Culture
Live Reviews
Dark Music Days

Dark Music Days

Words by

Published February 7, 2011

Reykjavík’s Dark Music Days Festival (Myrkir Músíkdagar) is a bit like Iceland Airwaves, if Airwaves catered mostly to hip classical musicians, threw in a ton of contrabass instruments, and was operated entirely by about four people. This year, the usual multi-week festival was squashed into three-and-a-half days, exhausting my ears in the same way as Airwaves did, only this time with more sixteenth notes and fewer earplugs.
THURSDAY
The festival kicked off with a grand concert by the Iceland National Symphony. Daníel Bjarnason’s conducting of György Ligeti’s ‘Atmospheres’ squeezed out of the double bass section a low sustained note more fantastically vulgar than I’ve ever heard in orchestral music. Steingrímur Rohloff’s ‘Clarinet Concerto’ could have just given me the parts of the piece featuring growling, didgeridoo-like squeals for the bass clarinet, and I would have been perfectly content. The composition, and Rúnar Óskarsson’s performance as soloist, particularly showcased the bass clarinet as well-balanced against the forces of the full orchestra.
Daníel conducted his own ‘Birting’, the crowning achievement of the evening. Daníel’s work was full of primordial shifts of light and darkness, mysterious and unexpected sounds at just the right moments. I went home comforted.
FRIDAY
The onslaught of events began on Friday at lunchtime, with one-hour events placed at roughly three-hour intervals until late in the night. At Kristín Jónína’s lecture, Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson mentioned that for years he had to have an unlisted phone number after receiving threatening calls—apparently nothing made Icelanders angrier than his hosting an avant-garde music programme on the radio during rush hour.
Sigurður Sævarsson’s ‘Missa Pacis’ was hauntingly beautiful, performed in the darkly-lit Neskirkja. The restraint of the vocal writing made the work’s deliciously full moments shine even more. It is soon to be a Hljómeyki Choir hit when it’s released on CD.
The electro-acoustic performances at Hugmyndahúsið in the late evening included several works featuring altered found sounds. Ríkharður Friðriksson stood on stage for his piece, writing out computer code that propelled the work in real-time. Strangely enthralling.
SATURDAY
The highlight from Hnúkaþeyr Wind Octet was ‘Andar’ by Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, containing ideas ‘under the influence of breathing and tidal waves’. It was also a perfect nod to the sounds of pounding waves of rain on Kjarvalsstaðir’s roof. Dark Music Days this year was sponsored by Iceland’s worst winter weather: wind, rain, slush, and snow coming at you from all directions.
Kira Kira’s late-night concert at Norðurpóllinn was…eclectic. I bet that she could leave out the heavy reverb and echo effects and still have interesting pieces left over. For most of the evening I thought to myself, if I would feature all these low-sounding instruments: double basses, cornet, contrabass clarinet–I’d definitely have a tuba as well.
SUNDAY
Pulling myself together after a long night (it was the weekend, after all), I took a bus to CAPUT’s performance of Atli Heimir Sveinsson’s ‘5-hjóladrif’ at Norðurpóllinn. The two dancers on stage sadly only performed during a fifth of the work, but Atli Heimir’s multi-genre, vigorous and virtuosic (read: ‘crazy’) writing held my interest. After the concert, I got a ride back seated next to a sexy Danish opera singer-slash-rock-theatre-collaborator. Ah, how I love Scandinavia.
The final concert of the festival was held at the National Museum (Listasafn Íslands), an acoustically dull but obviously artful venue for the Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra. Hlynur Vilmarsson’s ‘Héxié’ for piano, strings, and low-frequency pulsing electronics conveyed a stillness that resonated the best through the museum’s space. Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Verklärte Nacht’ was the final work on the programme, with intense anguish that melted into sighs of romance, and finally into an uplifting spiritual breath. It was also the bookend to the symphony concert a few nights before; it tied together many of the works over the weekend that seemed to explore inhalation and exhalation, the passions of simply being alive.
These kinds of festivals are a rare opportunity to hear so much contemporary music for such a reasonable price. Much like I experienced at Airwaves, I found it best to just be a ‘sponge’, soaking up all of the highs and lows of new classical music in Iceland today, and taking them home to ponder.

