When describing S.L.Á.T.U.R, a Reykjavík-based music collective, it’s perhaps best not to try to describe them at all. “It is specific, but hard to put into words,” S.L.Á.T.U.R member Guðmundur Steinn says of the group’s raison d’être.
Guðmundur is an organiser of this year’s SLÁTURTÍÐ, the collective’s annual showcase. The event not only brings together the 15 members of the S.L.Á.T.U.R. collective, but also other international artists who specialise in “artistically obtuse” compositions. The name of the group itself is an acronym for Society of Artistically Obtrusive Composers Around Reykjavík, and the phrase represents the idea of tweaking some of the formalised habits or standards in music to fit the vision of the artist, Guðmundur says. “The idea is to try to bring creativity into all parameters of music making,” Guðmundur says. “So if we imagine most music as language—you take that language that’s already spoken and you start speaking it and add a few words to make it personal, in a sense. I think what most of us are trying to do is make our own languages.”
Sometimes indescribable and unpredictable, the group works to expand the definition of music by prompting people to examine their own definitions of sound and composition. “We want to encourage this kind of listening that is very open, that’s more like observing,” Guðmundur says.
Everything is better animated
The first day of the festival will include an overview of a composition method known as animated notation. It is based on the idea of using animated graphics, symbols or pictures as guides to perform musical pieces instead of traditional written notation. Some composers show their notations for audience members to see, and the animated score acts like separate pieces of visual art that accompany the musical piece, Guðmundur says. For other composers, the animation acts strictly as a tool to guide the artist through the piece and isn’t visible to the audience. “It’s not very standardised. There are very different approaches,” Guðmundur says. “In my pieces, there is usually nothing to see. But there are a lot of pieces that involve something very elaborate for people to see in a video or usually something moving, like simple graphics. But sometimes the video also comes alive, and it might be simply communicating more information.”
For California-based composer Ryan Ross Smith, the motion of the moving graphics on screen is fundamental to the performance of the piece; without the graphics, the music can’t be played.
Smith will showcase two of his works on Wednesday, including “Study no. 6 [Escalators].” Part arcade game and part sheet music, columns of multi-coloured blocks slither up or crawl down the screen, creating a moving patchwork quilt of colour. Each colour represents a sound, and the idea is for the performers to move from left to right across the screen. If a performer gets stuck at a box that either moves past the bottom or the top of the screen, they must start over.
“Study no. 6 has a completely open instrumentation, and although the performance instructions are fairly rigorous, I won’t know what it sounds like until I hear it, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what Fengjastrutur [an ensemble of S.L.Á.T.U.R. members] does with it,” Ross says.
Music to fall asleep to
If it seems difficult to pin down, it might be because some members in the collective use a variety of methods to create sound. Some performers at the festival, such as Canadian improviser Charity Chan, use modified instruments. Chan often uses a piano where objects have been placed between or on the strings, changing the timbre, or sound, of the instrument.
Guðmundur says modifications on conventional instruments may help people realise the subconscious ways they think about sound because it’s something different from what they would expect. “There are all kinds of ritual actions that we perform in life without knowing. Like how you make a queue in a bank or how you go to a hip hop concert and throw your hands in the air or you go to a concert and you take the program and you sit and you applause between performances,” Guðmundur says. “You bring these habits into light by following them. If something is slightly strange, it’s also in focus somehow.”
The Sleep Concert, held from 00:00 to 08:00 on Friday at Dansverkstæðið on Skúlagata 30, may seem particularly contradictory. Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, a S.L.Á.T.U.R. member who will curate the event, orchestrated a similar concert in Los Angeles, California in 2011.
Þráinn Hjálmarsson, another festival organizer and S.L.Á.T.U.R. member, says people are encouraged to bring sleeping bags and then see where the experience takes them. “You can let the sounds make you fall asleep or wake you up or somewhere in between,” Þráinn says. “It’s really interesting to listen to something and then you fall asleep, but you wake up when the music disappears. So strange how you can listen to all that noise, but then when the silence comes you wake up.”
For those self-conscious about their sleep talking or log-saw snoring, Kristín says these sleeping habits often even add to the experience of the concert. “You’ll have to allow yourself to eventually let go of the conscious and see what happens. Everyone has their own experience depending on when you sleep and when you’re awake,” she says. “You may very well end up unconsciously adding to the sonic environment with your snoring or sleep-talking and that’s just great!”
For more information about S.L.Á.T.U.R. or SLÁTURTÍÐ, visit the collective´s website.