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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 221 - 09/09/14

Mellow Subterrain

Mellow Subterrain is a mainly one-man project by Felix Filius aka. Pål Buhl-Mortensen, a marine biology scientist living outside Bergen on the western coast of Norway. He started his musical career at an early age in the 70s, I guess, has been a vital member of the underground experimental, more and less, project Coalmine:5 for 30 years (mainly in the latter half of the 1980s and early 90s, but still active now and again, on the back burner), the bass player of the rock band Kafkatrakterne in Bergen (they certainly made it to literature history; writer Karl Ove Knausgaard was the drummer of the band and they and Pål are mentioned several times in his My Struggle novels) and also bass player of Marmarakvartetten playing traditional Greek music. He has been involved in several other projects as well, mainly in the folk/ethnical field. I saw him with one of his most recent bands, Det Syrefaste Lettmetallensemblet (The Acid-Proofed Light-Metal Ensemble), a few weeks back; a humorous rock-experimental outfit, with Pål as the vocalist and effect-laden tuba-player. The instrumentation included the inside of a piano, looking a bit like a big harp, you know, that one of the members banged away on. Hilarious!

Enough said. Mellow Subterrain is something different, 'quite unambitious, but a bit serious', Pål has stated earlier, also 'alternative and experimental'. Well, now the ambitions have increased with the release of an LP on his own label, 500 copies, and probably available on Spotify soon, too. I guess Submerged is closer to Coalmine:5 than any of the others mentioned above. A couple of other C:5-members guests and the album is co-produced and -engineered by C:5-producer/soundman/multi-instrumentalist Tore Steen. On the other hand it's more playful, electric and electronic. Here are field recordings from Brazil, France, Spain, Norway and a Danish aeroplane pilot speaking in mid air. The title track includes a poem read by one of Pål's colleagues via a kind of distant radio from a submersible appliance 250 metres below sea level outside the coast of Northern Norway ('probably the deepest poem in the world') with sonar bleeps and other eerie deep-sea sounds. The music and soundscapes point in different directions. Some of the 12 tracks, not least the opening one "Airbus Caravan" reminds me of the classic Brian Eno and David Byrne collaboration My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, field recordings coupled with danceable beats and electronic music. Another Eno collaborator Jon Hassell springs to mind in "Videosignalet Out" with a buzzed instrument sounding like Hassell's trumpet. In fact it's Pål stretching and bending the sounds of a rubber band! Here's also instrumental parts, some quite melodic, some closer to ambient, though not particularly in the Brian Eno tradition. Others closer to exotic-ethnic music. Bubbling electronics here, a few loops there and suddenly a cooling fan starting up. One of the most fascinating tracks is "Wolf Hunt" centred round the hypnotic cello playing by Pål's son Isak with howling beasts all around.

Pål's profession has certainly influenced not only the album title. Several Spanish colleagues appears in "La Menorah" recorded at a restaurant of the same name in Malaga and a bull fighting arena in Rhonda. The marine themes also dominate Pål's lyrics. Here are over- and underwater poems about fishes, corals, an Argonaut, a navigator drinking from the compass... And did you know that 'The sea is more than the water and the fish, more than the strange creatures and a dangerous environment. The sea is also floating within us, inherited through the evolution of living beings. It's the origin and probably also the destiny.

Great stuff! It keeps getting more fascinating the more spins I give it. The one man band can be contacted via e-mail:, or the Mellow Subterrain Facebook page.

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You may also want to check out our Mellow Subterrain article/review: The Shoe Shine Set EP.

© 2014 Luna Kafé