Here’s a first for the site: an album released concurrently with a sculpture and a series of souvenirs (phone covers, refrigerator magnets), presented by a Danish-Honduran composer who incorporates the a cappella love songs of her deceased grandfather. Envase is the very definition of experimental, but it also hits the mark on an even more treasured term: unique.
We gravitate to the tribute, as it presents another way to keep a loved one alive. Most recently popularized in the movie Coco, the idea of songs, singers and composers traveling through time is alluring. As Xenia duets with her grandfather, one thinks of “smoother” approaches, such as “Unforgettable” by Natalie and Nat King Cole, although the current project rings with a more jagged, less commercial tone. The voices are at first presented unadorned (“Abuelo I”), but later manipulated, like splintered memories rearranged. Where does one voice stop and the other begin? Are the years we spend with someone the only intersection? Xenia offers an emphatic, loving no.
In English, envase means container or carrier. The recording (especially in physical form) is the embodiment of an ongoing conversation, as is Lea Guldditte Hestelund’s sculpture, created specifically for this release. We project meaning upon objects, this particular object a visual representation of a moon (our interpretation) or an embryo/larva (artist’s interpretation). The vessel impassively accepts dueling views. In “Convoluted,” the pulse increases like an agitated heart over a mid-pitched drone, intimating the approach of something foreboding or exciting. Layers of translation weigh each other down as they accumulate, yet the music rises above any barrier, in the same way as the tactile nature of the sculpture invites a physical grip. While some might view the souvenirs as self-promotion, these particular items are more like tales being spread person to person, nation to nation, tangible expressions of an intangible influence. The density of “Comido” mimics the density of the marble; if memories could be placed on scales, they might balance stone.
Does Xemanek echo her grandfather in “Abuelo II,” present in person, or repeat him afterward? We suspect the former, a “pure” sonic souvenir. But the latter is also possible, expressed in the fullness of this set. The intriguing title “it is not the ocean, but for me it is the ocean” seems particularly relevant in 2018, a poetic way to say, “our interpretations each possess validity.” As the words are repeated and stretched, one recalls the difficulty of listening through accent as well as idea, the manner in which one must hang on every word, listening for syllables as well as words, puzzling over the sounds until one reaches a tentative understanding. In “Intangible,” seemingly devoid of vocals until the end, the memory of voices makes one strain even more, wondering, perhaps there is something I am not hearing, or am hearing and not comprehending. One could not wish for a better path to human understanding. Envase may have started as a personal tribute, but it becomes a meditation on memory, connection and continuity. If it’s like nothing we’ve ever heard, all the better. (Richard Allen)