing songs for Rockettothesky as a “secret project” of sorts consisting of impulsive monologues for her deceased dog, Inka. In fact, in her own words, the project is “an invocation of the voices of the dead”, prompting the improvisational tendencies of Hval to be both thematically appropriate and strangely resounding. You see what I mean about how it would be interesting to sit down and have a conversation with Hval? For those somewhat intimidated by her eccentric nature though, her music proves that she is not by any means utilizing these unconventional methods for the sake of recognition or artistic desperation. In touch with her individualistic self throughout the entire duration, the ten recordings on her second album, Medea, portray a woman who is clearly in touch with the style she intends to produce. Alternating between styles such as folk, electronica, and pop, her richly extravagant vocals haunt the realms of her stylistically multifarious ability in a comparable form to Björk, a prevalent influence. A plea to the dead is a somewhat bizarre way to describe her style, but as Hval shifts from highly melodic vocal lines on sweeping orchestrals like “Grizzly Man” to percussively aided electro-pop gems like “The Dead, Dead Water Lily Thin”, one begins to get the sense that her highly ambitious style of play may be impossible to describe any better than as tribal chants directed toward the dead.

While chants and odes to the deceased may sound like a grim topic, Hval’s music actually turns out to be more enlightening than it does somber or melancholically reflective. “Grizzly Man” sounds more spiritually uplifting if anything, looking upon such aforementioned aspects of death in a manner that appears optimistic and progressively gratifying. Some tracks may be foreign to me and most listeners, but the mixture of twinkling bells and beautiful finger-picked acoustical guitar progressions in “Grizzly Man” creates a serene atmosphere that is supplemented marvelously by Hval’s extraordinary vocals. Her range defies even her melodic diversity, a spectacle in itself considering the unpredictable nature of her song’s structures and the melodic instrumentation that drives them. This astute level of instrumental diversity and consequentially experimental production is found all throughout the duration of Medea, whether it be the heavily reverbed echoes of a trickling guitar and sporadic bass in “Song in Blood” or the use of wind chimes and subtle hint of strings in the opening “Song of Pearl”. Some tracks even border a cappella form. “Chorus”, specifically, is only backed by a brooding synth pad as a variety of vocal layers overlap to give a choir-like effect that simply adds to a central message of everlasting love.
Despite being considerably more ambitious than anything you are ever likely to find on mainstream radio, “14, 15, 13, 14” serves as one of the most accessible tracks on Medea. The track is directed by a key-led beat that is very reminiscent of Middle-Eastern folk music, a very fascinating development that reveals itself as Hval transitions between melodically appeasing harmonies and spoken-word movements over a bustling trickle of backing synths. It is also one of her most straightforward tracks in terms of style and substance, especially when compared to near-ambient spectacles like “Mothering Silence” and “Chorus”. The only other track that takes a somewhat similar approach is “The Dead, Dead Water Lily Thin”. Initiated by the deep resounding pounding of percussion and a nasally synth line, Sweden’s The Knife certainly comes to mind due to the track’s ability to remain in the realm of electronic pop while maintaining the utmost sense of ambitiousness and atmospheric maneuverability. It also helps considerably that Hval encompasses vocals that fit whichever style she chooses to a startlingly effective extent, whether it be a cappella choral music, meditative orchestral arrangements, or subtly infectious electronic pop. On Medea, there is something for anyone who appreciates succeeding in a nearly inimitable format.- Obscure Sound

To sing you apple trees

to sing you apple trees (2006)

To sing you apple trees (2006, Trustme records) was my first album using the Rockettothesky moniker, and also generally my first proper release. A lot of my early demos ended up on the album, as well as some new songs. It received rave reviews in Norway, and I was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy for best new act.
This album was a studio album – my only studio album so far – recorded and mixed by Audun Borrmann and produced by Jan Martin Smørdal, Borrmann and I. Like anybody’s debut album, it’s full of hope, stress, starry eyes, everything all at once, and most of all: fear.
The big hit of the album was Barrie for Billy MacKenzie (yes, I know now his name is really Mackenzie), but my favourite song on the album is the final track – A Flock Of Chestshire Cats.

demos 1999-2006

Before I released any albums, my solo project was a sleeping parasite project for years, stealing energy from my studies, other bands, friends, books and anything that came within my reach from 1999-2006. I made proper songs, the kind of songs that I could play live and that ended up on To sing you apple trees, but I also did a lot of other stuff – weird shit and theatre music, monologues etc. On my computer, I have hundreds of tracks from this time, and I’ve decided this page is an excellent home for a few of them.
Back in the late 90s, when I started making music (as well as web pages – I didn’t make this one though), my web hangouts were the home pages, not social networks. I loved browsing through archives of free mp3s or real media files on the internet, not wanting to meet people but just listening to music or watching video clips late at night. The internet was a library (ok I also used mIRC).
For now, here are two demo pieces I’d like to put up here that later ended up on my first album (from 2001-2):
To where it was sucked out from And
I stepped on a toothbrush And an infamous cover that will never be released (recorded in 2005 by Robert Jønnum):
My Kylie Other (infamous) covers I did in my early days: Vanishing Point (one of my favourite New Order songs), Adored (Yes! I covered the Stone Roses!), Ruby, don’t take your love to town (my first cover! 1999!).
Songs I’ve often wanted to cover: Streets of Laredo, Terry, Hey Paula, After The Flood, Hearts and Bones, 24 Hours From Tulsa, Psychic Hearts, Thoughtforms, and most of all: the Mussorgsky song playing in the background in the middle of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil.

 Nude on Sand (2012) via SOFA MUSIC:
SOFA has during its 11 years of existence presented many artists who have pushed the boundraries of voice: Sidsel Endresen, Phil Minton, Maja Ratkje and Anita Kaasbøll among others. With Nude on Sand, it is perhaps the lyrics that lead the music in unexpected directions. The project started off in a series of commissioned works, and slowly developed into this fascinating duo. Free folk perhaps? Taku Sugimoto, Shirley Collins, Lou Reed and Diamanda Galas meets up to share blood, and the blood hits the ground to become a little weed called Nude on Sand.
Musically, their debut album is stripped, but not minimalist. There are few formal restrictions, allowing the music to shift with a SNAP from naive blues, spoken word and completely fragmented pop songs. The lyrics follow these abrupt shifts with endearing absurdity, representing the blogosphere as much as poetry. The result is essentially vulnerable, exposing a youthful, Beckett-like nakedness.

The Milk Factory

The sheer ascetic surrealism of this record takes some doing to stomach, but this is very much why Jenny Hval is now getting much attention. She is, like Sidsel Endresen or Maja Ratkje, a fearless performer and artist, who knows no boundaries and is incapable of compromising. -- read the whole review»
Bruno Lasnier

the arts desk

The sparse Nude on Sand shows that even bare bones can create an impact. -- read the whole review»
Kieron Tyler


Det improviserte preget som dette fører til er noe av grunnen til at jeg setter Hval så høyt: evnen til å inkorperere inntrykk fra en rekke sjangere, like ofte fra undergrunnen som fra blues eller folk eller andre alternative former for kunstuttrykk, og sette sitt eget umiskjennelige stempel på det. Evnen til å lage kunst, rett og slett. -- read the whole review»
Svein Magnus Furu

Bergens Tidende

Nude On Sand gir oss musikk som makter å være innbydende på tross av sitt motstandsfylte utspring, og gi den nye tidsånden en positiv vri. Her representeres motreaksjonen til teknikkjaget av det enkle, upolerte uttrykket. Muligens medisinen som trengs når den seneste produksjonen fra Popmaskin Norge A/S har skapt ubalanse i mageregionen. -- read the whole review»
Stephan Meidell


