INTERVIEW IN ENGLISH PROG MAG
IN FEBRUARY 2018, Siri Karlsson unveiled an ambitious new work for a Swedish radio festival. Horror Vacui was a breathtaking 20-minute piece that cast itself far and wide, from psychedelic folk to avant-jazz to cosmic drone rock and beyond, culminating in a ringing fanfare. It proved one of the undisputed highlights of the electronica-themed event, hosted annually by P2 in Stockholm. “We’re more used to writing shorter songs, so when we received the commission we needed to create some kind of framework for it,” explains Cecilia Österholm, who, alongside Maria Arnqvist, is Siri Karlsson. “Then we read an article about mapmakers in the 15th and 16th centuries and how they embellished the world with fantasy in those parts that hadn’t yet been discovered by white explorers. We really loved the idea, so that became the concept.” Adds Arnqvist: “It was also about looking at the growth of the universe, where material seems to expand to fill empty space. Also, we are not minimalist musicians. We always want to move forward, we’re very restless. So we used a lot of material that didn’t fit the festival piece for songs that turned in to an album.”
Taking its title from Horror Vacui, Siri Karlsson’s fifth full-length recording is very much in keeping with its grandstanding title track. Exploration is key, as the duo chart a passage through industrial and ambient noise, spacey prog and fusionist tribal rhythms, largely driven by synths, saxophones and the traditional Swedish instrument, keyed fiddle.
“Horror Vacui is really a long journey of images and places,” says Österholm. This sensory idea has been a constant throughout Siri Karlsson’s career. “We’ve always worked through images, ever since we started playing together,” says Arnqvist. “The combination of instruments was quite odd for us – alto sax and key fiddle acoustically – and I wasn’t from a folk music background at all, unlike Cecilia. But we played melodies really well and had this joint interest in improvisation. We needed to make something very naked and sensitive, both in the dynamics between the instruments and creating arrangements. That’s when we started to think about visuals.” Much like fellow Swedes Goat, Siri Karlsson’s look is an important facet of what they do. They perform against exotic backdrops in ornate, specially made costumes. “We have an amazing visual team of two designers,” says Österholm.
“One who makes the clothes and one who makes the headpieces and jewellery.”
Siri Karlsson formed in a student dorm in Uppsala in 2002. Aiming high from the get-go, the pair’s first proper gig took place in Rio de Janeiro, followed by dates in West Africa, where Arnqvist had
been living for a while. They were soon forging a reputation back home.
“When we started getting reviews, people were comparing us to all these Swedish prog bands,” recalls Arnqvist. “But we’d never even heard of them. We’d been listening to things like Pink Floyd instead. Nobody else was doing that mix of folk and psychedelia in the way that we were. We like to think of ourselves as experimental rock. That’s the direction we always wanted to go in and we’ve come this far. So we’re happy.” RH
HORROR VACUI (2019)
“Horror Vacui” means “fear of emptiness” and the duo Maria Arnqvist and Cecilia Österholm who form the band Siri Karlsson have this time been inspired by the cartographers of the 15th and 16th Century.
The construction of soundscapes and empty places on the map to be filled is the basis for the incredibly experimental music, a mixture of traditional folk music, psych, pop, noise and jazz. Heavy rhythms are broken by screams, beautiful melodies on the key fiddle are followed by the howling saxophone.
Although I am a friend of (music) order who prefers verse and chorus, it is impossible not to be dazzled by the vision here, and the artful, uncompromising exploratio.
5/5 VF Nya Wermlands-Tidningen, Frida Lundström
Avant garde goth folk
Maria Arnqvist and Cecilia Österholm take you on a journey through overgrown forests, over foggy mountains to discover new soundscapes”
4/5 Dagens Nyheter, Magnus Säll
The music seeks into skeleton and bone marrow.
The TV series Chernobyl and the movie Joker have one thing in common. The sense of doom is enhanced by dull tones from a cello; the boundary between music and static electricity is blurred. The composer is the same in both cases, the Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir.
The Swedish experimental folk music duo Siri Karlsson (no one in the duo is called Siri, no one is named Karlsson) acts in the same spirit and shows on their new album that they are worth equally large international assignments. Cecilia Österholm has the key harp as the main instrument, Maria Arnqvist alto saxophone, but it cannot be guessed by the sounds they create, with support of mossy synthesizers.
