Nils Økland fiddles
Per Steinar Lie guitars
Ørjan Haaland drums
Recorded November 2011, ABC Studio, Etne, Norway
Recording and mixing engineer: Kjetil Ulland
Mastering: Christoph Stickel and Manfred Eicher
An ECM Production
Since his first ECM appearance on the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble’s Sofienberg Variations in 2003, and even more so on his 2009 solo effort Monograph, Nils Økland has served as a conduit between the then and the now. His latest project, Lumen Drones, finds the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle virtuoso in the company of guitarist Per Steinar and drummer Ørjan Haaland. Økland had previously collaborated with Steinar and Haaland, both members of the post-rock group The Low Frequency in Stereo, for a track on the latter’s 2009 album Futuro. That track was called “Solar System,” which best indicates the cosmic reach of this new trio. In ways similar to the band Mono, Lumen Drones cultures its motifs like bacteria in Petri dishes until they reach dizzying proportions.
Chalk it up to ECM’s penchant for balance that often the most obscure, indefinable album covers sleeve the most clearly defined music, while here we have a rare animal encounter for music that is amorphous as the sun’s corona. Aside from two pieces—Lie’s webbed “Lux” and Økland’s ponderous “Keelwater”—this self-titled debut is comprised of collectively burnished hardwoods. “Dark Sea” comes to life without warning, as if startled from a dream, and draws us into a world of brushed drums, guitar, and fiddle. In wave after wave of memory, this unique combination sets a ghostly precedent. Even at its most enigmatic, however, the music that follows is so intensely visual that it’s near impossible not to accompany it with your own mental cinema. “Ira Furore,” for instance, unspools a single thread of cymbal from a tangle of heat-distorted guitar, while the fiddle pours its tenderness in a vain attempt to staunch the flames. The smoldering atmosphere recalls David Lynch’s Lost Highway in both its spatial and psychological desolations, tempered but never transcended by Økland’s soaring grammar. Further distortions abound in “Anemone,” which from deepest roots projects a bouquet of amplified thistles and burns by means of water. Yet the strongest inertia is to be found in the melodic progressions and folkish qualities of “Echo Plexus.” And with so much retrograde to appreciate, it’s no wonder we’re given some room to breathe in “Husky,” a brief and flowing duet between Lie and Økland. From here, it’s only a hop to “Svartaskjær.” Joining a free improv already in progress, it finishes with a jam band sensitivity stripped of all ornament. It breathes, cackles, and swivels its way into a 1970s bonfire, spreading ash all over its Technicolor skin.
Some make mountains of out molehills; Lumen Drones makes molehills out of mountains.
(To hear samples of Lumen Drones, click here.)