Ofte kan et improvisasjonsformat miste noe av sin styrke ved å la seg feste digitalt. «Nude on sand» har allikevel såpass mange håndfaste retningslinjer at albumet frister til stadig flere gjennomlyttinger og albumet framstår etter hvert som en slags pandoras eske av musikalske elementer. Kjempespennende! -- read the whole review»
Oda Faremo Lindholm

I have composed music for a few theatre and dance pieces, most recently a few collaboration with the Norwegian choreographer Tharan Revfem and her company Plire Multi Dance. Here is an excerpt from the show Arthropod (2008, music by Martin Horntveth and I):

previous projects
Music for theatre and dance
I have composed music for a few theatre and dance pieces, most recently a few collaboration with the Norwegian choreographer Tharan Revfem and her company Plire Multi Dance. Here is an excerpt from the show Arthropod (2008, music by Martin Horntveth and I):

Children of Klang
I was a founding member of the duo Children of Klang with the amazing sound artist/dj Elin Øyen Vister. Children of Klang became Elin’s solo project Child of Klang, but I hope to contribute again soon! Sublime sound.
Folding For Air (AUS) – 2002-4
Folding For Air (obscurely named after a George Orwell novel) were a gentle Melbourne folk band with surprisingly sharp lyrics and gritty twists (that perhaps only we can hear). Guitarist Thomas McGowan and I wrote most of the songs in drafty Melbourne houses and recorded them on my 3-track. Here are three demo songs we did that I still listen to now and then:
Lips drawing And
Lips slipping And then finally
Panicking at hanging rock Later, we recorded an EP, Are You Afraid Of Heights?, with the full band – a rather rushed and stressed recording that was still great to be part of.

Shellyz Raven – 1997-9
My old goth band (later Ask Embla). Those were the days. Say no more! Except: I AM NOT THE GIRL ON THE COVER.

meshes of voice

Meshes of Voice is a piece composed especially for Ladyfest Oslo by Susanna K. Wallumrød and Jenny Hval. It was performed at Henie Onstad Arts Centre 8 march 2009 by Wallumrød and Hval plus Anita Kaasbøll and Jo Berger Myhre, and then again at Oslo Jazz Festival in August the same year. Photographer/filmmaker Guri Dahl made a unique set of films for the event.

Inspired by Beastiaries and Maya Deren’s surrealist film Meshes of the Afternoon, the collaboration was an exploration of both melodic and noise material, and a reverb and distortion feast.

Here are two short excerpts from the performance:

Perlebryggeriet (novel, 2009, Kolon Forlag)
Perlebryggeriet starts out as a novel and ends up as song lyrics. Set in a fictional town somewhere between Glasgow and Melbourne, it evolves around a foreign student, Jo, her housemate Carral, and the house they live in – a house which slowly turns inside-out and makes inside outside.
I wanted to create a world which follows the rules of sound, that was only partly a written novel, so I could have space for this other part of language, the part that is music and sound.
You can buy Perlebryggeriet, as well as read some reviews, here.
Read an excerpt here (norsk)
The project that became Perlebryggeriet was originally an English manuscript. Click here to read a short excerpt of this version (yes, in English!).

Innocence is kinky (2012)

Innocence is kinky is a 25 minute long sound and light installation. The light design is created by Kyrre Heldal Karlsen, in cooperation with Jenny Hval.

As part of the Øya music festival autumn 2011, Jenny Hval performed a silent movie concert in Oslo. Her own music accompanied the film La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (the Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s portrait of Jeanne d’Arc that dates from 1928). The public performance rights weren’t obtained until the end of July, so she eventually had to compose and rehearse the score in merely three weeks.

When Henie Onstad Art Centre approached Hval in 2011 to commission a site-specific sound installation, she decided to follow the thread she had started in the work of hastiness. During intense work periods in March and April of 2012, Hval worked at Høvikodden both to record sound and vocals, and to produce text. The work expanded in parallel directions, becoming a book, a record and the sound and light installation Innocence is kinky that opens July 3rd at Høvikodden. During this process she also expanded the range of materials that were to define the basis of the work. Le passion de Jeanne d’Arc works primarily as a close study of Jeanne d’Arc’s face. Innocence is kinky continues this study, but at the same time it allows the film to be interrupted by other films, other faces: an overexposed Paris Hilton in night vision, Nancy from a Nightmare on Elm Street laying in a bathtub, reeking with fear, the notable nihilist-porn pioneer Sasha Grey, Mia in Fish Tank running away in her jaded armour, Inger dying in childbirth in Ordet (The Word) and people from the reality show Paradise Hotel. All in all as a string of pearls constituting what Hval herself refers to as white trash of Orléans.

The artwork is a part of the ”Kunstgave”-project, a donation to Henie Onstad Art Centre from the DnB NOR Savings Bank Foundation.

A continuous echo of splitting hymens is a 7 minute sound installation, shown at Akershus Kunstsenter as part of the group exhibition Murmur (curated by Ingvild Langgård).

Somewhere in the middle of the recording process, I shouted into a microphone: I want to sing like a continuous echo of splitting hymens! It was improvised – I don’t really know where it came from. What I do know is that during the early months of 2012, I became obsessed with a Michael Gira interview where he talks about the sound of his voice and the sound of his music as a visceral happening, the sound of punched and punching flesh. What is this sound? Who is this sound? Why can the sounds I make never reach this level?
A voice is where the body becomes sound. The installation places this sonic body, this I, in relation to the brutality, chaos, authority and sexuality of sound. Using my own voice – a voice very different from Gira’s voice – it investigates the idea of a vocal self, and this self as dominance and self-obliteration.
Music is, to me, an androgynous possibility – it can be a place to think through masculinity and femininity. At the same time, rock music is extremely male dominated, and most of the time the music uses noise, loudness and effects (traditionally attributed to the feminine) in a controlled, structured context. So, is rock a form of controlling the feminine?
Not so with Swans. In his brilliant review of their latest live album, Luke Turner writes:
”So many of the aesthetics of the wild men of rock are based around cliché and empty gestures, the clowning around as cowboys, the toying with occultism, the pretence at degeneracy by men who probably never offer their poor spouses anything but the missionary position, and oral only on odd-numbered Tuesdays. Swans, on the other hand, with all their belligerence and sonic brutalism, do it all so hard and so well it feels like masculinity toppling back and falling over itself … so heavy with anger and sweat and violence that it actually transcends gender, and instead breaks apart what it means to be human, and confronted by the overwhelming joy and pleasure of sound.”
A continuous echo of splitting hymens whispers:
Give me that sound.

Flesh is a 10 minute sound piece. It is part of the sound installation Sonic Tank: “Enter”, an ongoing project curated by Anne Hilde Neset in the entrance space of Tou Scene, Stavanger.

Flesh is trance-like, a dreamy remix of a recorded spoken word piece inspired by the film Heart of Glass by Werner Herzog.

Two Poems

Blood flight

I carefully rearranged my senses
so they could have a conversation.
Taught them to switch places;
from each pore in my skin grew shimmering eyes!
And fingerprints filled the eye sockets.
From the ears grew two tongues,
and I sang for people passing a strange song.
Told them stories without moving my li!ps
(Mouth half-open, still)
They assumed the words came from themselves;
these unfamiliar thoughts,
and I sang to them:
Aaaaaa Aaaaa Aaaaaaaaaaaaa.
Such is the speech of the body:
The ribs painted their fingernails.
(Black, of course)
And on the edges of the cunt
grew little teeth!
The clitoris, that great sphinx, opened its eye:
So many blind years, acting Oedipus.
Meanwhile the vocal chords were listening
for the wind howling,
whispering a familiar language of breath –
secret tales for them to learn.
Then from my veins came a strange itching,
and I felt a pull through the shoulder blades.
I should have seen it coming!
The blood was itching!
And etched a hole at the nape of the neck.
It flew out into the night
like a long, red ribbon to the sky.
And up we went, blood and I, spread over the city.
The dark sky lay against my skin,
So close –
like an eyelid.

