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Monday, November 10, 2008

Rökkurró @ 12 Tónar Record Store (Off-Venue)

And now the band that is responsible for me going to Iceland Airwaves in the first place. Those bastards...

Rökkurró playing inside 12 Tónar (ultra hi-fi binaural manikin head in foreground):

Album: Það kólnar í kvöld...

This quintet melds warm contemplative candlelit dynamics with jazzy syncopated tapestries as they swap instruments and create interesting contrasts of mood, often sounding more cinematic ensemble than rock quintet.

Meaning of the Name
For those of us who don't speak Icelandic it might seem their name is merely some Icelandified version of "Rockers" or something like that. Though, this is not even close. In fact, "Rökkurró" is the combination of 2 Icelandic words with much deeper meaning:

Rökkur (sunset / twilight) + (quiet / calm) = Rökkurró

This basically describes the time of day when the sun is setting and everything seems calm and relaxed.

How apt: I couldn't believe how perfectly fitting a title this seemed to be for their unique sound after thinking it was some derivative of "Rock___" for so long.

Impressions of the Rökkurró Sound:
Indeed, like a setting sun, the bright warm vocals seem to cast beautifully long winter shadows, with their internal dialogue of swooning cello, while conversing with the rich smoldering accordion lines. These tender but elegantly reasoned lines seamlessly mesh with the integral guitars that vary from tonally rich chords and arpeggiation to jazzy-surf counterpoint and even ethereal textures that all sum to create the underlying harmonic backbone-often adorned with sweet glockenspiel.

Bonding these elements together is the sleek dark bass that is at once exacting and particular in highlighting the overall harmonic direction and relating it to the often nuanced syncopation of the unifying percussion that cleverly reminds: the drum set is indeed a melodic instrument. The carefully crafted drum patterns ebb and flow-sometimes recursive and subtly phased while, at other times, Rock. While there are legions of groups who anchor their paradigm on shock, Rökkurró have somehow reinvented awe.

Reykjavik - Clearing Thursday Weather:

The Scene:
The cozy space in 12 Tónar was packed wall-to-wall. People overflowed to the entry stairs but, listening to the recording, you'd probably think there was no crowd at all because everyone was so quiet and attentive. The set list includes songs from their release Það kólnar í kvöld... (English: "There's a chill in the air tonight...") as well as a new song. I would highly recommend checking this album out: you will not be disappointed.

Off-venue: 12 Tónar (best record shop ever)
Reykjavik, Iceland
2008, October 16, 17:00

(Use Headphones for All Recordings)
Iceland Airwaves 2008 - Rökkurró at 12 Tónar by BinauralAirwaves

Binaural Recording Info:
Microphone Setup: Ultra Hi-Fi Binaural Manikin Head
Master Recording Format: 88.2kHz/24bit

This is chronologically out of order with the rest of my posts but I couldn't resist since it was easily one of my favorite Iceland Airwaves concerts plus I have 2 other concert recordings of Rökkurró. So, I figured I'd spread them out.

I hope you'll enjoy rehearing their 12 Tónar concert as much as I have. As I said, Rökkurró and their music are really responsible for drawing me to Iceland to make these recordings. And since I have enjoyed their music so much I am compelled to give a heartfelt personal stamp of approval and recommendation for their album because it is really quite sublime. Check it out: Það kólnar í kvöld...


Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama Elected President of the United States: Harvard Square Celebration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have never seen anything like this. A spontaneous wide scale eruption of cheering, celebration, and congregation in tribute to the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States. This went on for hours in the streets which had to be closed down. People were simply beside themselves with excitement yet everything was hugely peaceful.

There were people everywhere, chants, tears of joy, cars honking, more enthusiasm than I have ever seen before in my entire life!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The enthusiasm of hope and change!!!!!!!!!!!!


The Sound of Hope and Change:
(Use Headphones for All Recordings)
Obama Election Night Celebration - Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, USA by BinauralAirwaves
Microphone Setup: In-Ear Microphones
Master Recording Format: 44.1kHz/24bit

Harvard Square:
For much of the recording I was facing north looking at the large crowd centered in the half circle thing that swirls around in the square.

Translation Note: Some of the chants are in Spanish. "¡Sí se puede!" translates to "Yes, we can!".

A tapestry of 700 newspaper covers from around the globe with the news of Obama's victory.

