Tobias Hellkvist: Kaskelot: Reissue + Remixes
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Tobias Hellkvist: Vesterhavet (Extended)
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Two very different releases from Swedish electroacoustic composer Tobias Hellkvist, who currently calls Copenhagen, Denmark home. While his name has become associated with ambient and drone genres, he's also ventured into other stylistic zones since the early 2000s. Complementing the release of Vesterhavet, his first full-length collection since two earlier Home Normal releases, Evolutions (2010) and Everything Is Connected (2012), is a reissue of Kaskelot, which made its first appearance in 2011 on Home Normal's sub-label Tokyo Droning and now reemerges with remixes.

Vesterhavet supplements the fifty-seven minutes of the six-part title work with a twelve-minute remix by Warmth, though the latter's only offered as a bonus, non-CD download. Interestingly, Hellkvist self-released the first five parts in digital form in March 2016; for this re-mastered physical release on Home Normal, he added a sixth part. In contrast to the directly melodic focus of Kaskelot, Vesterhavet unfolds in a style more characteristic of ambient soundscaping. Huge swaths of shimmering drones advance and retreat in the first part, after which surging orchestral strings add an epic, almost Wagnerian dimension to the second. Whereas the mood turns celestial in the third, where those same strings are gradually overwhelmed by the crush of an ever-expanding cloud, it grows peaceful in the fourth and galaxial in the fifth. In each of the six sections, the material builds gradually, achieves temporary resolution, and then decompresses, the slate wiped clean for the next part's trajectory. That remix, by the way, from Warmth, a DJ/producer who hails from Valencia, Spain, complements Hellkvist's nicely in presenting a softly glimmering take on the material that more serenades than overpowers.

Largely downplaying ambient-drone-related tendencies and working with piano, vibraphone, pump organ, guitar, pedal steel, loops, and percussion, Hellkvist might have had Steve Reich on his mind when the material on Kaskelot was recorded during a single night in early 2011 at Sundlaugin in Reykjavik, Iceland. Originally issued as a four-track EP, Kaskelot takes flight a minute into the seventeen-minute setting when the Reich connection's established by a four-note vibraphone figure, a motif that Hellkvist doubles with piano, augments with a cymbal pattern, and soaks in a warm ambient bath. Guitar, pedal steel, and shakers add to the density, making for a luscious presentation, and each part segues without interruption into the next, a move that helps bolster the music's potency. It's not static either, as changes do arise to signify transitions from one track to another. During “Kaskelot 3,” for example, the percussion drops out, ceding the stage to the metronomic pattern-making of the piano, after which the becalmed closing part shifts the focus to soothing guitar textures.

Though fifty-four minutes of remix versions seems excessive when the material on which it's based totals a mere seventeen minutes, Home Normal devotees probably won't object when the seven contributors constitute a veritable boy's club for the label. Though a few of the makeovers don't deviate dramatically enough from Hellkvist's original for my liking, enough do offer interesting new twists to keep one listening. Segue gets things moving with a spirited treatment that recasts “Kaskelot” as a sunny strutter that wouldn't sound entirely out of place in a club setting, while Porya Hatami, in fixing his gaze on the vibes figure, re-imagines the original as somewhat of a peaceful gamelan meditation. For his offthesky contribution, Jason Corder treats Hellkvist's material to a wide-eyed facelift, in this case the vibes motif remaining in place but now accompanied by a misty swirl of calliope bleeps and percussive tinklings. With their versions pushing past the ten-minute mark, Steve Pacheco and Chihei Hatakeyama show themselves to be particularly long-winded, the former's re-rub a deep plunge into the ambient ocean and the latter's a prototypical Hatakeyama production distinguished by his fine-tuned sensitivity to micro-detail. In similar fashion, Chris Herbert zooms in on the granular DNA of Hellkvist's original and rewrites it as a multi-form shape-shifter that's half-machine and half-living organism. In this most radical handling, “Kaskelot” becomes at one moment a grinding noise entity and in another a rising wave of shimmering, sea-sickly drones.

February 2017