Review: Laura Steenberge – Harmonica Fables

The adjustments are miniscule. A redirection of the breath; a slight constriction of the vocal cords. Steenberge tilts back and forth between harmonica and humming, often blending the two into a stream of harmonies, as vocal frequencies press against the rasp of blown notes. Her inward breaths are whole and pure; her outward breaths fan in all directions, subdivided into pitches and strange overtones, twisting like a flag in the wind. That’s all there is. Cycles of breath funnelled through wobbling muscle fibres and reeds. On “Chant”, Steenberge spends an entire 20 minutes exploring the different ways in which her hum can wrap around a solitary harmonica tone, inciting distortions and rhythms through vocal interference alone, gradually uncovering every contour of this solitary note by running vibrations along all of its edges.

In the album’s second half, patient intimacy gives way to more mercurial interactions between tone and breath: “The Lady Of Shalott” sounds like a curtain rippling in front of an open window, while the suite of pieces titled “Spheres”, all comprised of high pitches seeping in and out of audibility, seem to mimic beams of light fading and dancing upon the floor. And all the while, Harmonica Fables is bedecked with detail that originates from neither the instrument nor its player, with acoustic phenomena forever flowering across the margins between the two, gleaming and then gone, undulating and then gone, beautiful and then gone. For a record so simple in construct, there are no end to the mysteries here.