Published October 7, 2015
The new record from Icelandic chamber music ensemble Nordic Affect showcases new works combining historical performance traditions with fresh new sounds. In addition to familiar instruments like the violin and viola, the group plays the traverso (a wooden flute), tthe harpsichord, and the cello-like gamba with acute virtuosity.
The tracks on ‘Clockworking’ are a diverse assembly, beginning and ending with works by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir of the band Amiina. The title track builds up a collection of clock-like circling rhythms. It’s also the odd track out on the album, as most of the rest of the pieces veer away from post-minimalism into the experimental realm. The piece ends a bit abruptly, a sort of half-tapering off.
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir’s “From Beacon to Beacon” is one of the album’s most effective compositions. There is a balance between early music references and contemporary sounds, giving the ensemble a chance to shine. The piece discreetly incorporates electronic samples, harpsichord, and birdcalls along with a few gentle gongs.
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s “Shades of Silence” employs plucked notes, microtonal slides of the strings, and small percussive effects to create an evocative landscape of sounds, reminiscent of a deep, dark forest. The overall workings of the piece are quite minimal, but the atmospheric effect is more than the sum of its parts.
“Sleeping Pendulum” concludes the album and harkens back to Iceland’s earliest musical traditions (duets of sorts called tvísöngur) by reimagining these melodies, veering off sometimes with more dissonance, sometimes with more sweetness and sentimentality. When it concludes, we’re left with the sounds of gentle bells tinkling.
Nordic Affect is already an outstanding ensemble of female players championing the works of female composers, but this album goes further than that. Lying somewhere between accessible ambience, avant-garde classical, early music, and experimental music, ‘Clockworking’ exists in the grey areas where all the interesting music is happening. It may take time to warm up to, but for those willing to give it some careful listening, they will be well rewarded.