CD - extended digipak - 2 tracks - 39:25
Voice, cello & electronics: Hildur Gudnadottir
Recorded & mixed by Tony Myatt
Mastered by Denis Blackham
1. Prelude 4:11
2. Leyfdu ljosinu 35:14
Hildur Gudnadottir's new album 'Leyfdu ljosinu' (Icelandic for 'Allow the light'), was recorded live at the Music Research Centre, University of York, in January 2012 by Tony Myatt, using a SoundField ST450 Ambisonic microphone and two Neumann U87 microphones. (NB - It was not played in a concert environment and there was no audience.)
To be faithful to time and space - elements vital to the movement of sound - this album was recorded entirely live, with no post-tampering of the recordings' own sense of occasion.
About Hildur Gudnadottir:
Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir (b. 1982) is a cellist and composer. Best known for her collaborations with múm and guest appearances with Pan Sonic, she has a rich catalogue of collaborations and varied projects behind her.
Guðnadóttir began playing cello as a child, entered the Reykjavík Music Academy and then moved on to musical studies/composition and new media at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and Universitat der Kunste in Berlin. Back in Iceland, she became very active in the neu-Iceland scene as a member of Kitchen Motors, a Reykjavík based think tank, record label and an art collective along with internationally renowned composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
In 2004, she started playing with the band Angel (Ilpo Väisänen and Dirk Dresslehaus). Around that time she made an album with Dirk (Mr. Schmuck´s farm), and went on to play live Pan Sonic, later collaborating on their album Cathodephase.
She released her first solo album, Mount A, under the artist name Lost in the Hildurness, on the Reykjavík based label 12 Tónar in 2006. The album was recorded in New York City, and at ‘Hólar in Hjaltadalur’, a historic spot in Iceland with a house named Audunarstofa. The old house is constructed from Norwegian wood and was chosen for its excellent cello acoustics. Guðnadóttir played all the instruments on the album – vibraphone, viola da gamba, harp and vocals.
Guðnadóttir is a member of Storsveit Nix Noltes (The Nix Noltes Big Band), a rotating cast of 7 to 10 Icelanders playing traditional Bulgarian and Greek dance music. The group has toured the US twice supporting Animal Collective.
She has also played frequently with field recording artist and performer BJ Nilsen; delicate duets that conjure somber rapture of multi tracked cello - Guðnadóttir’s live playing augmented by laptop loops. Guðnadóttir has collaborated, played and recorded with other artists such as Skúli Sverrisson, Hilmar Jensson, Hafler Trio, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Angel, Schneider™, Ben Frost and Stilluppsteypa.
As a composer she has written music for plays, dance performances and films, pieces for chamber orchestras, various instruments, voices and electronics. Guðnadóttir likes to explore the nature and movement of sound, and often turns her experiments into sound and visual installations. She recently co-composed a live soundtrack to Derek Jarman's 1980 film In The Shadow of The Sun with legends Throbbing Gristle, arranged choir for performances by them in Austria and London.
Icelandic cellist Hildur Gudnadottir's Leyfdu ljosinu (Icelandic for ‘Allow the light') was recorded live in a single take at the Music Research Centre at the University of York in January 2012. No post-performance manipulations were applied, making the recording as accurate a rendering of the performance as possible. A solo recording in the truest sense, Leyfdu ljosinu finds the classically trained Gudnadottir (aka Lost In Hildurness) extending dramatically upon the sound-world presented in the work by using electronics to multiply her cello and voice. Loops are generated that then sustain themselves as base figures against which subsequent vocal and cello elements resound.
Opening with the cello alone and at its most natural, the brief “Prelude” lays the groundwork for the thirty-five-minute title track. Extended rests separate the bowed tones, almost as if to suggest the music's awakening, until Gudnadottir's soft voice appears to signal the start of the major section. An almost ghostly mood is created when her ethereal voice softly intones for minutes on end, the music's hypnotic character reinforced by the lulling, to-and-fro motion of its rhythms. Fourteen minutes into the second track, the cello starts to challenge the willowy vocals for dominance, the instrument swelling into rather cloud-like formations as it floods the aural space with its dramatic presence. Blocks of heaving strings surge dramatically, and a single cello eventually splits off from the whole, making it seem as if a single voice has risen to the surface of a turbulent, blurry mass, and grows ever more agitated as the end nears.
Gudnadottir makes full use of the title track's generous length to shape the music's arc with patience and deliberation. In fact, the growth in density occurs so gradually, it occurs almost imperceptibly, and it's only when one reaches the end of the recording that the overall shape of the material comes retroactively into clearer focus. Though it's admittedly more of a cello-based performance than cello-based composition, Leyfdu ljosinu presents a fascinating exercise in control in terms of execution and vision in terms of conceptual approach.
