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Chosen One: Amiina

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Interview with María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Amiina.

“…I think we all felt that we wanted to broaden out to other things and playing with Sigur Rós was key to that: to realize that even dealing with string instruments we can do whatever we can and to evoke your own musicality in your own way is a wonderful thing.”

— María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir

Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Craig Carry

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“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”.

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 with each new project and musical venture – scoring the works for Lotte Reiniger’s  fairy tale films is one of the more recent artistic explorations – showcasing (as ever) the band at the peak of their powers, projecting divine music to the world outside.

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’ spellbinding 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.

In much the same way as Lotte Reiniger’s utterly timeless fairy tale films, inspired by Chinese silhouette puppetry, the resolutely unique music of Amiina occupies its own wonderful and visionary world of sound whose trajectory points to where the land meets the sea, forever reaching new horizons.

 

http://www.amiina.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/amiina/

 

Interview with María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Amiina.

I’m really excited about your upcoming live show in Cork this September. It looks very special in the way that it will be a live score to animated films by Lotte Reiniger. I’d love for you to discuss your love for this director and your reason for going with this idea?

María Sigfúsdóttir: Initially it was a commission or an idea from a theatre festival called the Branchage Film Festival asked us to look into scoring one of Lotte Reiniger’s films. And because we didn’t know Reiniger’s films before, as soon as we saw her work and her style and the whole setting we thought it was a perfect match. So after composing the first film we thought we might continue and throughout the years we have revisited that to add one more because these films are quite short; each of them is like ten or fifteen minutes. So we added throughout the years a number of scores so this time in Ireland we will be doing one new score – a brand new score – so in total we have made scores for five films so we’ll be performing three scores, among them will be one new one. So we are slowly building up a collection of scores to selected short films and we hope eventually we will be able to release with all the visuals because it is a kind of two-part thing because it is a fairy-tale, some of them are well-known and some are less well-known to us today. Since they were not silent in their original version so we need to narrate them through the music so it’s a kind of two-part thing. We always feel like we’re collaborating with Lotte Reiniger even though she has passed away.

For creating the music itself the process must be quite different from making your own Amiina albums or in a way it may not be all that dissimilar?

MS: It is different in a way that we totally follow the story-line and to be able to make it really clear even though it’s not exactly theatrical we try to take the meaning and atmosphere of each scene in the film and reproduce them in the music what we feel like. When you have a narrator, the story tells you what is coming up, if it’s a scary part for example and because we are skipping the narrator –we just have it on mute – we need to emphasize the story-lines in order for the whole thing to be understood. It usually comes really naturally to us, what feel or sound or instrumentation is suitable each time and also since that the stories are quite varied, some of them are from The Brothers Grimm which are more Nordic tales and some is from ‘One Thousand And One Arabian Nights’ which is a totally different world and sound world and heritage so it’s also fun to switch between those atmospheres in there. Usually we let the films tell us the music: we don’t try to compose it, we try to find the music within the films and extract it out without interfering too much.

It’s a wonderful match because even the music of Amiina across the different albums possess this sort of fairy-tale and magical realm in the music so it’s very fitting that this collaboration has come about.

MS: Well I feel it is a good match because fairy-tales in general, they are timeless even though they originate in a certain time they have traveled across centuries and over and over when you tell the same story it becomes timeless where you have a feel of something ancient but because it is in the now it’s kind of timeless. Lotte Reiniger’s technique of the silhouette animation was also timeless, it’s something that was done in Indonesia like the shadow puppetry have been in Indonesia for centuries and it’s something that is global and also her language of imagery is timeless – it’s not set in time like when you see 80’s cartoons they look like 80’s cartoons and they don’t look like anything else – and with Amiina’s sound quality it’s kind of the same. We don’t rely on technique or a style that has tied us with a certain bracket in music so all of these things; the storylines of the fairy-tales and Lotte Reiniger’s technique and Amiina’s sound world, they are all referring to past and present so it is open and it’s not referring to anything else in itself which is nice, we don’t have an electric guitar that is in a way an 18th century painting from a tale set in Germany or whatever. So I think it’s made it fairly easy for us to access the work in that way.

Even the instrumentation that you have, there is so many possibilities between the wide array of instruments you use, for example the saw. There’s always so many wonderful elements in the music.

I’d love for you to go back to when you and the other three members originally met at the College of Music and first formed Amiina?

MS: Basically we – the four girls – started out as a string quartet and in music college we were probably all open to searching for new energy even though we didn’t realize back then. So after having worked together, we found that it was really important who you work with and what energy and the energy was so relaxed that we didn’t need to decide on or speak about actively on things, it just happened so we decided on working further and taking things further. After playing with Sigur Rós as a string section, I think we found out that it’s probably the energy that we liked within the string quartet was similar to what people feel like when they are in a band, you know things happen easily without too much discussion and you get that musical flow.

