The urge to describe music in great detail may be overwhelming, but ultimately everything is overtaken by the need to get to the point. Where every impulse to elaborate why is deflected by one basic command; namely, “listen to this!” To clumsily quote Joan Didion writing about her sense of awe of being shown round the control room at the Hoover Dam, the experience of listening to Muunduja by Maarja Nuut and Ruum is so explicit as to suggest nothing beyond itself. And by God, it’s entrancing; you need to hear it.
Muunduja is Maarja Nuut’s third record, her first with new collaborator Ruum, and a distinct contrast to her previous album Une Meeles. Many of the same ingredients are still present, Nuut’s brilliance as a fiddler, her beautiful vocals, her folkloric subject matter and - most notably - her intense, almost animistic relationship with the physical and spiritual landscape of her country Estonia. Where the two records differ is the plotting of the route. Where Une Meeles was a mysterious but predominantly personal inner journey through an part-imaginary landscape, this is a bravura exercise in creating a sound that advances on all fronts, the creation of a public worldview that envelops and almost saturates the listener. Muunduja means ‘shifter’ in Estonian, and it’s appropriate that the music drags you into liminal states, dives deep into the imagination’s netherworld, or creates gloriously transcendent sonic interfaces that could, still, dissolve in the blink of an eye.
This is partly down to her co-pilot in all this inner-outer space travel. Ruum, aka Hendrik Kaljujärv is a synth head and self-taught sound engineer and composer of some brilliance. The partnership is one that has built up over the course of two years, almost immediately after the release of Une Meeles in fact, when Nuut wanted to bring a live show that would be more than just a “girl with a fiddle”. This approach has paid off in spades. Further, it may just be that Kaljujärv’s considerable experience of staging sonic theatrics has filtered through Nuut’s consciousness in ways she hadn’t expected. For one this release is spiced with a slightly brazen, cavalier spirit hitherto unheard in her work. Muunduja is also widescreen in nature, it is stuffed full of cinematic music.
Although it does feel somewhat clumsy to employ a reference to “Baltic” films such as Sauna or Stalker in a review of an Estonian record, the music does suggest we are entering Tarkovsky’s magical and dangerous zone, or the mythical Karelia of Sauna. Tracks sound like spells. ‘Takisan’ is a brilliant kosmische electro pattern that also sounds like a long lost Moebius and Plank track from Material. ‘Kuud Kuulama’ and ‘Une Meeles’ are similar in spirit, acting like the last will and testament of half-seen animistic forms - Banniks whispering gobbets of unintelligible weirdness in our ear as we navigate the music.
Kaljujärv’s influence is best heard on ‘Miniature C’’s extraordinary slab of electric noise. This sounds for all the world like some gristly lump of satellite that floated out of Martin Hannett’s studio window, careening off orbit and landing outside the Telliskivi district before he could reel it back in. The track drags itself along some iron factory floor, almost painfully, and is a total contrast to, for example, the quicksilver, shamanic opener ‘Haned Kadunud’.
Maarja Nuut is driven, hiding in plain sight, and sometimes too open or overly painstaking in picking out her creative path. Yet she is determined to make her mark, to show that the world in her head is actually all around us if we just take a moment to feel its presence. In doing so she and Hendrik Kaljujärv have made what must be one of the records of the year.
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Wed Oct 10 17:25:48 CEST 2018