Laulan Mere Maaksi
(self-produced, 2001)

I am enchanted. The world has taken on a strange glow, and I need to type quickly before my keyboard turns itself into some more fantastic creature, like a winged cat. The magicians responsible for this state of altered consciousness are Livonia, the artists of Laulan Mere Maaksi. The title translates into "I Sing and the Sea Turns Into Land," and it gives only a hint of the magic in these songs.

The enchantment begins with the vocals. I hate to give up their secret, but Svea Juckum-Bentz is clearly not human. Human voices possess faults, and I can't find one with hers. Clear as pure ice, it knocked me off my seat the first time I heard it. Her voice first stars in "Laula, kuni elad (Sing as Long as You Live)," and I certainly hope she does.

Even without the enchanting vocals, Livonia charms the listener with a wonderful instrumental performance. The instruments are joyous, there assortment rarely duplicated. They have a hurdy gurdy, and have convinced me that many of the faults of popular music are attributable to the lack of same. I didn't even know what a vielle was before I heard it here, and now I'm in love with it. The vielle, recorder, harp and hurdy gurdy are left to their own for the opening song "Suur Tamm (Great Oak)." This is the audial equivalent of the life and energy that moves in and on a massive tree, something that should be elusive.

Still, Livonia is inspired by Estonian rune-songs, and the magic in their music is greatly assisted by words. "Ohtu Ilu (Beauty of the Evening)" comes in soft, overlapping waves of music, with Juckum-Bentz' voice almost buried in some parts. But it's the voice that's hypnotic, taking the music from merely beautiful to magical. "Lambamang (Sheep Game)" doesn't even feature much of what might be singing, but the rapid-fire patter and slow whirring chorus inspired by this mystery game are still compelling listening. That an English speaker like me doesn't know what the words are is beside the point. You're not supposed to understand what a magician is saying.

I do wish I understood more of the title song. "Laulan Mere Maaksi" is an indulgently sweet song. The give and take between voice and instruments create the magic of transformation promised by the title. Cresting and lapping waves of music creates a landscape of the mind more accessible than the seacoast. Still, the rune-songs are supposed to tell a story, and they do it without needing to understand a word. "Rikas Ja Vaene (Rich and Poor)" calls up the jingling of coins and ponderousness of a parade thorough dirty streets. The lumbering procession is broken up the merry voices of spectators. In spite of their otherworldly nature, these are also songs of the everyday; worksongs, and stories of the everyday. Follow the lead in "Valmi, Voike (Making Butter)" and you'll have butter in seconds. "Lope, pold (In the Fields)" calls the most devoted couch potatoes to the joys of the sun.

These are religious songs, too, to celebrate joyously solemn events. The lack of difference between the two in shown in "Jaanilaul (Solstice Song)" with eerie, religious cheering interspersed with exuberant dancing tunes. "Kadrilaul (Song of the Kadri)" gives the men a chance to add their voices, and it's a powerful, earthy contribution. If Juckum-Bentz is a sylph, her male cohorts are obviously mountain spirits. "Oh, jumal (Oh god)" voices an easy contentment with the world that's a better homage to the creators than the usual desperate attention calls. But just when the grandness of creation threatens to overwhelm through music, Livonia returns to home with the soothing "Hallilaul (Lullaby)."

Much as I love Laulan Mere Maaksi I can only recommend it with caveats. One should not listen to Livonia while driving or operating heavy machinery. Nor do I advise trying to use it as background music if it might be inconvenient to be enchanted. Laulan Mere Maaksi should be saved for a time when you are feeling mundane and hungry for a bit of magic. It's as good as having a wizard on hand.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 31 August 2002