The Half-Finished Heaven

Instrumental and 3 songs with poems by Tomas Tranströmer

Sinikka Langeland -- vocal, kantele Lars Anders Tomter -- viola Trygve Seim -- tenor saxophone Markku Ounaskari -- percussion

ECM records


Folk Jazz

Sinikka Langeland

The Half-Finished Heaven


4.5 stars

I have always loved music that ensnares the listener in a spell. These days, alas, the prevailing aesthetic, almost regardless of idiom, is to pummel audiences into submission. I have not heard Sinikka Langeland live, but her albums present sounds finely engraved upon the surrounding silence; sounds that might be dispersed by a stiff breeze.

Langeland plays the kantele, a Norwegian member of the zither family with a timbre somewhere between a guitar and a harp, and she writes music in which composed melodies and improvised sections enfold each other so tightly that they become one. On four pieces she sings rather dreamily, using exquisite verse by the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer; words that catch your breath with their economy and power of evocation.

That economy is everywhere. Her band is completed by the brilliant Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter (who plays a da Salo viola from 1590!), Trygve Seim (breathy tenor saxophone) and Markku Ounaskari (sparse drums). This is sad, beautiful music that, just for an hour, will sweep the foolish world from your mind.

John Shand



Sinikka Langeland: The half-finished heaven



Published: March 31, 2015 | 2,422 views

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She may have debuted on ECM (and, consequently, far beyond the borders of her native Norway) with 2007’s Starflowers, but Sinikka Langeland has, in fact, been around for more than two decades, with her first album, Langt Innpå Skoga, released on Norway’s Grappa label in 1994. Composer, singer and master of the kantele—an antiquated Scandinavian dulcimer/zither variant that Langeland has turned into a living, breathing instrument—it was on Starflowers and her 2011 ECM follow-up with the same ensemble, The Land That is Not, that Langeland began to more fully explore the nexus of folkloric traditionalism and contemporary improvisation, with a cherry-picked group that included fellow label mates including Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and Finish drummer/percussionist Markku Ounaskari.

With his schedule simply too busy to continue with a group whose chemistry could be felt from the first notes of Starflowers, Henriksen was not present when Langeland presented her ensemble at the fortieth annual Vossa Jazz festival in 2013, but it was clear that the strength of Langeland’s music was able to transcend even the loss of such an important group member. With The half-finished heaven, Langeland proves that point even further by minting a new quartet that brings Seim and Ounaskari back, but replaces double bass with Lars Anders Tomter’s viola in a program that, for the first time, focuses much more heavily on instrumental music, with only three of its dozen compositions—all but one, a traditional polsdans from Finnskogen, composed by Langeland—featuring Langeland’s evocative voice, interpreting words by the very recently deceased (March 26, 2015) Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.

While it’s fair to say that Langeland’s distinctive voice is missed, that in no way makes The half-finished heaven any less impressive than what has come before. In fact, freed of the constraints of singing, Langeland’s playing is even more impressive, blending beautifully with Tomter’s viola and Seim’s tenor saxophone— as ever, more attuned to tone and the perfection of every note than any kind of overt virtuosic intent, even though what he does requires absolute mastery of his instrument. Ounnaskari’s combination of kit work and hand percussion acts, at times, as rhythmic driver on «The magical bird» but elsewhere as pure color on the aptly titled «Hymn to the fly,» where his bells and delicate hand percussion provide a flighty texture around which Tomter’s viola, Langeland’s strummed kantele and Seim’s low-register saxophone—the song’s primary melodic focus—come together as a unified voice.

It’s that single voice that emerges from the performances of these four musicians that makes The half-finished heaven‘s combination of form and freedom—more expansive than anything Langeland has previously attempted—so timeless, so appealing…so arcane. Through both Langeland’s writing and all four musicians’ keen intuition and attention to creating improvised passages that, in some cases, feel truly structured, there’s plenty of elegant beauty to be found. But there are moments of greater dissonance and jagged angularity («The blue tit’s spring song») that also make The half-finished heaven broader in scope than anything Langeland has done before.

A good part of The half-finished heaven‘s overall success comes from her recruiting Tomter, the «Giant of the Nordic Viola.» Beyond previous work with Langeland on Maria’s Song (ECM, 2009)—an unusual follow-up to Starflowers that found Langeland, Tomter and organist Kåre Nordstoga locating a very personal nexus of Norwegian traditionalism and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach—Tomter has been an important contributor to ECM recordings by guitarist Terje Rypdal and Ketil Bjornstad. But his own career has been even more prestigious: a multiple award-winning violist for whom numerous commissioned works have been written, who has been a regular participant at events including the BBC Proms and collaborated with famous classical ensembles like the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Here, however, he is given far more freedom than usual, and if there was once a line that divided classical and improvising musicians, artists like Tomter are making clear that this line has either become increasingly fuzzy…or may no longer exist at all.