So we decided on trying to make our own music and trying making music on other instruments than the strings because our focal point and point of view and all the music we had done before that had been through the strings. And with the work with Sigur Rós, we discovered that there are so many ways of making music even if you have this one instrument: the sound quality and sound production and the whole context of it; it matters. So basically we had been in classical music trained like the classical music trains you – you are specifically dealing with very specified kind of music and your focus is really specified. There is nothing wrong with that but I think we all felt that we wanted to broaden out to other things and playing with Sigur Rós was key to that: to realize that even dealing with string instruments we can do whatever we can and to evoke your own musicality in your own way is a wonderful thing.

So we just decided to start by playing around with whatever we had and in the beginning it was weird because we decided not to make songs on a guitar, bass and drums because we didn’t know how to play those instruments. We thought that there are so many bands in the world who play those instruments and know how to play them, it’s kind of a waste of time for us to do that because we are probably stronger in other things. We decided to take up things that were not particularly used on as instruments and that’s where all this started with the glass spoon and the saw and bells and all of these things that are not typical in a band but is more just out of curiosity and the fact that we didn’t know how to play the guitar and drums. We found out since we started that it was really free also to approach another instrument or something that produced sound we were not experts on because we had been training quite hard with the strings and with so much knowledge of what is good and bad on an instrument it can be limiting.

So if you have no idea of what you are doing sometimes you just let go of all those things so I love when people who are musicians approach an instrument that they don’t know how to play I think that is the most natural sound that are produced is when people are not so self-aware of themselves and that’s where we started. Then when we had collected a bunch of weird instruments we started forming more into the direction where we are today and we still do have a lot of other instruments – when travelling we can’t travel with all of them because of the airline business [laughs] – so we bring half of the instruments and it always compromises what we can bring with us.

lighthouseproject_craigcarry

It’s always lovely looking back over a band’s discography and particularly with Amiina where each album tells its own unique story. For example, the Lighthouse Project must have been a very interesting experience?

MS: Yeah that was really interesting. I think for us with a point in time when we took a couple of steps back from complicated sounds and production into less is more through the fact that we happened to have this series of lighthouse concerts. I guess it’s similar in Ireland, our lighthouses are really small and there are many so if you want to play a lighthouse sometimes you might be fitted in a tall building that has many floors but with a really tiny ground floor. Some of them might be acoustically brilliant and reverberating and some of them are a boxed shape and you might be playing within the machinery – these places don’t all have electricity so they need to have old oil machines – so you might be seated in a totally different setting but all of them are quite small. So, the audience is crammed really close and the feeling of the end of the edge of the land where the land meets the sea and the feeling of this intimacy and the feeling of the purpose of this building – a lighthouse which is to produce light to guide the ships – so we got really surprised how strong that feeling is and I do know that a lot of people fantasize this about lighthouses since it’s also something from the past when people used to live in them and run them so a lot of them are automatic but these places there is nothing really like it because they are buildings in a place where people wouldn’t choose to live because they need to be there because of the navigation of it. So they are quite amazing I think.

I love how in more recent years with the added elements of drums and electronics there are new dimensions to your own music and sound world.

MS: Yeah it’s quite a few layers now that we can travel between. I think we would love to be able to keep hold of the various forms of Amiina so we can switch between the intimate into the larger settings as well.

I wonder actually María what are your thoughts or would you have ideas for the next Amiina record?

MS: Well it’s an interesting question because Amiina has been on a really slow pace in the past three years because we’re all having kids and we’re at the stage where family life takes more time so really we can do whatever we like, there is no channel for it. We have been wondering and we are quite excited actually to see what happens next. I guess we will just try to let it happen naturally, we’ve never taken a conscious step before and it’s been really good for us not to push things because if it’s too calculated – in a way we’ve tried this to be like, OK we have done this and that and it was really cool to do more of this – and when you force things into a direction it hasn’t been working really well with us. So I think we’re just really looking forward to seeing what we create – because now we’re obviously older and everyone has experienced different things and that will all probably affect how we make and what music we make – so it’s just interesting to see.

It must have been a nice sense of nostalgia when a few weeks ago there was the anniversary of those very special shows with Sigur Rós. It must be very nice to think back on those particular moments?

MS: It was both nice and scary and weird because first of all, I do not feel like it’s been fifteen years and I think that’s really scary [laughs] and it brought back really good memories of this time where I and we all – both for the band Sigur Rós, Amiina and all personally – were discovering and experiencing a lot of things for the first time like entering a venue where there is a thousand people cheering. The feelings like that you forget just how thrilling it was and bonding with the audience and bonding with each other, with Amiina and also Amiina with Sigur Rós which was a really strong life-changing experience to feel that strong musical bond, it was just amazing. Also what I found was weird was my memories of how we played the music was totally different because this release concert – the first concert was the very, very first time we played with the guys – and then we toured with them for eight years and obviously everyone had changed their style of performance – so I found it really funny to hear Jónsi’s voice being not as trained and finding the string playing I found it much more classical than I remembered because we all matured throughout the years. So I found it actually quite funny to hear [laughs], it was just cute, I found it interesting to hear how beautifully humanised it sounded. There is also going to be a release of the concert later this year.

