A review of 'Knive', the debut album of Svarte Greiner - an incarnation in musical form of Erik K. Skodvin, half of the Norwegian ambient duo Deaf Center.
Svarte Greiner's debut album reminds me strongly of a certain part of Rainer Maria Rilke's strange 1910 faux-autobiography 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In this part of the novel, the author as a child is rummaging around in the dusty, rarely-visited attic of the Danish country manor of his aristocratic forebears. He finds a lot of disused clothes and uniforms, some decades old, and dresses up in them, using them for playacting, as costumes, like an actor would. Then, the child finds a mask, dons it, and descends towards the empty guest room to see himself in an antique mirror, a mirror so ancient it has acquired a personality. Inadvertently, the child knocks over a table with all kinds of knick-knacks, which fall and break into pieces, aggravating the child. Then, he sees himself masked and in disguise in the mirror and the mirror uses that reflection to avenge the broken things: the mirror reflects "... an image, no, a reality, a strange, incomprehensibly monstrous reality, which suffuses me against my will: because now the mirror was the stronger one, and I was the mirror". On seeing this ghostlike apparition, the child almost faints and flees the room in terror*.
Why are these images called forth so strongly by Svarte Greiner's music?
First of all: 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge' is a very continental-European novel, and likewise 'Knive' is a very European album, notwithstanding the fact that American bands Earth and Angelo Badalamenti are namechecked as influences. Though the influence of both Earth and Badalementi can indeed be recognized in the music, Svarte Greiner doesn't have that quintessentially American epic sweep, that vastness in space that they have: Svarte Greiner's proper dimension is time, that most European of dimensions, that dimension which plays such an important role in 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In the dimension of time, Svarte Greiner is vast too.
Svarte Greiner repeatedly mentions liking horror films, and the horror films he reminds me of are not American slasher films, not David Cronenberg's biomechanical horror, not Romero's zombie films, but European cinéfantastique films like Harry Kümel's 'Les Lèvres Rouges', Lucile Hadzihalilovic's 'Innocence', Georges Franju's 'Les Yeux Sans Visage' and Borowczyk's and Robbe-Grillet's erotic horror films.
Musically, Svarte Greiners closest agnate is The Third Eye Foundation - the same type of continental-European phantasmagorical pseudo-soundtracks, albeit without the drum and bass rhythms - in fact, Matt Elliott is so continental-European in style that it cannot come as a surprise that he has moved from the UK to France**? Like The Third Eye Foundation, Svarte Greiner comes at darkly romantic themes from an oblique angle, from the angle of ambient electronica rather than from the more obvious angle of gothic music or black metal.
Second, like that of Rilke, Svarte Greiner's style is late-romantic, sensitive and introspective. "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" is described by the author as "Introspective and retrospective, mystical and sensitive, and much concerned with loneliness, fear, suffering, and death." The same might be said of Svarte Greiner's music: the atmosphere of 'Knive' is dreamily mournful, romantically minor-key, with sensitive cello and string instruments, with mystical Dead-Can-Dance's-Lisa-Gerrard-style singing. Svarte Greiner's mix tapes (here, here and here) are something of a revelation also: highly introspective and retrospective landscapes of ambient music, jazz, modern composition and improvised music.
Third, it is the way Svarte Greiner uses found sounds and field recordings. The album is replete with beautifully sinister sounds of wind, rain, wood creaking (á la Nurse With Wound's Salt Marie Celeste), digging, sawing, rusty metal scraping rusty metal, footsteps through the underbrush, someone yawning, the call of crows and other black birds, antique vinyl hiss, crackle and pop, the grammophone needle running out of the last groove... Svarte Greiner uses these sounds, which he must have purposefully sought out and found in an attic of the ear, for dramatic effect, much as young Malte Laurids Brigge used the clothes found in the attic for playacting. For example, in the last track, titled "Final Sleep", the conjunction of the song title with the sound of digging evokes horror film burials or exhumations ... Svarte Greiner or the listener transforming into grave robber John Gray, played by Boris Karloff in Robert Wise's 1945 film 'The Body Snatcher'. Found sound hasn't been used this well since C-Schulz & Hajsch eponymous album.
"Music is closer to us, then; it streams toward us; we stand in its way, but then it goes right through us. It is almost like a higher air, we draw it into the lungs of spirit and it gives us a greater blood in the secret circulation" - Rainer Maria Rilke
*Strange that K-Punk has no yet mentioned this most hauntological novel of all European literature.
** Post script: check out this YouTube link to a video made for Matt Elliott, the sad and haunting 'Kursk'.