The Ultimate Post-Election Hi-Rez Roto-Rooter: Maja S.K. Ratkje's And sing. . .

Did the election leave you on the edge, and wishing to scream? If so, and the need for catharsis remains, I have for you the scream to end all screams: And sing. . ., 2L's multi-format recording of two works by the astounding composer/artist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje. Showcasing Ratkje's unforgettable vocal effects—to call them "haunting" is to vastly understate her ability to rattle you to the core—the recording includes accompaniment by the Oslo-based contemporary music ensemble, Cikada, and the 30-year old Oslo Sinfonietta.

Fulfilling 2L's unspoken promise, "No Format Left Behind," the native DXD (352.8/24) hi-rez recording is available as either a 2-disc, optional multi-channel hybrid SACD/Pure Audio Blu-ray package that includes 9.1 Auro-3D and Dolby Atmos options, or in stereo or multi-channel download formats ranging from 320kbps MP3 (why bother?) and 44.1k/16 up to stereo DSD256, 352kHz FLAC, and stereo MQA.

Easy listening And sing. . . is not, but essential listening it is. For far too long we have allowed ourselves to wallow in music that portrays suffering and agony in the sweetest of terms. Many of us, in fact, intentionally invest in sweet-sounding, warm amplifiers and cabling in order to experience our world through the aural equivalent of rose-colored glasses. (I once sold an otherwise astounding Krell amplifier because it made everything, including Shostakovich's music of suffering and rebellion, sound unnaturally sweet.) For those whose listening tastes range no farther that Nat King Cole and early Mozart, And sing. . . likely will not a good day make.

Ratkje strips away all semblance of sweetness. After listening to the entire, superbly recorded SACD late in the evening, I found it so disturbing that I spent a deeply fitful night imagining what it feels like to be tortured to death, or locked in a gas chamber and discovering gas coming through the supposed shower heads. I even had flashbacks of those horrible images of emaciated corpses being plowed into graves after the Allies liberated Nazi concentration camps, and found the bodies of the dead that war criminals and people who were "just obeying orders" had left to rot. Yet I still urge you to hear this recording. No one in recent memory, save for the amazing, still performing Diamanda Galas and some of the great heavy metal/punk exponents, has dared to enter the darkest fields of human existence and render from them music so equally compelling, fascinating and unflinchingly tortuous.

The first of the two compositions on the 46-minute recording, And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep, was commissioned in 2012 by the Cikada Ensemble. Deriving its title from Shakespeare, it features untreated, pre-recorded vocal sounds that were inspired by electronic music. As Ratkje begins to scream like a siren, I imagined the advance of a threatening, lumbering beast or a monster rising from the midst. Slimy, ghostly organisms appeared before my eyes as Cikada's sensationally recorded percussive effects left me equally amazed and repelled. As everything got going at once, to the point that I couldn't easily tell which bizarre sounds were produced by voice, and which by instrument, I felt as though I was being whirled around in a particle accelerator and then hurled into void. By the time the music faded out, I was beyond words.

Ratkje's initially performed Concerto for Voice with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Paris before reworking it in the form heard here, as Concerto for Voice (moods IIIb) for sinfonietta-sized orchestra. The piece begins with a growing tumult, as slow rumbling paves the way for Ratkje sounding like chalk screeching on a blackboard (or worse). The dynamic swings are huge, as the music's quasi-mystical sounds veer between agony and ecstasy. Screams and utter chaos ensue before the virtual cataclysm cedes to softer sounds.

As a vocal tour de force, you'll have to go to recordings of Galas or Joan La Barbara performing Berio to find anything nearly as astounding. At times, Ratkje sounds as if in the death throe agony . . . until she begins whistling or making clicking sounds or snorting like an exotic bird or pet pig, and a typewriter begins clicking away in the distance. The instrumental forces are equally hell-bent for leather, leaving little standing in their wake.