Well I didn’t see those very first shows but I remember seeing you and Sigur Rós in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin during the untitled album tour. And I remember how special it was seeing Amiina first and then how you obviously stay onstage and Sigur Rós come on. It was so powerful to witness the whole journey the music takes you on.

MS: I guess it must have been special because I didn’t think of it at the time. A lot of the times it is odd to have a supporting act that has a totally different style and then there is a break and the main act comes and it’s kind of schizophrenic and into the next chapter. We didn’t think of it at the time but it must have made it a bit more completed as a whole or something. It was quite special and for us it was amazing, I mean we were performing music for three hours each night for years, you know it kept us in shape.

One last thing María, in terms of books or film or music are there certain things you’re a big fan of lately?

MS: There has been some new things. For example an artist that I am always fond of is Marissa Nadler, she is this American singer who has this timeless style of singer-songwriting that I really love. As for books – I’m thinking of what’s on my bedside table now – I have a little collection of short stories by Alice Munroe called ‘Family Furnishings’. Also a book about the birth of the modern world as in the modern science, I find it quite interesting because the first scientists were thinking a lot like philosophers or artists whereas in science if you look at it now it’s almost like the opposite of art. In the beginning they needed to be so creative about their thinking that you can almost feel like they were trying to create a song or music so that’s interesting. As for film, I’m really looking forward to seeing a recent Icelandic film called ‘Rams’ which got some prize in Cannes recently and I think it will be travelling internationally quite a lot so I think you will be able to catch it somewhere in Ireland.

 


 

For all information on upcoming tour dates, discography & news updates for Amiina:

http://www.amiina.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/amiina/

 

Written by markcarry

August 19, 2015 at 11:37 am

Chosen One: Daníel Bjarnason

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Interview with Daníel Bjarnason.

“A painting is not about experience. It is an experience.”

―Mark Rothko

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The Autumn of 2013 heralded the highly anticipated return of Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s newest work, entitled ‘Over Light Earth’, released on the prestigious Iceland–based independent label, Bedroom Community. ‘Over Light Earth’ represents yet another groundbreaking work in contemporary neoclassical music from the multi-award winning composer. The latest record is Bjarnason’s third release for Bedroom Community, having released the stunning ‘Solaris’ collaboration with label–mate Ben Frost last year and the similarly universally-acclaimed debut album, 2010’s ‘Processions’. The latter was described by Time Out NY as “coming eerily close to defining classical music’s undefinable brave new world.” On ‘Over Light Earth’ an equally exhilarating new world is created by the masterful composer that encompasses a seamless array of stunningly beautiful arrangements, intricately woven melodious patterns and enriching textures.

‘Over Light Earth’ comprises three major works. The title–work is Bjarnason’s nod to the abstract expressionism school of painters – such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock – where a sprawling sonic canvas is wonderfully drawn from. ‘Light Over Earth’ was commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The second piece is aptly titled ‘Emergence’, where a plethora of strings (performed by the newly formed Reykjavík Sinfonia) conjures up a vast ocean of mood as dramatic tension gradually unfolds as the emergence of Bjarnason’s orchestral voice comes into full-focus, in all its power and glory. ‘Solitudes’ comprises the third and final piece that in fact is Bjarnason’s first piano concerto, reworked with electronics by Valgeir Sigurðsson and Ben Frost. The magical spirit of John Cage permeates the piece’s hypnotic piano motifs and rhythmic pulses of strings. The results are nothing short of staggering.

Bjarnason’s string arrangements can be heard on the last two records by Icelandic ensemble Sigur Rós – most ‘Kveikur’, released in June of 2013 – and not to mention the plethora of collaborations with label-mates Valgeir Sigurðsson, Nadia Sirota and Nico Muhly in the not-too-distant past. As ever, a rich symbiosis exists between the Bedroom Community collective of gifted composers and musicians that effortlessly percolates into the solo artist’s respective work of true art. In 2012, Bjarnason contributed the score to the feature film ‘The Deep’. His composition was awarded Best Film Score at the Icelandic Film and Television Awards in 2013 and nominated Best Original Score at the Harpa Nordic Film Composers Awards 2013. His 2012 compositions, ‘The Isle Is Full Of Noises’ and ‘Light Over Earth’ won him the prize for Best Composer at the 2013 Icelandic Music Awards.

