Something’s Going On: amiina
“The lighthouse stands alone off the beaten path, transmitting a message out across the ocean. Sometimes, musicians seem to play a similar role: a message is being projected out into the environment, without any guarantee that it will reach its destination. It is impossible to say who will receive it, or to which uses it will be put.
Still, the only option is to keep on transmitting the message.”
— taken from the sleevenotes to amiina’s “The Lighthouse Project”.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
‘The Lighthouse Project’ is the latest chapter in amiina’s much celebrated and cherished songbook of contemporary music. Ever since their debut EP ‘AnimaminA’ was released in 2004, a plethora of transmissions have graced the earth’s atmosphere, direct from their homeland base of Reykjavík, Iceland. The magic of music-making and live performance is inherent in all of amiina’s body of work, and ‘The Lighthouse Project’ is certainly no exception. In fact, in many ways the latest six-track EP showcases the band at the peak of their powers, projecting divine music to the world outside.
The inception of ‘The Lighthouse Project’ came to light in the Summer of 2009, when the band set out on a journey across Iceland, to perform music they had written especially for performances in small places, and in great proximity to the audience. Three years later, these very songs were recorded that would become ‘The Lighthouse Project’. The stunningly beautiful compositions convey the intimacy of ammina’s highly regarded live performance, and takes me back to their many memorable concerts that I’ve fortunately witnessed.
‘Hilli’ is re-worked here, having first been released on the critically acclaimed debut album,’Kurr’ (2007). Lee Hazelwood’s ‘Leather and Lace’ is wonderfully re-interpreted by the Icelandic outfit. The country folk gem from ’71 is transformed into a beguiling piece of music, complete with musical saws, music boxes and stringed instruments. Lee Hazelwood’s baritone is replaced by a meandering musical saw, and guest vocalist Nina Lizell (from the recording I’m familiar with), is exchanged for a mesmerising violin-led melody. The result is nothing short of spectacular. The recording is evocative of The Balanescu Quartet’s re-interpretation of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Robots’. The spark of creativity is dotted across the EP’s six transcendent compositions.
Before his passing, Lee Hazelwood made one final recording, in collaboration with amiina. I think this in itself goes beyond words and is ultimately, a fitting testament to the special group of Icelandic musicians. Interestingly, Hazelwood’s part is a spoken word piece by Wyndham Wallace and was made available (‘Hilli’ 7″) as part of International record store day back in April.
Opener ‘Perth’ is sublime. The slow, drifting melody moves gently like ripples in a river, that contemplates all of life that surrounds you. The music is deeply immersive, where I feel the bliss of solitude wash over me. The sheer love of playing music is clear to witness. Opening moments of fragile guitar notes is soon accompanied by beguiling instrumentation of musical saw. The held sounds of this particular instrument is nothing short of breathtaking. Third track ‘Bíólagið’ is my personal favourite. Like all the pieces of music on ‘The Lighthouse Project’, something magical is captured in the moment – a fleeting moment – that forever remains, recorded to tape.
The aesthetic of live performance lies at the heart of amiina’s sound. The accordion, musical saw, kalimbas and musical boxes blend effortlessly, creating a wholly evocative landscape of delicate sound. Allow your heart to be taken by amiina’s captivating blend of electro-acoustic, neo-classical recordings.
At present the band comprises six members – Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir, Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and Guðmundur Vignir Karlsson (aka Kippi Kaninus). The bands origins go back to the late 1990s when four girls studying string instruments at the Reykjavík College of Music formed a string quartet, playing classical music, but increasingly moving on to playing all sorts of music with various bands in Reykjavík.
In 1999 the quartet joined Icelandic band Sigur Rós on stage. The collaboration has continued ever since with amiina contributing strings to Sigur Rós music on tours and in the recording studio on the albums ( ) , Takk and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. I first crossed paths with ammina’s unique blend of music at Sigur Rós concert in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, in support of their album ( ). I gladly recall the power unleashed by their intimate performance, and just how quiet a space can become. Several years later, the band have returned numerous times to this island of ours, and particularly my hometown of Cork.
As part of this year’s Midsummer Festival, amiina return to Cork Opera House, in what looks set to be a truly special occasion. The event is entitled Gamiina that takes place next Monday, 24th June. Gamiina is a collaborative project produced by Cork Opera House that sees the venue working with 6th class students from Cork Educate Together, the UCC School of Music Gamelan Orchestra and amiina.
The students from Cork Educate Together will be taken through the principles of the Gamelan Orchestra with the object of the project being the interpretation of amiina’s music through the Gamelan – hence the title of the event, as chosen by the students themselves – Gamiina. The project for me, has shades of the near-mythical Langley Schools Music Project – recorded between ’76 and ’77 – where a choir of children’s voices re constructed classic pop songs. Undoubtedly, Gamiina will be the celebration of art and music in all its glorious shapes and forms.
Gamiina – a collaboration between 6th Class Cork Educate Together students, UCC Gamelan Orchestra and amiina – takes place at the Cork Opera House on 24 June at 8pm as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Tickets are €26.
For further information and tickets please click here.
A special website for Gamiina has been set up for the event, to visit please click here.
“The Lighthouse Project” is out now on Sound Of A Handshake.