I hope that people around the world can share the experience and excitement that this monumental event is.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday, Reykjavik House Show: Úlfur Hansson Lighthouse Sound Installation

Grótta Lighthouse Sound Installation

Grótta Lighthouse which is an island at this moment:

Elín Hansdóttir, b. 1980

Úlfur Hansson, b. 1988


Project: Helix

Location: Gróttuviti- lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes

Date: October 12, 2008, 21:30

About the project: Vocal installation in Grótta lighthouse in collaboration with local choir Selkórinn.

The house show wrapped up and we had very little time to get to Úlfur Hansson's lighthouse sound installation--we had to make it to Rökkurró rehearsal soon after that. Karl AKA "The Heir Electric" grabbed a ride with Árni, Hildur, and myself. It becomes very "cozy" in the car when you have 4 people and a cello.

Árni and Hildur actually took me out to the lighthouse earlier in the day when it was light as it is very scenic. It's different from any other lighthouse I have ever seen in a very bizarre and interesting way: at high-tide the lighthouse becomes an island, at low-tide, it is a peninsula and you can simply walk to it.

Satellite image of the lighthouse:

Another view from farther away:

The concept for the lighthouse sound is pretty interesting. There was a choir singing descending pitches so the music always sounded like it was falling but it never really fell.--a gerbil wheel of musical descent. Karl said this reminded him of an electronic music piece that had a similar effect but used falling sine waves. It is a really cool effect.

To even get to the lighthouse you first arrive in the parking lot and you can see the lighthouse off in the distance with a path marked with large flames that show you the way to get to the lighthouse. Following these flames you walk over rocks and seaweed and sand, basically unable to see much of anything. It took about 5 minutes to reach the lighthouse. It was packed--what a great turnout.

The view looking back toward the parking lot and Reykjavik from the lighthouse. You can see the flame outline of the path:

This recording is quite long (19:20) and a lot of that is due to waiting at each of the landings between staircases since there were so many people packed in there. I was expecting a spiral staircase but this lighthouse had floors every ~6m/20ft which were connected by straight staircases. People had to go both ways on the narrow steps which was not easy. And, as you got close to the top, where the choir (and fog machines!) were, it became even more packed with people. At the very top there was a bright light, fog machines, and the choir behind a white sheet covering the highest staircases entry to the next landing.

Looking up at the top of the lighthouse:

The recording includes my descent down the stairs as well all the way until I get outside. This is what it sounds like:

Sound Installation:
(Use Headphones for All Recordings)
Ulfur Hansson Lighthouse Sound Installation - Sequences Festival - Reykjavik, Iceland by BinauralAirwaves
Artist: Úlfur Hansson
Song/Piece: Lighthouse Sound Installation @ Sequences Festival
Microphone Setup: In-Ear Microphones
Master Recording Format: 44.1kHz/24bit

It was very eerie as you ascended in this haze of fog while the descending pitches grew louder and louder. Perhaps this is an allusion to the sensation of vertigo--these contradictory senses of ascending (the lighthouse) and falling (the sung tones of the choir), while you swirl around landings and up the lighthouse stairs, in a haze (fog), but never getting to a destination, only the sound growing more and more intense. Very cool.

Klive is Úlfur Hansson's alter ego under which he makes really cool electronic music (very much different from this sound installation). Here is what Klive's Iceland Airwaves bio says:
Playing a self-devised genre he dubs 'concrete', this tongue in a cheeky-chappy slaps sexy female vocals over abstract electronica. Klive sounds a lot like Aphex Twin and Jackson & His Computer Band.
Look forward to these recordings from Wednesday. I recorded his performace at Hressó with female vocalist (amazing voice) and 4 brass players (who were Björk's brass players). This was a great show. I'll be posting them soon.


Sunday, Reykjavik House Show: Ólafur Arnalds

(Use Headphones for All Recordings)
Ólafur Arnalds - House Concert by BinauralAirwaves
Microphone Setup: Ultra Hi-Fi Binaural Manikin Head
Master Recording Format: 5.6MHz/1bit Direct Stream Digital

The final set at the house show was:
Ólafur Arnalds

His group consists of him on piano and controlling the electronics/beats + a live string quartet. The melding of classical and popular elements is really difficult but he pulls off this feat remarkably well.

I really love hearing a live string quartet. Most people would just grab a synth or sampler and say "here is the string quartet". Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), a box making sound is just not the same as 4 real/breathing string players. Human beings playing music, compared to a premade backing track, add so much more nuance and subtlety and it really comes through by making the music all the more beautiful. Though, the unfortunate reality is that there are very few hybrid popular/classical groups (popular meaning "non-classical") that actually have a real string quartet. Sigur Rós, Björk, and I know that one of my friends played violin as part of a quartet with Jethro Tull. Pretty short list (even if I'm surely forgetting/don't know of others).

