Still Eating Gingerbread for Breakfast
Rune Grammofon RCD 2188

Ni l’un ni l’autre could be the defining phrase applied to Spunk, the four-piece Norwegian band which celebrated its 20th anniversary with the release of this distinctive two-track CD. Featuring Lene Grenager’s cello Kristin Andersen’s trumpet and recorder, Hild Sofie Tafjord’s French horn, and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje’s vocalizing, with the latter two also wielding a workshop-like collection of processors and samplers, the quartet melds strands of improvised, notated, folkloric and electronic sounds into a singular niche.

Distinctive themselves, the two tracks separate neatly as if breaking a perforated chocolate bar in half. The almost 45-minute first tune is dominated by chunks of graphical development and signal processing with secondary vocal and instrumental interjections; the more-than-half-hour second performance is characterized by increased voice and acoustic instrumental textures. Like an iPhone compared to a dial phone however, even this iteration doesn’t resemble standard folk, Jazz or so-called classical music – or pure electro acoustics either.

Miasmatic as well as cacophonous and polyphonic, “Spunk 20 first set” is multi-sequenced. With the interaction initially as dense and impermeable as fog in a port city, whetted string thrusts and French horn gurgles eventually set up a basso pulsed connection in broken-octave contrast with elevated pitches from voice and recorder. By mid-point, the unidentifiable drones and flutters have been supplanted by blurry timbres whose electronic pulsations relate more closely to jet plane whooshes, space ship circling and small animal lacerations than human sources. Meanwhile, vibraphone-like smacks and clarion-like bugle echoes add the closest thing to a groove to be found on the session. The final sequence consists of near-mbira vibrations, guzheng-like shakes and horn lowing splintering the narrative into sound atoms only to have Ratkje’s half-operatic and half-alpine vocalizing reassert the continuum.

More aggressive “Spunk 20 second set” also has enough unexpected discord from brass blats, harmonica gasps and vocalization which alternately suggest Daisy Dick dialogue and Roma improvisation that the fanciful image of a campfire singsong is outer space is posed. Like a medical researcher who determines that one compound designed for a single use has other benefits, Spunk’s individuality is asserted as rugged blowing from the recorder sets up the connective theme expressed rondo-like. Simultaneously buzzing electronic cacophony, reminiscent of the fist track’s introductory minutes is heard alongside brassy obbligatos from French horn and trumpet. Finally throaty operatic-style vocalizing cuts through the accelerating blur to assert the humans behind the slurs and sighs. Like other players who manage to harness electronics for their own ends, Spunk keeps a performance surging forward while adding a particular identity to the proceedings. Allowing for individual challenges and changes, while maintaining a group identity, is likely why the group is still intact two decades on. This also may be true 20 years from now. After all Still Eating Gingerbread for Breakfast was recorded in 2015.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Spunk 20 first set 2. Spunk 20 second set

Personnel: Kristin Andersen (trumpet, recorder); Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn, toys, live processing and sampling electronics); Lene Grenager (cello) and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (voice, Theremin, oscillators, live processing and sampling)