Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ólafur Arnalds - Variations of Static (Erased Tapes)

Pórhallur Gunnarsson hosts a popular Icelandic talk show, Kastljós. The show is broadcast six nights a week on a national television network. Almost a hundred thousand viewers tune in each night. That's about one-third of the population of Iceland, which is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle. The climate must be cold. My hands are cupped around a hot coffee mug; I'm halfway across the globe, sitting in my pajamas, waking up to the latest post on YouTube. In the clip that I'm watching, Gunnarsson opens up with an introduction in Icelandic, a language I don't understand. No matter. The music that follows requires no words. The show cuts to a boy sitting behind a grand piano. He is skinny and wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. Next to him is a string quartet. The camera zooms in on his hands. The boy plays a single melody composed of exactly six notes. In the background there is an echo of digital hiss. After an introduction of four repetitions, the quartet joins in. The accompanying harmony and chord progression is indisputably classical. But at about two minutes, the bass kicks in. The boy in a white T-shirt and jeans is a twenty-one year old Ólafur Arnalds. Born in a suburban Icelandic town, Mosfellsbær, he composes melancholic, emotionally fueled, and undeniably beautiful music. Ólafur studied piano when he was very young. After about a year of lessons, he decided to switch to drums instead. He kept his studies in drums up until two years ago, when he switched over again, this time adding classical theory and composition. Influenced by electronic, post-rock, and modern classical music alike, Arnalds incorporates various stylistic elements into his work. He seamlessly embraces contemporary symphonic composition and instruments but also makes use of electronic instrumentation. After I listened to Arnalds's 2007 debut, Eulogy for Evolution, I wanted to express my feelings and thoughts about it. Majestic, graceful, gorgeous and sublime are words that popped into my mind. But they are meager words when compared to the emotion in that music.

Read full Headphone Commute exclusive article:
ÓLAFUR ARNALDS : beautiful in the same way the arctic is… | |

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