Schattenspieler (MIACD13/MIALP13), my third full length album, was released by Miasmah Recordings in 2010. A meditation on themes such as noir / expressionist cinema, vintage experimental music and the deterioration of old recordings, the album proved to fit the sensibilities of Erik Skodvin's label like hand in glove.
A four-track suite in the middle of the album is based on my music composed for, and commissioned by, artist Bernd Behr for his 2006 film House Without a Door. Darker in tone, more cinematic and somewhat more accessible than my previous two releases, Schattenspieler found its way, through the Miasmah label, to a new and wider audience.
LISTEN:Excerpt from track 1, "The Disjointed". [ DOWNLOAD MP3 ]
Excerpt from track 9, "Liquid Fire" (House Without a Door suite). [ DOWNLOAD MP3 ]
Excerpt from track 3, "Antichrist Architecture Management". [ DOWNLOAD MP3 ]
Excerpt from track 6, "Monolith and Bunker" (House Without a Door suite). [ DOWNLOAD MP3 ]
Excerpt from track 5, "Tremolous". [ DOWNLOAD MP3 ]
Swedish composer Marcus Fjellström has a history of working with film makers and dance groups; Schattenspieler (Shadowplayer) is a standalone piece, but it would be a perfect accompaniment to a disquieting psychological thriller. On a track called "Noir Revisited", it's surely the intended effect, and the juxtaposition of acoustic and synthetic elements in short, uneasy nocturnes demonstrate a close kinship with Ben Frost's "By The Throat".
An insistent rhythm made up of small percussive clicks and chimes starts "Liquid Fire"; they are accompanied by distant rumblings and a high scraped violin note before cutting to near silence. The sombre organ piece "Uncanny Valleys" recalls two David Lynch collaborators: Angelo Badalamenti in his ability to invest a handful of chord changes with foreboding, and sound designer Alan Splet in his disquieting use of abstract sound. The fantastically evocative "The Disjointed" is typical of Fjellström's work. A phantom string section plays a beautiful if distressed Bernard Herrmann-style melody, while distant reverberations generate a feeling of the music itself being menaced, of order put under mounting threat. "Antichrist Architecture Management" has an echoed synth nagging away at a few notes while percussive ticks and orchetral drum rolls come and go.
Like the rest of the album, it takes listeners on a journey towards some kind of musical resolution, but ultimately leaves them abandoned by the side of the road.
Die mit dem dunklen, verstörenden Bild spielenden Musiker und Komponisten haben mittlerweile eine beeindruckende Finesse entwickelt den Film im Kopf blind ohne das dazugehörige Zelluloid erschaffen zu können. Der Schwede Marcus Fjellström, Studierter in klassischer Komposition und Orchestration legt in dieser Richtung mit seinem vierten Album eine unendlich tiefe und durch und durch düster durchdrungene Arbeit vor. Inspiriert von Ravel und Debussy, Bernard Herrmann und – natürlich – Badalamenti gelingt es Fjellström aus dem Meer der in dieser Richtung arbeitenden Komponisten ohne grössere Anstrengungen eine eigenständige Musiksprache zu entwickeln, den Hörer damit engmaschig zu umwickeln, hier zu kratzen, da ein bisschen zu würgen um ihn nach 48 Minuten wieder leicht schwummrig vom Sofa zu entlassen. Gerade die ebenfalls von Fjellström genannten elektronischen Einflüsse von Aphex Twin und Autechre erlauben es dem Meister elegant zwischen und über den Stühlen zu turnen. Grosser Respekt und Applaus.
Dark and moody, sad and beautiful, organic and ghostly, the latest album by Marcus Fjellström, Schattenspieler, is an incredible achievement, that grows on you with every listen. This morning, when I was hoping to be a little upbeat, the rainy weather changed my mood, and I gravitated towards yet another listen of the album, which translates from German as the “Shadowplayer”… Weaving an environment full of scratchy and dusty elements, orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Biosphere‘s Shenzhou, and sad cinematic passages of forgotten films, Fjellström creates a tense atmosphere for the psychological thriller inside your head. And the references to film-making are not an accident here. At least four tracks on the album were originally commissioned for the film House Without A Door by Bernd Behr.
Marcus Fjellström is a Swedish composer and a multimedia artist, appearing on one of our favorite labels, Miasmah, for the first time. His two previous releases, Exercises In Estrangement (2005) and Gebrauchsmusik (2006), were both released by the Manchester based Lampse, which may already be known to the listeners through its Machinefabriek releases. Being a Miasmah release, the album gets treated with cover illustration by Erik Skodvin (Svarte Greiner) and is mastered by Andreas Tilliander (Mokira). Fjellström has also worked with the Swedish Royal Ballet, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as various ensembles and soloists.
