The official release of Valgeir Sigurdsson’s Draumalandið (Dreamland) is today! This is an original-soundtrack album from the film Dreamland, with music written for a + 20 piece chamber ensemble and electronics. The recording features Nico Muhly (arrangements, piano, celesta, harmonium), Sam Amidon (vocals, banjo, guitar) Ben Frost (electronics), Hildur Guðnadóttir (cello), Borgar Magnason (double bass), Nadia Sirota (viola) and Daníel Bjarnason (piano-preparation). The music for Dreamland has received a ‘Best Score’ nomination at the 2010 Icelandic Film Academy Awards.
Dreamland – Film Trailer
Valgeir Sigurdsson has made his name as an exponent of musical subtlety. As an engineer and producer, he’s often focused on the intimate, the miniature. On his solo debut Ekvílibríum, his songwriting and composition tended towards the muted or the oblique. His best-known work is punctuated with question marks and ellipses, and not so many exclamation points.
But this is only one side of his musical capabilites. Draumalandið (“Dreamland”), a documentary about the exploitation of Iceland’s natural resources, tells a story about huge things—the fortunes of a whole nation; the destruction of vast landscapes; and the global economic forces, greater still than any nation, that fuel it all—and for his soundtrack to the film, Valgeir has brought out a heavier set of tools. His entire roster of Bedroom Community labelmates contributes in some way to the creation of the score: classical composers Nico Muhly and Daníel Bjarnason, industrial wizard Ben Frost, and American folksinger Sam Amidon, along with a host of others, and the small orchestra assembled for the record swells from moments of expansive beauty into massive, surging symphonic force. Its harmonies are anxious, pulsing, driven.
Not that this is an album lacking in subtlety. Draumalandið the film takes on the delicate task of unmasking the apparent win/win proposition of Iceland’s aluminum smelting boom—clean energy! new jobs! economic growth!—as a false blessing with very real consequences. Likewise, Draumalandið the soundtrack takes global, at times seemingly abstract questions, and offers deeply personal responses.
Valgeir Sigurdsson’s score makes fierce and direct statements of sorrow and indignation, but it also expresses, with a kind of hushed awe, the beauty of landscapes on the brink of devastation, and the seductive shimmer of the illusions that imperil them. Tender, fragmented melodies rise out of uncanny musical textures; in the album’s opening track, Sam sings “Grýlukvæði,” an Icelandic folktune about a greedy hag come to devour naughty children, just as he would an Appalachian ballad, and in turn Valgeir reframes it as a sad, sympathetic reprimand to a people (Icelanders, yes, but by extension all of humanity) who would sell their birthright to a rapacious multinational.
This is all painted in brushstrokes broad and minute, from palette of hugely varied shades—Sam’s banjo playing, Daníel’s John Cage-style piano treatments, Ben’s halos of distortion—but somehow, it all fits together as a coherent musical argument. Heard as an accompaniment to the film, the Draumalandið score can disappear into the images and the narrative. Listened to on its own, it rewards close attention: for the subtle interconnections between the movements, for their cumulative emotional force, and simply as a series of meticulously scored and recorded musical moments, urgent meditations on the natural sublime.
Whale Watching Tour 2009:
Sam Amidon, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurdsson Whale Watching Tour European tour 2009