Let's take a moment to think about the logistics of why this is:
You are Ólafur Arnalds and are going on a tour to Europe and North America. You need to cut costs so you are able to make some cash for all of the music you're playing--and by "make some cash" I mean "just barely cover the immense costs of traveling and staying in hotels night after night"--think of the cost of flights, train trips, hotel rooms, and meals to travel to say 33 cities in 35 days... then multiply by the number of people you are taking. Why in the hell would you ever want to increase your musician posse by 400%/4 musicians when you could just plug in a MIDI or sampler unit and have something "approximately" the same?

The answer (in my mind):
You have to really care about the music and it being true to what you intended to have a real string quartet. The fact that Ólafur Arnalds not only has a live string quartet in Iceland but everywhere he travels in the world is truly remarkable and more than worthy of mention. This dude cares about sound and it being good. If you like interesting music and nuanced sound you should support Ólafur the next time he comes to your city. Not just because he has the balls to have a real string quartet but, primarily because his music is cool. You will not be disappointed.


This second recording is tragic, in a way. My recorder died right in the middle. The batteries could have cooked an egg they were so hot... well not quite that bad but they were piping. It's very unfortunate as this is a cool piece. So, I wanted to at least make what exists available. I have more recordings of Ólafur Arnalds from other shows later in the week so do not despair.

What seems to have happened:
(for non-audio-geeks: be satisfied that the batteries died a tragic death. And then skip this paragraph.)

My super hi-fidelity mics, being super hi-fidelity mics, require a lot of phantom power and I discovered during this session (the maiden voyage of my system in a live concert) that I needed different, more robust (robust="true 48V/10mA"), phantom power. Though, this glitch changed my recording throughout the rest of the week almost negligibly. The whole "phantom power issue" became a non-issue thanks to people like Árni from Rökkurró letting me borrow some awesome equipment and by using my portable setup (I have a completely different setup with tiny mics that I physically place in my own ears). This portable setup was the only thing that could work in many of the concerts because the crowd was so packed. Indeed, it was basically impossible to use the manikin at any of the on-venue shows because of the huge crowds. So, this portable setup was key/the only option for the on-venue shows.

By the way, Karl AKA "The Heir Electric" and Hildur from Rökkurró are string players in Ólafur's string quartet--they are currently on tour in Europe. It is really awesome how many musicians are involved with different groups in Reykjavik. Everyone seems to be looking out for one another, no matter their genre. In my mind, this is one of a hand full of the fundamental reasons that the music scene is what it is in Reykjavik: Utopian.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Technical Note: Odeo Audio Player Hiccups

I've noticed that the Odeo Audio Player that I have been using to embed the audio in my site will start playing immediately but it just can't handle the higher quality mp3 files that I have and, therefore, starts stopping the audio at multiple points. This REALLY kills the music. So, until I find something better...

My Suggestion:
1) Download the podcast and listen to it with your iPod or other player.
To do this:
  • iPod (this all assumes that you have iTunes already installed): Click here or the iPod icon on the right side of my site. This will prompt you to download the podcast from within iTunes. After all the files are downloaded, you will have no internet bandwidth issues becuase you've already downloaded it all. You can simply play it on your computer or from your mp3 player.
  • Other Players: If you're not simply using iTunes, you are probably used to syncing podcasts with your software/hardware. So, I will hope that is indeed the case. I have a link for alternate podcatchers which should be helpful.

2) Playing it via the Odeo player:
Click "Play" (starts download of the track) and quickly hit "Pause" (same button) (stops playback but the download continues. Wait a minute or two or possibly more (depending on your connection and the length of the track), and then hit play again. Enough of your track should be downloaded now that there will not be hiccups. You can see a green line increase from left to right. This indicates how much of the file is already downloaded to you computer.

Quick Recap:
Your connection likely cannot keep up with the required transfer rate of the audio and therefore drops out... hitting play and pausing allows it to download a lot of the track so that you have a nice big buffer and don't get drop out/pauses in your audio playback.

Reasoning for Having Large High-Quality mp3s in the First Place:
I opted for high quality/high bandwidth mp3s because it is imperative for our perception that the audio be of the highest quality possible. That is why I made my master format the highest quality possible in the world today: 5.6MHz/1bit DSD. I want to give the most accurate/realistic perception of what happened acoustically and have your experience be simply natural: as if you are there.