Olafur Arnalds – …and they have escaped the weight of darkness

January 01, 1970



(Erased Tapes)




Rock ‘n’ roll/contemporary pop has
made room for infusions of energy and creative musical ideas from many unexpected
quarters over the years – not just country and blues, as has been
well-documented, but jazz, Broadway, reggae, Moog synthesizers, rap, French
symbolist poetry, Tiny Tim…you name it. But it’s still unusual to see
avant-garde minimalist chamber music presented as pop, as the label Erased
Tapes is attempting with the young Icelandic composer/keyboardist Olafur
Arnalds’ new album, …and they have
escaped the weight of darkness. 


But maybe it shouldn’t be that
unusual – the repetitive, often-minor-key qualities of contemporary chamber
music (and contemporary classical, for that matter) flow from the same sources
as the Velvet Underground’s drone rock, only quieter and more
acoustic-oriented. And, for that matter, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ breakthrough
1969 album introduced a lot of young people to Erik Satie. So there’s a place
for Arnalds in the more adventurous parts of the rock world – he has toured
with the symphonic-like Sigur Ros and shared a concert bill with Jonny
Greenwood. But however his album is presented, this is beautiful music – spare
and sometimes solemn, introspectively serious yet with a melodic flow that ties
together the nine compositions into something expansive and open.


The overall work is said to be
inspired by the opening scenes of a very downbeat and difficult movie, Bela
Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies, yet
the music is not dependent on knowing the film to have value. The compositions
also, sometimes, has a nice little rockin’ beat, courtesy of the drums (Kjartan
Bragason), bass (Tony Levin) and Arnalds’ keyboards – especially on the
compositions “Gleypa okkur” and “Haegi, kemur Ijosio.” The latter swells as the
strings build in power. The production by Arnalds and Bardi Johannsson is
pristine – apparently, different instruments were recorded at different
locales. Although this doesn’t have the prominent vocals, it has a kind of
severe but optimistic “there is light in darkness” tone reminiscent of Morton
Feldman’s minimalist classic “Rothko Chapel.” And it has just enough rhythmic
savvy to mark Arnalds as a crossover classical composer to watch. He might have
to work on those song titles, however, if he expects a larger American


DOWNLOAD: “Kjurrt,” “Undan hulu.” STEVEN ROSEN


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