From Iceland — A Dry Account Of A Juicy Event

A Dry Account Of A Juicy Event

Published March 19, 2012

A Dry Account Of A Juicy Event

15:00 – 21:00 Kaldalón Hall
I arrived about ten minutes late. I wasn’t sure if I had missed conductor Ilan Volkov’s opening remarks to this sound installation so I sat down and waited, listening to whispering all around me. There was nothing but a lonely microphone on the stage, and I started to feel like I wasn’t supposed to be there, which is a common feeling in such installations. “Something is about to start,” the voice whispered, almost into my ear and the responsible artist, Maya Dunietz, walked to the microphone and bellowed a delayed moan into the mic. “Vow, vow, vow!” The invisible voice sounded really impressed. By now, a couple of pre-teen girls in the audience had realised the awesomeness of the lonesome mic and the interactivity in the whispering voices.

As interactive sound installations go, “Open Mic Night” was pretty impressive. Rather than analysing the meaning of this piece or getting wrapped up in hidden messages and artistic pretentiousness, I prefer to judge it by its entertainment value. I would say that an installation is successful if it is thoroughly enjoyed by children as they’re supposed to be the harshest critics. So I agree with those pre-teen girls: This installation was fun!
16:00 Norðurljós Hall
I haven’t heard many of Guðmundur Steinsson’s works, but what they have in common is that they’re all interesting in theory. “Horpma III” was no exception: twenty-seven plucked string instruments, each plucking only two notes, fifty-four notes total, in three octaves. The musicians were divided into three groups, each in their own corner of the room, each reading moving notations from a projector. Interesting, yes. 

Its asymmetric quality had at times the potential to be a solid soundscape, but maybe my location in the hall rendered it impossible for me to enjoy the piece as much as those situated in the sonic sweet spot, wherever that was.

I though Charles Ross’s “Ventriloquist” achieved better what “Horpma III” attempted to achieve: violins, bass, and water splashes seemed aimless and disorganized, but slowly the individual plucks found each other and harmony ensued. It seemed to end before it started and I mean that in a good way.

After Áki Ásgeirsson’s “284°” I heard someone in the crowd say, “I always enjoy Áki’s work; he’s the only one of the extremely smart modern composers that I can listen to without the feeling like I need to read the manual.” I couldn’t have agreed more. It is amazing how much a couple of fog machines and a laser can do for a show! But the piece itself featured a perfect marriage of electronic noise drones and brass. Very enjoyable. The star of this hour.

17:00 Eldborg Hall
For the piece called “Electronic Light Orchestra” by Jesper Pedersen the audience was ushered on the higher balconies, making everyone look down on the orchestra. It was a visual performance accompanied by individual plucks that were in the spotlight at each time. Even chairs scraping against the floor had been written into the music. All this was accompanied with a harp that blinked when plucked. It was interesting and pleasing to see how music can be applied to anything. It just needed to make (at least a little) sound.

“The Colours of the Jellyfish” by Frank Denyer made me feel like I was hearing the greatest story ever told, in a language I didn’t understand. There was an occasional soprano, a boy’s choir, a rattling of a plant and gentle stroke. It was very minimal. I am seldom this excited about this little activity.

18:30 Norðurljós Hall
It proved difficult to keep sensible notes during the performance of the fantastic “Third Music for European Concert hall (Norðurljós; iso: I love my life).” The orchestra sat in rotating chairs, changing the direction they faced in a well-timed and choreographed fashion. Bergþór Pálsson narrated something intelligible that I didn’t really get because I was so dazzled with what was going on. But he sounded and looked great. Looking at my notes after the fact there were scribbled exclamations such as, “I’m totally loving these crazy antics,” and “maybe the best thing I’ve ever seen!” It made me feel like all music, like this should be rearranged for the room that it’s delivered in.

20:00 Eldborg Hall
I was a little bit washed out after Benedict Mason’s assault on the senses so Morton Feldman’s super minimal “Palais De Mari,” played by John Tilbury, was a very welcome treat. For the untrained ear (mine), minimal piano pieces sound like random plucks and meaningless twinkle. This work, however, didn’t. I can’t really put my finger on why that is, but somehow these shy, seemingly sporadic notes kept hinting at what we could not hear. As if the majesty of the piece would have killed us all if the bulk of it wouldn’t have been erased from the sheets.

While “Palais De Mari” could be described as quiet, I don’t really know how to describe what it when Oren Ambarchi joined John Tilbury with his guitar. Subatomic? Subtle would be an understatement, but that was only the audio aspect of it. I enjoyed the set because it could be felt more than heard. The frequencies were turned so low that the air in Eldborg vibrated, making texture out of silence.

21:00 Norðurljós Hall
Entering my sixth hour of non stop minimalism, it was time for S.L.Á.T.U.R, a group of experimental and “artistically demanding” modern composers. As a group they are disarmingly charming in their nerdy sound experiments. Introducing instruments such as the Airwaves Tube, a 3-metre long plastic tube to create a sonic airwave. They presented a handful of pieces, each of them about five to ten minutes. My favourites were “Clam” by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir for delivering a very nice lingering polyrhythm and Ingi Garðar Erlendsson’s “Steinn Tennis” (Rock Tennis), the notation of which was a projected game of tennis. It made me smile. 

22:00 The Foyer
After a day of intensely subtle performances, a full-scale sonic assault of four school brass bands was just mean. In a good way though, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. Luciano Berio’s “Accordo for four brass bands” was performed well by the kids and it sounded wonderful in the Harpa.

After this I went to see Ghostigital perform John Cage’s “Indeterminacy” with Ásgerður Júníusdóttir, followed by the last act of the festival: conductor Ilan Volkov playing Cage’s cacti piece, “Child of Tree.” 

That piece summed things up for me. I loved this festival, and I’m glad that it’s going to be an annual event. I think it’s a breath of fresh air that breaks the common misconception of orchestral music: that it has to be conservative and safely rely on tradition. A band is a band, whether or not it has tens of trained professional musicians or not, and classical orchestras should still strive to push the boundaries for the sake of relevance and that’s what I saw during Tectonics. 

That said, it should also be kept in mind that it’s not enough to create interesting sounds out of unlikely instruments. Here’s hoping that someone in the audience takes the ideas presented a step further.

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