Arguably one of the most creative, influential and devoted songwriters around, Icelandic composer and songwriter Ólafur Arnalds bought his long-awaited new album to Manchester. Arnalds is known by many for his work with Kiasmos, an IDM and classical music fusion of sound he began with friend Janus Rasmussen in 2009. Yet it is his compositions of classical sounds and his ability on piano is where Ólafur Arnalds truly shines.
His talent not only as a composer but as a musician is unquestionable. It only took 5 minutes of his set to truly appreciate the music that he crafts and how powerful and invigorating his sound is. The Albert Hall, Manchester provided the perfect space for his sound to explode into life. The stunning acoustic range of the venue arguably makes it the best sounding venue in the city. He opens with the set with the ever growing ‘Arbakkinn’, an emotional beginning which builds to a luscious flowing soundscape that you just can’t escape… but why would you want to? Opening with Arnalds on stage with a soft flowing piano, other musicians slowly join him on stage.
Before sweeping into ‘Brot’, Arnalds used the crowd for an experiment. Everyone was asked to sing one note for use in the track. He began to record the note sung by the onlooking audience and further joked about reverb and how “sometimes we add autotune if it sounds terrible” prompting laughter from the crowd. This elongated and manipulated note sung by the crowd acted as a deep-lying synth within ‘Brot’. As it played, the other musicians began to play the track. This shows that Ólafur is keen to engage the audience as much as possible during the set and to actively include them as an instrument.
With the introduction of a drummer for the intense “Only The Winds’ and the title track from his latest record ‘re:member’, the set exploded further into life. The beautiful way the violins, piano, drums, synths and double bass blend together on these tracks truly encapsulate his beauty within music in a way I have personally never experienced whilst watching an artist perform. ‘Under’ further expressed his sound with its danceablity and mid-section of the track. The violinists providing a synth-like beat to the track and the incredible ability of the drummer encase you within the sound.
‘re:member’ is a truly remarkable record and it is fully brought to life within Ólafur Arnalds’ live shows. Combinations of distorted/choppy synths and luscious violin make tracks some of the most stunning and breathtaking music of the set. The moments where Arnalds isolates himself on stage are the some of the most gorgeous moments of the evening. The track ‘Nyepi’, named after the day of silence in Bali, Indonesia was one of those moments. Prior to the track, Arnalds describes his time there stating it was good to “give Mother Earth a day off” and that the song was a result of the time he had spent in Bali during Nyepi. Fan favourite ‘Near Light’ completed the set with its cataclysmic synthesisers and gorgeous soundscapes that created the most elegant energy and vibrancy. The powerful drums collided with the beauty of the violins and piano in a masterful way that could only be achieved by Ólafur.
Concluding the set were two very important songs to Arnalds. The first being one of the first tracks that he ever wrote, ‘3055’, a mainly piano-based moment with subtle flicks of violin that cascade into a beautiful creation of sound. Arnalds recently remastered this record, and recalled that the remastering process gave him the influence to begin writing ‘re:member’, saying on stage “I’ve learned so much over the years and it was a rewarding experience that helped shape my new album”.
The most touching and memorable moment of the evening now, as Arnalds introduces the final song of the night, ‘Lag fyrir ömmu’. He began by talking about how his Grandma had influenced him to pursue his career and how he decided to name the song ‘Song for Grandma’ in Icelandic. Yet to further add to the emotion, the departed trio of violinists began playing their instruments to the side of the stage from the middle of the song. As the track progressed, they walked further away down the corridor with the audience sat in complete silence, Olafur facing towards his grand piano, refraining to turn towards the sheer silence of the Albert Hall. It acted almost as a remembered silence for his grandma. I’ve never experienced silence quite like it and it produced arguably the most beautiful and pure moment of any show.