“Haunting synth and orchestral instrument-based audio constructions, flowing from one moment to the next – the fleeting ghosts of Fjellström’s melodies rise, only to be buried under a claustrophobic clutter of percussion and creaking background noise. These pieces do indeed feel like you’re listening to something more implied than obviously stated, as if Fjellström wants only to expose us to the shadow of the music – the implication being perhaps a more terrifying experience than to be confronted outright… listen to ‘Schattenspieler’ and you may find your mind starts to play tricks on you…”
Listening to Schattenspieler, you are placed in a haunted house, where the gray clouds slowly gather over the roof. Finally, after a few intense and electrifying moments, the music begins to drip, and then pour on top of your body, slowly saturating first the stale clothing, then the aching bones. Somewhere in the background a needle is left on a record, skipping on the very last groove. And as you approach a corner, the flickering light of a candle is stretching the shadows beyond their physical size, leaping between the wooden boards and yellow stained ceilings… Something just ran around the corner! Was that a giant cockroach or a starving cat? Do you dare to enter Fjellström’s world, descend into the basement and find out?
I keep returning to the album, and the repeating melodies begin to unravel themselves, implanting into my mind with every recognizable stab or progression. Perfectly fitting on Miasmah, Schattenspieler is a great addition to the catalog of our favorite releases on the label from Kreng, Jacaszek, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Elegi, and Jasper TX. Highly recommended!
ALMOST COOL MUSIC REVIEWS (rating 7.25 / 10)
On his second album Gebrauchsmusik, young Swedish composer and producer Marcus Fjellstrom has created a release of eerie post classical music that doesn't pretend to be friendly or warm. In fact, the title of the release roughly translates (German) to "utility music," and his squirming compositions bristle with electronically-filtered strings, prepared piano, and percussion. The result is an album that's definitely on the uneasy side, with track titles that reference both War, Death, and Fairytales (but certainly not ones with happy endings).
"Reanimation Music" opens the release and sounds somewhat like you might expect given the title, as layers of heavily-filtered voices twitch and moan while trying to break free from some sort of digital morass as sloshing percussion and filtered woodwinds make an even more unsteady backdrop. "War Music, 1st Perspective" follows, and it's easily one of the best tracks on the entire release, as skittering, chromatic beats swarm together and create a rustling backdrop for some broken piano notes and pitch-bent strings that sound downright horror show.
As mentioned above, both "Fairy Tale, 1st Perspective" and "Fairy Tale, 2nd Perspective" are definitely more on the haunting side of things than something you'd want to play for a small child before bed. The former features muffled voices speaking out some unintelligible words under more dissonant strings, while the latter is flat-out evil, with the voice again coming back as more distorted screams and moans play out alongside queasy string stabs and gritty static.
So the album goes, with themes being revisited depending on the track titles and ideas being presented. All three parts of War Music are more rhythmic, with chattering percussion and heavy tones, while the Dance Music pieces take on slightly lighter feels, but still move as if encumbered by grit and decay. As expected, the two Death Music pieces are deep drones that are dark enough to imagine them simply being the accompaniment to having your own casket lowered into the ground. Even though the total running length of Gebrauchsmusik is under fifty minutes, it feels longer because of the cold and oppressive compositions. If you're interested in wallowing, this one won't nudge you out from under a black cloud.
Marcus Fjellström is a Swedish composer whose previous albums, Exercises In Estrangement and Gebrauchsmusik, were released on the Lampse label. The latter was especially interesting, as it attempted to bridge the gap between "absolute" and "functional" composition through a series of vignettes that incorporated both, sometimes within the same track. While the overarching sonic narrative helped the listener bind the tracks into a unified album, its dichotomous nature also created a jarring effect when listened to all the way through. This changes with Schattenspieler ("Shadowplayer"). Although several tracks from the album make up a suite of songs known as "House Without A Door" (which Fjellström created to accompany a film of the same name), Schattenspieler is a thoroughly cohesive listen.
If the title didn't clue you in already, this is Fjellström at his darkest, with elements of musique concrète competing for space with minor-key, arpeggiated synth lines and shrieking violins. In fact, the music wouldn't really sound out of place in a haunted house: floorboards creak, chains clank, and at one point bats seem to be calling out during "Perspex." "Antichrist Architecture Management" sounds like John Carpenter's score for Halloween (but with Goblin's keyboard parts from Dawn of the Dead in place of the repetitive piano motifs), and I continually find myself imagining this music as the perfect backdrop for a Hitchcock film. Indeed, Schattenspieler is a cinematic album.
