25 Jan 2011: Highline Ballroom New York
Ólafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer who creates fragile and stark instrumental music. In the beginning of 2011, he made a short sojourn around the States, which he rarely frequents, with stops on both coasts. At the Highline Ballroom show, Arnalds’s audience witnessed a short but intimate and at times visceral performance. His stage setup is similar to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s performance as both feature accompaniment from a string quartet with the musician at his piano (or keyboards) and supplementing it all with samples from laptops. Though there was a video backdrop, it was kept restrained to images of a lighthouse or some plants and birds or enigmatic themes from the ...And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness album.
Just after he took the stage, Arnalds encouraged the crowd to sit on the floor, an uncomfortable position for many but fitting for the instrumental concert. For a good portion of the show, Arnalds immersed the audience in his music, which made knowing the names of the songs irrelevant. At times the music floated lightly along with wafting voices from the violins, but midway through it took a dramatic turn. Electronic pulses were synchronized with the flashing of naked incandescent and florescent light bulbs. The strobe effect created a powerful rawness to the evening as the seated crowd watched the transfixed musicians.