Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Icelandic Sublime: RY X And Ólafur Arnalds Collaboration

Ólafur Arnalds
Ólafur Arnalds
The rise and rise of Icelandic music, or of music by Icelandic composers, has been little short of phenomenal over the three decades of its popular tenure.

That it thrives on the margins may be a consequence of the resolutely left-field nature of the musical dynamic: from the raucous brittleness and determinedly eclectic avant-garde of Björk, to the swathing choral elegies of Sigur Rós, the music lends itself to no single genre. Derivative in the very best sense, layers of sound accrete to reward the receptive ear with something approaching narcosis. Elements of trip-hop, jazz, rock, folk and ambient fuse to yield a mélange which is profoundly satisfying, and idiosyncratically Scandi. Whilst the momentous choral and orchestral pieces of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson dovetail seamlessly with the portent and gravitas of film soundtracks, the young composer Ólafur Arnalds cuts across borders of classical, trance and transcendent abstraction with real innovative panache.

And yet, the listener never loses sight of the Icelandic antennae – a subliminal link to traditions deeply embedded in the island’s culture. Never morose, in spite of the frequently subdued tempo (see, especially, the wonderfully luminous piano/violin counterpoint of ‘Undan Hulu’, and the sublime choral piece, ‘Momentary’), always suggestive of an intangible ‘otherness’, Arnalds' music yields the sense of a presence on the other side of a closed door.

Never more so than in his beautifully-realised and much-awaited new collaboration with singer, songwriter and producer of electronica, RY X, of whom Arnalds says -

"I have been a fan of RY X for a long time and always felt like we might be kindred spirits. On a whim I decided to contact him to make a remix for my album, but after a few times back and forth we started moving further away from the original song that I asked Ry to remix and we eventually realised we had started a real collaboration. A deeply inspiring one that I don’t see ending anytime soon.”

The hypnotic, beat-driven excursion of ‘Oceans’, a meeting of two fabulously inventive minds, is the result of a creative process which broaches boundaries of form and style. And if Ólafur Arnalds’ hint is any guide, we may well be hearing more of these unique creations in the near future.

‘Oceans’ is out now on Mercury KX