Switched On – Erik Levander: Jökel (Glacial Movements)

erik-levander

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

‘Jökel’ is the Swedish word for glacier, with its roots in the Icelandic word ‘Jökull’. It is an entirely appropriate title for Erik Levander’s latest album, borne out of a visit to the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland (seen below). He crafted a clutch of imaginary field recordings from the visit, inviting the listener to join him on a natural journey around and through this natural phenomenon.

What’s the music like?

Among his plentiful output, this will surely be one of Levander’s more minimal albums to date. Yet that is an entirely valid approach as he looks to capture the slow, incremental progress of the glacier, while also recognising the fact it sits on top of a volcano.

There are no melodies as such here, but the five tracks are compelling as they slowly develop in front of the listener’s ears. Tröskel (Threshold) has an ominous knocking sound that reoccurs as though natural bumps were going on that could lead to something much more substantial down the line. This is a theme developed in the longer Expansion, where the sound widens its perspective and more obvious pitches appear, winding outwards and upwards. This is quite chilling on headphones, before the comfort of the sounds submersed in thick ambience, as though wrapped up in ice.

Myrdalsjökull_01From there we move to Avstånd, where it is possible to discern pieces breaking off the main flow, the ambience still thick behind, before hissing and dripping sounds start to dominate the treble, again a spooky effect on headphones. Yta introduces the most definite pitches we have heard so far, rooted to a single chord initially but then changing to a pitch laden with overtones as the perspective changes. Finally, Massa (Mass) draws back a bit, letting us appreciate the sheer size of the construction, the wind audible over the snow and ice.

The five tracks last just over 50 minutes, and are definitely best heard as a whole in order for the listener to walk with Levander along the edge of this remarkable construction.

Does it all work?

Yes. Levander’s soundscapes are remarkably descriptive, sending a shiver of cold down the spine. This is not comfortable music, and when the listener has the subject matter to hand it is easy to think of the anguish involved with the melting of our glaciers. Levander successfully portrays his subject but with a fair bit of discomfort involved.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Jökel sits comfortably within the spectrum of the Glacial Movements label, and is a compelling document of a visit that clearly had a strong emotional effect on the Swedish artist. 

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