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 harp 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 the 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