* * *
Estonia is a Baltic nation that isn't Scandinavian, but has been controlled by Danes and Swedes (as well as Russia). At times its wild keening vocals sound Balkan, but they're not. At times, the exuberance of fiddlers such as Maarja Nuut sounds Finnish, though that's incidental and the only thing really Finnish about Estonians is that they share common language roots. Why the geography lesson? Because Maarja Nuut's music is hard to pin down; it will remind you of lots of things, without really being any of them. Especially given the fact that her tastes run more toward the avant-garde than the folk wellspring. Consider, for instance, a song titled "Kiik Tabab Kindaid," which translates "The Swing Wants Mittens." A lot of fiddle tunes have odd names, but this one personifies the swing, muses on marriage, and the composition unfolds beneath, then above, a field recording of humming cellphone cables. Nutt's strings squeal in resonance with the cables, then drop to a drone to accompany primal vocals. Memo: This is not for die-hard traditionalists.
At every step of the way Nuut challenges, pushes sonic borders, and at times begs the question: What is music? "Kargus" opens to a saw-like barrage of notes that reduce in volume and become something that sounds to my ear like a drone/triplet hybrid. Nutt this time uses a light melodic voice to add contrast. "Sammud" is a waltz, but one looped to body moment and the tune's namesake "Footsteps." Add some plucked notes and we hear scraping and tapping feet, a 1-2-3 cadence, and a lovely little melody all at once. The effect is hypnotic. It's oddly delicate, as opposed to the free-spirited and wilder feel of "Kuradipolka" ("The Devil's Polka"). It too has a repeating thread of notes, but these serve to fray the tune rather than unify it. High notes drift to the edge of our aural comfort zone and then the entire piece ends abruptly. Or would you prefer some unbridled village-like rapid-fire vocalizations and some clip-clop percussion? Check out "Hobusemäng" ("The Horse Game"), which apparently is a variation of a ritual game linked to casting spells. In other words, Maarja Nuut's music is a flight into places where reality, magic, experimentation, programming, and dreams collide–appropriate for a project whose Estonian title means "In the Hold of a Dream." Like most avant-garde projects, this one will confuse some listeners and induce wonder in others. Place me in the second camp.
Here's a YouTube sampler of this unusual artist.