Birgitte Alsted: Agnete's Laughter
06 February 2013
Time Out Chicago
If the Shedd Aquarium ever decides it’s ready to get down with new music, we’ve found the soundtrack: Danish composer Birgitte Alsted’s latest work, Agnete’s Laughter. The folktale within is a watery one. In the 19th-century version of the story, Agnete leaves behind her merman husband and their children and dies of a broken heart. Adopting a more progressive interpretation, Alsted creates an electro-acoustic narrative that finds the heroine resolutely choosing freedom over her scaly lover, without any fatal consequence.
Brimming with the reverb-heavy sounds of displaced seawater, groaning colossi and submerged cries, the six sections in the titular piece, “Agnetes latter,” are effective in their evocation of a subaquatic landscape. However, it leaves us feeling as if we’re listening to the soundtrack to an art installation minus the visual stimulation. Were these vast textures and linear time–negating structures heard in view of fellow Dane Suste Bonnén’s underwater sculpture of the aforementioned merman (at the bottom of Copenhagen’s Frederiksholm Canal), with which the piece is said to interact, the experience would be far more persuasive. That isn’t a critique of the composition, but of the album format, as Alsted’s vocal moans, primate laughter and overall fluid structure are arresting in their own right.
More effective is the standout album closer “Belletter,” where samples of church bells are sumptuously rewoven and pitch-bent for a disorienting effect.