Valgeir Sigurðsson is one of the most highly regarded composers and producers in Iceland, and has collaborated with Björk, Brian Eno, Nico Muhly and many others.
"Dissonance," the first of three pieces collected for this album, is based on the opening bars of a Mozart Quartet known for its clashing introductory lines. These 40 seconds were stretched into a 23-minute piece, with orchestra sections recorded separately and then layered and massaged into place. The result might evoke the smeared and impenetrable effect of György Ligeti's "micro-polyphony." Tension builds until 14 minutes in, when there is a breakthrough of warm consonant sunlight. Other than that one dramatic moment, the rest of the piece, though interesting in concept, is a frustrating listening experience.
The other two pieces seem more tightly orchestrated and melodic, though hardly less challenging. "No Nights Dark Enough" opens with sweet strings leading to a sinister, downward swoop around its first minute, and then explores different shades of melancholy. The second movement, "Infamy Sings," is definitely a majestic highlight, though "Fear and Grief and Pain" contains fascinating raindrop-like interplay between piano and electronics.
"1875 I. Waterborne" opens tumultuously, referencing the volcanic eruption of Mount Askja in 1875 which led a large number of Icelanders to emigrate to Manitoba. The hardiness of these early Canadians is given a sort of Aaron Copland-ish treatment, conveying the majesty and harshness of nature through melody.
Speaking about the live performance of "Dissonance," Sigurðsson has said, "I never make music with the audience in mind," and the challenging title track illustrates this. However, other two pieces, more programmatic in nature and commissioned by different festivals, offer greater reward for a listener.