Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for Draumalandið

When you divorce a soundtrack from its source, there is a real sense that you’re placing it at a disadvantage. Created for a distinct purpose, and with sequences and shots in mind, a soundtrack stands or falls on its ability to accompany and enchance the visual elements you see on screen. Having said that, the best soundtracks do work as separate entities – the inherent drama and emotional resonances working as abstracted possibilities instead of particularities. Having now seen some chunks of Draumalandið, the film for which Valgeir Sigurðsson’s soundtrack of the same name was created, my impression is that the soundtrack manages to straddle both these outcomes – in situ it’s a powerful piece of work, managing to augment and mirror the immensity of themes explored by Andri Snaer Magnason’s and Þorfinnur Guðnason’s film; yet as a stand alone venture it retains its sense of drama and purpose.

Draumalandið is a film about fear and corruption, based around Iceland’s slide towards bankruptcy and the ways in which the government has manipulated the situation to expedite harnessing and brutalising the country’s natural resources to pay for the damage – primarily by encouraging the multinational Alcoa into making Iceland the largest producer of aluminium in the world. As Magnason puts it, ‘Iceland sacrificed two large rivers to Alcoa…Our government sold them cheap energy and doubled the energy production of Iceland – just to meet Alcoa’s needs. Alcoa needs enormouspower – about four times more energy than the whole nation uses.’ The double-bind behind all this is that generally speaking, the population welcomed the move (or at least were already saw it as a fait accompli) – seeing it as a way of securing the economic future of the regions involved, and the country as a whole. The film is as much about this tension as it is about the extraordinary sublimity of the Icelandic landscape and the pernicious behaviour of politicians.

And it’s this palpable tension that Sigurðsson captures so well. Generally speaking (‘Helter Smelter’ excepted) the score doesn’t attempt to overload the emotional content, preferring instead to use a more painterly approach, using the full Bedroom Community roster (including Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and Ben Frost amongst others) to work a low-level drama and menace, and a sense of quiet sadness into the visual gaps. And Sigurðsson is no stranger to drama, both in his own solo work and in his varied production work – an impressive collection of talents that includes Bjork, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy; but despite the subject matter he generally resists the urge to ramp it up here.

The soundtrack’s central motif is a simple repeated piano progression, overlain with glockenspiel and strings – it bolsters the title track and re-appears in ‘Draumaland’ albeit in a more subdued fashion. It embodies the soundtracks twin airs of sadness and vague peril, a pairing best explored on the last two tracks, ‘Nowhere Land’ and ‘Helter Smelter’, both towering tracks in their way – the former for its subtle sweep of strings, the latter for its near-bestial violence, driven by a growling Ben Frost drone. Outside of this, however, the mood is one of quiet and contemplation. As such, vignettes like ‘I offer prosperity and eternal life…’ ‘Hot Ground Cold’ and ‘Laxness’ are beautifully restrained and very simple creations made from little more than piano and buried fluttering strings. ‘Grylukvæði’, featuring Sam Amidon on vocals, despite it’s ominous backwards strings is similarly quiescent.

Overall, Draumalandið is a forceful and poignant piece of work, and as part of the larger film project its quite outstanding. Seek both out if you can.

Matt Poacher

The Line of Best Fit (March 16th 2010)

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