The Silent Ballet (USA):
Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir has recorded with bands like Múm and Throbbing Gristle, toured with the likes of Animal Collective, and released two albums on Touch, but somehow her name seems to be absent in discussions about leaders in the experimental/classical realm. What can we say? It's a male-dominated industry. Guðnadóttir's latest work, Leyfdu Ljosinu (translation: "Allow the Light") is a forty minute, two track effort that features just Guðnadóttir, her cello, and whatever live manipulations could be squeezed out. Despite Guðnadóttir's ties to other artists, she tries to keep her solo work just that - hers alone. Leyfdu Ljosinu exemplifies this mindset, as it was recorded live in one setting, with no post-processing and no audience. The absence of a crowd may or may not be of consequence, but the album certainly sounds as if it was created in an empty space and given all the room it needed to expand and conquer the surrounding noises. When played at low volumes, Leyfdu Ljosinu may seem quaint or charming, but when the audience bares the full force of the music, its haunting, forceful nature is fully revealed through ghastly waves of droning cello. Perhaps its the Icelandic stigma forces this conception, but there is a bitterness on Leyfdu Ljosinu that is not too common of works in this realm, and would certainly be an uncharacteristic move on the part of Peter Broderick, Richard Skelton, Greg Haines, Zoë Keating, Julia Kent, or many of the other more prominent modern cellists. On Leyfdu Ljosinu, Guðnadóttir is carving out her own identity, and it is a wonderful sight to see.
A lovely album of cello/voice/electronics compositions by Hildur Gudnadottir recorded live at the Music Research Centre (University of York) in January of this year. Touch's press release notes that the original live recordings have not been edited as "to be faithful to time and space." The effect of this move is the establishment of a sense of intimacy and even immediacy in these glacially moving string compositions. The album begins with a brief string prelude before the centerpiece, "Allow The Light" takes center stage. Thirty-five minutes in length, the piece is really quite beautiful, with angelic, clarion vocals eclipsing beautiful string arrangements for cello. Midway through the piece its initial frailness gives way to a more spectacular and assertive movement, building to a frenzied mass of bowed strings and booming electricity clouds. Impressive and immersive listening, and typically top-notch presentation by Touch. [Alex Cobb]
Other Music (USA):
A stark, breathtaking work from the Icelandic composer and performer, recorded entirely live with no overdubs, just Gudnadottir's voice, cello and electronic manipulations, using an Ambisonic mic and a pair of Neumanns. The ambiance of the room is thick and intense, with a long, achingly pure vocal and string tones floating in the air as if they have actual weight and body, as the composition builds and recedes, and builds and recedes, over 40 minutes.
Norman Records (UK):
I don’t know a lot about this lady but she did a thing on Sonic Pieces not too long ago with Hauschka that Phil thought was amazing so I’m pretty curious to listen. This album was recorded live in York in a non-concert environment and has all sorts of lovely shimmering drones on it. I don’t have the artwork to hand because of a bizarre mix-up involving Brian, who was originally going to write this review, taking it home with him without the disc in it...which sounds like it was his fault but it was actually mostly mine. Looking at a previous release I see she played cello, zither, processors and voice, so I’m assuming that’s what’s going on here. There’s definitely a cello involved and lots of soft processed drones anyway.
At the start it’s quite neoclassical-sounding but later on we get into somnolent soundscaping business with creeping high and mid tones slowly morphing and swelling in quite a sinister way, with a kind of Lawrence English-ish blurriness, but a slow melodic heart that falls somewhere between Stars of the Lid and Deathprod. It’s well relaxing, actually, and the patient droneophiles amongst you are certain to be completely swept up in the full, soft tones and mournful strings.
Fluid Radio (UK):
It doesn’t seem fair to refer to the community of Icelandic composers as a music scene. Cross the ocean, several aesthetic styles and a decade or two, and revisit late 1990s pop punk for that. Blink-182, Third Eye Blind, and The All-American Rejects may each have produced some terrific music on their own — a true scene, in more ways than one — but tell us without Googling it which one recorded “Graduate.” Give up? So do we.
But back to Iceland, it seems impossible that, 15 years from now, anyone here will confuse the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson with that of Wildbirds and Peacedrums, or the compositions of Ben Frost with those of múm. The community might be tightly-knit, and mutually supportive, but the country’s musical breadth is just as remarkable as its depth. It is often remarked that the relatively small population produces astonishing numbers of world-class musicians, but their artistic range is no less impressive.
