Sheriffs of Nothingness // Nights at the Crooked Forest

The Norwegian folk culture is littered with trolls, dwarfs and fairies, most of whom residing in the dense dark forests that completely covered most of the country in olden days. One of these forests, just north-west of Oslo, has a name that scents of fairy tales and insidious creatures waiting to lure you into the nearest pond and feast on your bones: The Crooked Forest (Krokskogen). Covering an area roughly 40 x 15 km it is home of moose, the odd stray wolf and probably a “hulder” (a beautiful forest creature with cow’s tail) or two.

18.04 / 2013

It is also home to a number of cottages, one of which served as recording studio for violist Ole-Henrik Moe and violinist Kari Rønnekleiv, their recording gear powered by solar panels and with a momentarily audible fireplace as sole heat source.

“How very Norwegian” as Wire’s reviewer noted.

But there’s nothing poor and rustic about their playing! The duo, which won a Norwegian Grammy for a record of contemporary music, has since then moved into freely improvised territory, but keeping the sound they developed working on Moe’s “Ciaconna” and “3 Persephone Perceptions” from 2007.

And this sound is all about bending the timbre of the string instruments. Stretching it until it bursts completely, leaving only traces of the recognizable sound of the violin and viola. Humming, growling, hissing, plucking. Everything played in a perfectly symbiotic manner, one always following the other like a shadow. During two records, the couple never deflect from this route, not even once. Seeing them live gives the impression that Moe steers the improvisations, Rønnekleiv pacing microseconds behind him. On record this hierarchy is imperceptible, they’re just to closely intertwined into each others playing to tell them apart.

The two records are made with roughly 6 months between them, though released more than two years apart. The first one made in the month of July 2010, the second dating from March the following year. And there’s not much separating the two, both consisting of many short and intense improvisations. The biggest difference is the key piece “Blizzard” from the winter recording. Clocking in at 14 minutes it depicts a winter storm of epical proportions, illustrated by fast, hard tremolos, waving back and forth, patiently evolving to a great big whirlwind of bow hairs and resin residue, almost without producing any recognizable pitches.

The other pieces are shorter but no less precise, their titles (“The First Snow Queen”, “You are Walking on a Sleeping Summer”, “Melanesian Trolls”, “Asbjørnsen by the Fireplace”) like poetic portraits of some of the things you might encounter in a bewitched forest.

“A Summer’s night …” and “A Winter’s night …” should be seen as two parts of one complete work, sharing so many characteristics and offering the same uniquely telepathic playing from a remarkable duo.