As Ólafur Arnalds and his four-piece ensemble trickled onto the stage of The Water Rats in London, something very rare happened – the entire audience risked a beer-soaked backside and got off their feet to sit down in some sort of act of recognition that this wasn’t going to be your average gig with loud guitars and a sweaty drummer. Accordingly, the band arranged themselves in classical quartet style, complete with sheet music on stands, while Arnalds sat behind a battery of electronic equipment and a piano to perform.
‘Fok’, one of the evening’s highlights, is typical of the music played by Arnalds; it has a simple, piano-based introduction consisting of single notes played in a slowly-evolving rhythmical manner with a harmonised riposte from the violins and cello, eventually building to a complex crescendo with synthesised percussion adding a modern feel to a piece of music that might otherwise sound at home on an old film noir soundtrack. Other tracks, or should we call them works, such as ‘Himininn er að hrynja’, show a slightly more thoughtful aspect to Arnalds’ music with modern elements – sampled vocals and other percussion effects erupting from his laptop – becoming more prevalent, as is the case on much of ‘0040’ and ‘3055’.
Like a classical recital, the evening’s highlights are the art of composition and musicianship on display rather than individual songs. Arnolds’ individual tracks do not stand out from one another easily, so the overall impression is one of restrained respect for making consistently palatable, classically-influenced music rather than wild admiration with arms flung in the air at a favourite song or chorus. The type of music Olafur Arnalds plays won’t win any awards or trouble the charts in any way, but it certainly made people do something rarely seen at a gig – stop completely and listen to every note in near-silence.
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