Yesterday Touch announced the return of Hildur Guðnadóttir. In the paragraph above we listed four diverse artists or ensembles, born or based in Iceland. Cellist, vocalist and composer Guðnadóttir has worked with each of these and a dozen others, a well-established figure in this small, prolific society. Her previous solo album Without Sinking was a collection of ravishing, deep-throated arrangements for cello, zither, and voice, alongside organ, bass, and clarinet. Yet one-sheets, reviews, and concert announcements — including this review — still rely on the gently backhanded introduction, “Best known for her collaborations with…” Perhaps another collection of relatively short instrumental tracks, however gorgeous, was somehow too anonymous. Just like how — after a few years in the working world — we don’t remember the great university professors, or even the excellent ones. Only those who lectured in their bare feet and brought their dogs to class. Leyfdu ljosinu should help out in this respect.
Guðnadóttir’s third album, Icelandic for “allow the light,” is cut into two installments but was clearly composed and intended as a single movement. (Opener “Prelude” trims about four minutes away from the rest, which clocks in at around 35 minutes. Such an oddly-placed digital marker was probably intended only for the requisite free download.) The arrangement — and from here we’ll only speak of Leyfdu ljosinu as a whole, irrespective of tracks — slowly builds from silence and single cello notes, through adagio harmonies and delicious patches of blank canvas. A whispered vocal loop appears: two-word, two-note melodies, first unedited and accompanied with a single, purring cello, but soon gaining momentum with echoes and slight permutations. This way a choir forms, and it is worth noting here that the album “was recorded live at the Music Research Centre, University of York, in January 2012.” In other words, the buoyant voices and the synthesis of the loops into a separate instrument were achieved in one take. Yet the processing is never used as structure, only as finishing.
The cello begins a gradual return somewhere around the midpoint, in sparse, slicing notes and spotlight accuracy. The specific weight of the first act gives way to a blurred urgency in the second, and for at least a few minutes the sum of string vibrations has a downright ambient fullness. Distinct notations come back into focus during the final minutes, with a punching, kinetic arrangement, a well-earned climax, and a few seconds of breath afterward. It is a long piece, and it doesn’t subdivide well. Much better to take it in during one uninterrupted 40-minute listen. It values colour over pattern, tension over relief. Meaning those already familiar with Guðnadóttir may prefer Without Sinking on strictly aesthetic grounds. But for those of us who are new to her work, and for those who were hoping the follow-up would be something more along the lines of a manifesto, Leyfdu ljosinu is unforgettable. [Fred Nolan]
Icelandic cellist and vocalist Hildur Gudnadottir has shocked me this year with the awe inspiring live performance album Leyfdu Ljosinu on the UK based imprint Touch. Recorded live with no audience at the Music Research Centre, University of Yorke in January of this year, the flowing essence of minimal presentation is astounding and as powerful as anything I have heard this year. Minimal in approach, Hildur Gudnadottir presents a four minute intro of eerie and slowly burning cello that sets the tone for the type of atmosphere that is to follow on Leyfdu Ljosinu. The following track contains the self titled piece and runs for almost forty minutes as one movement that shifts in various cycles that closes out the album. There is an underlining emotion and feeling that takes over the album, something that defines the albums purpose so well. It’s unbelievable how Hildur Gudnadottir achieves some of the layering that she does with electronics, cello and her vocals and it’s all very angelic and harmonious, never drifting outside of the realm of crystalline beauty. The climax of vocals, cello and electronics at the end is definitely worth the slowly building energy that this album paces at and displays a stunning performance of her cello capabilities with no post production involved.
Much of Leyfdu Ljosinu drifts and floats into different cascading cloths of color, folding inside of itself as each drifting moment cycles around to the other. The atmosphere feels cinematic and speaks for as much tension and restrain as it does muscular power and velocity. Leyfdu Ljosinu is really a remarkable testament to the importance of minimalism in ones music diet. As many albums strive to become large, this is the type of sound that feels large from the smallest of sources and the sound that isn’t being played by instruments becomes just as important as those present. In this world, the type of microphones utilized, a rooms acoustics and many more elements that lay unspoken in the albums final result become factors that give a much greater weight to the music than most contemporary records and is one that engineer Tony Myatt pulled off remarkably.
With vocals that sound like they are hardly surfacing through the depth of a blanketed forest in a lucid dream, intricately vibrant and softly placed loops and an overall musical imagination that paints thousands of pictures, Leyfdu Ljosinu truly becomes a magical and otherworldly vibration. [Erik Otis]
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