Two contrasting modes of mixing music and visual imagery were on offer at RIFF´s film-concert of Skúli Sverrisson and Sóley at Fríkirkjan on September 28.
Sóley Stefánsdóttir, a frequent collaborator of Seabear’s Sindri Már Sigfússon, stood in a pool of light at centre stage in front of projected photos and video of tranquil landscapes and ocean water by Sindri’s partner Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir. She accompanied herself on guitar or keyboard, aided by the odd rhythmic ruffle from her tastefully discreet drummer, in self-composed songs of considerable charm. This was a straightforward concert performance with filmic backdrop that made few demands on its audience’s attention and succeeded with ease in showcasing the talents of a new solo performer on the Icelandic musical scene. Particularly effective was Sóley’s use of loop pedals to create her own Owen-Pallett-esque back-up choir.
The performance of New-York-based jazz musician and composer Skúli Sverrisson was of a different order entirely, as was the film that it accompanied. Seated modestly in the shadows at the back of the stage, he delivered a live performance of a score that served and enriched its visual subject matter in the most intimate way. This should be no surprise as he collaborated with the filmmaker at every step in the years-long effort required to produce the film.
Jennifer Reeve’s critically acclaimed experimental film ‘When It Was Blue’ (2008) is a double-projection montage (combined into a single print for this screening) of two visual layers—one hand-painted, the other naturally-shot footage treated in various ways, each created on 16mm film. Flickering or fast-moving images of nature scenes, some shot in Iceland, are presented in four sections, representing the four seasons. Leaves quiver, insects creep, trees tower, and water flows past in an evocation of the vibrant pulsing of Nature. This is a film that the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus—who imagined the natural world in terms of continuous motion and change—would have loved.
The instrumentation used to reduce for solo performance a score originally written for harmonium, organ, clarinets & guitars was ingenious: a baritone guitar (combining the ranges of the bass and standard guitar) and a so-called “shortie” (12-string guitar, sounding an octave higher), plus the simplest of electronics: distortion, reverb and expression pedals.
Skúli’s texture of continuously arpeggiated, slowly changing harmonies haunted the screen, with overtones masking the attack of individual notes so as to create a smooth, often shimmering sonic surface that complemented the water imagery, in particular, extremely well.
But the length of the film, over an hour, played against its obvious merits. Its jiggly handheld camera work, high-contrast images, and lack of narrative arc risked creating a uniformity of effect that may have fatigued those less keen on pre-Socratic philosophy who deserted their balcony seats before the film was over.