From Iceland — Iðnó – Friday

Iðnó – Friday

Published October 17, 2009

Iðnó’s concert hall crackled loudly with its first musician. Multitasker Matthew Collings mixed and looped a mélange of vibrant bass chord-drones and percussion, overlaid by his own unadorned vocals. His North Carolinian drummer gave a spirited and hypnotic performance. Most convincing as Collings worked his electric guitar, his set for Bedroom Community’s conscientiously curated night for Airwaves promised an evening of wonder, danger, climax, and sweet retreat.
For Puzzle Muteson’s set, the audience gathered close, sitting cross-legged. Muteson’s acoustic guitar and plaintive voice were joined by two pianists (including Nico Muhly). To build intimacy in a space like Iðnó is no small feat, but Muteson masterfully managed it. His spare, direct lyrics could rend any heart in two: “I left your house; you let me. I left you ugly.” Sublime.
For the evening’s third set, several chamber musicians (some of whom wowed at Thursday night’s Hjaltalín show) joined composer/conductor Daníel Bjarnason to share his new work. Soft orchestral dawns rose in Bjarnason’s first song, “All Sounds to Silence Come,” and then sound lurched and whirled, eddying in a sailing dawn’s wake. The musicians dove ferociously into “Bow to String,” a three-part movement written for cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. Hints of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” sprung to life, only to be rushed from ears in a dervish for the next aural vista. Imagine curving north past Höfn along Iceland’s East fjörds with the constant shifting scenery and desperate urge to fall in love with a landscape and never want to leave and never wish to die and that’s what Bjarnason and his colleagues conjured sonically. I never want to leave Bjarnason’s compositions.
After an efficient break, the stage lights were extinguished and Tim Hecker introduced the audience to industry and metal… not in the sense of musical genres, but in the quality of sound. We’re talking gritty, dirty, sulfurized silver. He built a home of fuzz and power lines and fumaroles for the audience. For sets like Hecker’s – focused on computer-driven minimalism – the music was felt due to increased decibel levels. This showcased an active collaboration with the evening’s soundboard operator, Daniel Rejmer, who helped to push listening to the bitter edge of comfort. This proved a solid reminder that we hear with more than our ears; even my clothes shivered in the presence of such massive bass.
A charming soundcheck preceded Nico Muhly’s performance, displaying his outstanding capacity for casual, witty stage banter. The crowd cheered when he informed us he’d put on his “fucking party dress” for the night’s show. So in his finest frock, Muhly entranced with his opening gambit, Quiet Music, full of the softest bodily curls and leans into his piano keys and the sharpest attacks and jabs of its keys. His epic departure featured a composition written for Helgi Hrafn Jónsson (vocals/trombone). They exposed beauty as the vicious, visceral beast he is. What mermen! Consider yourself officially duty-bound to witness Muhly’s expert work and joie de vivre the next chance you get.
Ben Frost dedicated his set to Davíð Oddsson and then launched into an unusual blend of constancy, freneticism, drone, and tremble. The treble-dominant intro was soon paired with the rumbling bass I’ve grown to long for in Frost’s work. His set featured some work from the soon-to-be-released album “By the Throat.” Frost’s songs growled and
snarled in Iðnó’s dim midnight, a clear and dedicated promise to fight the political and economic bullshit facing this country – songs as battle cry, Frost as warrior. Sonic assault. Fucking fierce! Barefoot and bareheaded, Frost’s strength lay in his music’s yield and availability. Sound was splayed wide; engage if you dare.
I couldn’t be any more full of my own happiness than witnessing this night. Bravo and oh and oh to Bedroom Community for their righteous curation and stellar performances. This is passionate, necessary music. Blessed, blessed!
Photos by Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson

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