Hanna Hartman: Färjesånger/Cikoria/Die Schrauben, die die Welt zusammenhalten

Housed in a gorgeous red fold-out digipak, this CD from Swedish sound artist Hartman comes with little documentation beyond the fact that its three long pieces were all commissioned by European radio stations. These origins lend an insight into Hartman’s somewhat opaque methods. Listeners to radio dramas are invited to supply their own pictures to complement the sounds given by the broadcast, which on its own is tantalisingly incomplete. Similarly, Hartman’s fractured, multiple sounds strive towards a visualisation that can only be provided by the listener.

Each of the pieces is a collage of found sounds with minimal processing. The title of the opening ‘Färjesånger’ (Ferry Songs) suggests nautical activity, an impression confirmed by many of the sounds included. We appear to be in some kind of workshop or dockyard, with the clank of metal on metal and the hiss of escaping air ranged against deep, indistinct knocks and rumbles. At the same time, the presence of isolated piano notes and what sounds like fabric being torn signals artistic intervention. The piece bursts into life at around 15 minutes, with a frantic collision of industrial textures worthy of Einstürzende Neubauten.

At 20 minutes, ‘Färjesånger’ just about manages to avoid outstaying its welcome, an achievement not shared by the second track. ‘Cikoria’ is an aggregation of further clatters, rumbles and rustles, this time deployed in a more programmed manner. Hartman sets up a facile opposition between city and country life, with police sirens, New York subway announcements and the churning of machinery giving way to birdsong and running water. This movement from an urban to a rural/pastoral setting certainly comes as a relief, but is too schematic to have more than a soothing effect. From then on, the piece really loses its way. The subway announcement is needlessly repeated, a sure sign that creativity is flagging, and the rest of the track is taken up with yet more metallic sounds. Things limp on to the 35-minute mark, but by then this listener had long since lost interest.

The final piece, ‘Die Schrauben, die die Welt zusammenhalten’ (‘the screws that hold the world together’), begins as unpromisingly as its predecessors. As before, we are faced with an array of collaged material that fails, but only just, to engage the attention – this time, organic sounds of wood and bells. Matters improve greatly at around 12 minutes, however, with a slew of rhythmic propulsion that lends the track the irresistible force of a juggernaut. From then on Hartman demonstrates an intuitive deployment of sounds that is sadly wanting elsewhere, showing some of Nurse With Wound’s skill for simultaneously comic and disturbing juxtaposition. A friendly, meandering harmonica solo wanders across the sound stage near the end, capping an uneven and only intermittently enjoyable release.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 12, 2004)