It´s all about subtle contrasts in texture. Woodwork is tactile and immaculate at the same time. Hand-plucked shards of mournful sound pierce through the unruffled patterns of ”Reforestation”, while naturalistic fumbles lend a naivity to the gleaming clink of programmed percussion in ”White Oak White Pine”. As befits an album with such a unity of mood, Woodwork ends as it began. ”Rework And Out” reprises the contemplative, lop-sided stroll of the opening ”The Wood Metal Friction”, and so underlines the pleasing sense of hand-crafted circularity which animates all the music which has gone before.
The Wire (UK)
It's always cause for excitement when a new Rune Grammofon disc drops, and Svalastog's haunting ”Woodwork” is certainly no exception to that rule. The results are astounding and go some way towards combining the ancient sounds of zither-based folk music with modern electronic experimentation as Svalastog expertly processes the plucked, hit or scraped strings of his Harpeleik. Reminiscent of the careful, considered chopping and harmonic abstraction of Opiate or The Boats, Svalastog has created something both deeply experimental and highly listenable. However there is something rather more steeped in tradition on display here which gives it resonances far beyond those of many of his contemporaries. ”Woodwork” is yet another Rune title that tries its best to defy easy classification, and should serve to satisfy anyone with a desire to be lulled into Norwegian folklore with a magical touch. Recommended.
Working from improvisations played on old acoustic instruments, Svalastog weaves intricate vignettes around incredibly detailed and sophisticated loops to create a series of impressive cinematic compositions. Dressed in elegant acoustic debris, melodies only emerge to dissolve almost instantly, caught up in tribal rhythmic patterns, contributing further to the fragile aspect of this record. Very much like Thomas Strønen, released earlier this year, Per Henrik Svalastog creates an impressionist piece of work, using delicate touches and light textures to highlight the natural sheen of his original sound sources. Magnificent, graceful and evocative in every way, Woodwork is one of the most compelling Rune Grammofon releases to date.
The album is full of bewitching attention to detail, each listen revealing fresh discoveries, such as the gossamer stitching of minute electronic and zither snatches to create the fragile rhythms of “White Oak White Pine” and the wonderfully prosaically titled “Cow Goat Goat”. Rune Grammofon have set the bar high in 2006 with the release of Thomas Stronen’s mighty “Pohlitz”. While “Woodwork” can’t compete with that release’s dizzying percussive rush, it compensates via creation of a timelessly consistent and cohesive world, a world in which I may just decide to dither for a while longer.
Rarely have I stumbled over a more tasteful and successful union of electronics and handmade instruments.
“Woodwork” doesn't sound too far removed from work by artists such as Jan Jelinek and possibly even Matmos, as sampled instrumentation is melded into hazy, somewhat murky slabs of slithering electronic music. "The Wood Metal Friction" opens the release, and if you're listening for the bellow of the horns, you can hear them as wheezy drones hang and stretch out over some smooth programmed rhythms that ooze forward. "Connecting Joints" is even more successful, as hard-panned loops of zither zip back and forth between channels in both forward and reverse while more mercurial programming again pushes things forward in a heaving way.
The album features typically laptop-created electronic glitch utilizing short samples, which are then used to create sparse rhythms, carefully structured and appealing to the ear. A more subdued and sparse Oval springs to mind. Obviously a labour of love, this is a great album to listen to whilst relaxing.
Vital Magazine (NE)
Woodwork consists of the gradual accumulation of lovely sonic details into mellifluous rhythmic patterns. The use of acoustic sounds captured in improvisational settings results in a much richer soundworld than electronica´s usual, synthetic fare and there´s a real sense of both depth and recognition, that these sounds are a part of patient, lived experience. This is lovely music that cleaves to its own part.
Svalastog has written some astoundingly beautiful tunes that carry the tricky production, rather than allowing the production to disguise any weakness in composition. The title of “The Wood Metal Friction” sort of explains the game unnecessarily, but the track itself plays out wonderfully, all scrappy drones and fractured figures at the outset that suddenly align themselves into an efficient call-and-response instrumental; pick-axes zing, but this “Whistle While You Work” is sung by ghosts instead of cartoon dwarves. The dub-ish production that sees instruments leave and enter without warning pops the basic rhythms; the zither disintegrates over choking kick knocks and plumb lines. The effect is fantastic, and also surprising: in taking electronic music to the woods Svalastog has turned the forest into a construction site. He’s building houses from the antimodern corpses of Norway’s past, and “Snow Tracer,” which is the gutters and shingles and swooping eves, keeps a roof over your head as you feel your way through this complicated new architecture. T.J. Jackson Lears wrote a whole book on why antimodernism is just, well, modernism, but you don’t need a book to understand that’s the cyclical punch line of this endlessly gorgeous album.
