1. Ketlik I
3. Ketlik II
5. Ketlik III
6. Lytse Poel
7. Ketlik IV
8. Ketlik V
cd/download on Moving Furniture Records, November 2018
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FEAN started as a musical artist-in-residence project in a little church in the Frysian village Katlyk. The group consists of Jan Kleefstra, Romke Kleefstra, Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), who also form the quartet Piiptsjilling. For FEAN they are accompanied by Belgian guests Annelies Monseré, Sylvain Chauveau and Joachim Badenhorst.
The FEAN project gets its inspiration from the ecological decay of peatland in the Dutch province Friesland and in other parts of Europe. Agriculture and peat extraction are threatening the landscape severely and with long term consequences. This forms the underlying thought for the improvised recording sessions, which were overseen by Jan Switters. Although the Piiptsjilling members are obviously used to perform and record together, adding the three Belgian guests (who didn’t play together before) added an extra dimension to the group’s dynamics, resulting in a concentrated yet playful series of improvisations, that were later mixed and edited for the FEAN album.
Mariska Baars: vocals
Joachim Badenhorst: clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, church organ
Sylvain Chauveau: tuned percussion, radio
Annelies Monseré: church organ, keyboard, vocals
Jan Kleefstra: words, vocals
Romke Kleefstra: guitars, bass, effects
Rutger Zuydervelt: electronics
All right, so you may think, Fean? Now what is that all about? Should I know this? You'll be excused for not knowing who they are as a 'band'. The individual names, however, might ring a bell or two. In the left corner we have Piipstsjilling, the group with Jan and Romke Kleefstra, Mariska Baars and Machinefabriek's Rutger Zuydervelt. They have been going for some time now, even when in more recent times I didn't hear much from them. In the right corner we find three musicians from Belgium, who didn't play together before; Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, church organ), Sylvain Chauveau (tuned percussion, radio) and Annelies Monseré (church organ, keyboard, vocals). The seven of them came together as part of a musical residency in a little church in Katlyk, a small village in Friesland, the province of which the Kleefstra brothers are proud inhabitants. The whole project is about the ecological decay of peat land that is Friesland. The music is all improvised and if you are familiar with Piipstsjilling then you more or less know what to expect here. Even with seven people there is not much change of scenery. The music is overall atmospheric, carefully played, all around, with not always the clearest of positions; Romke Kleefstra's drone guitar, or Zuydervelt's electronics, or Chauveau's percussion? Anything that generates some sort of mood, I guess. Badenhorst's wind instruments stand out best, at times; most clearly from all the instruments used. Baars adds wordless humming, while Jan Kleefstra recites some Frysian poetry from time to time, which is something I don't understand, as a language that is. His subdued and sparse reciting means there is much more room for the music. It's not that his voice of words is on top of the music; it is part of the overall picture. There is also room for experimental sounds, such as the radio sounds that open up 'Oardeis', along with eerie peeps and hisses and sound poetry voices, ending with a wall of guitar sound, or the noisy opening of 'Ketlik III'. Thus the album moves between the quiet yet intense soundscapes and some more daring experiments, which are usually a bit shorter than the more ominous pieces, stretching out a bit. Quite an impressive release.
A Closer Listen
The market is so crowded with LPs about endangered peatland that it’s hard to sort through them all. Just kidding, there’s only one.
The album cover is a lovely peat green, helping us to make the connection right away. The music is as soft as a peat bed, gentle as the feeling of bare feet on dew-speckled moss. While Jan Kleefstra’s lyrics are in Frysian, with him it’s seldom about the lyrics, but the direct appeal to the heart. Along with his Piiptsjilling companions and additional friends, Kleefstra forms FEAN, which in Frysian means PEAT.
The entire album is magical, curled around the edges like plants preparing to unfurl. Mariska Bears’ soft intonations are whispers of encouragement, like the angels who bend over flowers and implore them to grow. Subtle electronics buzz around the sonic field like pollinating bees. The air of breath is apparent in exhalation and wind instrument. A sense of holiness is conveyed by church organ. And this is a holy cause. FEAN is an album of mood; one imagines a fantastical world, populated by color and texture and growth, the earth bearing fruit, the ecosystem in balance, a response to koyaanisqatsi. In terms of volume, this may be the quietest protest we’ve ever heard. And yet we listen, due to the lack of bombast. Kleefstra’s voice offers an alternative to shouted speech. Chimes suggest Buddhist meditation. Radio static narrates dying stars, implying that the airwaves are empty, a void waiting to be filled. Only “Ketlik III” is dark, crunching like broken limbs beneath a bulldozer as Bears sings a lament. Mercifully short, it warns, metal is stronger than peat, but heart is stronger than metal.