With her ensemble of now-old friends, The half-finished heaven is the logical successor to her previous ECM ensemble recordings, with its even freer, more instrumental approach acting as the perfect reflection of its soaring subject matter: a suite of songs largely based around birds, flight and the ascending sky. An album of touching melancholy, haunting beauty and often-times completely unexpected flights of improvisational fancy from a quartet of simpatico players, Sinikka Langeland’s definitive kantele remains both The half-finished heaven‘s heart and spirit, along with an evocative yet ever-understated voice that may come, this time, in smaller doses…but even that decision only serves to make it all the more precious when it does.

Track Listing: Hare rune; The light streams in; The white burden; The half-finished heaven; The woodcock’s flight; Caw of the crane; The tree and the sky; The magical bird; Hymn to the fly; Animal miniatures; The blue tit’s spring song; Animal moment.

Personnel: Sinikka Langeland: kantele, vocals; Lars Anders Tomter: viola; Trygve Seim: tenor saxophone; Markku Ounaskari: percussion.

Record Label: ECM Records

Style: Latin/World


Heel soms beleef je als luisteraar de sensatie dat de afstand tussen jou en de muziek volledig verdwijnt. de nieuwe cd van Sinikka Langeland is daarvan een indrukwekkend voorbeeld. […] een nieuw hoogtepunt in haar oeuvre […] Hoe weergaloos er ook wordt gespeeld, nergens vervalt de groep in effectbejag.

(Very rarely one experiences as a listener that the distance between you and the music disappears completely. The latest CD of Sinikka Langeland is an impressive example of this. […] A new pinnacle in her oeuvre […] Matchlessly played and never falling into sensationalism.)
Mischa Andriessen, Trouw

It’s a session replete with beautiful sounds: Seim’s soft outbreaths pulsing through the tenor against Ounaskari’s deep, sepulchral booms; Langeland’s delicately lucid vocal tones against the precise but rough quality of Tomter’s viola; mysterious, metallic abstractions displaced by a pulsating viola rapture on ‘Caw of the Crane.’ […] For music inspired by the life of forests, and so rooted in traditional folk forms, Langeland’s themes are often invitingly modern-sounding, too.
John Fordham, The Guardian

You could be forgiven for thinking that a little kantele goes a long way. The zither-like stringed instrument produces a magical, almost bell-like sound when plucked of strummed suggesting the tintinnabulation of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt as much as rough-hewn folk. Played by the Norwegian musician/compser Sinikka Langeland, in combination with the viola, tenor sax and percussion of her quartet, it conveys a an other-worldliness that is very appealing. Langeland also sings lyrics (in their original Swedish) from three poems by Tomas Tranströmer that give this album both a title and a sense or reverence for nature. Despite the beauty of her voice, it’s the trance-like instrumentals that compel repeated listening.
Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday

Das ist ebenso fremde wie berückende Klangmalerei, die der Bratscher Lars Anders Tomter komplettiert. Das nimmt sich Zeit und schenkt genau damit welche, ist emotional berührend und bleibt in den so entfalteten Atmosphären gar nicht fremd. Es dominiert das umgarnend Elegische. Das ist wie gemessene Gänge durch eine weite Natur und vertont sinnlich drei der raren Gedichte des schwedischen Literaturnobelpreisträgers Tomas Tranströmer.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung

Financial Times / David Honigmann
Collection gets into its swing with ‘The Woodcock’s Flight’ before the Norwegian singer’s kantele prickles like stars

Sinikka LangelandThe Half-Finished Heaven(ECM)More instrumental than Langeland’s recent albums (what words there are come from Tomas Tranströmer), this album starts slowly.Too often, texture is at war with formlessness.It gets into its swing with “The Woodcock’s Flight”, which starts with a minimalist pastoral viola melody from Lars Anders Tomter before Langeland’s kantele prickles like stars in the night sky and arpeggios soar upwards.


