Ólafur Arnalds: Dyad 1909
VA: Erased Tapes Collection II
Dyad 1909 is a thirty-minute dance score by Icelandic neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds for British choreographer Wayne McGregor (inspired, incidentally, by Shackleton's South Pole expedition and created in the spirit of Diaghilev). The score couples four new Arnalds pieces with three previously heard, two from the 2008 EP Variations of Static and one from his 2007 debut album Eulogy for Evolution. It's an emotional score that integrates electronic and acoustic sounds in generally nuanced manner, and a bold crossover in bridging chamber classical and contemporary electronic music realms.
A deliberate trajectory is discernible in the work as it advances from an atmospheric overture (the chilly, electronic winds that rumble through the opening “Frá Upphafi”) to episodes that alternate between lyrical melancholy and electronic-oriented aggression before ending as atmospherically as it began with “…Og Lengra,” a meditative outro that acts as a mirror to the opening track. In “Lokaðu Augunum,” a pensive mood, first established by sparse piano meander and electronic slivers, is deepened when augmented by lush string playing and countered slightly by the unnatural interjection of an electronic voice. The gentle ambiance is shattered by the aggressive punch of electronic beats in “Brotsjór,” which is softened slightly by the appearance of strings, the violin's stabbing line in particular reminiscent of Part's Fratres . In “Við Vorum Smá…,” the electronic voice re-appears, the android quality of the recitation at odds with the reflective character of the text (“I remember it well / I asked you not to go / but all I heard was the screaming silence of the wind…”). “3326” is initially graced by the impassioned cry of violin playing that subsequently grows ever more frenzied in its attack, while “Til Enda” resurrects the rhythm attack from “Brotsjór” and invests it with a skittering quality that more ferociously propels the string playing. At first listen, Arnalds' electronic beats and voices create a disconcerting contrast to the otherwise natural sound of the material, but the impression of discordance diminishes the more the score is heard. To its credit, it holds up perfectly well on its own terms, though it'd naturally be fascinating to experience it in concert with McGregor's choreography.
Arnalds' “Til-Enda” makes a return appearance on the second label compilation from the London-based Erased Tapes label, which celebrates its third year of operation with an eleven-track collection that also includes contributions from Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick, and Nico Muhly. Though stylistically wide-ranging, the set feels like a family affair with a modest number of artists also involved in creating remixes of others' material.
Following a snarling slab of epic electro-techno called “1985” by Rival Consoles (Ryan Lee West), Frahm's “Ambre” (excerpted from Wintermusik) offers a beautiful example of the Berlin composer's work. Though soft tinkles faintly intone in the background, the song is a showcase for Frahm's piano playing, which suggests in this instance cascades of falling raindrops. Broderick contributes a stately piano-and-strings setting (“Part 3: Pill Induced Slumber”), and the two come together at album's end when Frahm's remix of Broderick's “And It's Alright” transforms the gentle vocal song into a softly percolating lullaby. An entirely different side of Arnalds comes to the fore in Kiasmos, a dance-oriented side project with Janus Rasmussen that focuses on experimental minimal techno, of which “65” is a decent exemplar. Rival Consoles twists Muhly's “A Hudson Cycle” inside out by giving it a jacking techno makeover, and in so doing recasts it into something few would identify as a Muhly composition. It takes less than a minute for post-rock outfit Codes In The Clouds to reach a peak in “Don't Go Awash In This Digital,” and the band maintains a similar intensity for three raging, guitar-soaked minutes. During “Boy-Cott,” Finn. (German singer-songwriter Patrick Zimmer) augments his fragile vocal with a full-blown orchestral backing.
In a word, the compilation's solid, with the only questionable moment arising during Rival Consoles' “Helvetica” when thunderous breakbeats of the kind one associates with early Squarepusher appear. It's a thoroughly forgivable lapse on an otherwise fine collection that effectively captures the range of work associated with the Erased Tapes imprint.