Valgeir Sigurðsson's fourth studio album, 'Dissonance', is released on 21 April on the Bedroom Community label. It features premiere recordings of three large-scale works: his two most recent orchestral works (No Nights Dark Enough and Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-Five), and a 23-minute 'explosion' of a single moment from Mozart's 'Dissonance' Quartet K465. It is Sigurðsson's first solo release since 2012 and sees him continue to explore Western tradition alongside his own methods of electronic sound manipulation.
His recording process uses a technique that Sigurðsson has been developing for some years, where he records each of the orchestra sections separately, layer upon layer. A handful of string players and just one of each of the orchestra's instruments are then multiplied to create a full orchestral sound. This method allows complete control over the material, and creates a truly unique-sounding ensemble that is at the composer's disposal for further electronic manipulation. It also creates an elastic palette of sound for the live performance version of Dissonance which Sigurðsson intends to take to the stage during 2017, alongside Liam Byrne (on strings) and with visuals created by the Antivj collective.
In the title track Dissonance the 'exploded' effect is achieved not through digital time-stretching, nor even through the use of a string quartet, but with yet an older musical technology—the viola da gamba. This fretted ancestor of the violin and cello offers a solemn and uncanny purity to the music that lends Mozart's harmonies the grandeur of a cathedral choir. Sigurðsson pushes that sonority to its limits, digging past the pure tone and into the grit and grain of the instrument. After multi-tracking Liam Byrne's viola da gamba, Sigurðsson routed some of the signals back out to amps, speakers, and effects to add further colour and texture, before recording these processed versions back onto tape for a final mix.
Someone much more closely associated with the viola da gamba is the English composer John Dowland, whose songs and consort music are marked by longing and melancholy. Asked by Robin Rimbaud (of Scanner fame) to create a new piece in honour of Dowland for the City of London Sinfonia, Sigurðsson created No Nights Dark Enough for chamber orchestra and electronics, with movement titles that quote Dowland's most famous song, "Flow My Tears.”
Eighteen Hundred & Seventy-Five was commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for the 125th celebration of the Icelandic settlement in Canada. The piece narrates the treacherous journey undertaken by Icelandic settlers in the 1800s, and the hardships they endured.