Bring it back, for faen

Hello – excuse me!
I think you left something at my house – oh, yes – my virginity!
          BRING IT BACK.
He brought himself to me on a plate of raspberries and cherries and meringues and all that is sweet
and/or            AND/OR                    AND/OR
smells of girl.
How I laughed at him with a telephone voice.
Even though he was still in the room with me.
Oh, boy.
Ain’t you sweet?
You are full of fragments, full of emotional bones.
I dusted my coat and answered the phone.
But darned be that man – he never called.
Ain’t it sweet? He cooed pleasantly.
I hadn’t the time of day for him nor for me.
I think you left something at my house – oh, yes – my virginity!
          BRING IT BACK.

Jenny Hval is a Norwegian poet, writer, singer, composer and lyricist. She was born in 1980 in Oslo and studied Creative Arts in Australia at the University of Melbourne. She records and performs under the name Rockettothesky, releasing her debut on Trust Me Records, To Sing Me Apple Trees, in 2006 with the followup Medea released in 2008 (“the heady experimentalism of late-80s 4AD brought forcibly into the modern day” and “as beautiful as anything Cocteau Twins ever recorded” according to The Quietus). She has published her first novel, Perlebryggeriet (The Pearl Brewery) and will be appearing at the forthcoming 3:AM Maintenant Norwegian Poetry event at the Rich Mix, London (more details to follow soon).

Lyrics Viscera

Lyrics  -Medea

Lyrics - to sing you apple trees

Singer Jenny Hval: 'I'm so cruel'

Norwegian singer Jenny Hval tells Ben Beaumont-Thomas about her fascination with Paris Hilton's sex tape and Kate Bush – and why she no longer likes her own music

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Jenny Hval View larger picture
'You can't go round being somebody you love' ... Jenny Hval. Photograph: Kristine Jakobsen. Click to enlarge
On the first song of her 2011 album Viscera, Jenny Hval waited a whole minute before singing: "I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris." This time around, she gets straight down to business: the first sound on her new LP Innocence Is Kinky is a conspiratorial voice announcing, "That night, I watched people fucking on my computer." The unforgettable images continue: "a black vegetable soup of hair and teeth"; pores turning into bird beaks; a desire to sing "like a continuous echo of splitting hymens".
We meet in the Norwegian singer's Oslo practice space, a tumbledown wooden house once home to the city's hangman. I was picturing a terrifying banshee or oracle, but Hval is calm and thoughtful, quick to laugh beneath her childlike fringe of hair.
She is an artist of witty frankness and hallucinatory visual power who has worked in a range of media, but is best known for Viscera, the first album she released under her own name after recording under the moniker Rockettothesky. This was a record of strident rock and delicate folk, beside which Innocence Is Kinky (produced by PJ Harvey's longtime collaborator John Parish) is more abrasive. The latter album's lyrics draw on a dark pool of influences, from the crimes of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik to Paris Hilton.
"It's a very interesting piece of film history," she says of the latter's infamous 2004 sex tape. "I watched it many times, and it became more abstract, more machine-like – and that's a process that led to a few of the songs on the album. As I watched it more and more, I focused less on her genitals, and more on [her partner] Rick's chewing of gum. Maybe it's me trying to break down what I'm watching and rearrange the power structures."
She also sought inspiration from Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc – "which is also very pornographic in a way, because her face is so naked and so exploited" – and reality shows such as the Norwegian version of Teen Mom. "The girls were presented as the same person: so many people being interviewed about their lives, and yet saying nothing about who they are," she says.
In her songs, the female body gets lost, burned, chucked out to sea – anything to break it free of the media or male gaze. "When you listen to this and to these lyrics, the body could be anything, anywhere."
This freedom is something Hval, 32, found in the androgynous music of her 1980s childhood. "Jimmy Somerville, and Kate Bush. In Cloudbusting when she played the young boy [in the video] – that was all really important to me. It's child and adult at once, and both sexes – it was everything. There was a huge space for me in music." She began playing keyboard, oscillating between Für Elise and "things that sounded like Vangelis", before performing in goth bands as a teenager and then moving to study literature in Australia, where her solo musical projects began.
She has also since written a novel, The Pearl Brewery, and performs in the duo Nude On Sand.
While Hval was immersing herself in trash culture, Norway was shaken by the horrors of the Oslo bombing and the Utøya massacre in July 2011. "Seeing Paris Hilton in tears because someone's been sent home from Paris Hilton's BFF, and you flick the channel and there's a crying face that's been a part of this tragedy. There's just this inexplicable and quite abstract similarity, which is the tormented face, and the fetish of showing people's faces. It makes you really see the full extent of the cruelty of the gaze. And I am so cruel because I have all these images in my head at the same time.

In the song Oslo Oedipus, Hval compares the windows that were boarded up in the aftermath of the bombings to closed eyes. "The city was making its own statement, by not seeing," she says, but the image also alludes to Norway's insularity, and a blithe indifference to the financial crises in Europe and elsewhere. "We just have oil," she shrugs. "In that sense it's quite a political album. The breaks in structures, the different genres running through it: it's me embracing the guilt [of affluence], and wanting to become more political." Hval, then, takes a jackhammer to the smooth road through art and life. "I'm not making music I like any more," she says. "I'll do something I disagree with, and then look at that with a bit of disgust. Because I think it's much more interesting to others to present something brutally honest. As a person you can't go round being somebody you love, somebody you dig – if you saw yourself from the outside you'd probably go, 'Oh God' all the time." She laughs.
She also reminds us that songwriting can involve something more than beatific adoration of a subject. "Singing ruins the body. It makes me feel sick, because it's vibrating – it's an extreme experience. It's a state of sickness to be performing, I think."

Interview | Talk About Body – FFS meets Jenny Hval

Jenny Hval is a woman of radical contrasts and disconcerting juxtapositions. Physically small, delicate and bird-like, her vocal suggests a much bigger set of lungs while her music explores the relationship between the organic and the man-made. Tonight, after a successful gig at The Borderline, she’s pondering the challenges of combining the extrovert and introverted elements of herself in performance.
“It was the extrovert version of a Jenny Hval concert tonight. It’s quite a rare occasion when you can actually just feel like you are on stage almost composing with the audience…I really enjoyed it although I felt like I was sacrificing myself onstage because I didn’t know the songs!”
Hval is referring to the moment when, surprised into an encore, she revealed they couldn’t actually remember any more songs -“We live in different cities and didn’t get to rehearse and there’s so many new songs….I just didn’t remember anything!” Luckily one was pulled out of the bag, the ironically named, violently beautiful ‘I Got No Strings.’ If ‘strings’ are a metaphor for challenging, disturbing, ugly-pretty songs, then this lady sure has strings.
The Norwegian-born Hval moved to Melbourne when she was 19 to study writing with “music on the side”. It was through literature – poetry, and the writing of Jeanette Winterson, Ann Carson and Angele Carter – that she developed a fascination with the body.
“I was trying to learn English better and I started writing and recording my voice. Trying to learn the body of the English language, the way you pronounce things and intonate – I got really into that and became very aware of the body. I noticed that my voice changed in English – my English voice is lower than my Norwegian voice! It was quite confronting, I had to find a new personality….I more found a new body than a new personality.”
Like other writers who have found their creative voice in a second language – Samuel Beckett often wrote in French, for example – Hval is clear that English gave her an opportunity to express herself in a way that her native tongue did not.
“I let those writers influence my work a lot because I read them in my second language. Because of this I could feel and not think so much….so I could be a lot more ‘body’. In Norwegian I really struggled to express that stuff…I still don’t know how to make beautiful language in English. If I write in Norwegian I tend to write in these really complex structures, in English I’m a …..brute!”
When it came to recording last year’s critically acclaimed album Viscera, Hval describes how she wanted it to be ‘a medical record’. With strong echoes of Jeannette Winterson’s  biology-infused love story, ‘Written on the Body’, she uses contrasting approaches of attachment and involvement in what is an astonishingly frank exploration of the relationship between bodies and cities. Prior to Viscera, Hval had been writing and recording under the moniker Rockettothesky. The decision to write under her own name comes back to this all-pervasive theme of the body.
“I’d been writing about the body before but as this album was very much the experience of a body, I wanted the record to have a person’s name on it and I couldn’t think of any other name than my own name! I wanted it to feel like a medical record, something personal but also impersonal…I wanted it to be a person’s work rather than someone hiding, cos’ I was really hiding in Rockettothesky.”

