Valgeir Sigurdsson – Architecture of Loss

by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published October 29th 2012

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

As the producer credited on some of Björk’s best-received records, Valgeir Sigurdsson is a musician bearing impressive credentials — though his talent is frequently showcased through his colleagues’ success rather than his own. This, of course, is the common reality of production, and the relationship between producer and performer is suitingly pertinent to the Icelandic composer’s most recent release, Architecture of Loss.

Originally composed as a score for a ballet of the same name by Stephen Petronio, Architecture of Loss is dominated by steady, churning strings and a sprinkling of electronic accents. While, on occasion, Sigurdsson achieves incredible moments of startling impact, his composition seems to lack the gravity necessary to maintain undivided attention — and it’s not hard to guess why. According to Sigurdsson’s own label’s website, “Architecure of Loss had to be realized with physical performance in mind, by its players and dancers.” Ultimately, so must it be heard and digested. Without the accompanying ballet, Architecture of Loss sometimes feels barren.

Yet, there’s certainly an argument to applaud this. A common rule amongst musicians who write film scores dictates that the music should be “invisible;” the best compositions are barely discernible behind the visual spectacle. So the critique that this ballet accompaniment sometimes fails to maintain engagement must certainly acknowledge that its subtler moments are crafted for nothing short of subtlety itself. Perhaps Sigurdsson achieves exactly what he sought in scoring Petronio’s ballet. But why then, should one of these performances exist without the other?

Existential issues notwithstanding, in moments when Sigurdsson’s composition becomes “visible,” he doesn’t waste his audience’s attention. Sigurdsson shows his power on “Between Monuments” with a faultlessly orchestrated climax of acoustic instruments and dripping, indulgent synthetics. Another shining moment is “Reverse Erased,” which features a heavy, captivating drone of bass texture.

While it’s not a clear standout on the record, the final track, “Gone Not Forgotten” is interestingly not part of the ballet score, but rather an extra inclusion by Sigurdsson himself. The freedom to work without the constraints of another artist’s idea is exactly what Sigurdsson needs to establish that his talent can stand alone, and it’s about time he did just that.

Recommended Tracks: Between Monuments, Reverse Erased

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