Zoë Madonna is a writer, amateur accordionist, and yarn hoarder based in Boston. A 2015 graduate of Oberlin College, she was awarded the 2014 Rubin Prize for Music Criticism. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe and on icareifyoulisten.com.
Nordic Affect's 'Raindamage'
Monday, February 20, 2017
How many clichés have you heard about Icelandic music? Whether your tastes tend towards the breathtaking sounds of Sigur Ros, the midnight sun jangle-pop of Tilbury, the blistering fury of Misþyrming or the vast vistas of Anna Thorvaldsdottir, you’ll find the same words used repeatedly to talk about it. “Spiritual,” “sweeping,” “mystical,” “glacial.” Some might mention that a non-negligible percentage of Icelanders believe in elves.
However, one thing that much Icelandic music does have in common is a distinct connection to the natural world, a musical link with the earth and natural phenomena. Perhaps the fact that so much music comes out of Iceland in proportion to its population (323,000, less than 1/20 that of New York City) magnifies the trend. But listening to Raindamage, the new album from Nordic Affect, it is clear that it continues the Icelandic ethos, or so it would seem, of innovating and exploring while staying connected to the roots of the world.
Raindamage is a collaboration between Nordic Affect (an all female quartet of Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir on violin, Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir on viola, Hanna Loftsdóttir on cello, and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir on harpsichord) and three Icelandic composers, who each contribute one piece for the ensemble and one electronic piece to the album. It was born from a concert the ensemble performed at Reykjavik’s Library of Water, an installation by artist Roni Horn where floor to ceiling columns are filled with melted ice from each of Iceland’s glaciers. This conscious overlap of the natural and the manufactured is the space where the music of Raindamage floats.
Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Raindamage begins with plinking strings and electronics, slowly coalescing out of windy electronics before dissolving into nothing, a final splash of sound like water shaking off a tree. Úlfur Hansson’s Þýð (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) stretches time and sound, voices and grainy strings intertwining in organum-like drones and slowly moving harmonies. Vilmarsson’s [::N::] wanders through a forest of effects and textures, some harsh but never grating.
The three composers’ electronic pieces inhabit similar spheres of ambient glitchiness, the mediums different from Nordic Affect’s pieces but the message the same, strings and sod turning to pings and pixels without a jolt. The first and last pieces on the album, Raindamage and Hansson’s Skin Continuum, blend live instruments and digitally created sounds, the former with the quartet and the latter with fan-shaped drum player Nava Dunkelman. The journey begins and ends with a sonic reminder that everything is connected.
Nordic Affect: Raindamage
Sono Luminus | Released Feb. 24