Louth Contemporary Music Society

Bára Gísladóttir & Skúli Sverrisson Live from the Spirit Store

Set 1. 25.48

Bára Gísladóttir Double Bass & Skúli Sverrisson Electric Bass

Set 2. 11.17

Bára Gísladóttir Double Bass & Skúli Sverrisson Electric Bass
Eamonn Quinn
David Stalling
Marc Urselli

Recorded in the Spirit Store Dundalk 18 June 2022.

Evan O’Rourke
Paul Nugent

with kind permission of the artist. Paul Nugent is represented by the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery Dublin.

Dan Abbott
Special thanks to Bára Gísladóttir, Skúli Sverrisson, Ólöf Arnalds, Derek Turner at the Spirit Store, Ken Finnegan for the live photographs, David Stalling for the audio. This one is dedicated to Bob Bielecki.​

P & © Louth Contemporary Music CGL 2022. The copyright in this sound recording is owned by Louth Contemporary Music CGL and is exclusively licenced by Louth Contemporary Music CGL.

Funded by the Arts Council and Create Louth

Review from 5 against 4
Bára Gísladóttir & Skúli Sverrisson – Live from the Spirit Store

Over the last few years i’ve been more and more deeply impressed by the music of Icelandic composer and performer Bára Gísladóttir. First contact was at the Dark Music Days in 2020, when i saw her in action with Skúli Sverrisson, forming a complex double bass / electric bass soundworld that caught me off guard and took some time to process. That experience was nourished by subsequent encounters with Gísladóttir’s solo album HĪBER (one of my best albums of 2020) and, the following year, her double album with Sverrisson Caeli (one of my best albums of 2021) which took what i’d witnessed in Reykjavík and expanded it into a massive 2-hour immersion. Which brings us to 2022, and to the nicely-timed coincidence of two new releases featuring Gísladóttir as both composer and performer.

The first is another of her collaborations with Skúli Sverrisson, recorded earlier this year at the Louth Contemporary Music Festival. The album comprises two sets lasting around 26 and 11 minutes respectively, and the first thing to say is that they’re markedly different in tone from both what i heard at the Dark Music Days as well as the majority of Caeli. There’s a gentleness that pervades these two performances, such that even though they don’t shy away from substantial surges and even dense walls of sound, these are matched by a restraint that indicates a motivation more concerned with articulating than with overwhelming.

It’s not just about restraint, though; throughout both of these sets there’s an emphasis on pitch (and, to an extent, harmony) that, over time, sounds increasingly significant. This is in part due to the way these elements persist through what amount to some pretty intense vicissitudes of noise and sonic dirt. The opening of ‘Set 2’ locates the possibility of pure tones in the midst of a dark cloud, though their purity is soon rendered grainy and fuzzy. It establishes a paradigm of liminal clarity in which a subsequent dronal passage acts to stabilise everything. The centre of ‘Set 2’ is a lengthy oasis, traces of movement and ideas rendered soft-edged, floating in a semi-suspended environment. For the longest time – and despite the presence of further drones – there doesn’t appear to be any effort or possibility to resolve either the pitch tension or the nebulosity of that extended middle sequence; yet somehow, something akin to a ‘tonic’ emerges a couple of minutes before the end. It’s a moment that’s silently catalytic, triggering the music to turn increasingly intimate as it finally dies away.

Throughout ‘Set 2’, the duo are almost impossible to separate, melding together into a single entity, whereas in ‘Set 1’ they’re more divergent. Furthermore, being over twice as long as ‘Set 2’, it’s also much more dramatically extensive. The tension resulting from a similar (un)clarity of pitch has a parallel in the way Gísladóttir and Sverrisson oscillate the structure between passages where melodic or harmonic elements are heard in the midst of varying amounts of obfuscation, and passages of more dronal focus, which act almost like breathers, relaxing things before pushing forward into another period of tension. i spoke of harmony, though there’s something almost illusory about the way this aspect manifests in ‘Set 1’. Sverrisson’s slow-moving basslines often give the impression of actual or implied chord progressions, which sometimes (but not always) are confirmed by higher register material. There’s even a sense, as the piece progresses, that it’s part of a complex passacaglia – with a bassline that’s occasionally audible – cycling around the same harmonic space.

The divergence is most apparent around halfway through, when the music almost becomes akin to a strange two-part invention, though it’s important to stress that there’s always an apparent sympathy between the players. We might call it ‘individuated agreement’, not exactly following each other the whole time yet not going their own way either. Repeatedly they return to plateaux where everything is stable and united, respites from the heightened sequences in between when Gísladóttir’s double bass obsesses over squally, argent filigree while Sverrisson’s bass shapes large growling swells that threaten to consume everything. Some of the most mesmerising passages fall between these poles of pressure and release when the duo are at their most vague, at one point reducing to something like indistinct distorted bells which materialise and vanish as if by magic.​

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