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Songs to re:member

Olafur Arnolds back in Birmingham

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by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2018
From Fighting Shit to a night of subtle yet profoundly moving music... A lot has changed

Òlafur Arnalds
Birmingham Town Hall


In the early 2000's, a little known hardcore punk band from Iceland played on a tiny stage in a pub somewhere in Birmingham city centre. The teenage band were the delightfully named Fighting Shit and although there's no archive footage of that particular show, there's some shakily hand held camera clips on YouTube of some of the band's howling, chaotic performances of such charming songs as 'Everything Else But Death Metal Sucks' and 'Girls Kick Ass'.

The former drummer of Fighting Shit is recounting a tale about their Birmingham debut in between numbers at the Town Hall this evening. The one-time punk is Olafur Arnalds and it's probably an understatement to say that much has changed since those early days.

In the last decade Òlafur has made his name composing remarkable works that has, like Max Richter, created a mesmerizing new approach to classical music, he has embraced experiment-techno (see his work as one half of Kiasmos) and made delicate ambient works with Nils Frahm. He's also reinterpreted Chopin with Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott, scored ballets, picked up a BAFTA for his score for 'Broadchurch' and, as we are witnessing tonight, composed a handful of exquisite solo albums.

The most talked about addition to his latest album 're:member' makes its presence known before the musicians even enter the stage. The audience falls silent as two grand pianos play a gentle melody as the lights dim. This is Stratus technology - notes played on one piano generate different notes on the two other pianos. If that sounds too Eno - too smart and impersonal - worry not, the new songs are warm, enveloping experiences, Arnalds creates something sensitive and personal as he plays with the technology.

're-member' is a highlight. It opens with a delicate piano solo, which merges into a subdued drone of strings reminiscent of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, it then bursts into an intoxicating melody as keyboards, strings and drums weave around one another.

On several occasions tonight, you can see Arnalds give the lead role to his fellow musicians. This is most evident on 3326 (from Eulogy for Evolution), which belongs to the haunting violin solo of Viktor Orri Árnason. The couple sat next to me are gripping each others hands, lost in its sad beauty.

Before playing the quietly meditative Nyepi, Arnalds explains its inspiration. Whilst in Bali, he observed how the people celebrate New Year by turning off all electricity, not working, not driving and basically showing respect for the planet. It's a practice that makes earth hour look like an insubstantial, tiny token gesture.

Arnalds closes tonight's show with Lag Fyrir Ommu, a poignant piano solo, dedicated to the memory of his late grandmother. It's a tender ending to a night of subtle yet profoundly moving music. These are songs to re:member.

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Jason Lewis
UK Music Editor

Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

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