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Friday, January 6, 2012

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, "Rhizoma," High-Mode Musical Abstractions


Some music requires that you clear your head of distracting influences and open up. Clearly that is the case for Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Rhizoma (Innova 804). It is a series of works for various forces: percussionist on grand piano (Justin DeHart), chamber ensemble (KAPUT, conducted by Snorri Sigfus Birgisson), or full orchestra (Iceland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Bjarnson). "Hidden" consists of five rather brief movements, scattered across the disk, as played by Mr, DeHart. "Hrim" and "Streaming Arhythmia" are for chamber ensemble, and "Dreaming" is for symphony orchestra.

Ms. Thornvaldsdottir's music is ethereal, often sparse, with a timeless, floating quality. They are so much of a piece that if one listens without reference to how the tracks are parsed, one piece flows into the other with sound colors changing, but a feeling of stylistic continuity dominates. The music sometimes reminds me of a set of wind chimes on a mildly breezy day, though nothing sounds like wind chimes really, and you do not hear the sound of wind. And it's not a random quality one hears either. Instead there is a very irregular and unpredictable contrast between musical utterence and quiescence, too directed to be the product of chance operations, but also too experiential-serendipital to be a product of logical-linear thinking.

Those factors make it essential that one listens in a state of relaxed concentration. My first several hearings of the disk were in hectic multitasking situations and I came away with no impression at all. It is not background music. When I went back and concentrated on the music I found my aural footing and was able gradually to come to appreciate what was happening.

This is, in it's own way, the music of Iceland (from which Ms. Thorvalsdottir hails). If that explains anything however I am not sure what, except that perhaps Anna spent some time in a less noisy world than ours, and has come to understand that relative silences and the silent actions of memory are implicit framing points and lead to a different mind-set than the continual periodicic, unreflecting action-sound we are used to hearing.

In the end, one leaves this music with a feeling that one is in the presence of an original voice, a poetics of desolation and isolation, an a-strophic language of free-verse, a series of sound color pieces that have more in common with natural forces than human-made machinery, that at first puzzle and then confirm.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir. She is whispering something in your ear. It will take many hearings to make out what she says to you. It is worthwhile that you listen, anyway.

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