VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Spirals’ by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir

Nordic Affect (Left to right: Hanna Loftsdóttir, Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir.)  Photo by David Oldfield.

by Maggie Molloy

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s new album He(a)r. Out now on Sono Luminus, the album is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians.

He(a)r is an ode to hear, here, hér, and her,” writes Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, the ensemble’s artistic director and violinist. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact.

“Spirals,” one of two works contributed by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, circles around these themes and expands outward: dense chords, hazy melodies, and fragmented sounds from an old music box echo and grow into an immersive meditation on time itself.

We are thrilled to premiere a brand new video for Sigfúsdóttir’s composition “Spirals,” performed by Nordic Affect.


Nordic Affect’s He(a)r is out now on Sono Luminus. Click here to listen to the full album.

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Album Reviews of 2015

Every Monday, you can count on Second Inversion to post an Album Review of a brand new release. These are the top 5 most popular reviews of 2015!

#5: The Knights: the ground beneath our feet

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“If the ground beneath our feet has indeed disappeared in parts of this album, that’s okay: outer space sure sounds pretty good to me.” – Jill Kimball

 

#4: Jodie Landau & wild Up: you of all things

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“‘as I wait for the lion,’ is a simple, swelling, and poignant piece that pulls on the listener’s heart strings with each and every pluck of the sparkling harp, each and every knock of the delicately twinkling percussion behind Landau’s heartfelt voice.” – Maggie Molloy

 

#3: Roomful of Teeth: Render

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“Classical vocal music is always nice—but if you’re looking for a contemporary vocal ensemble with a little more bite, look no further than Roomful of Teeth.” – Maggie Molloy

 

#2: Nordic Affect: Clockworking

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“The music is dotted with the very Icelandic sounds of rushing winds, hummed folk music, and above all, the beautifully stark sounds of silence. The album is characterized by pleasant repetition and meditative simplicity, an accurate musical reflection of life in Iceland’s quiet, cold and wild towns. Listening to Clockworking made me feel like I was the only one in the world one minute, but like a tiny drop in a vast ocean the next.” – Jill Kimball

 

#1: Olafur Arnalds: The Chopin Project

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“It’s just one glorious, delicate piece after another. From the gentle shoosh-shoosh in ‘Reminiscence’ (during which there’s a point where you can even hear a performer taking in breath) to the distant chatter and rainfall heard in “Nocturne in G Minor,” the recordings make the listener feel close to the piano – in the same room, even – and so very close to the music.” – Rachele Hales

Stay tuned for 52 more album reviews in 2016!

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Clockworking’ from Nordic Affect

By Jill Kimball

What is it about Iceland? From Björk to Ólafur Arnalds to Jón Leifs, the 320,000-person country seems to churn out more fantastic and original music per capita than any other country on Earth. And with the latest album to come out of the country—whose population, it should be noted, is half the size of Seattle—we have a few more reasons to celebrate this Nordic land.

 

In many ways, Clockworking, the new release from the ensemble Nordic Affect, couldn’t have come from any other country. The music is dotted with the very Icelandic sounds of rushing winds, hummed folk music, and above all, the beautifully stark sounds of silence. The album is characterized by pleasant repetition and meditative simplicity, an accurate musical reflection of life in Iceland’s quiet, cold and wild towns. Listening to Clockworking made me feel like I was the only one in the world one minute, but like a tiny drop in a vast ocean the next.

My absolute favorite thing about Clockworking, aside from the fact that every name in the liner notes ends in –dóttir, is that it’s all about women. Nordic Affect, the performing ensemble, is a small group of females who play on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and other period instruments.  On top of that, all five of the composers featured on the album are female. Today, women make up less than 15% of the world’s living composers; perhaps hearing this album will inspire more women to become composers themselves and turn those statistics around.

The album’s opening track is also its namesake, Clockworking. If you like Sigur Rós, you’ll like this piece, too; it possesses a similar beautiful simplicity. Composer María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (of the group amiina) does a wonderful job integrating a constant but unobtrusive clock-like pulse into the texture of the work. The instruments may be Baroque and the mood focuses on the passage of time, but the music is timeless.

The next three pieces focus on an interplay between real-life noises and instrumental sounds. In 2 Circles, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir chose to examine a musician’s close relationship with her instrument, which is why you’ll hear the composer herself humming along with the notes she plays on her cello. The lovely, intimate work was recorded in the middle of a chilly Iceland winter, and I swear I could feel the wind howling outside as I listened. In From Beacon to Beacon, composer/guitarist Hafdis Bjarnadóttir recorded the sound of the breeze outside a local lighthouse in midsummer and used it in this piece, which she describes as an imagined musical conversation between two lighthouses.  I was just as interested in the simple sound of the blowing wind between musical phrases as I was in the beautifully random ping-ping of the harpsichord. And in INNI, “Musica da Camera,” the sound of an infant’s gentle murmuring mingles with a buzzing baroque violin.

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Composer Hafdis Bjarnadóttir records the sound of the wind near an Icelandic lighthouse.

If Shades of Silence illustrates anything, it’s that “silence” is a relative term. The only actual silences present in the piece are at the beginning and end. The rest is what some might deem white noise: a viola da gamba’s bow gently scraping along a string here, fingers plucking a few strings there. After a few minutes, I considered the sounds of the piece as good as silence;  like the gentle sounds of keyboard typing or the rustle of papers at work, I’d grown accustomed to hearing it in the background.

The album concludes with Sleeping Pendulum, another work by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir that had already received an honorary award at the time of this CD’s release. It’s another focus on timelessness, a study in how the music we hear today echoes decades and centuries of music that came before it. The piece begins with a simple interplay between a violin and some tinkling bells, but later it becomes all about strings, with a violin interjecting short, high trills above a foundation of slowly morphing sustained chords.

Clockworking is one of those albums that stands on its own sans explanation but that becomes all the more meaningful after you’ve read the liner notes. The album provides a great excuse to put down the phone, step away from the keyboard, and escape pixelated life for a while. Turn the volume up, close your eyes, and do absolutely nothing but listen. Every single one of this album’s 45 minutes deserves your undivided attention.