Dark Music Days 2020

Dark Music Days 2020 (Part 2)

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As i mentioned previously, allusions to or evocations of nature were few and far between at this year’s Dark Music Days, indicating the strength and diversity of Iceland’s more searching, abstract approach to composition.

This seemed to be precisely the point of Sigurður Árni Jónsson’s Illusion of Explanatory Depth, premièred by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason as part of ‘Yrkja’, an annual programme to support up-and-coming composers. More than most works I heard at this year’s festival, the piece was clearly all ‘about’ sound itself, articulated via an involving conversation between sections of the orchestra. It was exceptionally dynamic, fluctuating between overblown bursts of pseudo-romantic passion – principally heard in a short, recurring motif – and extended sequences of exploratory convolution. Over time, the orchestra never idling for a second, it created the distinct sense of an intense inner turmoil, governed by spontaneity – yet this sense was regularly challenged by that uncanny recurring motif. A fascinating piece. The same couldn’t be said for the other ‘Yrkja’ work, Lo and Behold by Eygló Höskuldsdóttir Viborg. Nominally taking inspiration from Werner Herzog, the piece was a pure slice of the kind of saccharine fare one is forced to endure throughout pretty much any nature documentary these days. It’s hard to find musical aspirations such as these admirable, particularly when they’re so overtly manipulative; it was like being continually poked: “be uplifted, be amazed, be joyful, be happy”. NO. Read more

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Dark Music Days 2020 (Interlude)

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As an interlude to my coverage of the 2020 Dark Music Days, I have to say something about two artworks that weren’t part of the festival but which contributed significantly to my time in Reykjavík.

First is CAT 192, the product of a collaboration in 2013 by composer Hlynur Aðils Vilmarsson and conductor Ilan Volkov. It’s not so much music as a piece of performance art for the main hall, Eldborg, within the city’s principal concert venue Harpa. The work literally ‘plays’ the hall, utilising the array of doors and chambers, the shutters, blinds and curtains, as well as the lights and part of the stage canopy.

It was decidedly uncanny. Being inside Eldborg when it’s essentially empty (at the performance I attended there were maybe around 40 people) was somewhat unnerving, mainly due to the hall’s deeply glowering red walls which, now dimly lit in an otherwise very dark space, gave off the air of some kind of malevolent presence. This heightened the experience of witnessing the hall’s ‘limbs’ moving seemingly of their own accord. It was as if an artificial intelligence, or even the beginnings of some kind of self-willed sentience, had spontaneously occurred at Harpa, which was now awake and flexing its muscles for the first time. Though in some ways rather primitive – it was, after all, limited to the range of motions the hall can make – CAT 192 was nonetheless an effective and amusing ballet for the building, highlighting also the tones, rhythms and other sonic throbs, thrums and patterns that emerged from its various movements, which were all the more striking when it wasn’t immediately possible to tell what or where the sounds were coming from. Read more

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Dark Music Days 2020 (Part 1)

Posted on by 5:4 in Festivals, Premières | 2 Comments

It no doubt goes without saying that Iceland’s Dark Music Days festival is primarily named for the fact that it takes place in January, when the amount of daylight the country receives is minimal. In a less literal sense, though, musically speaking there’s a lot to be said for listening in the dark. I don’t just mean the obvious, actually sitting in darkness – the way that last year’s Dark Music Days got up and running – but I’m also thinking of the relationship we have with music, our expectations and considerations of it prior to, and during, the act of listening. Personally, I increasingly find that knowing less beforehand, going into a concert ‘cold’ without consulting programme notes and the like until afterwards, is a valuable, even vital, way to approach new music. Read more

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