Albums and compositions about climate change and humanity’s impact on our planet have become a regular fixture in my listening habits in recent months. I dug into these themes and explored them via sound with Frederik Croene last month, and now Kaspar Bjørke Quartet’s Mother is occupying a central location in my mind.
Mother is an intense listening experience, even if that’s not immediately obvious. Bjørke’s pieces worm their way through lush, expressive passages filled with pensive emotions and an air of vulnerability, all played impeccably by the quartet of himself, Davide Rossi, Claus Noreen, and Jakob Littauer. Add in collaborative contributions from Sofie Birch, Philip|Schneider, Mathias Friis-Hansen, and David Hildebrandt, and all the ingredients for something extraordinary are in place.
Mother is out now via Kompakt.
Kasper Bjørke Quartet – Mother
Overall the album theme is the evolution of Earth – from its formation around 4,5 billion years ago to the beginning of all life, the rise of humans – up until the current epoch where mankind has become a destructive natural force. I then also set out to take a hard look at the not-too-distant future with the nearing tipping points of the climate system and interpret the more than reasonable fear that we as a species are beyond salvation – while suggesting that our Mother will prevail and the circle will start again… I wanted to make this journey as a circular listening experience with the help of all these amazing musicians who are part of the album.
Within the 21 minutes duration of the opening composition, the ambition was to interpret the formation of our planet, which lasted around 10-20 million years. Once I had recorded all the synthesizer layers together with my friend and ambient composer Langstrakt in his studio here in Copenhagen. After the pianos had been recorded in Berlin by musician Jakob Littauer and my friend Davide Rossi had performed his fantastic string arrangement, I sat down and started to mix and arrange everything… At that point, I felt like the track still needed something to symbolize the passing of time. So I asked the Danish ambient artist Sofie Birch to add some synthesizer parts, and what she delivered perfectly tied the different passages together.
Abiogenesis was the epoch that saw the emergence of the earliest lifeforms on Earth, and I asked the performance duo Josephine Philip and Hannah Schneider, professionally known as Philip|Schneider, to join as features and interpret the beginning of life with angelic layers of harmonies supporting the rest of the composition. On this piece, I didn’t want the pianos to take up a lot of space but rather have a simple chord structure that allowed the vocal passages to shine through along with Davide’s phenomenal strings… I was inspired by the scene from Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terrence Mallick) where we see the beginning of life on Earth – I have seen that movie many times, and I think it’s a masterpiece.
By the end of the Miocene epoch, the ancestors of humans had split away from the ancestors of the chimpanzees to follow their own evolutionary path and became archaic humans. So, this is another piece with a bright, open, and positive feeling to it, as nature is still in complete harmony, finding its own way forward. I teamed up with Sofie Birch again, who added some celestial synths. I am particularly happy about how she managed to work around/with the piano parts; they communicate well together… Davide’s violin solo, which starts around seven minutes in, honestly makes me emotional every time I listen to it… In my eyes, he is one of the best arrangers in the world…
This is our current geological epoch, where mankind has become a force of nature… I wanted to make this passage rather stressful to symbolize the emergence of modern humans, the industrial revolution, and the destruction that we have imposed on our planet these past hundred years or so. I asked the two classical musicians, Davide Hildebrandt and Matthias Friis-Hansen, to play the marimba on this track to help interpret this particular energy and emerging stress. Langstrakt and I had done some synthesizer layers and arpeggios that also have a certain dramatic feeling and energy to them, so the marimba plays around those to intensify that particular mood. The strings by Davide Rossi are also full of tension and tristesse, and when I mixed this track, I wanted the strings to really stand out and take the lead.
This piece represents the irreversible changes in the state of Earth’s climate system. Currently, the world is on the brink of five disastrous tipping points, including the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, which eventually will produce a massive sea level rise, the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic, disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost.
So the idea was to compose a passage that builds and builds until it finally collapses to interpret that part of our future, one that seems inevitable at this point because these things have been set in motion long ago, and it seems like we are too late to stop them. It was a difficult composition to mix – as I wanted it to sound stressful to a point where it’s almost unbearable – at the same time, I want people to stick to it until the end.
The final composition represents a premonition of an end and a new beginning – for mankind and our planet… In that sense, Requiem contains profound sadness, manifested especially by the church-like choir piece by PhilipSchneider in the intro part, which symbolizes that our species, by then, have lost the battle against the climate crisis. At the same time, “Requiem” channels a strong sense of hope as the passage evolves, coming from the viola solo by Davide Rossi and the dreamy piano parts by Jakob Littauer. I actually asked Jakob to continue playing for a couple of minutes after the track ended because I wanted “Requiem” and the album as a whole to end in a very way that felt like a full circle or the start of something new. Because I do believe that Earth will restore itself – and I hope that humans will learn from past mistakes and find a more sustainable way to live in harmony with the natural world…
However, before that happens, I honestly think the world will become a place that we cannot even imagine right now, despite the scientists telling us what we should expect…