Elegi: Sistereis

Norwegian Tommy Jansen (aka Elegi) likes to wreck-dive, a hobby that helps lend Sistereis its distinctive aura (the title refers to a ship's final voyage). Jansen incorporated reels of underwater recordings he made during dives—supposedly, he believes the reels capture the “ghosts of the shipwrecks”—into the album's ten pieces, giving the album an idiosyncratic and unique field recordings character. Jansen typically couples piano and cello figures to the clank of a ship's rusty chains (“Skumring”) and the shuffle of skeletons dragging their bones along the deck (“Time Lapse”).

Much of the album's ‘musical' character centers on the cello's deep groan, though even it often drifts in a woozy waver that mimics the ocean's slow rocking motion. The material might best be classified as strongly atmospheric, field-enhanced soundscaping augmented by neo-classical compositional writing. A mood of slowly unfurling dread is sustained throughout despite the shift in focal point from cello to piano, organ, and harmonium. Representative of the album, “Despotiets Vesen” shrouds minimal piano melodies in dark string ambiance. In the title piece, the low moan of a clarinet resounds against haunted creaks, clanks, and shuffles while, in “Spill for Galleriet,” the voice of an old woman, perhaps recalling her husband's doomed voyage from a decade long past, brings the album to a suitably haunted close. Mention should be made of “Interbellum,” a meditative setting of gleaming church organ tones which is especially lovely. One of the areas where Jansen most succeeds is in his original evocation of the sea; rather than literalizing it by deploying clichés like splashing waves, Jansen opts for a thoroughly submersive approach, such that one feels as if one is floating through the murky depths, scanning for life-forms or sunken ships. The cello-generated creaks deepen that feel, and even sometimes suggest a whale's murmur (“Fyrtårnet part 3”). Though not perhaps designed to be heard as such, Elegi's Sistereis makes for a perfect companion to Xela's The Dead Sea.

July 2007