In his publicity shots, Ólafur Arnalds looks like a model in a Topshop advert. But at his concert at the Royal Northern College of Music he was more rugged, befitting someone who had spent two weeks travelling and sleeping in a coach criss-crossing Europe.
Originally, he played in a heavy metal band but you wouldn’t believe it by listening to his work now. Like Icelandic contemporaries Bjork and Sigur Ros, he is interested in producing music that mixes classical, pop and electronic sounds. At the RNCM he performed with a string quartet and a sound technician who added layers of brass to some of the songs.
Arnalds calls his works “songs” but there are few vocals on any of his compositions. His use of piano makes his works both melancholic and evocative as they evolve into a series of layers of complex sounds.
Having said all that, the man himself is anything but serious or dour. The evening began with Arnalds asking the audience to sing two notes which he then recorded and used as part of a song. It is an experiment he tries in every country to see what they can contribute to the music. Apparently some nations are better than others but he wouldn’t name names. Of course, an audience at the RNCM is always going to produce good sounds and he was right. Ironically, he applied to the RNCM several years ago to study composition but was rejected. Now he takes delight in receiving payment from them to perform here.
Arnalds is best known in this country for his music for the hit TV series Broadchurch. He has also written music for the film Hunger Games and for a popular American soap called So You Can Dance.
His new album, Now I am Winter, is another change in direction as he works with a full orchestra and it features vocals from Icelandic singer Amor Dan on four tracks.
This was his second visit to the RNCM and the intensity of his performance reflected not just an engaging and likeable performer but one who produces music that is highly skilled and intellectual in its composition and performance.
Review by Bernadette Hyland
Where: RNCM, Oxford Road, Manchester
When: June 4, 2013