The recording, which was made with the performing forces arranged in a circle around a special microphone array, may take you the closest you've ever been to the surround experience via two-channel. My just-installed Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEFs, which sit under Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks, along with the company's Grounding Block and other enhancements from Bybee, Stein, and Grand Prix, sure helped convey engineer Morten Lindberg's astonishing three-dimensional layering and image weight. 2L's engineering is perfect for what Ratkje does.

By the time the concerto ended quietly, I was in a state of disbelief. Thank God I had already walked the dogs, because I was in no shape to do so after listening. Unless the heaviest dose of reality you can possibly bear must come via Reader's Digest or an Oprah special, do whatever you can to hear this recording on a good system.

LStrom's picture

Had the utmost pleasure of hearing a live concert with her being from Scandinavia.
I'd say - walking your dog, stroking your cat or hugging your partner is the final outcome of this musical experience.

Anyway, any person deserves whatever music she or he deserves and any country deserves whatever musical leader they deserve!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I am also astounded at the ways in which this artist has managed to use her voice without harming it. Simply amazing.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing- JVS.
what gear including cabling is in your system?

Happy Listening!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thanks for asking. In advance of the first of a series of amplifier reviews that will list my reference system, it is, a çe moment - I am an audiophile, over all -
Digital Sources: dCS Rossini DAC, Scarlatti clock, Paganini transport; Oppo BDP-93 NuForce Edition universal player; Apple MacBook Pro w/Intel i7, SSD, 8GB RAM; external HDs
Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia
Amplifiers: Pass Labs XA 200.8 monoblocks
Cables: Analog: Nordost Odin 2 interconnects/speaker cable/power cords. Digital: Odin 1 and 2. USB: About to change. Firewire/ethernet: AudioQuest Diamond.
Accessories: Grand Prix Monaco rack/amp stands w/Apex feet; Nordost QB8, QX4, QK1 & QV2 power products; Stein Music Harmonizers & Blue Suns; Synergistic Research Tranquility Base and Basik UEFs, Transporter, PowerCell and cabling; Bybee Neutralizers; Finite Elemente Cerapucs and Magico QPods.

volvic's picture

No offense, just never pegged you as a dCS, Pass Labs kinda guy. Very impressive system, had you pegged more of a Naim JM Labs fella.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Rarely am I at a loss for words. But I simply cannot imagine what would constitute a dCS/Pass rather than a Naim/JM Labs audiophile. Can you please share more of your personal cosmology? I am incredibly curious.

volvic's picture

I have owned Naim/Linn electronics all my life, call me a pipe and slippers, flat earther kind of person, never gravitated from that, even though was tempted. I always pictured you gravitating towards the same sphere. dCS/Pass are terrific products, heard them numerous times in large rooms, but they are in my opinion far different sounding from my gear. Mine are smaller in sound and less bigger in overall presentation, to that end they also match my personality with their minimalist designs. I always read the associated equipment stereophile's reviwers use and form an impression as to who they are as individuals based on their equipment. I have met Mr. Fremer numerous times and not surprised he's owned Simon Yorke and Calibrun tables, likewise when I read Art Dudley given his style and what he looks when he listens to music how could he not own idler drives and conical stylus. When tonight I read dCS was part of your listening arsenal I was impressed but surprised, your impressions of music always struck me as describing it in more organic terms which is probably why I associated you with a more relaxed sound. I always approach gear with this in mind; organic, follow the line and tune vs more etched hyper detailed. It's just the way I think.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I recently heard Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil perform Mahler's Ninth in Seattle's Benaroya Hall. The performance was a revelation. Dudamel has progressed by light years since he first toured with Mahler, shortly after taking the helm of the LA Phil, and his control was supreme. I could hear every complex instrumental line, and sense why it was constructed as it was, just as clearly as I could feel the emotion behind Dudamel's choices of tempo and emphasis. I was deeply moved.

Similarly, in my system, I do not experience a division between detail and emotion. It all arrives at my ears as one extremely musical, emotionally and viscerally compelling organic whole.

I would only call a component "hyper-detailed" if it seemed, to my ears, to focus solely on heartless resolution. That has never been my experience with dCS gear. No component that left me cold would ever stay in my reference system for long.

