RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Hildur Guðnadóttir: Mount A

img  Tobias Fischer

Influences can constitute a perfectly natural part of an artist's maturation process. But they can also stifle creative development. For years, Hildur Guðnadóttir  would oscillate between the classical sphere and rock music, between her calling as a cellist and an interest in computer technology. It was only after she broke away from the dictates of mandatory lessons and turned towards studying composition and new media in Reykjavik and Berlin that she truly found her own vocabulary. Since then, she has somehow managed, on the one hand, to fulfill and even exceed expectations and, on the other, to utterly confound them: Guðnadóttir's duets with German prepared-piano-magician Hauschka seemed to give in to the neoclassical temptation, while wilful collaborations with Throbbing Gristle and electro-deconstructionists Pan Sonic brutally smashed it apart. Her strong affinity for the archaic qualities of music appeared to cater to widespread cliches about Icelandic music and yet a plethora of details revealed her to be a musician with a truly international scope. Today, her own name, rather than her affiliation with a clear-cut genre or scene, has turned into her real asset, representing a personal approach between tradition and the present, the concert hall and art spaces, meditative states and energetic improvisations.

This idiosyncratic path notwithstanding, aforementioned debut album, now re-released in a remastered version through Touch four years after its initial publication on local label 12 Tónar, was never completely free from external references. By making use of instruments like the viola da gamba (a precursor to the modern violin, whose popularity started to wane in the 18th century), zither and moran khuur (a mongolian horse-headed fiddle), Mount A's sound had a gloomy medieval smack to it, while the inclusion of vibraphone and gamelan elements simultaneously added a cosmopolitan touch of world music to the equation. Holding these contrasting poles together was Guðnadóttir's cello which, occasionally seamlessly blending with her own singing, represented the voice of humanity amidst a timbrally sparse sonic continuum that placed the listener inside the massive, fortified walls of a ghost-plagued castle in an abandoned Viking colony. Time was suspended, bent backwards and looped itself into acoustic Moebius strips in her imagination, speaking in runic tongues, expressing itself in tantric hammer blows and praising the technological advances of multitracking all at once.

Even more astounding, however, was how completely naturally Guðnadóttir managed to reunite minimal music's two closely-aligned yet nonetheless counterpuntual tendencies towards meditative stasis and vivid pulsation. Although these pieces were continually propelled by mantrically repeated cello-lines, their shamanic ostinatos seemed to be running against an invisible wall of tightly compressed harmonies and infinitely sustained tones, never advancing beyond their original point of departure. While one part of her music was always moving, the other never even budged, creating tense soundscapes caught in a state of perpetual suspense through their underlying antagonisms. The impression was not quite unlike the kind of nervous equilibrium upheld by the works of Hungarian composer Györgi Legti, from whose dense harmonic swarms the occasional melodic theme or rhythmic pattern would rise for a few seconds like a solar protuberance only to drop back into the gravitational field of a monolithic mass again. Consciously left in its organic unquantised state and imbued with a sense of breath and irregularity, these sequences were turning into inner dervish dances, into occult rituals of the mind.

Between these discrete and more often than not subcutaneously transmitted allusions, however, one could already hear the distant din of the drills and hammers Guðnadóttir was handling to construct her very own reality out of these recognisable building blocks. When, as on „Self“, microtonally refined zither-patterns were dissolving into ethereal drones; rich, cinematic string swells were poised against visionary film-noir-jazz-moods („In Gray“); or futuristic bell-sonorities and chiming bleeps created a scintillating, threedimensionally rotating caleidoscope („Earbraces“), Mount A far surpassed the post of clever juxtaposition. Placed side by side, the seeming immobility of these pieces, mostly condensed to their three- or four-minute-essence, turned into their strongest character trait. Guðnadóttir was virtually sculpting sonic objects from naked stone, leaving their rough and grainy surface intact. The act of listening was one of feeling their texture, appreciating the rawness of their outlines and discovering secretly engraved nuances. It was the exact opposite of an ambient-artist's favourite objective, immersion: A concentrated, deeply penetrating analytical gaze which scanned her inventions and extracted powerful emotional resonance in return.

Over the course of her next releases, Guðnadóttir would gradually refine these ideas, increasingly preferring a combination of spontaneity and meticulous organisation over the expressionist outbursts of her early years. With hindsight, however, it has remained intriguing to note that even at her most impulsive and unfiltered, she never allowed her inspirations to stifle her creativity, tightly integrating them into an intriguing cobweb of allusions.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Homepage: Touch

Related articles

Interview/ Nachtgeschrei
Playing Metal with a touch ...
Review/ Nachtgeschrei: "Am Rande der Welt"
Traditional instruments & Metal: A ...
Rudi Arapahoe: Echoes from One to Another
In his biography, Rudi Arapahoe ...
15 Questions to Alio Die
For almost two decades, Stefano ...
15 Questions to Maninkari
French duo Maninkari stormed onto ...
CD Feature/ Alio Die & Martina Galvagni: "Eleusian Lullaby"
A continued rhythm: Songs from ...

Partner sites