It´s clear that Svalastog´s exquisitely gifted studio musician, wrestling enormously broad loops, textured and musical, from folky source instruments with the bearest minimum of minimalist beats at the most deliciously slow tempos. Particularly striking is the importance of arrangement here: you think you´re in for some really gorgeous electro-acoustic ambiences and discover yourself listening to well conceived, intelligently-constructed tracks where the twist of an eq knob, a drop-out or the unexpected repetition of a loop or a theme bespeak a serious attention to deal and a splendidly executed conception. Heavens, this is good.
Straight No Chaser (UK)
Woodwork is engaging in its quietude. Svalastog’s strength is his ability to conceptualize the piecing together of small fragments which would seem almost meaningless in and of themselves. When brought together in his hands, they create a trance-inducing whole that’s surprisingly difficult to ignore. And when heard with headphones, this recording reveals even more of its dimensional depth: sounds move across the sonic field, but this is no mere gimmickry. Instead, it’s more akin to the idea that sounds experienced in life rarely remain in a static position, but change perspective as one moves around. The real triumph of Woodwork lies in the fact that this stark music, so steeped in electronics, despite being rooted in acoustic instruments, can feel so warm and inviting. Minimalist composer Steve Reich’s recent You Are (Variations) (Nonesuch, 2005) uses a phrase: ”Say little and do much.” That's an apt description of Woodwork, an album which relies on the most elemental of ideas, yet belies greater profundity.
Hearing that Per Henrik Svalastog makes music using a Norwegian zither and two animal horns, the expectation would be for a recorded period of still contemplation, of poring over the minutiae of stroked strings and controlled breath emissions. Well, this is the way that Woodwork begins, but very soon, Svalastog is introducing a range of bowel-end basslines and weightily cyclic rhythms. These patterns are cranky and ratchety, but with a strong sense of purpose. They're never too regimented, always leaving room for the odd abstracted stretch. Wondrous textures are at play, with microphones placed so closely to the instruments that interior resonances become massive in scale, folded and malformed by software acrobatics. It's a perfect electro-acoustic balance. Svalastog can make the zither sound like a guitar, an organ, or even a synthesiser. Sometimes it sounds just like itself...
BBC Online (UK)
On Woodwork, Per Henrik Svalastog plays traditional instruments such as Norwegian zither, ram's horn, and cow's horn, and then runs them through computer software programs, coating each with an appealingly odd sheen. What ensues is a peculiarly Scandinavian take on folktronica: emotionally reserved yet not without poignancy; elegantly designed, and fizzing with miniaturist intrigue. Svalastog's digital processing is so subtle that you never feel like you're fully in the distant past, nor in the up-to-the-minute present. Woodwork suspends you in a golden mean in which synthetic and organic elements are in wondrous equilibrium, a rare feat.
The old saying about books and covers come to mind when I look at the sleeve of this album. Instead of austere, minimalist electronica; Per Henrik Svalastog serves up some gorgeously vibrant electronic(ish) music that uses the warm tones of traditional Norwegian instruments where normally glitches and icy synthesisers would be the first port of call. Solidly produced and performed, “Woodwork” is a marvelous album well worth investigating. Svalastog is obviously comfortable working on his computer as the post-production on the instruments is flawless. It is unclear how much of the sound is completely electronic or played instruments manipulated by computer. In any case, it all sounds amazing. He lets a lot of the original resonances and tones sing through. Most of the time he restrains himself to bog standard techniques like stereo panning to add some space to the pieces. The panning on "Mouse Tracking" towards the end sounds great on headphones, the stringed instrument (whatever it may be) seems to be jumping from one place to another, becoming two sources of sound before collapsing in on itself. The pieces that make up “Woodwork” sit together very well on the CD. The pacing of the music is just right, with enough variation to make the album flow without hindrance. It is hard to find fault with it, I am struggling to find something wrong with it in order to make a balanced review but I think I will have to resign myself to having no bad words to say about it. “Woodwork” is a captivating and rewarding listen.
There are ten pieces on Woodwork and each seems intent on allowing, even encouraging, the listener to witness all the moving parts, their individual value and the influence they exert through interaction with their surrounding kin. Perceiving this sense of separateness is as important to the work as the more typical perception of summing the parts into a whole. Minimalist in its leaning and unguarded in its forthrightness, each piece instead exhibits a fascination with what happens when we consider the constituent parts to be in fact no greater or less in significance than the whole. The resulting clarity has a presence and sense of purpose that is simultaneously inviting and charming, as is most of the work produced by artists who at some point determine that they will adhere to a set of clearly delineated limitations. Here, interlocking elements, often derived from a very unaffected and inobtrusive sounding collection of sources, come across as the deliberate and thoughtful work of craft left all the stronger for not heeding the grander and often suspect machinations of art. Instead, what we hear has all the beauty of work being honed and honed again to the lustre of an absolute and daily utility.
EI Magazine (US)
Mesmerising, cyclical hooks issue forth from Norwegian electronica legend Per Henrik Svalastog´s computer. He played and improvised melodies on harpeleik (Norwegian Zither), bukkehorn (ram´s horn) and kuhorn (cow´s horn), before feeding them through his computer to produce this intriguing soundscape.
Folk Roots (UK)