Two years ago, I heard Vassvik live. I did not understand much. Now I do. I managed it though Gákti, Torgeir Vassviks third album. I guess I am finally able to enjoy the joik just as much as a fellow comrade.
Honestly, I always wanted to get there, understand the mystique of joik, which is not exactly common radio-list material. It takes some effort to digest it. Especially, Vassvik-style, which is not even a common joik, but the one with the throat. What should I call it? Throat joiking?
Actually, google translate proposes «thrush» (throat yeast infection), «choking» and «thrombosis». Funny, yes, specially being medical conditions, rather than medicine, which I discovered it to be this morning. Listening to Gakti while bothered by abdominal pain and lack of sleep because of too much Jamaican hot habanero from the night before. In pain, but having a shaman on my ear for a few hours helped. Ritual magic against chili overdose.
A jam session with natural forces
First of all: Gákti is a much more than throat joik, but I think that Vassvik starts there before he goes on, so I´ll start there as well. It is as if a “Vassvik jam session” starts with himself and the joik, and then he pulls the world into his groove, the wind, the water, the time, the nature. I´ll add to it “progressive troath joik”, it kind of developes.
I think many musicians try to find what Vassvik does. The groove. Actually, the groove only. An ordinary song, with lyrics, rhymes, and recurring choruses does not exist in the project. He has stripped away everything but the groove.
Genre-wise, it is difficult to place. At discogs (https://www.discogs.com/), it is categorized under “contemporary jazz». Why not. But it is native rythms and spiritual chanting as well, music that was before the music industry existed. Is that a contradiction?
Progressive troath yoik
Joik is not the event the dominant effect through the album. In several tracks the yoik is almost absent, or just there for brief visit. The latest track, “Global Fever» is contemporary electronica with overwhelming sci-fi midi, microphone breathing and twitter of birds. Tracks eight, “Angel Dust”, is a dialogue between spinet and fiddle that insists on avoiding a melody. Track three, “Beaver in the red wood”, is a sampling of wolfs howling, Vassvik grunting, barking and techno-keyboard.
I think I too had the idea of a smilier sampling of nature sounds. I think many of us did. Many of us come up with a good idea, a rhythmic dialogue with the dog or an owl, but Vassvik takes the idea all the way. He talks to the dogs. What kind of sound does the beaver make, really?
Maybe the most valuable effect of the process is that I want to reuse some of the ideas. It’s motivating. It supports my creativity.
Ideas are disrespectfully drawn from everything that makes sound, preferably nature, and often instruments, regardless of conventional composition, and without attempt to be unconventional. It may sound as cliche, but Vassvik is experienced enough surpass it and create a real feel. A joik that goes its own way.
A basic sound element in Vassvik, in addition to predatory scratching and throat bass, is a driving riff built with guitar and fiddle scratching. The fiddle does not attempt to be beautiful, but rather a murky beast. Alto the guitar is not a regular guitar, but a freak of a strange stringing in unconventional way that only Vassvik knows how to use.
I hear the blues, although the guitar lacks strings. Many of the famous blues guitarists have six strings, but use only three of them, or four in the case of emergency. Blues, but not the typical American Southern States blues about lost love. Blues in a language that you do not know, but understand.
Eventually, I begin to recognize the shapes. Often I stop the music to clear the mind.
It is similar to Tinariwen, Western Saharan desert blues, Tuareg nomads, with or without camel. Tinariwen has an evocative sound, that I associate with a couple of boys in the desert sand. They find a Stratocaster in a forgotten jeep, but without an amplifier, and they pity around the desert fire with Fender and Bendir. Bendir is a round frame drum, not so different from a «runebumme drum», similar to the one Vassvik uses on the stage.
It is similar to Khutsugtun, Mongolian polyphonic khomii, throat singing, colorfully dressed desert clowns that lullaby their camels asleep to the sound of mhorinkoor. Mhorinkhoor, also known as horse-head violin, has two strings and is played with a bow, not so different from the violins in Vassviks project.
I find a comment about the mongolian throat vocals that says: “This is heavy metal before electricity was discovered». I remember this important booking manager in Oslo telling me about mongolian Huun-Huur-Tu in 2018 was this year’s most surprising booking with two sold out concerts. Audience were mostly metalheads from all Norway. The next big success is expected to be the The Hu, at the Tons of Rock festival in June in Oslo.
Suddenly, it is not a long way between Vassvik and Satyricon. A guitar overdrive and a death growl, acoustic powerchord, and Apocalyptica from Finland with four cellos that play metal, or was it the other way around. My second conclusin is that Black metal is native music, at that Vassvik is «Devil´s horns».
Vassvik project gives me many associacions, and I spin around internet, finding jaw-harp-disco night with Røine, Wetterhus & Lien, some tibetan meditation, tyrol jodl, and serbo-croat gusla-traditions, before I return to Sápmi, the home of Sámi people. Vassviks second album was named Sápmi – the home of Sami people. The second one was named Sáivu – The mythology of Sami people, and this third one is Gákti – the costume of Sami people.
There is a lot of nature and some politics. I refer to the last track «Voodoo Against Arctic Oil Drilling». Witchcraft against whatever threatens nature and Sapmi.
Progressive throat yoik
I find a youtube video where Vassvik speaks. He speaks with a nice melodic and cosy voice, just as a real human. Yes, that should not be surprising, but it still is, after two hours of guttural sounds. He speaks well, and my last conclusion is just as the artist explains himself:
«When you sing a song, you sing about a woman, flower, a place in the nature, but, when you are doing a joik, you are a subject, you are not joiking about. You Are! That´s the main difference between a yoik and other kinds of vocal expressions«