Although unique in her approach to her material and use of spoken word techniques, there has been a startling proliferation of good, experimental folk artists emerging from Norway in recent years. Hanne Hukkelberg is currently garnering appreciative reviews for recent album Featherbrain and Silje Nes, Ana Garbarak, Ane Brun and Siri Nilsen  are all quietly mustering a growing British fan base. Hval is positive about this velvet Norwegian invasion, but quick to distance herself from any one genre.
“My first album was released in Norway when there were a lot of female artists becoming quite popular and there was all this writing in the media about the girl war. I really didn’t want to be another girl fighting in the girl war and be like, a singer songwriter with personal lyrics where everything you write is a metaphor for something in your love life.
“I don’t think I need to see myself as part of any scene or not, because I find links everywhere …. I see myself as between different groups of people but I think a lot of artists feel the same way, which is a great thing and makes more interesting music.”
Interesting music is certainly being made, and Hval shows no inclination to make herself at home in any one genre just yet.
“At the moment I’m doing a sound installation – sound installation was a really important part of learning how to write for me and I think that working with not a concert or record format is really good because when I don’t have to think about performing I can forward stuff that’s only meant to be in a room played to whatever it is that’s there. I think I’m doing an album this year as well…I don’t know yet, maybe it’ll be a bit more rock.”
Rock, death-metal, dub step, hard-core dance – Hval is probably one of the few artists who could draw on whichever style she chose and make something you’d actually want to hear. One thing is certain: whatever she decides to do next is going to be delightfully bonkers, alternatively beautiful and wonderfully weird – and we’re coming along for the ride. Just tell us where to sign.

We Talk with Norwegian Musician Jenny Hval

Recently, while attending the Iceland Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, I caught up with Norwegian musician Jenny Hval, an artist performing at Airwaves (and in Iceland) for the first time. Amidst the chaos and jetlag, I had one of the most interesting and thought-provoking conversations. The written word doesn’t do justice to her delicate delivery of such sound musings on the art of music and performance. She is slated to visit the U.S. to perform sometime this year. Her intimate, ever-changing performances are not to be missed.
Can you describe the (music) scene in Oslo at the moment?
Well, Oslo has several connected but also very distinct music scenes. In other small towns (of Norway), it’s more about everybody coming together. Oslo is a little bit separate. I think it’s great because a lot of stuff happens there. Unfortunately, you’ll never get to see the full spectrum or the bands that I really love (at Airwaves). I mean, there are a few Norwegian bands here, but there are so many other great ones. Some undercurrents of the underground scene can only be understood at a certain moment in time, so there will always be those slipping through, those the more mainstream scene doesn’t understand yet.
At the moment, there are a lot of bands coming out of jazz education, but they don’t play jazz. It’s a kind of pop music, influenced by this and that, but at the very center of it, there’s a kind of freedom. It’s not so much about the style of music they’re playing; it’s more about the free approach. There’s a lot of new stuff happening, which is really great. There’s been very interesting music over the last ten years or so in Norway, but now I think something really, really good is happening.
Where does your music fit into all of this?
It would be easier for other people to explain where it fits in. I have a different background. I didn’t play with Norwegians early on because I lived in Australia from 2000 to 2004, so I didn’t start playing in Oslo until I was about 24 or 25, and I always played by myself. I didn’t really get that crowd. I think my music is a bit of outsider music, but I also think that you would see parallels to this and that if you weren’t me. If you asked any of the other Norwegians whether they’ve heard of my music and where I would fit in, maybe they would say something else that would also be right.
Can you explain how you go about creating the lyricism of your songs? It seems there is such a strong and deeply personal performative element to the lyrics?
I think I improvise a lot, which means that other things come out than when I plan things. I write lyrics by recording my voice, so it’s somewhere in between stream of consciousness and hearing my own voice at the center of it. Hearing my voice means also hearing a lot of other voices that are in my head at the same time. I think for the album that I released earlier in 2011, it was pretty much lyrics first. I seem to remember that lyrics were written very much for music but not for songs, so they were written for space and certain pronunciations. The music had to follow a rhythm that was more based on a speaking style, a more spontaneous style. I think that’s probably the thing that makes me think of music as different than other musicians and bands since most people write the music or the form first. They think of the music form – the verse, the structure, the shape with rhyme. There’s something happening before the words. When I write, it’s more unconscious. I rarely think of a type of song when I write lyrics. I think the structures that I end up with are somewhat different from what most Norwegian bands would. It’s also because I’m so interested in the English language. A lot of Norwegian bands don’t focus on lyrics so much; they create cinematic or visual imagery or instrumental music. I have listened to a lot of improvisation and a lot of experimental music, which has kind of made it easier for me to work with these lyrics. I’ve let go of having to have certain structures.
What different reactions have you gotten?
People are different, concerts are different, and the songs are different every time they’re played. I make each song into something else. A big space will make everything church-like, and I’ll find new qualities in the music that weren’t there when we are playing in a small basement.
What’s your musical background?
I played the clarinet growing up. I never learned how to play the piano, but I got a keyboard when I was around six, and I started playing with headphones. I guess I didn’t think of it as composition, but that’s probably what I was doing. I just picked up and played. Sometimes I would play a classical-sounding piece that I’d heard on the radio, but sometimes it would be a synth pad. I learned to play the guitar later, as I had never been very interested in guitar solos and different scales. I stopped playing (the guitar) when I was 19, when I moved to Australia, but then I started playing again around two years later… and that was when I realized that it was fun to play and I wanted to play music. But I still didn’t really find it that interesting until I bought a 3-track recorder. After I got that, I just made music all the time, and I was studying creative arts in Melbourne, and so I would always make songs and pieces that had to do with what I was writing or doing at university, so it would be a parallel free study. Music was my friend because I was living in a foreign country. I had a lot of friends there, but I didn’t have the security of having family or old friends and relatives close by…so music became that for me for a time.
Do you also collaborate with other musicians?
Yes, I do that more and more now. I used to play in bands in Australia and collaborate on other projects like theater and dance. I kept doing that when I went back to Norway in 2004. My project has always been a solo project, but I’m involving my band more and more in the arrangements and what happens to the ideas that I bring in. I’m more and more interested in collaborating. I’ve rarely been in bands playing the guitar or just standing. I don’t understand how I could contribute to other people’s music so well. I’m so used to writing the material, especially the lyrics, so when people ask me to sing on the track, I’m very confused. Sometimes I can do it, but most of the time, it’s difficult to know how to sing other people’s lyrics.
Do you ever do covers?
Yes, when I hear something that I can import and restructure – adding my musical personality. I’ve done a few, but I couldn’t just take something and make it my own. I know people who are really good at that. It’s a specific talent. I can do some things. At the moment, I’m working out how to do an acoustic, free improv version of an LCD Soundsystem song. I’m a big fan. “Losing My Edge” is the song. I realized it would be fun to do in a completely different way. His lyrics are great because the song is a conversation. When a song is like that, I can really relate to it. It’s a very appealing type of conversation. I want to take part in that conversation, that those lyrics are a part of. I find it more difficult to work with lyrics that are more fenced around the big themes of love and death… slow lyrics thought out in a very well-placed manner. That’s what I’m not. So if something has that kind of spontaneity or that spoken word quality, I can do it, or I get very excited about trying to do it. When things are the other way around, it’s difficult.
What other artists/songs do you like?
I’m a very big fan of Annette Peacock. Some of her lyrics from the 70′s and 80′s are great – almost like rap. I wish I could do more hip-hop because that has that quality, but more often than not, it’s very self-protective and this macho attitude is very uninteresting.
What do you listen to on the road?
I have been listening to Tiny Vipers. I met her in Spain in 2009, when we played together on this really strange night in this really strange place. People were playing volleyball two floors down while we were playing a concert, so it was strange. I also really like listening to Hope Sandoval – especially when I’m on buses or in cars… it’s very calm stuff. My favorite is her first solo album. One of the guys who worked on it was the producer of my album. On the road, I like listening to music that’s like the moment of looking out the window when everything’s blurred because you’re driving too fast.
How does it feel to perform in Iceland? What are some bands from Norway that you’d like to see perform at Airwaves?
I prefer to be in Iceland for Airwaves because I get to meet many people and see what’s happening. Obviously, during the biggest festival, it’s especially busy. But when I was here last year as a traveler I didn’t really know what to do, and it was summer, so there wasn’t much going on. I was looking and looking for concerts, but there weren’t many. I only got to see like one concert. During Airwaves, I get to really see, to look at different venues, different coffee shops, all kinds of galleries. It’s fun to see where people are going. Airwaves is a very interesting event because people are seeing bands that are just starting to work on their music.
I like a lot of Norwegian music, but I don’t love a lot. It sometimes takes me ages to love Norwegian music because I get to see all the views and all the attention first and then I have to unlearn it so that I can listen to it in my own space. There’s a band called Sacred Harp. I think they’ve got an album coming out in the U.K. at the moment. They’re not here, but they should be here. There’s another band called Your Headlights Are On. They’re also great. They have that jazz education background I was referring to earlier. Usually, I don’t like the traditional type of pop band coming from jazz education or rock band coming from jazz. I’m not very interested in traditional jazz, but this band is great. They’re very different. The lead singer of Sacred Harp is from the Netherlands; she’s also a very good solo artist. She should be here now. These two bands I mentioned released albums (their first ones) in 2011. It’s really exciting.

