KEXP at Iceland Airwaves, Day 2: Úlfur Eldjárn

Iceland Airwaves
Katy McCourt-Basham
Photos by Matthew B. Thompson

Opening day two of the Iceland Airwaves broadcast live from Kex Hostel is Icelandic composer, producer, and musician Úlfur Eldjárn. Like many of his Icelandic contemporaries, Úlfur has his fingers in many pots: He plays in Apparat Organ Quartet, he composes music for film, TV, video games, and commercials, and is now releasing his second album of solo work The Aristókrasía Project. One of his most interesting projects has been an interactive composition called The Infinite String Quartet. Made in collaboration with his brother Halldór Eldjárn and designer Siggi Oddsson, The Infinite String Quartet is “a composition where the listener creates his own version of the music through a graphic interface.”

Armed with a full string section and his younger brother Halldór Eldjárn on the drums, Úlfur Eldjárn was ready to give the good-sized crowd gathered at Kex something really special. "Dagsbruún" opened with quiet, chiming sounds and layered synth loops. Strings flowed and ebbed, giving way to solemn cello, with soft cymbal-heavy drumming and droning, distorted vocals. The song dropped into crashing post-rock hi-hat drums.

"Hands Up in the Air" began with an almost tropical feel, with the distorted opening notes sounding almost as if they were coming from underwater. The textured, atmospheric piece has a kind of sunniness to it, with additions of various instruments building very slowly. Distorted, Daft Punk-esque vocals repeat "put your hands up in the air" over dancey beats. The warm swell of the strings build to the song's climax, and quietly wind down with an echo of the tropical tones the song began with.

Next was "Poyekhali!" named for the war cry of Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. This was the first song recorded for Úlfur's forthcoming record The Aristókrasía Project. Somber, melodic strings play over recordings of astronaut radio correspondence. A beautiful blend of analog and digital, the cinematic nature of the song is reflective of Ùlfur's soundtracking background.

He closed his set with "The History of Science," which he explained is about, well, the history of science of course. High, bell-like sounds play over underlying cinematic strings, feeling very much like the soundtrack of a Planet Earth special or a documentary about space. You can almost picture a journey through the stars, a time-lapsed video of plants bursting into bloom, or tracking a giant squid in the deep ocean. The indecipherable distorted vocals might be talking about the history of science, or maybe something else altogether, but it's hard to care when you're listening to such beautiful music. What a strong start to our second day!

Next on the broadcast at 8 AM PST/11 AM EST is Icelandic folk-rock artist Júníus Meyvant. Watch live video here!

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