You'll be reading more about dCS in the December and January issues of Stereophile. Please stay tuned.

volvic's picture

Yes, I just received my digital edition with the dCS gear on the cover, I look forward to reading about it. Very good explanation about what the dCS offers to you. You should try Bruno Walter's 1939 version, the first commercial recording conducted on the eve of the Anschluss, as well as Karajan's 1980 DG version. While they are not high-rez recordings, I have no doubt that through your equipment, they would nonetheless impress and move you. Cheers, happy listening and thanks.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

More is coming about the Rossini in my follow-up in the January issue. My December issue has yet to arrive - Port Townsend, WA is really in the boonies - so I'm eager to read John's assessment. When you read that Stereophile reviewers do not know the results of John's measurements and assessments until after we submit our reviews, you read the truth.

One more point. You wrote: "...your impressions of music always struck me as describing it in more organic terms which is probably why I associated you with a more relaxed sound." Clearly, our cosmologies differ, which I celebrate. In my world, there is no correlation between "organic" and "relaxed." I would never want my Shostakovich to sound "relaxed." I would want it to hit me in the gut and tear at my heart. But I wouldn't want that impact to be caused by brittle, overly etched highs or flat, cut out images sandwiched one over the other, but rather by the emotional import of the music as a whole.

This leads to the issue of what constitutes compelling musical flow. I can play you two singers executing the same sweet, lovely pastoral ode, and one will undoubtedly affect you more than the other precisely because of the nature of the singer's sound and the inherent tension of their line as it moves forward. There is tremendous skill involved in seeming to sing or play with stillness while simultaneously moving forward. The more a system can reveal that to me, the happier I am.

Hey, I've now got some material down that I can use in one of my future reviews. Thank you.

volvic's picture

I will conclude with one experience that I relive regularly with different systems. I have two copies of the same recording of Mahler's Ruckert Lieder with Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Karl Bohm conducting the Berlin Philarmonic. It is to me the recording to have. On two different turntables that I own, with the same cartridge mounted on each table, the performances are worlds apart; the one that has a slightly better arm, that provides a greater soundstage and more detail doesn't capture the "magic" that I feel in the recording. The other table does an excellent job of conveying the magic of the recording even though it doesn't have an excellent soundstage nor the inner detail the other table does. What it does though is convey in its manner, the main line, or thrust or the bigger picture of the music if you will, that I feel the composer intended to convey when he composed it. It is this coherence that I consider to be organic and warm that leads to a more relaxed listening experience rather than a perhaps more accurate rendition which may perhaps not offer me the enjoyment I am looking for.

Allen Fant's picture

[off-topic comment deleted by John Atkinson - please post political comments in the "Open Bar," it's what it's for]

LStrom's picture

Norma Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier, van den Hul Magnum Hybrid speaker cables, Ami Musik DS5 DAC with Sonic Imagery class A analogue stage, Media PC Win 10 & Roon, Gauder Akustik Arcona 100 speakers ...
[political comment deleted by John Atkinson]

Allen Fant's picture

A class-act JVS.
Happy Listening!

dalethorn's picture

I hope to look up this album, and I hope I can forget the connection to death camps invoked above.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture


tonykaz's picture

JA is even busting you, Jason, for Political. I guess he means it!

I have to say that I'm impressed with the size of "Budget for Audio" you must have. You ( likely) have the priciest set of Gear of any Reviewer, ever. I'd thought you lads were supposed to be poor, struggling scribblers.

From now onward, we'll have to consider you to be an Aspiring "HP at SeaCliff" type of Authority. Do you have an assistant to do your various "setting up" tasks, a Garage filled with Gear waiting "forever" to be reviewed, two or three listening rooms?

I admire your Linn/Naim reader's level of acceptance. I feel myself a Music Lover over Gear Lover although I've been both. Those Brit Systems like Linn/Naim, Meridian, Quad lift the "Audiophile Nervosa" syndrome from our burdened shoulders. I don't at all miss the Neurotic/Psychotic natures of Audiophile gear although I pine for a little "Tube Rolling" Amp (to play with).