Saying No(r)way to cliché

Norwegian singer Jenny Hval talks to Cherwell about working within the feminist tradition and making music on the margins
En Liang Khong 

Hval, a vocalist, songwriter and novelist from Norway, has been rapidly establishing herself as a potent force within experimental music. She revels in her multiple artistic activities which include the publication of a mildly controversial novel, Perlebryggeriet (The Pearl Brewery). Her recent recording, Viscera, released under the great Rune Grammofon label, has attracted significant critical attention with comparisons being made to Kate Bush and Patti Smith. The first album under her own name (she has previously performed as Rockettothesky), Viscera weaves graphic, fantastical and feminist traditions through a haze of zither, church organ and psaltery. I'm definitely working in reaction to the perception of the female subject', says Jenny Hval, 'which is so often reduced to photoshopped, perfectly shaven parts. I find this a very evil part of modern society, obsessed with perfection and imperfection even more. So I really want to make music where there’s room for lots of imperfections’.
Hval sweetly opens the record with the provocative line, ‘I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris’, subtly playing with the idea of explicit language. Speaking from her Oslo home, Hval reflects upon this lyric’s inherent instability. ‘It’s very interesting when I play it live because the audience reacts very differently. In Norway everybody laughs while in other places people tend not to. I’m trying to make the listener unsure - is it ironic or is it not?’
Hval’s music, revolving around her feminist explorations, finds itself mostly concerned with lyrics. ‘I’ve been wanting to find a way to express that language naturally’, she explains, ‘instead of seeking a more visceral quality of expression in a more punkish delivery. I’m not naturally like that in terms of the way I sing and speak so I wanted to use the more literary feminist tradition’.
For Hval, lyrics guide her music. This literary focus, almost reversing the traditional creative process, stretches back to her experiences studying creative writing and theatre at the University of Melbourne. ‘I wrote a lot of monologues that I also wrote into songs in my spare time. When you have music, the lyrics get very focused on following that structure. I really loved the energy in going about it the other way around’.
Given the endless clichés of frozen landscapes and melancholy that insidiously creep into discussions around Nordic music, Hval’s intense relationship with the English language is particularly interesting. ‘I didn’t really start writing properly until I started writing in English,’ she reflects. ‘Getting away from the paradigm that decides what is good art in my country has always been very important for me. English was very liberating for me and allowed for a much more explicit language musically. I had the distance within myself to think of the words as sound instead of just meaning’.
For Hval, it is entirely relevant that she is a Norwegian artist who does not fit into Norwegian pop music. She grew up listening to as much English folk music as she did to the Norwegian (Sami) folk tradition. An obsession with the English language and intonation courses through her music.
Above all, Hval’s music still sits defiantly on the margins. With her 2006 debut album To Sing You Apple Trees, Hval started out being near the mainstream, ‘which wasn’t what I wanted’, she observes. ‘Over the years I‘ve become more interested in the ephemeral quality of music and a lot less interested in the pop music repetitive form’. So where does Hval find herself now? ‘I think there are many ways of being in the margins’, she concedes. But tribal fandom and the cult of personality, which defines much of non-mainstream music, is not for her. ‘I think I will always stay a loner artistically’, she ventures. As Norway’s once very diverse musical output becomes increasingly commercialized, Jenny Hval’s lone voice could not be more timely.

Maintenant #25: Jenny Hval

An interview with Jenny Hval by SJ Fowler.