One need not understand the words to connect with the affection that these artists have for village and land. FEAN helps us to care about something that wasn’t on our radar before this recording ~ the soft green cushion beneath our feet, upon which so much life depends.
Opening with a sensitive flow of the forlorn, quiet horns and general circumstance. The atmosphere is gentle, light spirits floating, muted corners. A deep male voice emerges, in hushed tones alongside a whistling wind, and another female voice nicely pairs well with the harmony on Peaoffer (peace offering). The ambient hues are layered nicely, with a variety of effects that float from one ear to another, Chauveau’s brilliantly considerate percussion, dodging and burning its way throughout. There’s a laid-back feel to these otherwise complex, luminous layers. Some textured, some airy and free, the combination has a sense of hope for the changes upon our collective Earth.
Ketlik II, at its snail pace, allows each of Badenhorst’s toots to shine bright amid an otherwise restrained drone. The feeling of suspension is alive and well here, broken only by the fiery feedback of Oardeis which sounds like a welder working away on a tine mechanism as a swirling, balloon-like horn plays in the background. The static increases and dissipates in an atonal fusion of effects. Once things quiet down some the sparse rat-a-tat sounds like a broken water heater as a voice emerges once more (four of these nine tracks boast short lyrics). The track Lytse Poel (small pond) has a traditional feel to it, likely produced by the familiar keys of a church organ and scaling sax. This is a mysteriously fluid jazz, yet has a folky ‘court’ feel about it. At the midpoint a layer of static comes with a spoken word, “deep in the wild shadow of the doctor’s house, you let the concrete sink as silent as the word.” The text as abstract as the musical theme here, fantastical. They surely are weaving a bit of contemporary folklore as they emit “soon the wind will come with open hands to catch your joy. To give you a verse, to pull the tent closed.” It offers an uncertain narrative, an open ending.
Their focus on our mis/understanding of climate change and gentrification on the land and our general devolvement of socialization of our virtual age is emboldened by their symphonic subtleties. In the home stretch they offer Ketlik IV and Ketlik V, both under three minutes each. A mysterious jangling leads to reverb and then to an assortment of broken percussive elements, all tripping over each other at short ratio. On the latter the organ and sax chords mimic bagpipes, but in essence offer an insular yet psychedelic harmony. They are playing with breadth yet still there is this sense of tension as if they are holding on tightly to their personal space. Along comes the concluding track, Wetterreid (water reed) and the tension seems to wash away as this opens brighter than any other piece here. A drifting hope seems to linger in this work that blends new classical with experimental electronic music. Our ears are flooded with airy bellows and lengthy held organ notes and what seems like optical drone. “The ground just a passage, the air just spent breath.” This is no blase Hallmark card you are opening to a pat phrase, rather this record has an astounding lyrical pulse, and a lingering sense of mystery.
Als Jan Kleefstra zijn gedichten begint voor te dragen, weet je wel zo ongeveer wat er komt: toonloze, maar des te suggestievere declamaties, beelden uit de Friese natuur en bovenal: een vaak abstracte, maar daardoor heel effectieve muzikale bedding. Die komt doorgaans voor rekening van broer Romke Kleefstra met zijn gitaren en effecten, bijgestaan door geestverwante muzikanten. Dat is zo in collectief Piiptsjilling en ook bij dit project, resultaat van een paar dagen bivakkeren in de Sint Thomaskerk in Katlijk. Onder handen van Annelies Monserré en Joachim Badenborst krijgt het orgel van die kerk een belangrijke rol, net als de rieten van de laatste, het gestemde slagwerk van Sylvain Chauveau, de woordloze vocalen van Mariska Baars en de lichte-lijk desoriënternde elektronica van Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), die deze improvisaties ook 'monteerde' en mixte.
De broers Kleefstra lijken een minder prominente positie in te nemen, wat voor een keer ook niet zo erg is. Ruim de helft van de stukken (Ketlik I tot en met V) is instrumentaal en ook in grote delen van de rest (slotstuk Wetterreid duurt dik een kwartier) doet dichter Jan er het zwijgen toe. Maar als hij spreekt, past dat weer fraai bij de subtiele drones en meanderende klanken van de rest van dit internationale gezelschap. De geest van de schepping was actief in dat kerkje te Katlijk, en dus hebben we alweer zo'n fraaie ode aan de Friese natuur, gestold in muziek. Fean speelt morgenavond in de Waalse Kerk in Leeuwarden, wegens festival Explore The North.