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Interview with Daníel Bjarnason.

Congratulations on your new record ‘Over Light Earth’. I’ve loved your first solo record, ‘Processions’ and the new music is equally stunning. I love the sequencing – and the beautiful flow – to the album and how it’s separated into three distinct movements. Can you please discuss for me these three wonderfully realized worlds you so effortlessly have created; ‘Over Light Earth’, ‘Emergence’ and ‘Solitudes’ and how this deeply affecting intensity of emotion is captured so well in these recordings?

DB: Well…thank for your kind words! Actually the 3 pieces on the album all have a very different genesis and they are all written for different occasions. The last piece on the album is actually the oldest one, 10 years old! But it was the first thing we recorded when I joined Bedroom Community 4 years ago. Emergence is this huge orchestral thing I wrote for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra around the time I was becoming a father. It is a bit of a crossroads piece in that I am looking back at things from my past but also moving forward and trying things I hadn’t done before. The most recent piece is Over Light Earth which was written on commission from the LA Phil and premiered last year. It says the most about where I am right now even though I have already moved on from certain things in that piece (at least I think I have, but it’s sometimes hard to tell). So actually the pieces are not at all thought of in a unified way and what I guess really brings them together on this album is the way they are approached from a recording and producing point of view.

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I was intrigued to read how the works of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock formed such an inspiration for ‘Over Light Earth’, and indeed Canvases No 9 and Number 1, 1949 inspired the two movements of ‘Over Light Earth’. I would love to gain an insight into your fascination with these particular paintings? The music shares similar qualities of abstract beauty and a plethora of meanings are obtained, just as the works of Pollock and Rothko share. 

DB: Obviously there are a lot of shared space between (abstract) art and instrumental music. I feel very close to this period in art called abstract expressionism and the way both Rothko and Pollock approached their art as well as other artists from that period. Sometimes it is also a question of coincidence. While I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to do for this piece I happened to be in LA and walk in on an exhibition where I saw this Pollock that knocked me off my feet. Rothko is obviously more subtle but had a deep aftereffect somehow. Even though I had seen works by both these painters in museums before I felt like I was really seeing them for the first time. Sometimes things just happen like that. But in the end the piece is not really about that or an illustration of a certain piece of art. It’s more that you put yourself in a certain headspace and meditate on certain things while you’re creating. I don’t want people to think too much about Rothko and Pollock when they listen to the piece. It becomes its own thing. This is why I am often afraid of telling people about the connections one is making while creating a piece of music. There are a lot of invisible threads in creation and sometimes it’s better if they remain invisible. However there is a big demand on artists to speak about their work and tell how and why and what. I’m a bit torn on this subject.

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I would love to learn about your creative process involved in these life-affirming compositions? I read your recording technique involves meticulous close-miking and multi-tracking. I would love for you to talk a bit about this please?

DB: For this album we really approached the recording process in a non-classical way. It was recorded in sections with the strings, brass, wind, percussion, harp and piano all recorded separately. We recorded the wind, brass and strings in groups as much as possible but even so there was a lot of overdubbing. This became a bit of a scrolling nightmare in ProTools because we had well over a hundred tracks running most of the time. But in return we had a lot of control.

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This special record sees your own music performed by the newly formed Reykjavík Sinfonia, creating in turn, a monumental symphonic recording. As a conductor, how did the music evolve – from the music you first of all wrote and seeing it take on new significances horizons later on – and how you felt as a composer, when you heard the resulting works performed by the orchestra?

DB: I’m used to following my music all the way from perception to performance and I sometimes feel like I don’t really know a piece of mine until I have conducted or performed it myself. But performing your work and recording it for the first time is always special. Because of the way this album was recorded in layers it was sometimes hard to keep track of the big picture but I’m happy with how it all came together in the end.

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I love all the music you have collaborated on, from the likes of Sigur Rós and Efterklang – some of the most innovative bands making music today – and the amazing ‘Solaris’ record, in which you collaborated with Ben Frost. As an artist and composer, these magical projects must provide you with great inspiration and tap into the music of your own solo works. Can you discuss for me the collaborative aspect of your music, and how you feel you have developed as a composer, on the back of these amazing records?

DB: I feel it is important to collaborate and I enjoy it very much, especially when I have had the good fortune to work with the people you mention. When you are arranging music it’s a delicate balancing act of bringing something of yours to the music but not making it become about you. When collaborating on a new piece you need to work differently than when you are composing your own music; you relinquish some control but you’re also involved in a dialogue which you sometimes miss when working alone. Working with Ben was great and I think we’ll continue to work together on various projects.

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Can you trace back to your earliest musical memory? I can only imagine you must have come from a very musical family and background. Were there particular records or events that triggered for you your love of music and fascination with sound?

