Harpa Kaldalón rumbled to exquisite electronic life with the opening Yatra Arts showcase. The depth of field within this group of artists is a difficult thing to wrap your head around, and to pull off back to back for six hours. However, these seven artists did just that. What is music anyway? This might be the most fitting question of the evening. This foray into minimal, experimental, electronic world ending events-proved to be a call to arms on everything you think you know about sound.
The evening opener Auxpan began with three blinking lights and a subtle roll of drone and bass static. The room immediately cloaked in darkness began to feel as if it were itself the center of some sub-tectonic ship undulating with the earth itself and the helmsman sitting before us in a mess of patch cables rewiring the navigation system as we plunge into the depths. In fact the beauty of this set was just that, you actually felt like you are just as much a part of the exploration into layer upon layer of noise as Auxpan is as he unraveled them. The sound evolved into immense volumes of crushing waves within an ever flickering glimpse of light from some unattainable surface. The control and craft was stunning and my attention was locked.
The next artist, Björk Viggósdóttir / Lala Alaska, brought that vision of light into a dreamlike trance. Flanked by two shuddering masked dancers her set called to mind excellent Fennesz record “Venice.” It was something akin to being swept to the ether in prismatic heights, and then listening to yourself being crushed to bits of light and blown away in a million directions. Sound like too much ooh and ah factor? It was not. The evolution of the set was a slow bloom into a world so beautiful it became terrifying. *Note the beginning of subtle creep factor theme here, I will discuss further in.
As if to poised to break apart space, and re-confront the acoustic architecture (and the physical) of the room, AMFJ‘s intense wall of sound tore though the room in a twitching spasm of beat and loop. Despite some technical difficulties with one of his vocal sends, he plowed forth, and this quickly became the type of performance that I find absolutely worth every second. His approach to noise and electronica was so passionate, that the technical difficulty actually become an intensity enhancer. By the time the situation corrected itself, AMFJ standing forward the stage monitors and inches from the first row, roared digitally mutated vocals into the room. As if to question the audience itself of it’s conviction for sound, the rest of the set was uninhibited and relentless.
Jónas Sen took over the stage and screen next and re-enter the subtle creep factor. Well know for collaborative work with a little Icelandic singer by the name of Björk, this solo laptop set got more and more eerie as it progressed. One of the first artists of the evening to showcase individual pieces rather than an evolving sonic sculpture, these works held there own. The projections loomed with bizarre glowing eyed winged creatures, ghost choirs, and notes playing themselves with such intensity they became their own visually distorted psychedelic snowflakes? All in all, bizarre world influenced creepy greatness!
The award for the most beautiful performance, visuals and sound, of the night has to go to Þóranna Dögg Björnsdóttir / Trouble. The opening images of her stunning video featured mushrooming waves pushing their way up the wall into a black shore. This in fact became a perfect visual cue for the development of her whole performance. This set was a perfect synchronization of the flow of image and sound manipulated. The piece clocked in at about 30 minutes of hypnotic sun and water, and the gravity of acousematic, viscous waves, of sound. She quite simply destroyed.
Moving ever forth, Rúnar Magnússon, took to reshaping the sonic space next in the most minimal, subtle, and challenging piece of the evening. Again with the creep factor, the set began to a red lit stage, an amp facing away from the audience into the corner, and projection of a disembodied beating heart. I found myself questioning my own ability to appreciate the minimalist approach to sonic spatial sculpting. However, as I began to ask just what it was I thought I was listening to, or for, I realized I was not hearing the same thing at all any longer. This set was a study in the limits of subtlety, a measurement of extremes, the perceptual confinement of the human body and a response to an overstimulated world. Don’t make the mistake into thinking that this music was simple, it was so slowly and continuously shaped and formed it was nearly impossible to articulate the points of transition. Therein lies the beauty.
Last but not least closing the show was Reptilicus. For those unfamiliar with this duo this was witness to experimental Icelandic royalty. Over 20 years of pushing the boundaries of sound and music, they took the the stage like the sentries of the scene, sage like. This set was thunderous and unflinching. Despite the obvious lineage to industrial, kraut and Dada, Reptilicus split the sound of time in half. Simultaneously a prehistory and post history experimental electronic music. Textural, beat driven, granular perfection. In actuality, I really don’t think it is quite accurate to describe them as experimental. Other than the original output signal, their deft control and articulation of the set was poignant, sharp, and hitting.
I truly did not expect this showcase to be so astonishing, I expected it to be good, but this showcase was monolithic. Thanks for the every beautiful bit of sonic silt Yatra Crew. My mind will be swimming in the sounds of the harbor for a while!
If you missed it don’t fret, head to 12 Tónar and check out the new Yatra Arts release Höfnin Hljómar, out today, featuring everyone from the showcase!