A regular in the improv drone noise scene in Oslo, guitarist Frederik Ness Sevendal has appeared in many constellations of musicians, Slowburn, Del and (at the risk of being accused of nepotism) my own occasional combo We Snakes. His blend of folkish, finger picked tones and string bowing techniques, combined with more noisy uses of distortion and ring modulation, makes him an intriguing addition to any improvisational group, and someone I enjoy watching play! Despite having played with him live on a number of occasions, I quite literally ran home after he pushed his debut album No Foly Bow into my sweaty trembling hands.
I was pleasantly not so surprised… The first thing you notice is the cover, a gorgeous Victorian theatre stage, or puppet theatre, with some absurd performance going on, immediately puts you in mind of music hall and magic, but also freak shows, the circus, dadaism even. It puts you in the mood for the twisted, and bizarre, but somehow safe and naive.
The music is mainly drone based, (a form, which I have to say up front I am completely bored of these days) however, here the drones seem more, um… real.. like they have formed naturally somehow.
Imagine this if you will… You have a real old timer banjo player, an Irish fiddle player and … oh I don’t know, a bagpipe player perhaps? Well there they all are, sitting together in a sauna naked (this IS Norway after all) and casually strumming, stroking and (oh god, why did I start this) blowing their instruments. As they play, due to the heat and humidity, the music and sounds from their instruments sink to the floor and collect, as a hot, dense stew, and as this stew leaks out of the drain, there is Frederik scooping it up with those little shovels they have in the Pic-N-Mix, and layering it onto his record.
I don’t know enough about Norwegian folk music to say if there is a connection there, but the drone is certainly in the area. The Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle is famous for its special feature of an extra set of drone strings that lie under the normal strings, and give the instrument its resonant tone. Also there is a drone to the “Joik”, the monotonous chanting from the indigenous Sami people (or Laplanders, as they don’t like to be called).
He makes this dense hot pickle of a sound that is both up front and yet quiet. Guitars intertwine with guitars in a delicate web in near random time signatures, there is melody and tune, but nothing is stated loudly or brashly, but at the same time there is menace and mystery in the background, like how your skin prickles in hot environments and sweat stings your eyes.
Despite being basically a relaxed and non-confrontational album, it has also been mastered and compressed really very loud, and you really have to get up out of the sofa and walk across the room to the volume control, if you want a relaxing moment. Alternatively you can grip the edges of a cushion and lean forward into the drone and as your face distorts with the g-force and big fat grin that is contorting your face, you better pray that the wind doesn’t change direction.