DB: Well, I didn’t come from your typical musicians family and neither of my parents are musicians. I did get a pretty good music upbringing though and when my family lived in Madison, Wisconsin I went to a great pre school called Pre-school of the Arts. I think my first musical love was Mozart actually. When I was about 3 or 4 I had this cassette that told the story of his life and played his music and I used to listen to that a lot. I was also crazy about Michael Jackson.

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‘Over Light Earth’ is available now on Bedroom Community.

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http://danielbjarnason.bandcamp.com
http://bedroomcommunity.net

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Written by admin

December 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Chosen One: Julianna Barwick

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Interview with Julianna Barwick.

“I remember being like, a really tiny kid, sitting by the window and singing, and making up stuff, and making myself feel all emotional, you know. It’s just like, it’s always been that way. We always had a piano at home and then I was in choirs at school my whole life, basically. I just love music, I love making music.”

—Julianna Barwick

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The unique and formidable artist, Julianna Barwick, is one of those special souls capable of conjuring up vast oceans of emotion through the art of music, by her distinct blend of life-affirming choral-based symphonies. The American artist – born in Louisianna, and raised in Missouri – has been responsible for some of the most captivating and illuminating music to have graced the earth’s stratosphere. Released in 2011, ‘The Magic Place’ has become one of my most cherished records, where an infinite array of hope and solace ascends into the slipstream of your mind. The eagerly awaited follow-up, ‘Nepenthe’ has been released into the world, merely a few days ago, and already, the album’s vital importance and momentous beauty is markedly apparent, like that of a cloudless sky or a crystal lake. As with all great art, the work bears the artist’s name, and Barwick’s latest opus, ‘Nepenthe’ represents yet another stirring voyage where both space and time stand still.

‘Nepenthe’ was recorded in Reykjavík, Iceland during the cold, dark days of February. In huge contrast to Barwick’s usual recording patterns – looping her voice and instruments alone in her Brooklyn bedroom apartment – the American artist was joined by producer Alex Somers (musician/producer of Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Jónsi & Alex), and some highly gifted local Icelandic musicians (string ensemble Amiina, guitarist Róbert Sturla Reynisson from múm, and a choir of teenage girls), brought in by Somers. A dream collaboration was born, where Barwick would compose and perform her transcendent music there on the spot – spontaneous and direct from the heart – and similarly, the cast of musicians would make their own interpretations of Barwick’s shape-shifting creations. In the words of Barwick: “I had never had anyone play on any record before, so this was a 180 turn.” The inspiration of Iceland – a place long adored by Barwick having been obsessed with Icelandic music for over two decades (the majority of her lifetime), from being blown away by Sigur Rós at a show in 2002 and much earlier, the first time listening to Björk’s debut album, having made the giant discovery in an Oklahoma mall. “I also was inspired just by being there, and the gorgeousness of that place. Your eyes can’t believe what they’re seeing. I walked home one night and got totally lost in Reykjavík. I ended up walking alongside the ocean – and it was glowing blue. It looked like it had a lamp underneath it. This is a completely different experience than recording myself in my Brooklyn bedroom.” Just like the artist’s reaction of disbelief to the gorgeous landscape that surrounded her, I’m utterly dumbfounded by the divine tapestries of windswept beauty that are distilled on ‘Nepenthe’, where the power and glory of music flows seamlessly into your heart and mind.

The album-title ‘Nepenthe’ is derived from Greek literature, which was a magic drug of forgetfulness used to wipe out grief and sorrow. The title had particular resonance for Barwick, who experienced a death in her own family in the middle of making the record. Furthermore, I feel the title serves the perfect embodiment of Julianna Barwick’s music, whose songs possess the ability to move you in such a deep and profound way. The healing power inherent in ‘Nepenthe’ – and indeed her previous albums – makes ‘Nepenthe’ an enriching experience. The work of art is both distinctive and immersive, where each sonic creation expresses deep emotion, that forms a curve of the horizon. Every aspect of Barwick’s music is heightened on ‘Nepenthe’, as the illuminating voice and heavenly instrumentation of piano, guitar, and strings are utilized on a grander scale. The result is nothing short of immaculate. The following quote from Claude Debussy resonates powerfully for Barwick’s music, and best describes her stunning artistic achievement, on this, her latest masterpiece:

“To music only is it given to capture all the poetry of night & day & of the earth & of the heavens, to reconstruct the atmosphere, then record the rhythm of the heartbeats.”

