Composer of orchestral works, composer of electro-acoustic works, opera performer, free improviser, and experimental electronica artist: Maja Ratkje was able to claim all these titles before her 30th birthday. The Norwegian singer has been active on many fronts since the mid-'90s, winning composition prizes in her home country before starting to build an international reputation, first as part of the all-female free improv quartet Spunk, then as a solo artist. Her first solo album, simply titled Voice, came out in late 2002. Her experimental singing has been compared to Jaap Blonk and Phil Minton, although her use of electronics and theremin in her performances set her apart. Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (born December 29, 1973) studied composition at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in the early to mid-'90s. She also had lessons with Louis Andriessen, Sofia Gubaildulina, and Richard Barrett, among others.
She began her professional career as a composer of modern vocal and orchestral works. Active in local young composers' circles, she dipped her toes in a graduate-level teaching career. She has won international prizes, including second prize at the 2001 Luigi Russolo electro-acoustic music competition for a piece for saxophone and electronics ("Sinus Seduction"), and the Arne Nordheim Prize (also in 2001). Her orchestral works have been performed and recorded by the Oslo Sinfonietta and Frode Haltli, among others. Meanwhile, Ratkje developed a parallel career in free improv. In 1995, she formed the quartet Spunk with a few schoolmates. The group's playful approach to improvisation attracted attention and in 1999 the label, Rune Grammofon, soon became one of Scandinavia's leading experimental imprints, releasing Spunk's first album Det Eneste Jeg Vet Er At Det Ikke Er En Støvsuger. It garnered favorable reviews from the specialized press and soon the group began to attract a small international fan base. Ratkje spent the summer of 1999 at the IRCAM electronic studios in Paris. Back home she began to integrate real-time sampling and electronics into her performances and to work with computer processing in the studio.
At a workshop by Otomo Yoshihide, she met the noise duo Jazzkammer and they struck up a friendship. Ratkje contributed to a Jazzkammer remix project (Rolex) and started a duo project with Lasse Marhaug. In turn, the duo co-produced her first solo CD, Voice. The latter came out in 2002, a few months after Spunk's critically acclaimed second album Den Øverste Toppen På en Blåmalt Flaggstang. The group remains her primary performing project, but she also tours with Frode Haltli and has recorded with experimental vocalist Jaap Blonk. Fe-Mail is a noise spin-off project with Spunk's Hild Sofie Tafjord; their first album, Syklubb Fra Haelvete, came out in late 2002. ~ François Couture