The accidental collision of the avant garde field of sound poetry and the verbal experiments of sonic arts and experimental music can seem absurd – that two seemingly separate genealogies of art can produce ideas so similar and results equally engaging and yet have no real connection with each other, purely because of labelling, because of genrisation, is ridiculous. There are musicians and poets who are bridging that gap, and refusing to be drawn on such distinctions.
Another of the Norwegian poets / sound artists we are lucky enough to be bringing to London as part of the next Maintenant international reading series, Jenny Hval is one of the most exciting performers, poets and artists emerging in Europe. Rigorously intellectual, poised and determinately instinctual, she has developed a major reputation as a sonic artist and musician over the last five years in Europe and as her work has expanded and grown into fruition so she has enveloped poetry and verbal work into her repertoire. We are delighted to have her perform as a poet in London and for the Maintenant series she speaks to SJ Fowler.
3:AM: I’d like to speak about the role of sound in your work, do you conceive of a instinctual utterance as a performative poetry because it evokes the limitations of linguistic understanding, cross languages, cross genres? Or are you pursuing something musical in the voice, that is the voice as an instrument?
Jenny Hval: Everything I do begins with a sound. Usually, I start by pronouncing a phrase or a word in a room, letting the sound of that determine what will happen next. I may or may not have something written down in advance, but I usually change what I have a lot based on the sound of the words. Based on this, I would say that I use voice and language as instruments.
I work spontaneously with words and languages (intonation, timbre, duration etc). These elements make language elastic. I don’t think of it as performative. To me, there is no divide between the system of language and the way I utter words – there is no performative “level” in my singing or speaking.
I used to work a lot with transcriptions of my sung lyrics – to write down what I was singing in recordings. But it didn’t express the recordings better than conventional song lyrics on a page did. What sounded natural and at the same time elastic and creative in a song, looked like a neatly arranged stutter on the page. Very mathematical, illegible, and conceptual. Which my songs are not – there is always a level in my work that is simple, accessible and direct.
3:AM: Are you creating sound poetry, as it is understood, or are you simply embracing the poetry that lies in your evolution as a musician, in the very act of using your voice?
JH: For me, any piece will have to work musically. Otherwise it’s not interesting to listen to. The words have to speak or sing for themselves, create a distinct sonic space. There also has to be something at stake, which is why I record my rehearsals and create projects that can be performed. I like the risk involved, the fact that everything can go wrong, or go in many different directions. In this way, I think like a musician. But at the same time, the way I work with words made me a musician. I started singing by thinking through words and wordlike sounds with my voice.
As I am writing this, I am playing a few concerts in the south of France. Here, most people in the audience don’t seem to listen to the lyrics. They compliment me on my singing voice after my performances, saying it sounds pure. At other concerts, people have been disgusted with my lyrics, because I use a lot of body imagery. They might think my music is nice, but the words are crazy, and find that the words disturb the music.
I don’t think that melodic music should have quiet lyrics – lyrics that don’t overpower the gentleness of a melody. I don’t think in these terms when I perform or write. I don’t try to sing beautiful notes, and I don’t try to create shocking lyrics to “disturb” or “undermine” the melodies, the way my voice sounds, or the pop music form. I try to convey the sounds of words, and the sounds of the body, as much as communicate semantic or musical content. I am fascinated by the workings of the body – obviously, because I sing and can feel the body reverberate when I use language. So this is what my expression is about – body language, body song.
3:AM: Do you consider yourself a poet, or a musician? Are these limitations valuable or unnecessary?
JH: I used to avoid both labels. Why? Recently I’ve realised that I do it mainly to escape certain criteria within the more mainstream pop music and literary circles. If I say I’m a “writer”, then perhaps a pop music audience will permit me to sing strange and unusual lyrics and melodies, and if I say I’m a “musician” or “singer” at a poetry reading, then my singing voice and melodic qualities of the songs might excuse lyrics that don’t work on the page.
But this is unnecessary. Do my lyrics and music need to be excused? I think not. I can’t identify with songwriters who writes at a piano, carefully plotting a musical structure. I usually start with recording words in a certain way, in a certain room, with a certain microphone and a certain resonance. In this way, I suppose I’m working more with words and voice than music, yet the words are not written for the page, but for my voice.
3:AM: What is your conception of the role of your gender in your work? How has your perception of others consideration, perhaps their limitations, in considering your gender infused itself in your philosophical and political approach to art?
JH: Sex is as important as gender in my work. I think it’s important that I have a female voice, physiologically. The singing voice conveys both sex and gender. A recurring theme for me is the female voice that doesn’t accept being a female voice, wanting to write herself (as) a man, but her voice is in the way. It’s a simple story with a complex background. I’ve tried to compose a piece about this for years, with and without vocal effects (a pitch shifter), but I never manage to make it work. Is my voice in the way? Is my gender in the way?
When I was a teenager, I was always angry – angry at Hamsun for idolizing women, angry at Tolstoj for killing Anna Karenina, angry at Strindberg in general, really angry with Beckett’s Dream of Fair to Middling Women, angry at Beach Boys (‘California Girls’), angry at heavy metal, rap and philosophy – everything that I found macho and exclusive. I was angry because I was implicated in the gaze of men on women, at the same time as being one. I didn’t want to be looked at. I wanted to write.
In the pop industry, the media never tires of writing about female artists in the most stereotypical fashion – and we always have to talk about what it’s like to be a female artist. For me, it feels like someone is pushing me into the pages of Victoria (Hamsun) – a “female” artist is something exclusive and at the same time limiting, which makes female artists seem like they have less personality than male artists. The result is that everybody hates talking about sex and gender, which really is a shame because it is a big part of what we do – the voice, words. But it’s a personal thing, and has to do with personal expression.
3:AM: What is your relationship with being a Norwegian, and a Norwegian poet? Do you consider it a unique circumstance, being Norwegian, with the unusually high opportunity for funding and press and coverage? Is it fundamentally beneficial, or or can it be a trap of some kind?
JH: I’ve never felt at home artistically in Norway. I like living here, and I think there is a lot of exciting stuff happening here (especially in the more experimental music scenes), but I have an unusual background (a Creative Arts degree from the University of Melbourne) and I’m not comfortable with using the Norwegian language in my work. I wrote a novel last year in Norwegian which I translated from English and worked into a novel form, but I didn’t feel like I could explore the language in the same way as the English language. Perhaps I know Norwegian too well, perhaps my singing body wasn’t built for it. I’m still trying to figure it out.
The funding opportunities in Norway makes it possible for artists to have creative control of what they are doing. It’s great for people like me, who want to reach an smaller, international audience. I can book a tour at small venues or festivals that have little money, and then apply for money from Norway for some of the expenses. It means that I can afford to be experimental without having a full-time job on the side. The system we have distribute money to a diverse and creative community of artists.
Of course, this also means that I can’t control whether I get money or not. And public funding means that people have to know how to promote themselves and their music. A select few people decide who get money and who don’t. I sometimes miss the creative vibe of Melbourne, where there wasn’t so much funding and everybody had a day job. In Norway, the funding can create a lot of debate and controversy. A lot of people think artists just sit back and cash in, creating nothing of value for society. Needless to say, I disagree with these people.
3:AM: How has the perception of you in Norway altered as you seem to have progressed as an artist? Is it distinct, could you outline your progression?
JH: From an outside point of view, I started out as a pop artist, which I find both strange and dreadful. I came home from Australia after four years of reading and writing poetry and playing in a folk pop band on the side. I released an album in 2006, and on the album was a single that became a minor radio hit. After that, I was invited to play a lot of big festivals the following year. I wasn’t ready for it, and my music certainly wasn’t. Big stages, interviews, too much travelling. I like to focus on writing and trying out different new things, taking risks with lyrics and music, but I didn’t dare to do this on the big stages. I felt like I forced myself to adapt to the mainstream thing – and had to choose between the quiet, fragile singer-songwriter or the lively, quirky pop act.
At the same time, I was writing essays and columns for journals and newspapers, but at first, this side of my work was kept very separate from my music and lyrics. But in 2008, I released another album (Medea), this time a much more personal project that I recorded myself. After that, things have been getting much more interesting – less publicity, but a lot of creative opportunities that overlap between literature and music. Last year, I was invited to the Audiatur festival in Bergen, which was fantastic – the first time I’d been allowed to perform with poets, as a poet, and still work within the context of my music.
3:AM: Can you discuss your influences, poetically? You mentioned the prominence of Christian Bok in your recent reading and work?
JH: My three favourites are Anne Carson, Aritha van Herk and Nicole Brossard. These are voices that I’ve been reading and re-reading for years, their words are in my head every day. I’m also a big fan of Rosmarie Waldrop. One of the first recordings I ever heard of a poetry reading, was Carl Sandburg reading his poem “Fog”. It was a sound clip on the Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. I’d never heard a recording of poetry before, and it made such a defining impression on me. I’m still trying to find a way to pronounce or sing “It sits looking /over harbour and city /on silent haunches /and then moves on”. I’ve never read more of his work, but that recording was still very important.
But because my work is with sound, I’m equally inspired by experts on diction and singers who dissolve and electrify language: Sidsel Endresen, Annette Peacock, Liz Fraser, Meredith Monk, Sheila Chandra, Kate Bush. Oh dear, all female singers. Let’s add Mark Hollis and David Sylvian…
I’ve actually just started exploring Bök’s work, but I find him extremely interesting. He is inspired by techno music and beatboxing as well as sound poetry (dada, Schwitters). When I first discovered The Cyborg Opera and Eunoia, I was looking, rather desperately, for a link between poetry and pop music that didn’t just look at song lyrics as conservative, old style poetry. I was (and still am) writing a thesis on Kate Bush’s voice, and because I’m convinced that the sound of her voice is such a poetic instrument, I needed to compare her voice work with some more experimental written poetry. Bök was an unlikely, and yet very fruitful, comparison.
3:AM: You’re collaborating with Agnes Lehoczky for the Norwegian Maintenant reading in London. Could you outline your work so far and how you have come to see any synthesis between her work and your own?
JH: Agnes’ work is very well (and magically) constructed, and yet it moves freely – I find this amazing, and it’s the same thing I try to accomplish with sound when I perform my lyrics. There are so many layers of music within the poems – they are perfect architectural constructions, and yet the phrases just sizzle in the mouth.
I started reading some favourite phrases from her poems out loud, and something happened, a different music than I find in my own words. They taught me some new sounds, and so I recorded a piece for her with both my words and some of hers. I think that’s perhaps a direction we both like, and something that could be extremely exciting for the poetry reading in London.

