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Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Soundscapes Evoke Iceland’s Otherworldly Terrain

Tónlistin togar stöðugt í mig

Tónlistin togar stöðugt í mig

A country of volcanoes and glaciers, fjords and auroras, Iceland is one of the most remarkable places on earth.

The country’s almost otherworldly landscapes have inspired Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s latest work, In the Light of Air, a commission created for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

ICE, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the most accomplished and adventurous groups in new music,” premiered Thorvaldsdottir’s work at the 2014 Reykjavik Arts Festival. ICE performed the American premiere during the 2014 Mostly Mozart Festival.

The ensemble brings In the Light of Air to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for one night only, April 25, 2015.

“Of course, the piece can be played by anybody, but it was really written for these musicians,” Thorvaldsdottir said in a Skype interview. “It’s been wonderful being able to create a work specifically for them. They’re amazing.”

The musicians of ICE are so extraordinary, in fact, that they were willing to work with an instrument that Thorvaldsdottir developed specifically for this piece: an installation of plate-like metal ornaments called Klakabönd, which literally means “a bind of ice” in Icelandic (see video below).

Anna Thorvaldsdottir and ICE – In the Light of Air from ICE on Vimeo.

Thorvaldsdottir worked with her friend and colleague Svana Jósepsdóttir to build an installation of Klakabönd that lend an icy, gong-like timbre to the score, and visually, recall glistening shards of ice.

Though the Klakabönd installation is one of the most curious aspects of In the Light of Air, the composer also includes extended techniques on traditional instruments (viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion) as well as electronics to create a soundscape as exceptional as Iceland’s natural environment.

“Iceland is a big island where most people live along the coast. But you go just a little bit towards the center and you find mountains, lava fields… There are  these vast expanses of nature that are basically untouched.”

The composer became particularly aware of Iceland’s unique geography when she traveled to San Diego to complete her PhD. “Sometimes you don’t realize what makes a place so special until you are no longer there,” she said.

While inspired by her native Iceland, Thorvaldsdottir strove not to merely mimic sounds she heard in the wild, but to focus on ways that sound can reflect larger concepts.

She is interested especially by the ways time and spaces operate in the natural world, and how she can build layers of sound that play with our perceptions of time and space themselves.

Unique lighting design that Thorvaldsdottir developed for the piece in conjunction with Nick Houfek add another layer of meaning which is also reflected in its title.

During performances of In the Light of Air, air becomes light – literally. The luminosity of the light installation the two created undergoes changes based upon the intensity of the musicians’ breath. (WATCH video below for more info.)

ICElab presents Anna Thorvaldsdottir from ICE on Vimeo.

Thorvaldsdottirexplained, “It doesn’t look that technical. But it is quite technical” However, with careful planning, she was able to incorporate these effects in a way that is subtle yet dramatic.

For more information about In the Light of Air, visit the composer’s website.

For more information about the upcoming performance at the MCA or to purchase tickets, visit the MCA’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

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