H e (a) r / Nordic Affect composers: Halla Steinunn Stefansdottir,  Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir,  Mirjam Tally,  Anna Thorvaldsdottir Performers: Halla Steinunn Stefansdottir,  Carina Ehrenholm,  Angela Rawlings,  Liv Kaastrup Vesterskov Ensemble:  Nordic Affect – Number of Discs: 2  Sono Luminus Catalog #: 92224 Multichannel Blu-ray audio, SACD, CD, WAV, FLAC and MP3 files  (10/26/2018)  TT: 61:00

This is yet another challenging set of compositions from Icelandic, Estonian and Swedish composers. It’s a series of compelling soundscapes.

Titled “H e (a) r” the album features 7 world premiere recordings, including a soundscape which lends its title to the album by the group’s artistic director; composer and violinist Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir. The work H e (a) r connects to ecology, acoustics and embodiment; drawing on encounters and what happens in the connection. Many of the instrumental works are a continuation of Nordic Affect’s longstanding collaboration with some of the exciting talent to emerge out of Iceland in recent years, many of which were featured on the 2015, release Clockworking. The title track was chosen for NPR’s Songs We Love series and featured in various best-of-the-year lists, including Steve Smith’s for Night After Night, The Chicago Reader, and The New Yorker.

In addition to composing her own music, Ms. Markan Sigfúsdóttir has toured the world with indie band amiina and recorded and collaborated with a range of other bands and artists. Her compositions have been performed in Iceland, Australia, Europe and the US. A continuation of the solo work 2 Circles, found on the Clockworking album, is Point of Departure by composer, cello player, and singer Hildur Guðnadóttir. Hildur has been manifesting herself at the forefront of experimental pop and contemporary music. Her output has encompassed four solo albums, and numerous works for theatre, dance performances and films.

“H e (a) r” also features Reflections and Impressions by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a recipient of Lincoln Center’s 2018 Emerging Artist Award and 2018 Martin E. Segal Award. Anna Thorvaldsdottir frequently works with large sonic structures that tend to reveal the presence of a vast variety of sustained sound materials, reflecting her sense of imaginative listening to landscapes and nature. A new collaboration is presented through Warm life at the foot of the iceberg by the Estonian Mirjam Tally. Sound is central to the Estonian MirjamTally’s creations. Her music is a flow of playful contrasts where a sense of humour and poetic use of sound are blended to mix. Her music has been performed in over 20 countries and earned her various accolades, including the 2018 Swedish Manifest prize.

So how to approach this music? Experience it, listen a few times. It’s best on a surround system, because instrument placement is part of the composition. It’s also quite striking on headphones, which provide their own ‘in your head’ surround. I listened both on a surround system and my trusty HiFiMan headphones. It’s a riveting experience either way.

These contemporary works are not for everyone, but if you like soundscapes or contemporary directional sonic experiences, these recording are for you.

Like many Sono Luminus discs, you get a great variety of ways to listen. Standard CD, Blu-ray Audio, SACD, and a collection of files to move to the player of your choice in FLAC, WAV and Mp3. Multichannel options include stereo, 5.1, Dolby Atmos, 7.1, and 9.1 Auro mixes.

I really enjoyed this disc, and it’s a great experience for those looking for new and interesting sonic frontiers.

—Mel Martin

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