Jenny And The Jets: The Musical Universe Of Rockettothesky Wyndham Wallace 

Rockettothesky’s Jenny Hval may have made little impact outside of Scandinavia, but that needs to change. According to Wyndham Wallace, she’s one of the most powerfully feminine voices at work in music today

Traena live pictures by Maria Jefferis/shot2bits.net
Download Rocket From The Sky's '14, 15, 13, 14'

Jenny Hval, aka Norway’s Rockettothesky, offers unpredictable but powerful structures and arrangements. The intimacy of her lyrics – through which are scattered uncompromising references to physicality, decay, mythology, sexuality and carnal desire – have won her significant respect in her homeland (where she was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy), and word is finally starting to spread beyond Scandinavia.
Operating initially as a one woman band, Rockettothesky released her debut on Trust Me Records, To Sing Me Apple Trees, in 2006. A collection of quirky, off centre songs, it's notable for the conviction of its performances, its embrace of spoken word within pop’s confines and a succession of striking lyrics. ‘God Is Underwater’ leaves the listener breathless. ‘Cigars’ builds from a chiming piano towards a kaleidoscopic finale while Hval delivers lines like “Leaned against the bar like a straw in a cocktail glass / leaned out towards him like a spoon pulled out of a honey jar”. ‘Barrie For Billy Mackenzie’ is a masterpiece of sweetness deliberately undermined by lyrics like “I imagine all your hairs are fingers and it makes me cum”.
But these were no puerile pleasures, and its follow-up, Medea (2008), was a sparser, more enigmatic affair, calling upon Greek legend to explore the experience of being a woman. Born of improvisation and Hval’s growing confidence as a writer – she also works as a critic, writes and performs poetry and has just published her first novel, Perlebryggeriet [The Pearl Brewery] – it recalls the heady experimentalism of late-80s 4AD brought forcibly into the modern day. Opener ‘Song of Pearl’ sets the tone, Hval whispering its opening lines, her voice then reaching out awkwardly to a nighttime sky that explodes with light half way through. ‘Grizzly Man’ at last breathes new life into Wicker Man folk with a melody that would soften even the Medusa, while ‘The Dead, Dead Waterlily Thing’ gives recent electro-pop of late a poetic, Gothic makeover, and ‘Oh, Anna’ is as beautiful as anything Cocteau Twins ever recorded, even if one has to wait for its astonishing payoff.

With her next album in the planning stages, The Quietus hooked up with Jenny Hval days after she had returned from a second round of shows in Spain.
You have a remarkable voice. You allow it to explore its own vulnerabilities – the cracks, the occasional wavering off-key, the need for breath – and make them a feature of your style. How and when did you learn to sing like this? Did you meet resistance when you first started out for not performing in a more conventional manner?
Jenny Hval: Words taught me to sing – I have always been writing and uttering words, and I sang along with my favourite bands to learn languages. I remember listening to Lush to learn to speak in a British accent, and Stereolab to learn French. And after that it was Elizabeth Fraser, which just taught me the philosophy of pronunciation. Now I think of the voice as a sixth sense, exploring words as if language is tactile. So it’s natural for me to stretch out and touch everything with my voice. And a lot of the time, the sounds that come out are cracked and trembling. I mean, why sing about broken hearts with powerful, controlled voices? Of course a lot of people find my voice very strange, or think that I can’t sing because I don’t hit the notes right. Perhaps they are right, but I never had any training, no teacher told me to restrain myself, and I’m not aiming for perfection in my music. The voice is so much more than control, restraint and perfection.
Your first album was, relatively speaking, a pop record. Your approach reminded me of Kate Bush’s earlier work, uncontrived but nonetheless eccentric, accessible but far from disposable. Medea, on the other hand, is a far darker and more cryptic record, initially baffling after the offbeat melodies of ‘Billy For Barrie Mackenzie’ or the apparently whimsical likes of ‘Cigars’ and ‘Too Many Emmas’. What changed? And what can we expect from your next record?
JH: My first album was recorded in a studio after years of making secret demos while playing in other bands. Being in the studio made me forget the very core of those songs, which was the way I recorded them: a lot of the songs were written while I was in Australia, studying creative writing for four years. I was alone, in this new foreign land, with no possessions, no history, and far away from my family. Recording sound became my new home, history, family. And so, even though that emotion can be heard on the album, so much brokenness was lost in the studio version it became a general version of my music. With Medea, I wanted to display this home that music is for me. I moved from the general concept of an album to my own concept – the main character from the Greek Tragedy Medea. She is a foreign woman, like I was in Australia, but she is also both cruel and heroic. Through improvising and recording on my own, the album became very much related to my experience of being in a female body, and of experiencing literature (like the tragedy Medea) and music from that position. I think I tried to create soundscapes that felt like being in a body, a body that also connects with other bodies through singing: Jenny singing herself into Medea.

The way I write about Medea now probably says a lot more about my next album project than Medea, actually. When I was recording it, I was thinking about death and sin, and so it’s really my next record that will be about being in a body. This time I want to record as a trio – I play with two wonderful musicians who also work with free improvisation, and they understand the textures of the way I create sound. At this point I want it to be a more primal album, based on intuition and organic movement, like folk music for a non-existent people.

