Yesterday, Reykjavík experienced an unusual and memorable weather day. Knowing I’d review Bedroom Community’s Iðnó performance in the evening, I set out to video the windstorm mid-afternoon. Weather documentary and music review resulted in the fastest experiential gesture I’ve managed to send Grapevine in my last four years of reviewing. Here’s the video review (and, afterwards, the video transcript).
A friend told me he’d never seen the wind so fierce in Reykjavík as it was November 2nd. The Icelandic Meteorological Office reported wind in the capital area sustained out of the north, northwest at 38 m/s (136 km/h or 85 miles/h) with gusts up to 52 m/s (187 km/h, 116 miles/h). With such a remarkable weather day, it’d follow that an incredible night of music would bless Iðnó through the label and family known as Bedroom Community.
Earlier that day, I watched an aluminum sheet peel from its Laugarvegur roof, chunks of black pad and plywood flying through the storm sky as hurtling ravens. Daníel Bjarnason’s opener, “Red-Handed” re-enacted this disjunctive danger through a rush and tumble of instrumentation tormented by a metronomic wood block and piano as icicle shattering in reverse.
Then “Sleep Variations” by the deeply brilliant violist Nadia Sirota (from her future album) slid ears to unanticipated pitches. As though vision had been drowned in the ravens’ feathers, the viola of “Sleep Variations” thrust us into deep slumber, only to lope through the sleep stages of restoration and sleep spindles to the precipice of REM and then, via crushing piano, we sunk into night terror. The viola, with raven wings tormented by storm gale. Unpredictable the rhythmic arrhythm. And then, at end, a return to deep slumber to continue the cycle.
Just these two in Daníel’s set.
Next, Paul Corley shared work from his new album just released by Bedroom Community, ‘Disquiet’. Lush detail in prepared piano loop and voiced “tsch.” Two come to join Paul onstage and work inside the piano while he plays the keys. Roaring unpitched bass, reverberating in the star of me.
All yellow larch needles blown off their branches by storm gale.
Paul’s compositions really demonstrate a play with electric delicacy and extreme. Just as our ears are poised to catch the outreach of Paul’s treble detail, we’re suddenly plunged into the abyss of hearable bass — bass that skids into a hardening breath. Bass the weight of names (Estonia, Ásta, Tjornes Fracture Zone) and treble detail the articles, prepositions (of, a). And the breath at end, such demanded rewarding listen.
Valgeir Sigurðsson’s set opened with heartbeat bass and then launched into string. Ambient, static electricity of storm. Surf surge over Sæbraut. Then to bass overload and then relief: insistent piano noting passage of time. Alive in this, in this moment, in a rushed, even urgent, trek to the shoreline. Resolving notes come later than I anticipate. Here, I indulge any misfortune fantasy I can muster — the black padding, wood, and aluminum roof flying straight into the window I stare out of, the impact knocking out my vision but leaving the scrape-tear soundscape of rubber glass shards. Or walking to Faxaflói Bay with the gusts at 52 m/s pushing me still, holding me, then throwing me backwards into traffic and that visionless soundscape, viola shriek. Or the waves at Dyrhólaey choosing their next victim. Or capsizing beside Reynisdrangar. Or the dance. Or the dance. Or the drowning. Or the death. Undressed in subzero northerly, the corporeal decibel rust, risk, reflex. Now we surrender all emotion clutched so hard to our breasts.
Puzzle Muteson offered a gentle respite for the ears through gravitas in hope, grounding the audience in folk and earnest reality. This provided an intermediary counterpoint to the hallucinatory reveries induced by Daníel, Paul, and Valgeir’s sets, and we caught the first glimpse of the label’s burgeoning diversity of styles. Puzzle began solo for his first song, then later was joined by Valgeir, Nico for “I was once a horse.” Puzzle played several songs from his Bedroom Community album En Garde, and his water-soaked lyrics stood stark in the day’s remembering. Space for really personal audience moments here — a man visibly moved into shaking head-clutching catharsis, a woman hunched, shuddering, internalizing the poetry of Puzzle’s lyrics. Near the end of his set, Puzzle lent his fragile, soulful voice to a cover of “True Faith” by New Order.
