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Club Review

Reviewed: Ólafur Arnalds at Boulder Theatre, Colorado


I first heard of Ólafur Arnalds as a few of his tracks were featured in the Above & Beyond yoga set at Robot Heart during Burning Man 2014. I was instantly captivated by the nature of the production as it reminded me of the classical compositions of Beethoven, Bach and more, that my ears were immersed in as a child.

As a teenager, before Arnald’s musical journey began, he was sporting Slayer t-shirts and jamming out to death metal. However, his grandmother, wasn’t having any of this so she’d call her beloved grandson every few weeks, claiming her radio was broken. Of course, Ólafur had to oblige her and would head over to her apartment in Reykjavik only to find out she’d unplugged it from the wall. Later on, he came to the conclusion that she was just luring him over there to make him pancakes and for them to listen to Chopin for hours upon end.

Credit: Kariann Tan = Poptized Magazine

Arnalds ended up playing drums in rock bands and while his grandmother never attended any of those shows, as soon as he took up composing classical music, she was front row at all of his performances. She was also often known for buying his CDs in bulk. Fast forward to the present, with the release of his fourth ‘official’ solo album and accompanying tour, ‘re:member’ takes the listener through varied moods and feelings, through different musical landscapes. Every facet of his work – the composition, the soundtracks, the pop are perceived clearly: all playing their parts.

“This is my breaking out-of-a-shell album,” Arnalds says. “This is me taking the raw influences that I have from all these different musical genres and not filtering them. I always have my hands in many different projects at once, and I feel that this album represents that.”

Taking inspiration from his experiences producing music and playing shows as Kiasmos, his experimental techno duo, with Janus Rasmussen. The feeling he wants to bring to his music comes from his experiences of the sheer unfiltered joy of being on stage, seeing the crowd smiling, dancing and jumping at clubs and festivals.

Credit: Kariann Tan = Poptized Magazine

Upon entering the Boulder Theater in downtown Boulder, Colorado, a vastly different experience ensued than I’m used to. For starters, instead of the wide-open dance floor that I’m accustomed to, in its place were rows upon rows of chairs for the guests. Posted at each entrance, a sign stating that at the artist’s request, please remain outside until the applause begins. On stage, nestled in the back are Arnalds’ self-devised Stratus Pianos – two self-playing, semi-generative player pianos, triggered by a central piano which he plays, along with spots for four string players and a drum kit.

“Sound and melody are completely equal,” he says. “Melody doesn’t exist without sound. It sounds simple when you say it out loud, but it isn’t that obvious. Composers often write with a pencil on paper, and at that point the melody is just an idea.” What makes it into something that can generate an emotional response is its translation into sound…”

With the spotlight featured on the grand piano, Olafur walks on stage, settles in and begins playing slowly, gradually shining light on the other performers one by one. Three tracks in, Olafur has the audience sing a C note and incorporates the recording into “Only the Wind”, which is a track I’ve been chasing for a long time.

Credit: Kariann Tan = Poptized Magazine

During the show, he interacts with the crowd quite well, going into detail and explaining his background (mentioned above). At one break point, he mentioned that his family was from Colorado and that this was his first time visiting the state. “3326” was performed by Ólafur solo on one of the upright pianos while “Nyepi” ended with an extended solo violin outro passage. “Near Light”, another personal favorite, closed out the initial performance; cue everyone walking offstage. After a brief moment to let the audience clap it out, Olafur returns alone to one of the upright pianos to play one last ballad “Lag fyrir ömmu”, a song he wrote to commemorate his late grandmother; joined eventually by the string quartet playing offstage near the end.

Nonetheless, even while applying all of his influences into his new album, the audience felt elated and pure, unadulterated joy in the performance; even among the old fans, they found re:member to still hold his Arnaldian roots. Truly one of the most gifted composers of this generation.

You stream/buy ‘re:member’ here


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