Last month saw Valgeir Sigurðsson release his fourth studio album 'Dissonance' on the Bedroom Community label. His first solo release since 2012, 'Dissonance' combines traditional Western music with Sigurðsson's methods of electronic sound manipulation, and since its release on 7 April 2017 it has received wide acclaim. It features premiere recordings of three of his compositions: No Nights Dark Enough (chamber orchestra & electronics) Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-Five (orchestra & electronics) and the tile track, Dissonance (viola da gamba & electronics).
'Here, on his third full length record, Sigurðsson is able to dive deep into the human psyche and pull on our heart strings. Dissonance builds and releases tension in such a way that a single note is able to tear you apart before bringing resolution back to your senses. Listen closely and it's obvious this is the work of an artist who manipulates sound and expression with cerebral precision.'
The Line of Best Fit (Slavko Bucifal), 27 May 2017
"Dissonance embodies, almost by definition, the idea of things falling apart, a feeling of unrest, of issues unresolved, of disagreement. Sigurðsson offers that and more over the course of three symphonic works that are by turns dense and bleak yet magisterial. Don't bother searching for even the slimmest shaft of sunlight. Here, one must delight in darkness. Within the notes to the album's press kit is found this foreboding proclamation: "This is music made to acknowledge, and confront, apocalyptic times."
The album's 23-minute title track obsesses over, and magnificently expands upon, the moody introductory passage in Mozart's "Dissonance" quartet. Instead of a quartet of strings, Sigurðsson deploys slowly blossoming layers of viola da gamba — the cello's grainier, earthier ancestor — and electronics. The piece looms like a silently throbbing glacier. Its movement is almost imperceptible apart from several squalling crescendos. Sigurðsson's droning walls of sound have ancestors in works like Michael Gordon's Decasia and the symphonies of Glenn Branca.
[…] Sigurðsson applies his engineer credentials (he's worked with Björk, Sigur Rós, Brian Eno and Feist) to the way he composes, and how he meticulously records the Reykjavik Sinfonia. He divides the orchestra up section by section — even instrument by instrument — and records the parts separately; then, like a jigsaw puzzle, puts it all back together in the studio.
With this technique, one could argue Sigurðsson actually conquers the unresolved unrest of dissonance. By harnessing complete control over his soundworld (like Goya did in oils with his disturbing "Black Paintings"), Sigurðsson possesses the power to wield darkness into a singularly mesmerizing art."
NPR Music (Tom Huizenga), 25 April 2017
"Valgeir Sigurðsson created true peace in Dissonance. It's not easy to make an album so full of emotion but so empty at the same time. It's another album that really embodies Iceland, it's swallowing nature being the same that you can only dream of. This record is an unforgettable experience…, as a whole, it's one big, epic movement."
Immortal Reviews (Dylan Yadav), 28 April 2017
"Though it also features two multi-movement settings, Dissonance, the fourth studio album by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurdsson and his first since 2012's Architecture of Loss, is literally and figuratively dominated by its audacious title track. Having first stretched a forty-second section from Mozart's 1785 “Dissonance” string quartet to twenty-three minutes, Sigurdsson proceeded to assemble a multitude of viola da gambas into a mesmerizing colossus. How it was achieved is a story unto itself: with collaborator Liam Byrne pushing the antique instrument's naturally grainy sonority to a raw extreme, Sigurdsson began by recording layer upon layer of the instrument, then re-routed the results back to amps, speakers, and effects for additional colour and texture before recording those processed treatments onto tape for the final version. Though one might more typically associate the viola da gamba, a fretted ancestor to the violin and cello, with a composer such as John Dowland, Sigurdsson's behemoth has, in terms of compositional structure, little in common with anything he created.
That said, the work's restrained opening minutes do exude a sorrowful quality that one could just as easily imagine emerging in a Dowland setting. But it doesn't take long for the distance between past and present to declare itself when Sigurdsson's musical structure begins to leave behind traditional notions of harmony and form. Tension permeates the work in the way it juxtaposes the elegant sonority of the viola da gamba and the dissonant effect produced by the multiple pitches, as well as in the constant fluctuation between an adherence to classical form on the one hand and a glacial deconstruction of it on the other.
Sigurdsson created the second setting, No Nights Dark Enough, in response to a request by Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) to create a new piece in honour of Dowland for the City of London Sinfonia. Scored for chamber orchestra and electronics, the sixteen-minute work, whose movement titles derive from Dowland's song “Flow My Tears,” might at first blush appear less radical than the album's title track due to the more familiar timbres of a modern-day chamber orchestra, but it's equally marked by Sigurdsson's bold sensibility. No Nights Dark Enough grows ever more bewitching as it advances without pause through its oft-ethereal parts, with perhaps the composer's electronic interventions most conspicuous during its “fear and grief and pain” movement.
The concluding work, 1875, grew out of a Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra commission designed to honour the 125th celebration of the Icelandic settlement in Canada. Of the album's three pieces, it's the most traditional, not only because of its orchestral design but also for programmatic movement titles that reflect the difficult journey undertaken by the settlers and the hardships they suffered. As forward-thinking as it is compositionally, one could visualize 1875 being performed by a symphony orchestra during an evening concert; it would be much harder to imagine the same for the title track, however, whose more natural home would be a new music festival specifically tailored to the presentation of challenging experimental works. Still, as engaging as No Nights Dark Enough and 1875 are, it's the title piece that is the release's primary selling-point."
Textura, 28 April 2017