—Claude Debussy

Lead single ‘One Half’ is the exception, in that it is the only song on the new record that wasn’t created in Iceland. The song was in the composer’s head for many years, having been in the periphery, not quite yet in existence. The final entity blossomed into an enthralling modern-classical lament built around a repeating lyrical phrase that Barwick would keep with her: “I guess I was/asleep at night/I was waiting for”. The piece builds and builds, as Barwick’s mesmerizing vocals enters a gorgeous sense of oblivion. The delicate strings and notes of piano provides the ideal backdrop for Barwick’s soothing soprano. Album opener ‘Offing’ has the radiant dappling of a choral refrain, looped over a pristine cinematic landscape. The opening notes of Barwick’s voice takes me immediately back to the predecessor, ‘The Magic Place’, as the celestial harmonies bring forth a meditative mood, like watching a slow sun rise and catching the first glimpses of sunlight.

‘The Harbinger’ is the album’s centerpiece that erupts into a momentous climax. The song shares the glacial sonic terrain of Sigur Rós, and particularly the band’s untitled () album from 2002. Across almost six minutes, the piece captures mood perfectly, as pain and despair is dispelled into the soundscapes, yet the instrumentation of looped voice and piano provides the counterpoint of hope and survival. The wide dynamic range evokes such emotive feeling – whereby a cathartic process is ventured down – creating a world of force and beauty. The soaring emotion towards the song’s close is taken to new summits, where the music’s force moves like tectonic plates clashing against one another, deep beneath the ground. ‘Look Into Your Own Mind’ is an ambient gem filled with fragile strings and infinitely beautiful interwoven layers of Barwick’s joyous choral harmonies. The notes swell like the sound of the sea, as a stunning ebb and flow of looped vocals arrive on the shore.

‘Pyrrhic’ distills the Icelandic landscape into one glorious, sweeping movement. The sense of wonderment is etched across the composition’s sonic canvas. Brooding strings breathe powerfully beneath the ocean-floor of Barwick’s majestic harmonies. The large, expansive sound is clearly evident, as the sprawling arrangements – bearing the hallmarks of all great Icelandic music – diffuses into a realm of heavenly creation. ‘Forever’ is another milestone in ‘Nepenthe’. A teenage girl choir joins Barwick here, resulting in a crescendo of towering emotion. The piece begins with ambient flourishes of piano, recalling the likes of Virgina Astley. ‘Forever’ feels a like a dream upon waking. The clouds of sound cast shimmering light onto the land and sea below. Music as cathartic as this, undeniably has the power to heal, and to ultimately wipe out life’s grief and sorrow.

The central and awe-inspiring creative process of Barwick’s looped vocal harmonies lies at the heart of her artistic works. Nepenthe is no exception, despite the addition of the likes of Alex Somers, múm’s Róbert Sturla Reynisson and Amiina, who effortlessly complement new rays of light to Barwick’s array of light-dappled choral patterns. This beautifully natural, and spontaneous collaboration is a joy to witness as the sonic creations of ‘Nepenthe’ unfold before your very ears. As with all of Barwick’s works, a sheer joy of making music radiates from the enthralling soundscapes. Having been in church choirs her whole life, the vital importance of music, and devotion to her art, is the foundation of any work that bears the name of Julianna Barwick. As the voice is looped through delay-effect pedals – recorded in the heart of the moment – a wholly life-affirming sound is conjured up that forms ripples in the sea. This has been the case ever since hearing the opening notes of ‘Envelop’ from ‘The Magic Place’, a sense of enlightenment and enrapture is never far away.

‘Adventures Of The Family’ contains the prominent presence of piano and harmony, that coalesce together forming one organic whole. Barwick’s own mother – who would sing to her from a very young age – guests on ‘Nepenthe’. A beautiful and fitting testament to the special journey that this latest chapter of Barwick sends you on. The choral bliss of ‘Crystal Lake’ and ‘Waving To You’ are the final two songs on ‘Nepenthe’. The gradual ebb and flow of ‘Waving To You’ feels just that, a gentle and meaningful embrace of a close friend. ‘Nepenthe’, a voyage born from grievance and despair, is the life-affirming journey to the center of the heart.

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“Nepenthe” is out now on Dead Oceans.

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Interview with Julianna Barwick.

Congratulations on the new album. It’s really amazing.

Thank you so much. It was fun to make.

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I was a huge fan of your last album, ‘The Magic Place’ and on this album, all the songs are in full-bloom, where everything is on a grander scale and every aspect is heightened. I’d love for you Julianna, to talk about ‘Nepenthe’?

Well, I’ve been talking to Alex Somers, who produced it, for like a year. I went over to Iceland two different times in 2012. We didn’t come prepared with any music and made the music all there in the moment. It was my first time working with someone on one of my own records. The other records were made all by myself.
It was the first time having someone watching and listening and suggesting things and all of that, and I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to feel. But it worked perfectly with Alex. We just had a great time. Most of the time, we were recording in his own home studio, but we did to get to spend a couple of days in Sunway studio which is like a dream studio. It was glorious and it was my first time in Iceland too. Of course I have been always intrigued by Icelandic music, like everyone else is. It was amazing and it was just a great experience.

