One of the best things about writing about music is that you can stumble across some of the most obscure and abstract pieces of art. ‘Nanook of the North’ falls into this category. Performed by Christine Ott and Torsten Böttcher – it is a live soundtrack performance to run alongside a film of the same name.
Originally performed on stage to visuals of an Eskimo family living in Hudson Bay, the album recording shortens down the original recording but apparently keeps the original frame of the film. We follow Nanook as he fights to survive in the beautiful far north. Whilst I haven’t personally seen the film, the music tells a beautiful story of its own.
Christine as a pianist leans into the family elements of the narrative. She also plays with hammers and acoustic instruments made from animal skins whilst Torsten brings along the kalimba, didgeridoo and hang drum to the mix. The hang drum is a central instrument across the album and to me feels like a world-building tool. Hearing the piano curiously flurrying around with digeridoos (Fragile Kayak), delicate glass glockenspiels (Babies) and introducing prepared pianos for chaos (Winter’s Coming) are just some of the many delights you’ll uncover.
Many of my favourite tracks see the hang drum and the piano come together to provide a beautiful melody. The epic nine-minute ‘Igloos’ and ‘Morning’ make me think of building music from The Sims whereas ‘Premiere Chasse’ and ‘Walrus Hunting’ are more percussive and dramatic. Straight up percussion is used rarely but the gravitas of it with ‘Un Autre Depart’ feels like an endless pilgrimage. With most tracks being around two and a bit minutes, the finale ‘…Et le Blizzard’ rounds of the album with an uneasy five-minute circle of piano and hang. The two together never quite strike the same note in the same way together and it creates a weird off-kilter brooding horror.
Christine Ott and Torsten Böttcher really play off each other throughout ‘Nanook of the North’. Their playing is impeccable for a live performance. Occasionally you can hear the stage creak as they move between instruments but its all part of the atmosphere the album creates. Possibly the saddest part is that Nanook died of hunger two years after filming. Knowing this makes the relentless plinking of pianos and hangs all the more weary and foreboding. It is a musical story of beauty and danger and one that’s best listened to with your mind wide open.
Recommended track: Igloos
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month, sharing the website or radio station or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. It will enable me to produce better content, more often and you’ll get access to behind the scenes information. Thank you.