From Iceland — Airwords: Poets Bring Voice to the Party

Airwords: Poets Bring Voice to the Party

Published November 1, 2013

Airwords: Poets Bring Voice to the Party

The Airwords event offered an interesting new angle to Airwaves ’13 by bringing, some of Iceland’s most notable writers to the party.  The event was a mix of readings and music sets.  Harpa Kaldalón was a comfortable and classy room for the entire evening and notably enhanced with the live projection work form artist Marcos Zotes, who contributed real-time visual manipulation of the texts being read.  Event organizer, Andri Snær Magnason’s worries of poetry being a strange vibe for the festival should be put to rest, as all signs from the well attended evening indicated a great time!

To “the heartbeat of a whale” Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s opening lines were reflective, and beautiful.  Reading both from stories and poetry, she wove a tapestry of images that quickly carried the audience into world’s her own.  These pieces, “recipes” were honest and graceful; filled with the intricacies of microscopic day to day life.

Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s reading followed and spun further into the realm of the personal, and intimate.  Her reading was unabashed and beautiful, moving at provocative pace. “The scope of lust to live up to the aesthetic standards of the landscape,” themes of sex, love, age, and place, where cast forward in sensuous rhythm, so affectingly and effectively , I  continuously found myself to asking “wait what did she just say?”

Elín Ey sung her way into the first musical departure of the evening.  A mixture of sparse rootsy acoustic songs, mostly in Icelandic offered a glimpse into this promising singer’s world. Her most notable moment for me was the gorgeously subdued cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams.  Possibly one of the hardest songs to cover well as a singer songwriter without running the risk of the “Freebird foul,” she owned it in a pure and original way.

Taking “cremation applications” Hallgrímur Helgason read from “Woman a Thousand Degrees.”  The infamous “101 Reykjavík” author was as much a character as one would hope after reading any of his writing.  A darkly hilarious chapter of dialogue between a crematorium receptionist and an old woman hoping to make her appointment for the incinerator, made me question if indeed the temperature of the room would start to rapidly rise at any given moment.  His reading finished with the vicious poem “Suite and Tie” describing the 2008 collapse.

The Australian singer-songwriter and half of The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster, was the only real lackluster set of the evening.  Entering the stage to a packed and visibly excited audience, Forster’s explanation for his lack of a set list felt dry and pretentious.  Further, upon learning this was his first appearance in Iceland despite the impressive span of his career, that sentiment deepened.  Most of the audience seemed to enjoy what he did pull out of his catalogue, but for me the spark that seems to flicker between much of the Airwaves performers and the audience seemed to be missing.

Moving forward, conspirator of the evening Andri Snær Magnason, delved into the displacement of the contemporary urban Icelander beginning with readings from his “Bonus” poems.  The best of Magnason’s contribution to the evening however, came in the explanation of-and reading from-his latest novel: “Lovestar.”  A grim mixture of sci-fi and and Orwellian social commentary, the work speaks of a world in which we have moved beyond wireless technologies and into an age of corporately dictated communications, fed into our mind via the frequencies of bird navigation.  A potent theme in Magnason’s writing, the concept of the idea as creator, dictator, and possibly destroyer, has never been so well engineered than in “Lovestar.”  This work finds him at a new pinnacle in an already profound career.

Not to be outdone by the affecting cast of Icelandic literary greats, Seattle based writer Ryan Boudinot closed the readings.  His humility amongst the group was punctuated by gifting his personal signed copy of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” to Iceland.  In an ever increasing era of government shutdowns, arrogant international bullying, spying, and other illogically spoiled teenage behavior, Boudinot stated that the work he was passing along was something that made him honestly proud of where he writes from.  His story “Bleeding Man and Wounded Deer” offered glimpse into a literary voice that also deserves much gratitude and pride.  A fantastically bizarre account of  bleeding out whilst carrying on daily tasks and conversations, and the possibility of falling for a female deer, this reading could have warranted entire thesis papers and critical discourse.

After a twenty-minute break, Brooklyn based Empress Of shook the room into an entirely different universe.  To put it another way, she blew the fucking roof off, unintended dance party on-stage included.  Empress Of is the solo project of 23 yr old artist Lorely Rodriguez, and this performance marked her Iceland debut.  kicking the set off with soaring vocals, shimmering synths, glitched beats, and superbly synced live drums, her and her band stole the house.  The house filled, and filled, and filled… until a few brave audience members multiplied into a frenzied dancing mob on stage.  Each song a roller coaster of amazingly textured experimental pop, wondrous yearning, and dripping heartache, I had to pull my own embarrassingly gushing heart off the floor.  The line mid-set “now that I know that you exist, I will never let you go…” summed it up and for those of you who read this I recommend you heed her advice, and catch Empress Of, Friday at Center Hotel-3:00pm!

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Last up for the evening was Lay Low.  It was a perfect comedown set before being released back into the night.  The unmistakable vocals and profound cohesion of her band brought the show to a perfect simmer.  The genuine warmth and presence in Lay Low’s set was welcoming and rich.  Moving between deep grooves and arctic like frenzies, I thoroughly enjoyed every turn.

All in All Airwords was a classy night.  I applaud the concept and look forward to seeing the evolution of this event at future Airwaves!


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