The tones rumble and vibrate, feeled as much as they are heard. In the same spirit as the drone masters Sunn O))) the music seeks into the skeleton and bone marrow.
Jan Gradvall, Dagens Industri
SIRI KARLSSON RECIEVES SKAP’S AVANT GARDE REWARD
With their extraordinary fusion of folk and psychedelia they create music that sounds alternately surprisingly screwed, alternately enchanting and thrilling. They are two fearless music creators that open doors that we didn’t know existed!
SHAKE SHAKE LOVE
Aftonbladet: “Siri Karlsson crosses folk music with synths and an enchanting darkness like no other.
When music gives you the shivers and sweeps you off to another world. Wow. A Swedish treasure. ”
Aftonbladet Rebecka Ljung
HYMN: “The duo's fourth album Shake Shake Love overturns all perceptions of time and space; the albums 10 tracks are formed into a musical journey, which starts in a distant past, but ends in a foreign future. The soundscape mixes traditional folk music, with nature as a source of inspiration, and an avant-garde synth scenery. The collision creates sparks and the musical experience gives a modern and exploratory feeling. Deeply fascinating. ” Daniel Andersson 8/10
Fria Tidningen: “Siri Karlsson sounds like nothing else. (…) Without feeling pretentious or constructed, Siri Karlsson manages to easily weave together different influences and create organic music that lives and breathes. The meeting between analog instruments and electronics provides an exciting soundscape and enhances the contrast effect that Siri Karlsson always works with. Hard and soft, cold and hot. Darkness and light. ”
Lilla Baren Riche, Stockholm, Sweden.
On stage: Siri Karlsson.
The sometimes meditative, sometimes explosively fiery concert is probably the most avant-garde I have experienced live this year.
How does it sound? Hmm … I do not really find words to describe the loveliness, but here are both proggressive, jazz, rock, art music and the whole sky on top of that! All fused into a large controlled expression. The whole tumular experience feels honest and meaningful. The sweaty crowd in front of the scene, is wonderful to see, hear and feel how the whole audience – high on the music – enjoys and screams in a state of unrestrained euphoria.
You should not always give people what they want. You should give people what they need.
Claes Olson, Simba (music industry blog).
THE LOST COLONY
“Cecilia Österholm and Maria Arnqvist made music to SVT’s acclaimed Astrid Lindgren documentary.
It’s a given input, if Astrid Lindgren and her characters personify the old Sweden the duo Siri Karlsson
picture the new country. While SD, UKIP and the National Front fuss about what is Swedish, British
and French Siri Karlsson have created the most Swedish music right now ... The Lost Colony is a gift from multiculturalism. A multiculturalism prize and should be praised by that.”
GAFFA, Daniel Horn
“The Lost Colony is judiciously dipped in ’70s-style psychedelia which blends perfectly with everything else, and adds another dimension to the music. The album encapsulates the duo’s most colorful and daring work to date. A tribal-trance-inducing sonic brew filled with witchcraft, folklore and mysticism.”
Igloo Mag 2015 (Awarded best album by Igloo Mag 2015)
“Most of the CDs I get for review fall into a genre. This doesn’t – not even into the genre of what Siri Karlsson did on their previous two albums in 2008 and 2011. These are people who making another album only when they’ve something new to say, and it really speaks to me. Magnificently. Cecilia Österholm plays nyckelharpa, Maria Arnqvist soprano sax and piano, and both sing. That would normally point to skilful instrumentals and some songs in the Swedish folk genre. But… The Lost Colony is a kaleidoscope of unexpectedness. Massed multitracked female vocals, chiming twin electric guitars, pounding drums, a moment of delicate nyckelharpa and sax duetting that morphs into screeching dark chaos of instruments and voices over pulsing rhythms and into a stately traditional-style 3/4 melody. And that’s only the first couple of tracks.”
Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots 2015
You hear the restless souls of Nick Cave and David Eugene Edward throughout the production. The Lost Colony is a gift from multiculturalism. One of multiculturalism price and should be praised thereafter. “Daniel Horn, Gaffa
“The music runs in route to the same landscape as in John Bauer 1800-century paintings. Fog descends upon the forest. The moss is heavy dark green. The rock formations are troll grey. “Jan Gradvall, DI