Multiple fields converge on the EP A Northern Year. The optical, meteorological and teleological aspects are clear from the start, while the aesthetic and aural properties soon follow. This recording may be concise, but it is incredibly complex.
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir’s composition translates readings about the position of the Reykjavik sun into music for piano, percussion and electronics. The two-part piece travels through the year from winter solstice to winter solstice, beginning and ending with the crunching of footsteps on snow. The Passepartout Duo (Christopher Salvito and Nicoletta Favari) nimbly performs the music, while Anastasia Savinova contributes the cover art and Christopher Salvito the visuals.
Reykjavik is more often cold than warm, and the choice of instruments reflects the temperature. The ringing of chimes and reverberations of cool mallet instruments signify the twinkling of sun of snow, the refraction of light through ice, and the frigid winter mist that descends from the glaciers. Favari’s piano continues the association. She begins with low notes, leaning darkness against a vast, howling wind. But higher notes and cymbals signify a break in the oppression, a shift to the cherished time of seemingly-unending sunrise. As “A Northern Year (January-June)” develops, one begins to receive the peripheral notes as birdsong or the lengthening rays of the approaching sun. As scientific as the research has been, the performance is playful, the players operating beneath a porthole of sky.
In 2015, Bjarnadóttir enchanted us with Sounds of Iceland, a field recording set that underlined her love of natural sound. The composer has also recorded a rock album and “an orchestral piece based on knitting instructions.” Her life is an ongoing duet with the land of fire and ice. As “A Northern Year (July-December)” begins, the pace is slower, more languid, reflecting the sumptuous season during which one need not check to see if the Ring Road is closed. Reykjavik thrives in the summer. Horses scamper outside its borders and sheep frolic in the fields. Yet even in summer there is a feeling that the sunlight, as plenteous as it may be, is fleeting. As soon as the summer solstice arrives, the days begin to shorten. Favari’s notes grow further apart. Salvito’s drums grow steady as the inevitable march to winter. The field recordings enter again: the first wind, the first snow, the footsteps on white. The earth has completed its journey around the sun. (Richard Allen)