Nordic Collection



Sinikka Langeland

“The Half-Finished Heaven”


Bernt Erik Pedersen, Dagsavisen – 27.02.2015


New music from Sinikka Langeland is always an important event. As one of Norway’s few kantele players she is much more than merely a curiosity; she is a unique artist who preserves and modernises a distinctive musical heritage. Since her previous album, the masterly The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011), she has, among other things, composed several highly acclaimed commissioned works which certainly ought to be recorded, and was a guest artist with the group Big Bang on a recording and at the Oslo Spectrum concert hall. The Half-Finished Heaven is a continuation of her series of albums with ECM. This is truly pan-Nordic music, and she becomes a one-woman Nordic Council when she brings together Finnish and Norwegian jazz and classical performers and sets major Nordic poems to music. This time she sings three poems by Tomas Tranströmer, but her main focus is on newly composed instrumental music, some of which is based on traditional music from Finnskogen.


Yet again it is exquisitely beautiful; the forests are singing out with something great and ancient in this music. Birds are a recurring theme, as the title of the album suggests, and several song titles underscore the theme of stretching out and finding one’s wings. All the same, I cannot shake off the feeling that the ensemble work was more exciting in the previous record, which featured Arve Henriksen on trumpet and offered more challenging sounds. Here there is less contrast between strings and strings, with Lars Anders Tomter on viola, while Trygve Seim on trumpet sometimes veers towards the clichéd image of ECM jazz (reverb, repetition of simple melody lines, very breathy tone). But we can comfort the critic from Bergens Tidende, who when reviewing Langeland’s previous record stated that it was certainly good, “…but this is demanding music”. This one is, for better or for worse, less challenging.


Playing at the National Gallery, 19 April.








The World in the Forest

Birds and trees can be heard in Sinikka Langeland’s globalised Finnskog music.

Jon Mikkel Broch Ålvik  Morgenbladet 27.02 2015


Sinikka Langeland is one of the Norwegian artists who most clearly combines the local with the international. In a sense she breaks out of the ordinary Norwegian mould through her use of song traditions from Finnskogen and the string instrument kantele. But her collaborations with jazz musicians have consistently shown that this is music that communicates with the world without local restrictions, and Langeland’s releases on the ECM label place her work within a global context.

On The Half-Finished Heaven, her fourth ECM record since Starflowers (2007), she has gathered some of the threads from previous recordings. The project focuses on ensemble work among Nordic jazz musicians, as on the first recording and on The Land That Is Not (2011). Here Langeland offered a textual dimension with her musical settings of poems by Edith Södergran and Hans Børli, among others.

Maria’s Song (2009), which combined folk songs about the Virgin Mary with compositions by Bach, was an exception from this method, and illustrated the deeper roots of Langeland’s work. Here, however, although the aspects of the work relating to feminism and musical dramaturgy were notable, they lacked the improvisational and collaborative elements that marked the other records.


Birds. This time Langeland combines musicians from these two parallel paths. She lets violist Lars Anders Tomter from Maria’s Song meet Trygve Seim (saxophone) and Markku Ounaskari (percussion) from the jazz band. This opens up new possibilities for her, and reveals additional nuances in the music. In “Hare Rune” the ensemble is reminiscent of Karl Seglem, while associations with pop and rock groups ranging from Bel Canto to Mona & Maria are also evoked.

The music moves from positively funky, as in “The Magical Bird”, to bordering on the sentimental, as in the title cut. But Langeland has control over the expressive element, and she and the other musicians keep their sense of balance.

Nordic poetry is represented by three settings of poems by Tomas Tranströmer. Langeland emphasises the Nobel laureate’s natural mysticism, and sets the poems in compositions inspired by nature and animals. Birds have an especially strong presence on the record, with woodcocks, cranes and blue tits appearing in the song titles. In the last-mentioned, Tomter is given the opportunity to imitate birdsong.


Constantly developing. A world-class performer, Langeland upholds her reputation by maintaining high quality in every detail. She herself is a kantele virtuoso, and her playing ranges from high-pitched melody lines (“The Tree and the Sky”) to deep, grating tones (“Caw of the Crane”). Using the kantele as her focal point, she leads the musicians in an interplay that highlights, not least, Tomter’s skill as a performer, whether he is improvising together with Langeland in “Animal Miniatures” or interpreting the theme together with Seim in “The White Burden”.

Here Langeland displays her expertise as a composer, performer and bandleader, and as the originator of an expressive idiom that can be traced as far back as to the record Har du lyttet til elvene om natten (1995). The ensemble enhances Langeland’s ability to break with traditions and cross-connect them, and the entire package fits nicely into the constantly broader artistic scope that the ECM productions are enabling her to develop.


