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Sunday, November 2, 2008

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.



souphater said...

Thank you for the Music. It's great to listen to such amazing tracks. Ólafur is a really great musician, you are totally right. ^_^ And listening to the music via headphones makes the whole thing so intense. It's pure beauty. Thank you again. ^_^