And it's got the mood to match. One of the most impressive things that Fjellström accomplishes here is filling the listener with dread. There's an enormous amount of space created here, but it feels claustrophobic. It isn't space in the sense of there being a lot of it, but rather of multiple areas of confinement, of entrapment — attics, closets, basements, dilapidated houses, graves, tombs. Imagine that final scene from Lucio Fulchi's House By The Cemetery, then imagine a version of Demdike Stare minus the dub or even Erik Skodvin's album Knive under his Svarte Greiner alias.
Of course, an album of such theatrical qualities isn't unprecedented: aside from the scores of horror films, the focus of this year's Unsound fest in Poland was built entirely around making clear the already quite obvious connection between horror film scores and avant-garde music, with Fjellström, Demdike Stare, and Black To Comm all making appearances (the latter of which released a close antecedent to Schattenspieler with the excellent Alphabet 1969 from last year). But there's a fine distinction to be made here: while many artists in this mode of music-making sound like they're rehashing the sonic tropes of slasher soundtracks for aesthetic effect, Fjellström seems wholly intent on eliciting pure terror out of his listeners.
by Joe Davenport
With a title that translates as "Shadowplayer", this new album from the excellent Marcus Fjellstrom is quick to set the scene. Combining wonderfully crackly ambient textures with ancient sounding classical instrumentation, Fjellstrom's music is perhaps like a sonic equivalent to the cinema of the Brothers Quay or Guy Maddin in its stylised and revised recreation of something old, monochromatic and somehow already familiar. It's fairly commonplace to find ambient or dark-ambient works that channel this sort of run-down aesthetic, but Fjellstrom goes somewhat further by using real orchestration and then aging it. Consequently, there's so much more invested in Fjellstrom's music and his soundscapes are far richer than the kind of loop-driven, predominantly electronic material of his contemporaries. Particular highlights arise during the creaky, percussion-driven 'Liquid Fire' and the incredible woodwinds of 'Untitled 090616', but this marvellous album is best digested as a whole.
In naming his website Kafkagarden, Marcus Fjellström demonstrates an affinity with the famous author. Kafka’s emphasis on isolation and being outcast from society linger in Schattenspieler, an album that is sure to please dark ambient and modern composition fans alike.
When considering Schattenspieler (“Shadow Player”) as a whole, one can instantly recognize the amount of effort put into its creation, as well as Fjellström’s talent as a composer. The songs on the album may seem at first to be a scattering of pieces with no particular musical theme, but as the album unfolds, a wordless story begins to emerge. Broken cellos and violins are layered over a sea of ever changing drones and crackled synths. Sound fragments are highlighted, buried, and highlighted again. These compositional aspects become key to the overall narrative. On several occasions, William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops comes to mind; but now imagine Basinski's old tapes and loops in their original condition, neither fragmented nor torn apart, expounded upon by various instruments.
Very few albums place a powerful statement of intent in the introductory spot, but this album is the exception. Opener "The Disjointed” is a continuous exchange between digital manipulation and human emotion. Events that were voluntarily forgotten creep out of the shadows and make their way to the fore. Second track “Bis Einer Weint” takes a more minimal turn but maintains the theme of alienation and loss, sustaining its tension with panned synth notes. Next comes the album’s highlight, “Antichrist Architecture Management” which builds on its predecessor with a synth line that would be right at home on an old Tangerine Dream or Pink Floyd album. The synth line repeats at varying tempos and moves along a minor scale, bringing to mind the image of someone running from the darkness of the past.
Four of the album tracks stem from an actual soundtrack: “House Without a Door”, a movie based on the WWII bombing of a test site. One would expect that would might interrupt the album's flow, but this is not the case; Fjellström's track sequencing is impeccable. Only the printed track listing marks these songs as separate from the rest.
The album is beautifully mastered. It is a near perfect combination of pre and post production, of an aging sound combined with digital elements. Many might try to imitate this album in sound and mood, but would struggle to match its conviction and attention to detail. In fact, it sets a new standard, and will likely become a touchstone in the genre, like Mogwai is to post-rock and Stars of the Lid is to ambient. Schattenspieler will surprise many listeners, and with any luck, will garner Marcus Fjellström the attention he so greatly deserves.