The nation of Iceland is home to the world’s highest percentage of writers by populace, and it’s no stretch to say that it is likely home to the highest percentage of musicians as well. But while the nation is a bubbling hot spring of talent, there’s only room for a few at the summit, which is where we find Nordic Affect and the five female composers whose works are performed on Clockworking.
Three of the composers may already be familiar to our readers. The first is Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, whose sublime “Shades of Silence” is also found on her 2014 album Aerial. A new album of her works is due out in a few weeks, and you’ll be reading it about it here before the end of the month. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to hear her work in the context of her contemporaries. Another familiar name is that of cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir, who’s been impressing us for years with a number of quality releases. “2 Circles” is a subdued work for cello and voice, representing the more pensive direction that the artist has been investigating over the past two years. Even more restrained is Thurídur Jónsdóttir‘s thoughtful, lullaby-based “INNI — musica da camera”, which incorporates the sounds of a contented child.
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir, hot off the release of Sounds of Iceland, has written an astonishing piece in “From beacon to beacon”, by far the highlight of this set. The composition is billed as a “conversation” between the Gardskagaviti and Galtarviti lighthouses. The former was the site for winter recordings, the latter for a summer session, hearkening back to Galtarviti’s use in múm’s Summer Make Good. The track begins with field recordings: the crashing surf, the howling winds. When the strings enter, they continue the theme of shifting weather, troubled in their turbulence, insistent even in their pauses. The harpsichord is playful, but in the manner of a mischievous god. Bad weather coming, one lighthouse seems to say. It’s already here, the other responds.
The title track received its premiere on Headphone Commute a few weeks back, and is the first of two works here by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, a founding member of amiina and an avid composer for film. “Clockworking” is based on the rhythms of a clock, and unlike other related works, does more through suggestion than any overt sample. The ticking is implied by the tempo and the plucking of the harpsichord, while the passage of time is reflected by the strings, which flow like the moon-driven tide. Continuing on this theme, “Sleeping Pendulum” (for violin and electronics) uses bell chimes to imply bodies at rest and in motion. These chimes also contribute a meditative sheen, which makes the work of the violin seem holy.
If you’ve ever seen Björk or Jóhann Jóhannsson in concert, it’s likely that you’ve seen Nordic Affect. On this album, the quartet steps into the spotlight. Congratulations all around. (Richard Allen)