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Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje

Ekkokammer 2.0 by Maja S. K. Ratkjewith Trondheim Voices will be performed on the Stormen 5 year anniversary concert during Nordic Music Days in Bodø.

Maja S. K. Ratkje has been honing her singular, interconnected performing and composing styles for more than twenty years. The process has placed her at the forefront of the musical avant-garde where depending on who you ask, she is either an exciting new talent or a respected elder stateswoman. Despite its boldness and originality, her music is meant for sharing. At its heart lies Ratkje’s own voice, an open door to her individual musicianship and a constant tool for realigning her work with natural expressions and human truths.

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Ratkje has collaborated with artists of various disciplines since the 1990s when she sang jazz, played the piano, joined a Gamelan group and co-founded the Oslo Industrial Ensemble. Mathematics, philosophy and the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen and Arne Nordheim all tantalized Ratkje during her first music studies. She forced her way into the Norwegian Academy of Music to discover more, graduating in composition, electronics and vocal studies in 2000.

The festival theme is «truth?». Can music be “true”? How true is art? Should art be true?

 The answer lies already in the semantics! The word ‘art’, present in ‘artificial’, even so in Norwegian translation, ‘kunst’ in ‘kunstig’. Thank god that we artists are not responsible for facts the way they present scientific research! Art is not a copy of reality and should not make that a goal, neither to present «truth». «Truth» as we know it from how it is dealt with politically or socially needs confrontation and adjustment. And art or music is to me the ultimate way of dealing with that. Compared to reality, art is contradictive and exaggerative, and I postulate that music is by nature more high-resolutive in its multilayers of intentions and perceptions as well as the sheer physicality of sound and movement than any other art form. Music is and should always be completely irresponsible. At the same time, artistic expression, or art, is an invaluable platform for communicating new insight on «truth» in society, with the freedom to take any stand, ideally speaking, provided that we have a society that supports freedom of speech. The great German poet and writer Bertolt Brecht said that “art is not a mirror held up to reality/society, but a hammer with which to shape it”, and by encouraging exaggerated or «unnatural» sides of human behaviour, he aimed to lift the potential of the audience’ understanding of reality. Defamiliarisation or alienation as a tool to help people see the world as it really is. An artistic approach to new aesthetics, but also with a political agenda, if people discover its faults, a necessary change will be pushed forward. Music being more abstract by nature than theatre has perhaps a stronger and more direct, emotional influence. Combined with other arts such as language, movement and visuals, its potential is enormous. Brecht describes to me why we need art – and music – as a security control for a civilised, empathic society. We need art that takes us to new places, emotionally and intellectually.

 

To what extent does your piece at Nordic Music Days deal with truth?

Each work creates its own rules. The identity of a work of music is often hidden in the presentation given, or lies behind as something to be explored or discovered. I Ekkokammer 2.0, I started by recording individual interviews with six of the singers in Trondheim Voices about their view on the singers’ role, the potential of a voice and also about their background as singers, what was their first performance memories, how did they eventually manage to find their own voice etc. All this was churned into the work, given new contexts and partitioned so that the autobiographical elements are really twisted, but still being true to its sources. The spoken text in the performance is exactly as it was told in the interviews, oral mistakes are not corrected, and there are hardly any dialect adjustments, but the textual lines are shared among the performers, the lines are not true to the person who pronounces them on stage. Sometimes they belong to that person, but you will never know, and the singers don’t even know the origin of the lines they are saying, they can only guess. Interestingly enough, after having worked with Ekkokammer for a while and done several performances, it seems to be less and less important who said what originally, and the singers also seem to forget. It all goes up a greater entity.

On the question “how to deal with truth” in my work, I mean that it is important to be true to your intentions. And also to be open to changes along the way. A checkpoint is always if the creative process is true to an inner motivation, and not the opposite: what is expected, what is the format required, what is the best way to achieve success. It’s not easy to be cocksure that you have a true artistic method, but to aim for it is a continuous and active decision, not something that you can take for granted.

“We cannot discover the truth about barbarous conditions without thinking of those who suffer from them; cannot proceed unless we shake off every trace of cowardice; and when we seek to discern the true state of affairs in regard to those who are ready to use the knowledge we give them, we must also consider the necessity of offering them the truth in such a manner that it will be a weapon in their hands, and at the same time we must do it so cunningly that the enemy will not discover and hinder our offer of the truth.”

«Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties» Bertolt Brecht 1935

 

Stormen 5 years!

Ekkokammer is a staged piece, directed and composed by Maja S. K. Ratkje for Trondheim Voices.

Since 2014 Ratkje has been collaborating with the avant garde vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices to create a work in progress called Ekkokammer (in English: Echo Chamber). This has resulted in two editions so far, Ekkokammer 1.0 and Ekkokammer 2.0. 

Ratkje has interviewed the singers in the ensemble privately about finding their voice, the singer’s role and what it means to have a voice, metaphorically as well as physically. What do you wish to express with your voice? Isn’t it enough to just sing nicely and get popularity? The singers’ own answers and thoughts to these questions combined with their own experiences around finding their voice from childhood memories till today is staged in peculiar ways in the piece. All spoken text is excact transcriptions from the taped conversations with Ratkje, but is spread among the singers in the finished piece, so the true author of a spoken line is never exposed, you’ll never know, perhaps is the actor also the initial owner of the line.

The transcripted lines are exactly written as originally spoken, with mistakes, with hesitancy, in their own dialect. This gives sometimes an odd distance to the text when performed, and also questions another big discussion around the singer’s role: authenticity. Is a singer’s statement more valid emotionally if it’s real? What is real? One of my statements are: when it’s staged it’s never “real”, even though it’s based on authentic experience, but what’s real for the audience, for their own reflection is as real as it gets, it’s here, in the meeting with the audience, that art can be of great value and touch reality in ways that you haven’t thought of before.