H(ear) is an album close to our hearts, as it invites a closer listen, reflecting the philosophy of our site. The women of Nordic Affect continue to beguile as they present a multitude of works by female composers ~ including for the first time Estonia’s Mirjam Tally. But in the seven-part title track they also teach, using bite-sized interludes to investigate the nature of he(a)ring, the pair of parenthesis suggesting gender and the ear. “The subject we’re concerned with is sound,” begins the narrator, quoting the words of R. Murray Schafer as digraphs and diphthongs proliferate on the playground behind her. Thoughts surface and disintegrate, leaving a residue of contemplation and echo. Stereo is used to wonderful effect, as the phrases collide, interlock and disengage. Breath and break are as crucial as words. Our only quibble is that fragments are interspersed throughout the album like chapter headings; we prefer to he(a)r the series in sequence, transforming Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir‘s composition into a powerful overture.
Three of the other composers will be familiar to fans of earlier albums Clockworking and Raindamage. amiina’s María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir is represented twice, with “Spirals” and “Loom.” The first track is the completion of a years-long trilogy, the title implying the continuation of a curve. Gently the music builds, stretching its wings arc by arc until its patterns are revealed. But while “Spirals” moves outward, “Loom” moves inward, exemplifying the connection between these women (composers and performers), and those who will hear their music. The strands of music are woven together like loose hair. While listening, one recalls the cover art for amiina’s Kurr, portraying women content in their communal endeavor. The proud harmonic finale is indicative of a completed project, making it the perfect choice to close the album.
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir is also represented by two tracks, and we’ve just received word that ICE will be performing her works on another Sono Luminus album this December; preview piece Illumine creates an immediate frisson. In the meantime, the pairing of “Reflections” and “Impressions” seems entirely natural, beaming radiantly at the center of the album. Dissonance often decorates Thorvaldsdóttir’s work, and it appears early here, lending He(a)r the sandpaper edge it needs to infiltrate the tympanic cavity. These are not the reflections of a calm mind, but of an active, creative fire. The dark notes of “Impressions” swirl like leaves in the wind, refusing to gather when raked. Higher-pitched plucking provides a balance, perhaps a different impression waiting to be heard.
The fame of Hildur Gudnadóttir continues to increase in 2018, thanks to her recent scoring successes (including Mary Magdalene, Sicario 2 and the upcoming The Joker). “Point of Departure” is as far from those releases as one can imagine, its only connection to the cinematic world the fact that its a sequel. The original work, “2 Circles,” was composed as a solo piece, but Nordic Affect wanted more, so “Point of Departure” is bigger, stronger, louder, with explosions. Just kidding! It’s tender and thoughtful at the start, bold and delirious at the finish. The composition is brave enough to come to a complete stop midway, entering its second half with the confidence born of perfect communication, rising to a grand peak, the pinnacle of the entire album.
Estonian Marjam Tally is in good company with these Icelanders. “Warm life at the foot of the iceberg” squeaks and squalls like its namesake, coming across like a flock of penguins and puffins preparing for dinner. The title comes from Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin, and the piece represents not only the iceberg, but the melting. The music grows urgent in the fourth minute, implying that time is running out. Harsh draws of the bow in the fifth sound a warning, not only to the residents of the iceberg, but to those responsible for its dissolution. If the birds die, so does the music.
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir, Hanna Loftsdóttir and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir are to be congratulated once again ~ they’ve pushed their sound further, and achieved more as a result. As intoned in “He(a)r II,” “the best conversations are still those that play on the variations on that great and ancient theme: I’m here (hear). Where are you? (Richard Allen)