Friday, March 4, 2011

Electroacoustics from Iceland

One of the joys of reviewing is the unexpected, the music that I never would have found, except for the promotional copy that arrives in my inbox. Such a case is a young Icelandic electroacoustician, Bjarni Gunnarsson, whose first solo album, Safn 2006-2009, was released last year on the Belgian microlabel Lamadameaveclechien (the lady with the dog, in French). Gunnarsson is a member of the duo Einóma, who has a parallel release on Lamadameaveclechien, a 12-inch EP beatfest, Tvenna. He comes to music from a strong academic background in computer science, with some time spent at CCMIX in Paris studying with Gerard Pape and Trevor Wishart. He is also a masters student at the Institute of Sonology studying "Connective Compositional Environments," a method of working on several structural levels simultaneously.

Here's how Gunnarsson describes his research:
The central question for my research is how to define musical processes as operational objects, how these objects can interact in a network of objects and how this can create a flexible and adaptable composition environment. Each object would respond to well defined high-level methods and general parameters making the non-linear transition between time scales possible. The composer is here an important component of the network and guiding its behavior.

I didn't find this description until after hearing the music several times, but it's completely apt for the album. It's almost like Pierre Schaeffer's sound objects woke up and started walking around. I found myself selecting certain sounds as characters in the drama that unfolds over the course of the album. In particular, several tracks feature a stick percussion sound, something like a tom-tom or a taiko drum. It signals sectional changes in Aftur; steps out for an expressive, virtuosic closing to Blindi; initiates various sound events in Udrun and Dried Up; drives Time Out forward with a ghostly drum'n'bass. The interaction between the drum and various electronics opening Dried Up would bring to mind a human interaction, except that the skittering electronics sound so alien that I could not imagine any kind of instrumental origin.

The artist's brief statement on the label web site says that "the sound material varies from voices, violins and percussive sounds," so perhaps voices take on a character role as well. They are most prominent on Blindi, where a wordless female choir provides some of the most ethereal drones on the album before they are buried under the effects and lost in white noise. But this is the only track where voices are identifiable as such (except for a brief whisper in Dried Up). But another character is almost a process more than a sound, the transition from pitch to pulses made famous in Stockhausen's Kontakte. Gunnarsson uses this sonic splintering to great effect on several pieces, peeling elements from the drone in layers, possessing them to melodic dissipation, as new sounds emerge to replace them.

If voices, violins and percussive sounds are the source for all of the sounds on the album, the timbral variation is even more astounding. I suspect that he uses original designed sounds as well. The music reminds me also of Parmegiani, specifically in the way both artists create percussive sound objects and exploring their resonance. In any event, the album has seven tracks, all in the six-eight minute range. The artist sent me a download, but the CD is available in two limited editions, by itself, or with a different cover packaged with the Einóma EP. As far as I can tell, it's available only from the label, which also has a couple of streaming clips. It deserves a wider distribution, and fans of new electroacoustic music should definitely check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Big, big thanks for that truly wondwerful review. After having read it I rushed to order the CD plus the Einoma LP. Great stuff - and yes, without your marvelous blog I would havwe never found it.