Ólafur Arnalds makes new new-age music for gentle seekers | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Ólafur Arnalds makes new new-age music for gentle seekers 

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click to enlarge Ólafur Arnalds

Ólafur Arnalds

Benjamin Hardman

At one time, Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds's music, with its gently surging melodies and contemplative prettiness, might have been categorized as new age. But these days that appellation is largely out of fashion, and musicians can evoke generic nondenominational spirituality without being placed in any particular box. Arnalds has taken that leeway and run with it, making bright, emotive soundscapes that exist at the intersection of classical, electronica, film scores, and library music. To create his most recent album, 2018's Re:member (Mercury Kx), Arnaulds used custom-built software called Stratus to connect his central piano to two player pianos. When he plays a note, the other instruments are triggered to play two different notes to generate variations in harmony and melody. While that may not sound promising, the results are accessible and dreamy, with notes bouncing back and forth in ripples and echoes—like raindrops in a pond. There are other effects as well; "Unfold" is built around a string-section loop that saws away repetitively, providing a rhythmic foundation for the keyboard pattering, while on "Undir" synth washes crescendo into a beat that wouldn't be out of place in a (very low-key) club setting. These variations keep the album engaging without ever traveling too far from Arnalds’s characteristic mood of quietly winking transcendence.   v

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