Not everything at Ultima 2019 was all about things seen and unseen. One of the most beautiful works i heard took place at Kulturkirken Jakob in an afternoon concert given by the outstanding vocal quartet Song Circus (who had been so impressive at this year’s Only Connect festival). Their concert included the first complete performance of Absence by Norwegian composer Therese Birkelund Ulvo. Loosely inspired by a native folk song, Graatarslagjet – in which a wedding party falls through ice and drowns, after which a solitary fiddler mourns their loss – the work, including hardanger fiddle performed by Britt Pernille Frøholm, was breathtakingly immediate, creating drama from the most microscopic of sounds and gestures. Soft close singing was interspersed with articulated breaths and a plethora of tiny vocal tics and twitches (occasionally bringing to mind Sciarrino), many of which seemed almost involuntary. Although its language was, from one perspective, a broken-up network of minutiae strung together into a loose-woven tapestry, there was at the same time a sense that everything we were hearing had actually begun life as a changeless, eternal drone, which was being modulated and disrupted by the quartet’s vocal actions. At one extreme, Ulvo practically destroyed the fabric of the music later on via an outbreak of stubbornly persistent coughs, while at the other extreme, she united the singers into small concentrations that vaguely resembled chant. Though it was in its own way just as wildly experimental as the rest of the music during the opening weekend at Ultima 2019, Absence had a focus, an intensity and above all an elegance that set it apart.