Hans and Rasmus Kjorstad are brothers from Fron in mountainous central Norway. Both play the fiddle in the traditional style of their country. But don’t let that fool you into expecting something musically conservative. Pusinshi Ulla is more about experimentation and exploration of a genre’s boundaries than about acquiescence to old forms. On opener Guri, the seemingly random arrangement of plucked strings recalls the melting of icicles. The scrape of the fiddle, on the very edge of tonality, has more in common with John Cale’s viola experiments than anything we’re used to hearing in traditional British music – think The Black Angel’s Death Song if it had been composed in an Arctic cave with no electricity or drugs. It’s a bracing experience, and a wonderful one.
In Så Lokka E Over Den Myra, the title becomes a chanted refrain. With the employment of the human voice, the elemental, esoteric roots of this music are teased out. The instrumentation remains on the very edge of what we are used to, and it is partly this liminal quality that makes it so exciting.
Springleik etter Iver Storodden/Svasshøle II veers closer to recognisable melodic territory: an airy dance tune followed by a more melancholic section in which the two instruments overlap and wind around each other, pitting harmony against dissonance. The conclusion is open-ended but no less satisfying for that.
Halling etter Redvald Fjellhammer (‘etter’ means ‘after’, and presumably refers to a song’s provenance) brings in a subtle Jew’s harp, adding mystery to a melody that is closer to the baroque than anything that has gone before, showing that the brothers are by no means dismissive of more classical European forms. Indeed, they are self-confessed fans of the music of J.S. Bach, and this filters through, albeit rarely.
Firetur is a brief, swaying tune with a hint of the communal dance about it and Tjorhælspringleiken begins in intricate if comparatively familiar fashion, before growing wonkier and weirder, the asymmetric spikiness almost hidden in plain sight.
Even on an album of curiosities, Filefjelleiken stands out as particularly odd, the off-kilter arrangement, the unexpected jerky percussiveness and bottom-of-a-well chanting seem to locate it somewhere in the vicinity of the Electric Prunes at their most lysergic, but shorn of cultural signifiers it comes across as something altogether more timeless, more intriguing and ambivalent.
We then get two more iterations of the previous Svasshøle theme which prove that interpretation goes hand in hand with variation, and the beautiful Melovitt, the album’s tenderest moment, on which the fiddles practically melt into one another, such is their symbiotic relationship. Lengthy album closer Som Den Gyldne Sol Frembryter once again confounds expectations, taking in minimal modernism, long drawn out violin notes full of yearning and an arrangement that would be the envy of many modern composers and sound artists.
If you are new to Norwegian traditional music, this exquisite album is one of the most startling musical experiences you are ever likely to have. If not, then you will soon realise that the Kjorstad brothers are in the process of taking their country’s folk music in entirely new directions. Pusinshi Ulla is as fresh and vital as a morning swim in a frozen fjord.
Order it here: www.talik.no