Saturday 27 September 2014

Jenny Hval & Susanna, Meshes of Voice

Jenny Hval & Susanna 

Meshes of Voice 


Apparently, Jenny Hval and Susanna’s Meshes of Voice is partly influenced by Maya Deren’s 1943 film Meshes of the Afternoon. This moved me to try listening to Voice with Meshes accompanying on youtube. Naturally with the sound down: as a silent, Meshes of the Afternoon has thrown the gauntlet to every budding electronics composer who spends too long in his bedroom. May I say that the soundtrack Jenny Hval and Susanna provide is definitive. Try playing part two – (the split is arbitrary, imposed by youtube – – alongside track seven of Voices, ‘Thirst That Resembles Me’. The result is the perfect pop video, as good in its way as Madness, but more profound and disturbing. 

An ominous drone and the sight of a hooded figure on a garden path. A key issues from a mouth (Maya’s own: she is the director and plays every part except one). A door opens onto a domestic interior, a mysterious wind source ruffles Maya’s hair. The hooded figure, silhouetted, carrying a flower, ascends a staircase. Maya follows, is buffeted, recovers herself, at once awake and swooning, she is radiant. Above the protracted drone Hval suddenly breaks in: “There is a thirst that resembles me / Sparks do find us…” Susanna picks up the line in softer, more dulcet tones, and now the voices multiply, making the “mesh” real. “How do you know?”, “How do you spell it?” come the senseless questions, soothing and lulling enough to weave a spell of incantation, aiding the drift into a deeper, subconscious state. Just the kind of state expressed in Maya’s images, in fact. “This is a thirst to enter…” 

The shrouded woman has no face… The key turns into a knife… Maya, in a sinister pair of oculist’s glasses, hovers threateningly with the knife over a sleeping Maya in an armchair. A man appears, and, carrying a flower, he leads her upstairs… The ambient drone is pulsating now, and the choir of voices is cracked and fractured, but a single word can be heard above the clamour: “Dark-ness”. Maya slumps in the same armchair, blood trickling out of her mouth. 

Meshes of Voice offers a glimpse into a woman’s interior world. It’s sensuous and yearning, and more than a little disquieting, with recurring words (“honeydew”) that are lingered over and caressed and corrupted. 

It gains its force by its assimilation of two contrasting female types, which, extrapolated from the strange idiosyncrasies of Hval and Susannah, are universal enough to be archetypal. Jenny Hval bravely explored the far frontiers of sex and desire with her last, Innocence is Kinky, a compelling outburst of prime psycho-sexual Scandinavian freak rock. Whereas Susanna is the living embodiment of innocence. The charm of her 2006 covers album, Melody Mountain, lay partly in hearing jaded rock ’n’ roll anthems like ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’ and ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ delivered with such freshwater purity. Her retreat from repressive desublimation (that is, the permissiveness that Hval embraced) culminated in her exploration of the courtly love songs of Henry Purcell in If Grief Could Wait

But surrealism is not surrealism if it doesn’t overturn all the old certainties, So here, Susanna surrenders low-key chamber music for sonic expansiveness, just as Hval trades angst for euphoria. Meshes of Voice is as personal as a dream, and, like a dream, everything is permitted, and self-censorship is evaded by a resort to mystery. 

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