From Iceland — Track By Track: 'Influence Of Buildings On Musical Tone' By Þráinn Hjálmarsson

Track By Track: ‘Influence Of Buildings On Musical Tone’ By Þráinn Hjálmarsson

Published September 20, 2018

Track By Track:  ‘Influence Of Buildings On Musical Tone’ By Þráinn Hjálmarsson
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Composer Þráinn Hjálmarsson’s debut effort, ‘Influence Of Buildings On Musical Tone’, is one of cultivated emotion. Containing five recent chamber works, it’s a thorough exploration of what Þráinn offers—beautiful music based in ruminative academia. We sat down with him to chat about the album, track by track.

1. ‘Influence of buildings on musical tone’ — (CAPUT Ensemble)

Ilan Volkov commissioned this work for the Tectonics Music Festival in 2013. It was premiered in the then recently opened Harpa, so I wanted to embrace this wonderful new place with a look back in history by giving a nod to the main acoustic spaces in Iceland for centuries—the Icelandic turf house. It is an homage to the intimacy of this damped acoustic environment, moved into a fine concert hall.

The title derives from an article by Hope Bagenal, who argues that the resonance and reverberation of medieval churches played an important role in the development of musical thought. As turf houses have extremely dry acoustics, an Icelandic response would be spun from a fictional sound world, as if it had been shaped from centuries of musical interaction with these acoustics.

2. ‘Grisaille’ – (The Icelandic Flute Ensemble)

“Music is hidden within our perception of the world.”

To me, all objects contain hidden narratives that speak to certain worldviews, possessing secret voices that we converse with, consciously and unconsciously. It is from this conversation—with our environment, acoustic spaces, instruments and attitude—that music emerges. Music is hidden within our perception of the world.

Here, I collaborated with artist Sigurður Guðjónsson and the Icelandic Flute Ensemble for a film by Guðjónsson, ‘RELIEF.’ The result was a flute work with a glacial gravitas, which left space for the visuals of Guðjónsson to speak.

3. ‘Persona’ – (Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir)

Written for composer and viola player Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir in 2014, ‘Persona’ is a quiet and intimate work, a collage of minute sounds. Similar to a small sculpture in a vast exhibition space, this piece really embraces the concert setting and highlights the non-cochlear dynamic that exists between performer and audience.

This aspect is a bit absent on the recording, but one way to go around this would be to play the track softly into a wet acoustic space and listen closely to the verge between sound and silence.

4. ‘Mise en scène’ – (Ensemble Adapter)

Ensemble Adapter is a quartet of flute, clarinet, harp and percussion based in Berlin. It is not often that you get the chance to hear such a unified group. This work is a continuation of the exploration proposed in the title track: the exploration of the intimate dry soundworld.

5. ‘Lucid / Opaque’ – (Nordic Affect)

At the time of writing, I wanted to strip everything down and leave bareboned music. The Nordic Affect’s background is based in Baroque and I was hugely inspired by the string bowing technique of that period.

This work is also largely inspired by parenthood. When you explore the world through infant eyes, things that you would consider obsolete are filled with new discovery. Things never happen the same twice and those details can be gigantic when time is given to explore them. In the work, the perception of sound is ever transforming, revealing an otherwise obfuscated narrative, unfolding in time.

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