After performing several shows in the rest of Europe, Ólafur Arnalds brought his latest effort to his own homeland. The Icelandic Opera’s cozy atmosphere seemed to grant a suitable setting for the official release concert of the recent …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness.
The album, released at the end of April 2010, was acclaimed by many as the work that has elevated the still young talent of Arnalds to the same league of composers of the likes of Arvo Pärt. Being this and many other comparisons fair and fitting or not – like the one with fellow countrymen and musicians Sigur Rós and Jóhann Jóhannsson – …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness is definitely a step forward in a direction already outlined by Ólafur Arnalds. The latest album is not, as the previous works, a collection of graceful musical pieces in which rarefied electronica uses a more classical approach to suggest diverse emotions. …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness was conceived more as a whole, as a journey: not on a physical but on a deeply sentimental and personal level. Life is a continuous passage from moments of light to moments of darkness, Arnalds points out with poignant simplicity, and music has the power to reflect this truth. Every track in the album has a proper place, but it’s in the chords of the listener that resides the true potential of the music. Every person will follow an individual path through the notes, a path leading from light to darkness and vice versa, passing through all the subtle emotional nuances everybody is given to experience. Arnalds though seem to be suggesting on the whole an optimistic outlook, even if this optimism is far from being superficially lighthearted; on the contrary, it is heavily intertwined with melancholy.
Arnalds’ stage persona appeared in the occasion of the concert very modest and inconspicuous. Aided by the obscurity that enveloped the whole scene, with just very essential illumination to keep him and his four-piece string orchestra visible – though they too were at topical times swallowed by darkness – he let the audience have glimpses of him now and then, subtly and quietly. The piano’s and the strings’ voices occupied the whole space, sometimes with the interjection of sampled sounds – percussions mainly, but also more instrumentation and even human muttering. The music flow was rarely interrupted to give Arnalds the chance to interact with the audience in his native tongue.
Arnalds’ music – and if you are familiar with it you probably know it – requires a lot of attention to express its full potential, not only for the cliched but somewhat correct notion that instrumental music, deprived of the assistance of words to communicate with the public, needs a different degree of acceptance and partecipation in the listener. Arnald’s music is very much made of very minimal changes in mood; it’s nothing grandiose or flamboyant. The emotional variations cannot be percieved easily when the audience is distracted or involved in other occupations. This said – and I’m going against my own interests affirming it because I’m one of those always bringing a camera at gigs they attend – taking photos of any kind and in any form probably shouldn’t be allowed during shows of this species. People roaming the immediate stage area waving huge paraphernalia in their hands and flashes flaring up from various corners of the hall are all things that invariably ruin the music fruition. The sparse aura connected with Arnalds’ style is probably easier to strike the right chords in a more intimate atmosphere. I couldn’t really immerse myself in the music, forgetful of everything that was going on around me. My fault as well, of course. I am one of those people with cameras, remember? The problem is live music performances require most of the times to have so many different circumstances accomplished that is almost impossible to fulfill them all, while listening on your own is – this may sound like a paradox – a more direct way to connect to some musicians’ messages.
If you want to listen to Ólafur Arnalds’ …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness, you can get it from the Erased Tapes store. You can watch the official music video for the track Hægt, kemur ljósið here.