The Tin Drum: Lost In Space With Úlfur Eldjárn - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Tin Drum: Lost In Space With Úlfur Eldjárn

The Tin Drum: Lost In Space With Úlfur Eldjárn

Published November 3, 2015

Alexander de Ridder
Photos by
Sigtryggur Ari Jóhannsson

As the wonderful sóley prepares to take that stage at Harpa tonight for the third instalment of the ambitious Tin Drum concert series , it seems apt to look back at last month’s edition. That show saw Úlfur Eldjárn perform his Aristókrasía Project, and if it’s any indication of what we can expect from future Tin Drum shows, you should go ahead and sign me up for a season pass.

I’d heard very little of Úlfur’s free-spirited music before attending, and the prospect of discovering a new artist while attending a once in a lifetime concert got me excited. Úlfur’s music is… hard to describe. What he presented at Harpa that night was a blend of different genres, reminiscent of a film score, while also sounding quite poppy, with heavy synth undertones. It was incomparable, and matched up almost-perfectly to the video projected on-screen, creating a very emotional soundscape. (The concert was also unique in a sense, I learned, as Aristókrasía features Úlfur’s synthesiser, drummer and the string quartet on hand supplemented by sounds from the composer’s improvised electronics, meaning that no two performances are quite the same.)

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Entering the concert hall at Harpa, I found that the venue rather smaller than I had expected, well fitting for the porthole view of Earth seen from space that was projected on a screen above the stage. As people poured into the room and stage time drew closer, the collective feeling of anticipation rose and the audience snapped pictures like crazy, eager to create something tangible to remember the concert by.

The concert started well, with the music taking on a lonely, haunted feel. Already impressed by the first track, the second song absolutely floored me. Those strings man, they tugged at my heart. Combined with Úlfur’s beautiful, haunting melodies and some amazing drum work keeping me on edge, they almost made me lose it. As the visuals and audio synced up perfectly, I felt the kind of overwhelming loneliness I imagine the first astronaut must have felt—that literal and figurative distance from the rest of humanity. Thrilled, I thought to myself that it couldn’t get better.

And it didn’t.

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Úlfur seemed to peak early, and while the songs that followed that were good in varying degrees, he never quite reached that same harmony between audio and video. In one song, an ode to science (apparently), he went overboard with the synth sounds (specifically: a very loud, very high-pitched beep). Other songs were marred by the video’s slow pace, which was at odds with their more up-beat sections. In fact, after the night’s second song, the video and audio were never perfectly in unison. Perhaps there was meaning to be found there, a deeper truth that Úlfur was trying to unveil to the audience. If there was, it went straight over my head.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the ride—I very much did. Úlfur and his band of cosmonaut-enablers made good music. My problem is that to me, that good music seemed exclusively meant to convey the feeling of being alone in space, removed from civilisation (insofar as I know what that’s like, anyway).

When Úlfur announced that “This is going to be the last song”, my first thought was “already? But you just started; the set can’t be over already!” It turned out that he’d been playing for over an hour. I would gladly have listened to an hour more, at least.

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If you’re ever in a position to see Úlfur Eldjárn perform, you should go for it, no questions asked. And if this show is any indicator of the quality of music that will be showcased at the Tin Drum, you’ll be seeing me there every month, all winter. Starting tonight: I strongly recommend you check out tonight’s sóley show. Just save me a ticket, please?

Want to see Úlfur Eldjárn for yourself? He’s playing Iceland Airwaves 2015! Head over to our listings page to learn when and where!


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