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It’s amazing that the songs were born when you were out there in Iceland. I suppose it was a nice change for you to go from your bedroom environment, where you make your music normally, to a bigger setting with Alex Somers, someone you must have been a big fan of anyway, with Sigur Rós and all that?

Yeah, me and Alex and all of that stuff. I mean every association with this project was also very exciting. I was obsessed with Björk for many years, and then I was obsessed with Sigur Rós, so I’ve been really interested and excited in all things Icelandic music for twenty-something years now [laughs]. I remember buying – I never heard of Björk and I was in Oklahoma and just went to the mall and saw her album debut – this cd in a music store. I was like I have no idea what this is but this cover is crazy, the one where she has her eyes in front of her face, and I was like: “what is this?” I was thirteen years old. I took it home and I was like, “this is amazing!” I mean it’s a million different things. I already had a soft spot in my heart for Icelandic musicians for a long time. It’s all a dream come true, who wouldn’t want to do that?

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Even as well Julianna, it’s lovely to see the different musicians who are featured on the album. On paper it’s amazing in itself. Listening to the album, it works so well, it all blends in so beautifully – like the strings from amiina – you hear all the different elements and it’s just a wonderful sound.

I think it worked perfectly because I mean they’re obviously super-pro, amiina and Robbie from múm who plays guitar on the record. They can obviously play on anyone’s record no matter how that person works. But the way I make music and the way they make music is really kind of spontaneous, you know and it works from the heart, at the risk of sounding totally cheesy. We didn’t have parts written for amiina, I mean the girls just came into the studio and they would sit up by the console and they would listen, and start jamming it all and we would record. It was, you know, their interpretation of everything as well, I wasn’t telling them what to do. So, I mean it was really more special. And then Alex was like, I have a friend named Robbie who we should have him come in to do some stuff on his guitar, and I was like, sure. I didn’t know what that meant, I was imagining like, guitar solos. But of course he came in and he had thousands of sounds that he had made himself, so there are all these sounds on the record that he made, same thing, but worked by making some stuff on the spot, that are like shimmery, sounds that are like human breathing and beats and stuff that you’d never know was a guitar. And that’s what he did, and he did it on the spot too. It was just like a really cool process. I feel like we all made it together, even more, because everyone played what they wanted to play.

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That sounds lovely. Like your previous albums, it really has such a special feeling to it. The first song I heard off the new album was the single, ‘One Half’ and that’s amazing. I love how your words are like a haiku, the way it repeats over and over. I’d love to hear if the words themselves were in your head, you know, before the music was made?

Well, that’s actually the one exception for all of I what I just said of everything being made in Iceland. That was like the one song I sort of had in my head for years and I used to perform it, but of course it sounded totally different. It’s a song that would always pop into my head and I was like, I want to make that something for real for real, after five years of it hanging around in the periphery. I’d always said the same words and you know, I don’t often do that. I guess this time when I was making that song, however long ago that was, these were the words that just kind of, popped into my head. The lyrics don’t take much precedent over the sound of the music, which is what occurs to me first. The lyrics aren’t my forte, I guess you could say.

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The song that is my favourite at the moment is ‘The Harbinger’.

That’s my favourite.

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It’s just amazing you know, the dynamic range, and how it builds and the emotion, it really soars. It’s really amazing listening to it.

Oh, thanks. I love that one. That one had some sort of magic of how it came together that I couldn’t even begin to try to explain, you know. It’s all the weird parts from different stuff. I love that one.

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I’d love to hear Julianna about your growing up with music? It’s just listening to your albums, I don’t know how on earth you make the music. It just sounds so other-worldly, you know, your harmonies, the vocals. Music must have been very important for you at a young age?

Absolutely. It always has been for my entire life, and it’s always been something that I love to do. Just absolute joy singing and making stuff up. I remember being like, a really tiny kid, sitting by the window and singing, and making up stuff, and making myself feel all emotional, you know. It’s just like, it’s always been that way. We always had a piano at home and then I was in choirs at school my whole life, basically. I just love music, I love making music. Yeah, I tinkered around with playing guitar with effects pedals and it had a little 4-track and I messed around with that stuff a lot. But it wasn’t until I started looping and layering my voice and making stuff up on the spot, that it just clicked. It was like, this is just so much fun, I love this. So, I love doing it and it’s never like tedious thing, more like a spontaneous, in the moment, really kind of fast thing that happens. That’s why I never did music composition you know, singing in college. I did photography in college. I just didn’t want any part of my love of music to be weighted down by it being a drag to have to compose something or whatever, do you know what I mean. So, yeah it’s wonderful and it’s my favourite thing.

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As you say Julianna, the moment it clicked, and the looping and things. I wonder were there artists when you started creating music in this kind of way that inspired you to make your own music?