Nathan Hall is a composer and artist on a Fulbright Fellowship to Iceland this year. He can be reached through www.nathan-hall.net.


Culture
Live Reviews
Making Love With Kría Brekkan

Making Love With Kría Brekkan

by

On November’s last Saturday night, Kría Brekkan manufactured romance to an audience of dance enthusiasts at Boston, ending the Reykjavík Dance Festival with a glowing passion. Their phantasmagorical incantations, emitted through drums, guitar and voice, made lovers of an unsuspecting crowd. Did you feel it too? It was like reliving the last scene of Süskind’s ‘Perfume’. Kría Brekkan mastermind Kristín announced that her group would be trying something they had never tried before: a slow dance set. And thus, the waltz began. What we witnessed was a woman pouring out her heart in step to a most sensual drone, and for

Culture
Live Reviews
Deep, Throated Passion

Deep, Throated Passion

by

The arsenic content of an apple could be something like .000000023 ppb*, I figured, observing the seeds I spat out of a particularly rancid Granny Smith I ate alongside Fríkirkjvegur. At first, last night offered up to the city a pepper shake, maybe even a… lightly assaultive graze… of precipitation, and that drear imbued Fríkirkjan for Sun Kil Moon’s performance with a certain feeling of sanctuary, a feeling that repurposed it for usefulness yet again, sparing it from further dust gathering as an anachronism of Nordic religiosity. I would much rather prefer this kind of religious spectacle in such a setting,

Culture
Live Reviews
Slash Tore It Up

Slash Tore It Up

by

When I was a kid, my family went on a trip to LA. I remember that we visited a baseball stadium, some national parks and Disneyland too. But what sticks out most in my mind from that trip was going into some local record store and buying Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. I’m not sure I even knew what kind of music it was, but the album cover alone with the skulls and cross was enough to sell me. I was nuts about that album and especially about lead guitarist Slash. To me, Slash is one of the last

Culture
Live Reviews
Kontinuum Killed It! DOOMRIDERS Sucked!

Kontinuum Killed It! DOOMRIDERS Sucked!

by

The Mercy Buckets’ performance was a first for me. And a first for their front man as well, it would seem, as he was well winded and nearly unable to speak between songs. But in light of their crushing performance, it was but a minor concern. Their whole style is a collection of mismatched odds and ends that is far greater than the sum of its parts. They are a beard-o band that doesn’t play beard-o metal. They are a southern fried rock group with a stage act like that of a hardcore band, shouted vocals and hard hitting drum

Culture
Live Reviews
Floating In A Bubble

Floating In A Bubble

by

Red little spotlights moved constantly across the Húrra logo on the wall, and I could feel the relaxed vibes lingering in the air. Every seat was taken by folks enjoying pints of beer and chitchatting in the dimmed room, and everyone seemed to be looking forward to an evening of newcomer Geislar’s yet unknown tunes. The band Geislar was formed earlier this year, and has just released its debut album (it was not yet out at the time of this show). I had no idea what to expect from this novel arrangement of respected local artists, as they had only

Culture
Live Reviews
Oyama Have Turned A New Leaf

Oyama Have Turned A New Leaf

by

Arriving at the end of warm-up band Nolo’s set, I hobnobbed with a few friends and wondered if I really should have abandoned the birthday I left to come here. It had been a full year since I last saw Oyama, and I had the following to say about them then: “They embrace the feedback and keep the vibe nice and cool, but I can’t help shake the feeling that Oyama needs a bit more experience, and a better sound check before headlining the likes of Mammút and Pétur Ben again.” That was my gentle way of saying they flopped,

Show Me More!