Jon Mikkel Broch Ålvik




By Henning Bolte on February 24, 2015

Sinikka Langeland (1961) is a Norwegian vocalist virtuoso brings the Finnish kantele harp table to life. The instrument sounds sometimes here as a pedal steel guitar (The light streams in, Hymn to the fly), a harpsichord (The half-finished heaven), a koto again (Animal miniatures, Animal Moment), a Breton harp, dobro (The blue tit’s spring song) or even a hurdy-gurdy (Hymn to the fly).

It is not only a key tool in the folk music of Finland and Estonia, but spreads out to the Urals. Langland who gained international recognition with her three previous albums Starflowers (ECM, 2007), The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011) and Mary’s Song (ECM, 2009) can be heard on this new album with the two Norwegians,
Lars Anders Tomter on viola and Trygve Seim on saxophone plus Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari.

All have played longer in ensembles of Langeland but this combination opens up a whole new special sound world within twelve pieces including three vocal on poetry by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931) who in 2011 received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The opener Hare Rune (Rune Song of the hare), a slow, intoxicating pow wow with shamanic reminiscences, does not lie. Ounaskari often used a larger bass drum and what he here with it, Heef the total. Tenacious repetitive but no time mechanically, not smashing but precisely because the more insistent. Particularly through the whole album over the sound symbiosis of the instruments.
Often in pairs, they are first indistinguishable from each other until at one point one of the relevant instruments of the fusion reappear and draw their own contrasting lines. This happens many times for the viola and the saxophone but also for the bass and viola or the cymbals and the kantele.

It is not only this, said sound variation Langlands kantele and a subtle but impressive dynamics. Impressive is also what they accomplish with so few instruments Tomter his extra raunchy picking and ironing, Seim with its curving, deep whirring and fleeting saxophone sounds Ounaskari with his earthy bass drum, subtle cymbal work and well-timed hand drumming.

Langlands kantele not only provides amazing variations klankkarakte- characteristics. She puts more solid groundwork and rises to great heights equally glistening as particularly impressive in Caw Of The Crane.

And do not forget the invisible hand in the design on construction of the album! Geniuses are in a sense Hare Rune, The Woodcock’s Flight and Caw or Crane But the other pieces are no exception particularly strong.



Sinikka Langeland (1961) is een Noorse vocaliste die virtuoos de Finse tafelharp kantele tot leven brengt. Het instrument klinkt hier soms als een pedal steel guitar (The light streams inHymn to the fly), een clavecimbel (The half-finished heaven), dan weer een koto (Animal miniatures, Animal Moment), een Bretonse harp, een dobro (The blue tit’s spring song) of zelfs een hurdy-gurdy (Hymn to the fly). Het is niet alleen een centraal instrument in de volkmuziek van Finland en Estland maar spreidt zich uit tot aan de Oeral. Langeland die internationale erkenning kreeg met haar drie eerdere albums Starflowers (ECM, 2007), The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011) (zie op Written In Music HIER) en Maria’s Song(ECM, 2009) (zie op Written In Music HIER) is op dit nieuwe album met de twee Noren, Lars Anders Tomter op viola en Trygve Seim op saxofoon plus de Finse slagwerker Markku Ounaskari te horen. Allen hebben langer in ensembles van Langeland gespeeld maar deze combinatie opent een geheel nieuwe, speciale klankwereld binnen de twaalf stukken waaronder drie vocale op poëzie van de Zweedse dichter Tomas Tranströmer (1931) die in 2011 de Nobelprijs voor literatuur ontving.

De opener Hare Rune (Runelied van de haas), een langzame, bedwelmende pow wow met sjamanistische reminiscenties, Langeland-Sinikka-05[Kjell-Ivar-Walberg]liegt er niet om. Ounaskari gebruikt vaak een grotere bas-drum en wat hij hier ermee , heef het totaal. Vasthoudend repetitief maar geen moment mechanisch, nooit smashing maar juist daardoor des te indringender. Bijzonder door het hele album heen is de klanksymbiose van de instrumenten. Vaak in tweetallen zijn ze eerst niet van elkaar te onderscheiden tot op een gegeven moment één van de betrokken instrumenten uit de versmelting weer te voorschijn komen en eigen contrasterende lijnen trekken. Dat gebeurt menige keer voor de viola en de saxofoon maar even goed voor de basdrum en de viola of de cymbalen en de kantele.

