From Iceland — Soundscapes And Spontaneity: lowercase Night Puts Ambient Music Front And Centre

Soundscapes And Spontaneity: lowercase Night Puts Ambient Music Front And Centre

Published April 6, 2018

Soundscapes And Spontaneity: lowercase Night Puts Ambient Music Front And Centre
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

lowercase night is the brainchild of Nicolas Kunysz, an ambient musician and sound enthusiast. “When I started it, I worked at what is now Húrra,” he tells me, sitting in Prikið during a noisy lunchtime rush. “On Sunday, there was nothing going on, so often I would take my gear behind the bar—a looper or something—and play for the night.”

Nicolas’s soundscapes quickly gained attention, and the owners gave him permission to host an ambient-themed night. He then teamed up with Sindri Geirsson—another ambient artist—in planning the lowercase events, which later moved to Prikið.

Sindri and Nicolas’ differing characters balance each other out. Nicolas talks rapidly, with a Belgian-accented mumble. His conversational style is meandering and stream-of-consciousness style. Sindri, meanwhile, speaks carefully, with ample pauses. They finish each other’s sentences and correct each other—the true mark of close business partners.   

Fully sensory

While lowercase started as a soundscape night, it has since morphed into a full sensory experience where a musician, group or ensemble pick a film and improvise a soundtrack live. “It’s like how a silent film was back in the day, but with ambient music,” Sindri says. He pauses as the milk frother at the bar rattles. “And it’s on Sunday, when everyone is hungover and needs a bit of a brain massage.”

The films chosen have ranged from contemplative pictures like Herzog’s ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ to slasher movies like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. The two emphasise that the event is based around ambient music, not film. “You’re using the music to giving meaning to the film instead of vice versa,” Sindri says. The two are serious about the improvisational element. Musicians are often asked to perform only days before the event, intentionally giving them minimal time to prepare.

“It’s like how a silent movie was back in the day, but now with ambient music.”

Come in, zone out

Both musicians also stress that lowercase isn’t a pretentious niche thing, as can be the case with something so experimental. In fact, they actively strive for a different atmosphere. “Prikið has a downtown bar vibe, so people who are not the type for ambient just walk in—some random tourist, or a drunk on his third day,” says Nicolas. “It’s a surprise for them. They come in, and zone out for a few hours.”

Ambient music is an acquired taste, so the night became a way for newbies to enter the genre, with the film making it more accessible. “People really get lost in it,” adds Sindri.

On the spot

Artists chosen range from eclectic DJs like Harry Knuckles to electronic musicians like Kira Kira. Sometimes the performers are even paired unexpectedly to improvise. “Once we had Kira Kira, Þóranna Dögg Björnsdóttir, and Jarþrúður Karlsdóttir,” says Sindri. “They are really different artists but it was great.” The recording is available on their Soundcloud.  

Both Nicolas and Sindri have participated multiple times as musicians in lowercase as well. “I pick a film with the least amount of spoken word, something with cinematic frames,” Nicolas says. “I’d like to do a documentary next, maybe ‘Gates of Heaven.’ If you are playing ambient and you have something like that, you can…”

He’s interrupted by the milk frother again. “There,” says Nicolas. “See, that’s a soundscape.”

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