Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Iceland is interesting

I have been interested in Iceland for a while, I visited there once, and it is a different sort of place-- adding to that is being out of sync with time at that latitude, it was late May so midnight looked like 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

I'm always impressed by Icelandic music. Specifically, when I hear it, I'm impressed by the high production values in Icelandic recorded music. I'm not sure why it is the case, it seems to be in the clarity and sense of "space" or "air" in the sounds. Whether they are electronic or acoustic, but the overall sense of the depth and breadth of the sound seems to be captured expertly and lovingly in a way that reflects and supports the meaning of the music.

The United States is a very very big place. It is very diverse, and busy and all of that. When you go to a place like Iceland, it is still much bigger than you. This is the interesting thing-- a population not much larger than a medium-small city in the US is still much more than just you is still more than enough to have a language and a culture, to have ideals and peculiar ways.

I came across this site, an Icelandic music blog and web tv series, that appears to have wound down, but which provides links to ongoing music sites like Kraumur, which I'm translating using Google.

Because Iceland is a tiny place compared to the rest of the world (but still a very very big place compared to, say, just you or me), there are Icelanders who recognize the music that they have there will not get exported unless some special effort is made. Also, because they are small, they don't have the hangups about actually having a culture that many of us in the US seem to have, and they don't have an aversion to sharing because they recognize that they are all in the same small boat.

When I say "hangups" I mean this thing where we in the US "celebrate diversity" at the same time we elevate blending and assimilation. So when African-Americans in the urban inner city developed Rap and Hip-Hop, drawing on the ancient tradition of verbal storytelling and poetry, it was new and profane and daring. Now, it has been blended as a practially essential ingredient into the mainstream popular music culture. Once again, the avant garde has become just "garde" and that is really pretty much the way it goes.

That's not bad, it's the nature of cultures to interweave: it is just different from a place like Iceland where a homogenous culture exists. But it's also interesting because that homogenous culture has a broad spectrum of musical notions, where the "weirdos" set the outer bounds, where "weird" is anything that's not currently mainstream.

For example Árstíðir are what we'd think of as a folk group with cellos and beautiful vocal harmonies, reminiscent of CSNY, but also transcending that.  Given the current musical mainstream, and given the predominance on the world stage of artists like Björk and Sigur Rós, this is more than a little offbeat, but a spate of Icelandic groups in the vein of "indie folk rock" have been successful and there are several of these types of groups. Even so, when you look at a list of Icelandic bands, they run the gamut of musical genres, although more are represented than others.

The amount of music festivals they have in Iceland seems disproportionate to the amount of people, it's fun to read about these festivals. It's something that Icelandic people do. So while there is maybe a sense of attitude that some bands feel they need to project that is appropriate to their genre at large, it seems that for a lot of the music there is far less segregation of audiences by age and gender.

Maybe people interested in the evolution of music can gain an understanding from the Icelandinc scene in the way that genetic scientists have regarded the study of the isolated Icelandic people, better understanding humanity as a whole..


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