Post Nov 8th, I'm gravitating to the solitude of woodworking and wood carving, keeping my fingers crossed for a good 4 year result. I'm as burned-out with campaigning as I am with speaker cable reviews.

All the best,

Tony in Michigan

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Although the three things the late HP and I held in common are love of music, appreciation of gear that honors and conveys with accuracy the intentions of recording engineers, and sexual orientation, my budget is very, very small. A lot of it goes to organic food. I have been blessed with friends in the industry, none of whom ask me to review their equipment in return for loans. (Those friends also know that if I hear their equipment at a show, and something is off, that I will report what I hear.) And I'm also blessed with an "other half," in this case a husband, who makes far more than I do.

As for the garage, it is converted into a music room. There are cartons piled up at the end of the hallway, which do make accessing the CDs of Mozart, Massenet, and everything through "P" difficult. I've also been known to stack equipment boxes in the guest bedroom and the walls of my office, as well as in the storage space for which I continue to pay far too much a month.

There are, happily, friends in the neighborhood to help me move 160-200 lb. amps. (Believe it or not, one of those is my doctor in Port Townsend, who is an audiophile who reads Stereophile.) The Wilson loudspeakers were, of course, installed by Wilson and local dealers, which is what Wilson does with every pair of their loudspeakers. And I continue to go to the gym. There is also the chiropractor, bless her heart.

Let's see. The only thing more to share with you and the entire readership are my social security number and the names of our dogs and fish...

tonykaz's picture

you gotta buy this stuff y'self? That's a "pricy" bit of kit! and a pretty good story.

I've had plenty of "loaner" gear to evaluate, in my day, it comes from being in the "business" and is an important burden to be factored in. Now, I have the luxury of modest gear that's well proven and established plus I no longer "have-to" aspire to perfection ( which is probably over-rated and fragile ).

I think that I can understand your storage dilemma, I too had plenty of boxes and shelves and office space devoted to Audio Sales, hmm, I'd say three rooms totaling 800 sq.ft, not including 2,000 sq.ft of Retail Space annnnd a large Van. phew. ( plus employees ) It ain't an easy thing to be in Audio ( especially if it isn't all that profitable ), my Wife was patiently tolerant ( for a while ). Get to stacking boxes to the ceiling and things will get lost ( forgotten ) but still have to be paid for, ouch!

My wife's divorce attorney ( one of my customers ) recommended I leave Audio and return to the Transportation Industry, I sold-off everything and was amazed to discover stuff I'd long forgotten I'd taken-in "on trade" i.e. a Complete Audio Research System ( in original boxes ) along with plenty of other nice pieces. Now, I wish that I'dve kept that Conrad-Johnson MV45a and a pair of Magnapans ( oh well ). Wive's orders: "Sell Everything" including my lovely Koetsu Collection. I went "cold turkey" as they say.

High-End was an exciting adventure, especially for a Excessive-Compulsive, Impulse Disordered person like myself. I seemed to love everything. I loved evaluating stuff and buying the stuff. I could tell a thrilling story about a VPI turntable. And I could turn-over the stuff, I was doing 50 turns per year on my Imported stuff.

Turnover strategies were what made me valuable to General Moters when I returned, never to consider Audio business again. Or at least till I met your Tyll at RMAF in 2011, god bless him.

I'm sure that you have supportive people in your life, you couldn't do this without them. Take care not to burn them out, they're critical to your continued success.

I hope to hear your thoughts on the "New" Audiophile Phones ( LG V20 ) and those that follow.

Best regards,

Tony in Michigan

ps. 200lb. Amps? you might have it as bad as I once did. Shirt pocket sized Class D is on the horizon.

rt66indierock's picture

A great couple lines from this post. "Many of us, in fact, intentionally invest in sweet-sounding, warm amplifiers and cabling in order to experience our world through the aural equivalent of rose-colored glasses."

And "I would only call a component hyper-detailed if it seemed, to my ears, to focus solely on heartless resolution."

Right up there with some Herb's best from the nineties.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you.