snow and Sigur Rós in Dublin

Last week we had snow here in Ireland and the second concert featuring Brian Denvir’s faithful arrangements of Sigur Rós music took place in the chapel of Trinity College Dublin.  A music-loving friend of mine told me she went running in the white marshmallow woods near her home listening to Sigur Rós’s ‘Takk…’ album.  Snow is such a wonderful thing: at a time of year when everything is dark and lifeless, it blankets everything in brightness. A number of words came to mind as I thought about snow and also this remarkable music that has captured the imaginations of so many people: pristine, natural, soft, all-encompassing…

Opening with the instrumental ‘Samskeyti’, Brian and his fellow members of the Dublin University Orchestral Society led an enraptured audience through just over an hour of music by the Icelandic band. All the other tracks featured Aisling Dexter, who sang from the chapel’s lectern to the side of the stage.

‘Starálfur’
‘Fljótavík’
‘Hoppipolla’
‘Vaka’
‘Andvari’
‘Njósnavélin’
‘Von’
‘Sé Lest’
‘All Alright’
‘Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur’

The (male) singer in Sigur Rós, Jónsi, frequently uses the high, ‘falsetto’ range of his voice, giving the songs a very wide span of expression but placing them beyond the capabilities of most singers. I asked Aisling how she went about learning to sing the songs – some of which are in Icelandic, one in English and some are sung in a made-up language called ‘Hopelandic’:

Mainly, I learnt the words aurally – by listening to the songs and writing down phonetics – and practising! It was fairly difficult, but the more I listen to Sigur Rós, the more I love it, so there was no problem with that!

I was exploring ‘eighteen seconds before sunrise’, the official Sigur Rós news source, and found lots of interesting information on the band but not much in the way of translations beyond the titles of the tracks.  I’m sure part of the appeal of the music is that most people who hear it have no clue as to what the words are about.  This is actually quite a special luxury for Anglophones, so used to being bombarded with textual information that we can’t help but process.  Part of me doesn’t want to know what the songs are about because then I might lose the ability to listen to what they mean.

One point I’d agree with that I read on the ‘eighteen seconds…’ site was that Aisling’s microphone wasn’t good enough: they just used the lectern microphone through the chapel’s PA system.  I’m all in favour of the group’s choice of venues – so far using the natural acoustics of sacred places – but the dire in-house amplification systems should be firmly ignored.  The group – who might perhaps benefit from a name? – hope to play a gig in The Black Box in Belfast soon.  It will be interesting to see how they fare in a small theatre; hopefully they know a good sound engineer!

Unfortunately our camera is in the repair shop, so I had to rely on the trusty phone.  There are apparently videos of some of the songs soon to be available on YouTube, however, so keep an eye out for those.

The music of Sigur Rós (Trinity college chapel, Dublin 4feb09)
Aisling Dexter and Brian Denvir
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