The last time I saw you play was at the Træna Festival in the Arctic, where your performance in the small island church seemed impossibly perfect. What other venues do you think would be appropriate for Rockettothesky?
JH: The church at Træna was amazing – the space, the wood, the wind: I could feel it all on my skin. A few weeks ago we played this really old theatre in Alcala just outside Madrid, from 1601. It was amazing. Full of ghosts between my mouth and the microphone. Really. Speaking of Træna, did you know that thousands of years ago they had a whole island just for the dead? A cemetery island! I’d like to play there.
Your lyrics seem unusually abstract and intense, almost reminiscent at times of Emily Dickinson’s verse. The meaning is obtuse but the images and language are suggestive enough to convey meaning subliminally. With English as your second language, do you work especially hard to create these lyrics or do you, like some who write in a foreign language, exploit the limitations of your familiarity with English in order to create new forms of expression?
JH: Before I learnt English, I used to learn the words to my favourite songs and create my own meaning – specific English words had specific meanings for me when I was five, and they had nothing to do with the general meanings of the words. Now I admit to myself that I’m floating in the margins of the English language, and at the same time, I work hard to find words and narratives. One thing that I truly love about pop music is that I can create colours and shapes with words – a pattern of sounds where some words glow with clarity, and others are hiding between consonants. A pulse of words that the listener can sense and feel. Kate Bush has written the best song lyric in the world about this: “Stepping off the page into the sensual world”. At the same time I think I wanted the lyrics to come slowly to the listener, like water dripping onto your head in a dark, scary cave.

Although they sit beautifully together, sometimes it’s hard to escape the impression that your music and lyrics were developed separately, and you then worked out a way to weave the two amongst one another. On Medea in particular, you ignore traditional line-by-line melodic structures and instead let words flow freely across the music. How loosely connected are music and lyrics during the writing process?
JH: I did a lot of improvisation, and a lot of the time I never really had a melody, just a pulse and some kind of background drone or effect, like a resonator. It felt like singing inside a container, and then breaking out at some point – out into fresh air. Like in the song ‘Oh, Anna’, where a melody comes in at the end and everything changes direction. I tried to let things flow – the lyrics weren’t always meant for verse and chorus structure, and a lot of the time I kept my first takes and then worked around these when I created soundscapes.
Your lyrics are sometimes very explicit, especially in their references to biological functions and physicality. On your debut’s somewhat drily titled ‘A Cute Lovesong, Please’ you sing, “When you think of me do you masturbate? I want to know that I can make a man ejaculate...” while Medea is full of images of bones, flesh, ribs and spines. Unlike much pop music, your approach to these subjects is graphic and, rather than erotic, gritty and realistic. Is it a clear goal in your writing to steer clear of the ‘soft focus’ of much contemporary pop?
JH: To put a soft focus on lyrics because of genre, even if it is pop music, is to not take the art form seriously. Some pop music is meant to be soft, but with my work, I need bones and flesh and fluids, and not just in the music – those words need to be sung. A lot of music is full of heavy beats and noise and dark sounds, and then there is nothing in the lyrics that really goes into that world. The way I see it, we live in a world of images, and the images aren’t enough. A lot of female artists pose like they are saying, “When you think of me, do you masturbate?”, but of course, when I actually sing it, I break the illusion, and people react in a very different way. They become visible. I look back at them. I have to look back.
We say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, it’s not true. We need those words. I need to articulate a response and not just accept all these images telling me what it is to be a woman, and what it means to be a performer. I find it hard not to emphasise my physical presence on stage. To sing from the heart is a bloody thing. It is to sing from the body. My music is from the flesh. As an artist, I have the ability to be both my own physical presence and a set of characters or voices at the same time. I can’t not do that. This really interests me. There is a potential there to think about the consequences of stereotypes and ideas about gender, which is so important for us at this time in history. I find that a lot of the time I use this perspective to think about my experience in a female body and as a female artist. And so, as I said, I write myself as a performer on stage into my songs, just like I write myself and my own emotions and sensations into the characters I sing about. When I say "write" here, I mean both writing and singing. I write and sing myself into Medea, into a grizzly bear that eats a man, into all the women who have been drowned in rivers by famous poets...

Your music manages to be dramatic without it being theatrical, making it far more personal than the likes of Jacques Brel or, say, Scott Walker. Are you a fan of such artists, or do you find they lack a true, intimate soul of their own?
I'm not so familiar with Jacquel Brel, but I really like Scott Walker. Are they theatrical? Theatricality seems such a negatively charged expression, and I don’t know why. I just discussed this with a friend the other day, and I'm not sure I really understand the way we use this word. Anyway, I love a lot of artists that have been described as theatrical. I love Diamanda Galas, I love Kate Bush and David Bowie. Are they soulless? These artists are all my mothers. A bigger problem is perhaps when there is no theatre, no drama, no conflict, in the music, just a lot of effects. A lot of rock seems this way to me – a lot of balls, but no body.
Who inspires you to make music, and who inspires you to write?
JH: I’ve been very inspired by choral music, anything with voices. Allegri and Monteverdi, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Sheila Chandra made me compose like crazy in 2001, like five or six songs a day. Something just clicked. And Talk Talk’s last albums did the same a few years later. A lot of poets have inspired me to write: Anne Carson, a Canadian writer, and Nicole Brossard, another Canadian writer, have been very important for me. I also like to listen to recordings of voices. I just love listening to people speaking. It can be anything from Caroline Bergvall – a poet, her voice and work is beautiful – or lines from a Harry Potter film.
More than anything, though, movement makes me write and compose. Dance, physical theatre, watching people running. The films of Lars von Trier. Stuff that makes my body self-aware. Philosophy can also do that. When I was in Australia I used to study philosophy, and I would write songs for Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray. Their theories inspired me.
Do you think it makes any difference where you come from? Norwegian music at the moment seems to be full of innovative talent that is capable of at least dipping its toes into mainstream waters, and on a per capita basis it seems considerably more adventurous than many other countries at the moment. Does geography affect art?
JH: It definitely does, but not necessarily in the most obvious ways. When I was growing up in Norway, I didn’t like any Norwegian music (except for folk music, perhaps). My room was full of 4AD, shoegaze and Warp records. When I finished high school I went to Melbourne – as far away from Norway as possible – and really enjoyed the indie scene there. I felt free to do whatever I wanted. Now things have changed. There are a lot of interesting things happening in Norway, and there is also a lot of support: festivals like by:larm, and a lot of financial grants for musicians. But more importantly there is interesting music - a strong jazz and experimental scene, and a lot of new artists doing their own thing.
Oh, that’s right – the goth scene in the 90s was good. I started out in a goth band. That was great. It was minor enough for me.
Outside of Rockettothesky you also juggle a myriad of other projects. Can you tell us a little about your two other main musical adventures, Nude On Sand and Meshes Of Voice? What separates them from Rockettothesky?
JH: Meshes Of Voice is a project that I composed together with Susanna Wallumrød (of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra). It’s inspired by Maya Deren’s wonderful film Meshes of the Afternoon, and was originally performed at Ladyfest 2009 in Oslo. I’ve never composed with anybody before, but it was a great experience, almost like a letter exchange. Some parts were almost improvised pieces, with a lot of vocal effects, and other parts were more song-like. Susanna is wonderful.
Nude On Sand was a side project I started so I could play really small venues and literature festivals without using the RockettotheSky name. I wanted to be free of all restraints and not do any songs, just improvise, so Håvard [Volden, guitarist in Rocket band] and I started this duo. It was great. Then a bunch of songs happened. It was a bit disappointing at first, but then I realized this was a good thing – a bunch of monologues with music, gradually bursting into song. It became very free, very charged, very ecstatic. We play a lot of it live with Rockettothesky now.
You also write a great deal: your first book has just been published, you write poetry that you’ve performed at various festivals, you work as a critic and columnist, and you’re involved with various literary publications. How do you manage and separate these various projects?
JH: I don’t necessarily separate the projects. I’m not good at that. The things I have written about my music here could have been written about my novel, too. And when I write my occasional music column, I write about stuff I listen to and work with, that I feel resonates with me. I’m a terrible journalist. I’ve never managed to be very objective, or pretend to be. So I don’t think I’m multitalented, I’m just very focussed. I just have a lot of senses, a lot of fingers spreading.