Society of Sound: Kjartan Sveinsson

Kjartan Sveinsson is a composer, musician and performer. He first came to prominence as a member of Sigur Rós, the Icelandic band – sometimes characterized as ‘post-rock’ – of which he was a member from 1997 to 2012, releasing five studio albums, a film and several side projects, and selling several million records around the world.

Sveinsson played keyboards and guitar in Sigur Rós, as well as being responsible for the band’s frequent arrangements for strings, brass, choir and orchestra.  In 2003 Sveinsson and the band – alongside Radiohead – composed music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s production Split Sides, in which choreography, set design, costume changes and music were all decided on a random throw of dice.  The band performed this live in New York, Paris and Seoul.

In 2008 he played his final show with Sigur Rós in the band’s hometown of Reykjavík, although he continued to write and record with the band until 2012’s Valtarialbum.

Since leaving Sigur Rós, Sveinsson has broadened his horizons to score movies and expansive collaborations with foremost Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson, while also continuing to write his own new orchestral and choral works.  With Kjartansson he has been closely involved in the creation of many new works that have been exhibited in galleries and major institutions internationally.

The pair’s first collaboration was 2011’s Take Me Here by the Dishwasher, for which Sveinsson wrote a troubadour-style song that was performed by a band of roving players in the gallery for six hours a day for seven weeks straight, while a film of Kjartansson mother and father acting in an 80’s soft-porn movie played on a huge screen.

The following year, 2012, he was a performer in multi-screen installation, The Visitors, in which nine musicians, sited in different rooms of Rokeby, a crumbling upstate New York mansion, separately contribute to a mesmerizing and repetitive soundtrack over the course of an hour.  In 2013 he wrote another endurance piece for Kjartansson at the Venice Biennale. For four hours a day, six brass players toured the city’s canals in a ‘viking longboat’ drinking beer and playing Sveinsson’s composition for S.S. Hangover.

Then in 2014 Sveinsson and Kjartansson collaborated on Der Klang Der Offenbarung Des Göttlichen, an opera in four movements for Berlin’s Volksbühne Theatre. Translated as “The Explosive Sonics of Divinity”, the piece combined Kjartansson’s theatrical set designs for an empty stage, with Sveinsson’s sweeping and romantic orchestral score.  Der Klangis the first of Sveinsson’s post-Sigur Rós work to be released, with a double vinyl 10-inch scheduled for Oct 28 on Kjartansson’s Bel Air Glamour Records, thru Vinyl Factory.

Kjartan Sveinsson - Klang Der Offenbarung Des Göttlichen. Photo by Helen Woods

Sveinsson has also extensively worked with Icelandic film director Runar Runarsson, scoring the Oscar-nominated The Last FarmVolcano and Sparrows.

In terms of his own work, Credowas premiered at the Lincoln Center’s White Light festival in 2010, performed by the Latvian Choir and Wordless Music Orchestra at St Paul the Apostle church on New York’s Upper East Side.  The same night also saw a performance of You Can Cage A Swallow, But You Can’t Swallow a Cage, which set the poetry of Anne Carson to a vocal arrangement for the Hilliard Ensemble.

Back in the still early days of Sigur Rós, in 2002, Sveinsson led the creation of the still unreleased 70-minute work Odin’s Raven Magic, in which a newly-recognised chapter of the Icelandic Edda* was set to an apocalyptic score for orchestra and choir.  The work was performed several times in concert halls around Europe, including a production at London’s Barbican theatre, which featured the London Sinfonietta and Kjartan’s first collaboration with the Sixteen Choir (later to surface on the album Valtari)

Sveinsson lives and works in Reykjavík, where he continues to write music, produce other artists and own and operate Sigur Rós’s former Sundlaugin studio.

* The book of Icelandic Sagas

Kjartan Sveinsson – Der Klang Der Offenbarung Des Göttlichen (BW101) Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound release for October 2016.

By Online Editor

Published on Thu, 20 October 16

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