Valgeir Sigurðsson has made his name as an exponent of musical subtlety. As an engineer and producer, he’s often focused on the intimate, the miniature. On his solo debut Ekvílibríum, his songwriting and composition tended towards the muted or the oblique. His best-known work is punctuated with question marks and ellipses, and not so many exclamation points.
But this is only one side of his musical capabilites. Draumalandið (“Dreamland”), a documentary about the exploitation of Iceland’s natural resources, tells a story about huge things—the fortunes of a whole nation; the destruction of vast landscapes; and the global economic forces, greater still than any nation, that fuel it all—and for his soundtrack to the film, Valgeir has brought out a heavier set of tools. His entire roster of Bedroom Community labelmates contributes in some way to the creation of the score: classical composers Nico Muhly and Daníel Bjarnason, industrial wizard Ben Frost, and American folksinger Sam Amidon, along with a host of others, and the small orchestra assembled for the record swells from moments of expansive beauty into massive, surging symphonic force. Its harmonies are anxious, pulsing, driven.
Not that this is an album lacking in subtlety. Draumalandið the film takes on the delicate task of unmasking the apparent win/win proposition of Iceland’s aluminum smelting boom—clean energy! new jobs! economic growth!—as a false blessing with very real consequences. Likewise, Draumalandið the soundtrack takes global, at times seemingly abstract questions, and offers deeply personal responses.
Valgeir’s score makes fierce and direct statements of sorrow and indignation, but it also expresses, with a kind of hushed awe, the beauty of landscapes on the brink of devastation, and the seductive shimmer of the illusions that imperil them. Tender, fragmented melodies rise out of uncanny musical textures; in the album’s opening track, Sam sings “Grýlukvæði,” an Icelandic folktune about a greedy hag come to devour naughty children, just as he would an Appalachian ballad, and in turn Valgeir reframes it as a sad, sympathetic reprimand to a people (Icelanders, yes, but by extension all of humanity) who would sell their birthright to a rapacious multinational.
This is all painted in brushstrokes broad and minute, from palette of hugely varied shades—Sam’s banjo playing, Daníel’s John Cage-style piano treatments, Ben’s halos of distortion—but somehow, it all fits together as a coherent musical argument. Heard as an accompaniment to the film, the Draumalandið score can disappear into the images and the narrative. Listened to on its own, it rewards close attention: for the subtle interconnections between the movements, for their cumulative emotional force, and simply as a series of meticulously scored and recorded musical moments, urgent meditations on the natural sublime.
released February 22, 2010
Valgeir Sigurðsson Prepared piano, percussion, bass, programming, rhodes
Nico Muhly Piano, harmonium, celesta, dulcitone
Sam Amidon Acoustic guitar, banjo, vocals on Grýlukvæði
Ben Frost Programming & processing on Grýlukvæði, Nowhere Land & Helter Smelter
Paul Corley Programming on Hot Ground, Cold
Nadia Sirota Viola
Hildur I Guðnadóttir Cello
Borgar Magnason Double bass
Violin Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Sigrún Eðvaldsdóttir, Ingrid Karlsdóttir, Kristín Björg Ragnarsdóttir, Rósa Hrund Guðmundsdóttir
Cello Hrafnkell Orri Egilsson, Júlía Mogensen, Sigurgeir Agnarsson,
Double Bass Borgar Magnason, Óttar Sæmundsen
Harp Katie Buckley
Bassoon Rebekka Bryndís Björnsdóttir
French Horn Sturlaugur Jón Björnsson, Emil Friðfinnsson
Trombone Samúel Jón Samúelsson
Marimba, Percussion Frank Aarnink
Piano prepared by Daníel Bjarnason
Sampled & edited by Sturla Mio Þórisson
Kontakt instruments built by Paul Evans
Hank Drum made by 7oi, courtesy of Matthew Collings (thanks!)
Produced, arranged & mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Orchestrated, arranged & conducted by Nico Muhly
Composed by Valgeir Sigurðsson (Pollination Music Publishing). Except Grýlukvæði traditional, arranged by Sam Amidon, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly & Valgeir Sigurðsson. Past Tundra composed by Valgeir Sigurðsson & Nico Muhly.
Recorded, mixed & mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson at Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavík
Studio manager: Sturla Mio Þórisson
Additional engineering by Sturla Mio Þórisson, Ben Frost, Paul Evans & Paul Corley
Hildur I Guðnadóttir recorded her cello at home, in Berlin.
Photography by Pétur Thomsen – www.peturthomsen.is “AL3_26d” from the series Imported Landscape
Graphic design by Pierre Marly
Andri Snær Magnason, Hanna Björk Valsdóttir, Sigurður Gísli Pálmason & Þorfinnur Guðnason.
The Greenhouse & Bedroom Community teams!
Everyone who played, listened and helped make this album happen.
For making everything possible and all things worthwhile:
Sigríður Sunna Reynisdóttir, Gabríel Dagur Valgeirsson.
This is a Bedroom Community Record