Het is niet alleen dit, genoemde klankvariatie van Langelands kantele en een even subtiele als indruk- wekkende dynamica. Indrukwekkend is vooral ook wat zij met zo weinig instrumenten bewerkstelligen, Tomter met zijn seim_14okt_kuara+trygve-seim_web_3_foto-gerhard-richterextraordinair pluk- en strijkwerk, Seim met zijn buigende, diep gonzende en vliedende saxofoonklanken, Ounaskari met zijn aardse bas-drum, subtiel bekkenwerk en goed getimed hand drumming. Langelands kantele zorgt niet alleen voor verbazingwekkende variaties aan klankkarakte- ristieken. Ze legt steeds stevig groundwork en stijgt evenzeer glinsterend naar grote hoogtes zoals bijzonder indrukwekkend in Caw Of The Crane. En niet te vergeten de onzichtbare hand in de opzet op opbouw van het album! Uitblinkers in zekere zin zijn Hare RuneThe Woodcock’s Flight en Caw of Cranemaar de andere stukken zijn zonder uitzondering bijzonder sterk.

De muziek spiegelt de beleving en de impact van natuur met een bijzonder balans tussen de uiterlijke, fysieke en de innerlijke beleving. The Light Streams In en The Tree And The Sky, beide op IMG_2322een gedicht van Tranströmer zijn daar fraaie voorbeelden van. Zowel in de lyrische compositie als de muziek blijft het moment van gewaarwording even ‘staan’. Woodcock’s Flight en Caw of Crane verliezen zich niet in mimicry van de natuur maar diepen tonaliteiten op die associaties met Eleni Karaindrou en met Country Blues oproepen. The Magical Bird daarentegen, baserend op een dans uit de Finnskogen, swingt – met een battente gespeelde kantele – als de neten. Met de groeten aan Jan Garbarek. Zelfs in Hymn To The Fly krijgt mimicry niet de overhand. Enige uitzondering: Animal Moment, de vrolijke afsluiter van 20 seconden met mooi kreupelhoutgeluid. Maar daar kan de luisteraar dan zelf de zingende context van zijn. The half-finished heaven is een diep album van even grote als universele zeggingskracht.

LYRICS De werken van Tranströmer zijn naar het Nederlands door Henk Bernlef vertaald.

The Norwegian singer/kantele player Sinikka Langeland has a substantial track record on ECM dating back nine years, her music straddling the traditional folk side of the label’s output and the non-aligned swathes of improvised music the label has put out since 1969.

Langeland’s previous albums left little footprint on my own personal interior soundtrack I must confess. But this one has made much more of an impact on me, perhaps it will on you too. Naturalistic impulses underpin Langeland’s artistic outlook and here she sets texts of the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer to music on three tracks also finding some space to incorporate some of her older music dating back to the 1970s. Recording with a small ensemble in Oslo’s Rainbow studio – that’s violist Lars Anders Tomter, The Source’s Trygve Seim, tenor saxophone, and Markku Ounaskari on percussion – on the title track Langeland uses the remarkable 39-string kantele, the Finnish dulcimer.

Opening with ‘Hare rune’ Eastern sounding, like an instrumental chant, ‘The Light Streams In’ following has a beautifully sad vocal from Langeland ancient sounding on the Tranströmer poem. Seim leads the plangent melody of ‘The White Burden’ into a comfortable space for the ensemble and one of the nice things about the album is its sparseness but also its revelatory qualities, and the title track certainly has a limpid stately grace to it, a quality many of the tracks here share. Stephen Graham

Out now. You can listen to a sampling of the album here  

Sinikka Langeland, above. Photo: Dag Alveng/ECM

Theguardian  Delicately lucid … Sinikka Langeland

The Half-Finished Heaven review – poetry-inspired folk-jazz

3/5 stars


Sinikka Langeland

 Delicately lucid … Sinikka Langeland

Sinikka Langeland is a Norwegian folk-singer who plays the zither-like Finnish kantele, but she regularly collaborates with jazz musicians – including Trygve Seim, who appears alongside classical viola player Lars Anders Tomter and percussionist Markku Ounaskari on this set, partly devoted to the work of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It’s a session replete with beautiful sounds: Seim’s soft outbreaths pulsing through the tenor against Ounaskari’s deep, sepulchral booms; Langeland’s delicately lucid vocal tones against the precise but rough quality of Tomter’s viola; mysterious, metallic abstractions displaced by a pulsating viola rapture on Caw of the Crane. There isn’t a lot of jazz soloing, but it isn’t all on tiptoe – The Magical Bird is a deep, breathy jig and then an urgent groove, The Blue Tit’s Spring Song rocks, with Langeland playing a choppy strum instead of her usual The Blue Tit’s Spring Song rocks, with Langeland playing a choppy strum instead of her usual lyrical figures. For music inspired by the life of forests, and so rooted in traditional folk forms, Langeland’s themes are often invitingly modern-sounding, too.