Not really. When I started doing this stuff, I didn’t know any kind of music like the music I was making. I think back in 2005 when I started doing this, I was probably listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and a lot of Joanna Newsom, just you know, stuff that doesn’t sound anything like mine. I can’t really explain it. My friend was like, “Hey Jules, check this out” and voiced myself a couple of times, you know being funny. “Can I borrow that?” I started messing around with it and made my first record, ‘Sanguine’. It just came out of me, naturally. Despite my upbringing and singing in classes and singing in Church and all of that, singing, singing all the time, and my love of sort of sweeping sounds, emotional vibes. I really don’t think there is like, I want to make music like that or where I got that, it just came out of nowhere.

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It’s very true, I mean obviously even just to describe your music, it’s not like there is any obvious reference points, really. It’s very much your own distinct sound, which is obviously a big compliment because listening to any of your songs just bears your name in a lovely way, like any other good artist.

Yeah that’s the main thing. I’m really happy to hear that’s true. I think that’s what I enjoy most about the artists that I love the most is that, you know they’re so unique and formidable, so that’s the music that I find myself drawn to, is the stuff that sounds good and new. The risk is not to sound like anything, the person is making this out of their own brain, obviously, and that’s what’s exciting to me.

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I love, Julianna, the title of the album. I wouldn’t have known, but I read that it was in Greek literature, ‘nepenthe’ was a magic drug to wipe out grief and sorrow. Even that in itself is a fitting title for your music because the songs themselves have that kind of, power to really do that. So, in a way, the title is a nice embodiment of the music, really.

Well, thank you. I feel like it’s the same for me to make it. I mean it’s definitely cathartic to make music, especially in the moment. So when you’re making up something on the spot, and you’re making it with your voice, there’s no way that you’re able, of how you’re feeling or your emotional state kind of, comes through. So it’s cathartic for me as well.

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Is Greek literature something you have an interest in?

Well, not at all, to be honest. I just found the word on a nerdy word blog, you know. It really looks cool too. The definition that it had on the blog was: “a potion used in ancient times to erase grief and sorrow” and I thought that was so cool. I love that and you know, there definitely were some moments in the making of the record, you know, just feelings. I was over there for a really long time. Outside of working with Alex, I felt lonely at times, you know it was dark and dreary on some days and had some different things personally going on, you know. Once I read that definition I just felt like it was a perfect fit. I just liked the idea of it, just drink up some liquid and your sadness goes away.

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It reminds me too of the film, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, you know that concept of erasing your memory.

Yeah, that’s one of my favourite movies. My top 3, one of my favourites. So maybe that’s one reason why it appealed to me. I love that movie, that movie is so great.

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One other thing Julianna, I’m just interested on your previous album, ‘The Magic Place’, it fascinates me how it’s a DIY/bedroom – this sound by yourself – I would love to gain an insight into this sort of world of yours where you’re making your music? It’s amazing how you do it, to loop all these different harmonies and loop it all together.

Well, yeah I don’t know. Like I said, it started really simply, like stuff on the first record was a bit popsical. So, I think I remember I had a mic and you know, a delay guitar pedal, into another pedal that had a loop feature and then record it into a 4-track cassette tape track machine. There were no computers involved at all. It was all like, machines and pedals and stuff. It was like a really personal thing that was really fun to do and that was all, and it never really changed.
Before the second ‘Florine’ EP thing I made, I got the RC-50 loop station where you can set a time and you can double-experiment and configure, and I started making it that way. Most of ‘Sanguine’ and ‘Florine’ and probably most of ‘The Magic Place’ was specifically a bedroom recording so it had its own pedals, and of course mostly everything was made up on the spot, and then pieced together later, and layers added later. So, it’s really fun to make it. It’s what I like to do.

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It’s obvious for me as a listener, you know, that it’s this joy of playing that really comes off the recordings and as you listen to the music, you really feel that – this love of music – that really shines off the album itself.

Well, thanks and it’s totally true. That kind of runs in my family, on my mom’s side. My mom was always singing too, when I was growing up. She has a beautiful voice and that’s why I had her sing on the record, and she’s on there.

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Oh, she’s on there, wow, that’s lovely.

Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

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You’re currently residing in Brooklyn. It must be a nice base for you to be making music?

Absolutely, there’s so much happening there, it’s motivating, definitely.

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Well, congratulations again Julianna on the new album. I can’t think of good enough words to describe how amazing it is.

Well, thank you. I really can’t wait to release it into the world.

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‘Nepenthe’ is out now on Dead Oceans.

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http://www.juliannabarwick.com
http://www.deadoceans.com

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Written by admin

August 20, 2013 at 10:04 am

Something’s Going On: amiina

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“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

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‘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.

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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.

amiina website   /   Cork Opera House website

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