Nico Muhly’s set started with “Skip Town,” a song of complicated joy as a jumble of keys. I swear Nico invented piano keys just to play during this song. He then played music from a new album to be released next week — Drones and Viola— which featured piano and viola duets, where each takes a turn at playing a drone while the other offers counterpoint. Drones offered distributive attention after Puzzle’s palette cleanser, obliterating memory of the day. As if for the first time in the evening, I heard both viola and piano clearly, naked, as though standing in front of the bathroom mirror, appraising yourself and then realizing there’s another beside you, and appraising this other, attention swinging back and forth between bodies. Where Nico’s second song emphasized “Drones and Viola,” his third shifted to “Drones and Piano” with Valgeir joining on music box. The composition had a conversational cadence to it — at first, the confident speaker but then hesitant and then very certain and convinced of her point and then ecstatic… The chatter spilling in from Iðnó’s foyer offered fantastic counterpoint drone to the viola.
Do you know that moment when your mind wanders and you’ve no memory to where? And so you coax yourself into present-moment awareness; in that moment of coaxing, your mental power is very much the “and” in “Drones and Piano.” And then, you hold onto that present with ferocity and the piano burns a path, a wind-hot path, through whatever is now, and you fill with attention of now and it is terrifying as it hurtles towards the window….
The evening’s highlight came with “The Only Tune,” a reconstructed folk song arranged as a triptych and this night performed by almost every Bedroom Community member with Sam Amidon at the vocal helm. Here, we returned to the day’s wild weather — “oh the wind and the…” as Sam stood in testament with arms slack. As “The Only Tune” shifted into its sweet resolution, Grapevine editor-in-chief Haukur Magnússon leaned over to me, said, “I do hope it sounds like this when I die.”
When listening to Sam Amidon during his set this night, I thought about how the word ‘love’ implies so many nuanced definitions. It’s wild to make one word do so much work — and abstract work, no less!
The audience was treated to a number of songs from Sam’s album ‘All Is Well’. The second was a country stomp-n-shriek number, where he was joined onstage by percussionist Shahzad Ismaily. He sang us two songs about Jesus and others about pained love. His rendition of “Pretty Fair Damsel” oscillated through different speeds until the bridge where Sam sprinted into a falsetto scat. Audience sang along on “Way Go, Lily” and Sam’s cover of R. Kelly’s “Relief.” And during “Wedding Dress,” Iðnó broke into a sveitaball. Sam referred the audience to watch Sigga Sunna’s video for the song, available here. To close, Sam played a lullaby for Ben Frost, before Ben’s set.
My dosimetre reported sound pressure in Iðnó sustained at 95 dB with gusts up to 98 dB during Ben Frost’s impressive finale. The constancy of sonic input and wide frequency spectrum created a soundscape in which it was physiologically challenging to remain; even with earplugs firmly inserted, I felt irrational terror well inside me through the nauseating, panic-inducing bass vibration that ebbed and flowed like a rabid ocean. My vision blurred from the felt-force of lower frequency, and I braced myself to embrace the bodily endurance test offered by Ben Frost’s set. For awhile amidst percussive complexity shared between Shahzad Ismaily and virtuoso Greg Fox, I thought of the abiotic risk to human existence so present within Icelandic landscape. And then I reflected on Nico’s introduction of Ben, referring to him as “friend and teacher,” and in that moment I felt as though Ben Frost was teaching me, too — teaching me to a way to exist with lower frequencies in a new dimension. Greg and Shahzad continued their deft, shifting percussive patterns (built inside 4/4, though in a later composition 7/4) as the sound demonstrated less will to build than to promote sustainability. Greg kicked a hole straight through the skin of his bass drum; such was the intensity and constancy of his contribution. A swollen alarm remained as the replacement drum was set up.
And then I became curious about how my body was played in this composition, how as a vessel it vibrated with the sound in and through it. And then I was running north down to Faxaflói Bay, pushing headfirst into the wind, desperate to see the ocean’s turbulent nature in this weather. But once I’m there, I never want to leave, and I’m okay with the risk. I’m ready to die.
I will never miss a Bedroom Community show because the live performance lifts into relief the contrast and detail inherent in the compositions. When Ben Frost first introduced the evening, he referred to Bedroom Community as a family, and it’s through my own bodily immersion (not possible using solely headphones or a personal sound system) that I inhabit the full realization of the label’s open-armed and open-hearted room.