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Hildur Gudnadottir - Mount A

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Artist: Hildur Gudnadottir

Album: Mount A

Label: Touch

Review date: Dec. 10, 2010

“I can’t catch it. Finally I see that every line is really the same thought said in another way. And yet the continuity acts as if something else is happening. Nothing else is happening. What you’re doing, in an almost Proustian way, is getting deeper and deeper saturated into the thought.”

This is Morton Feldman talking about a libretto Samuel Beckett wrote for the composer, but it could equally apply to the way that the cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir builds her compositions. Multi-tracking her cello, as well as viola da gamba, zither, vibraphone, one-piece gamelan, voice and more, she emerges with teeming, resonant soundscapes. Her themes and melodies are simple, rarely more than a few bars, but the way she overlaps and combines them or pits them against long held tones, gives her music a tension between restless activity and quiet stasis, as well as an intuitive, almost improvised feel.

You could certainly call some of the work here “filmic.” “Floods” in particular has an urgent, up-tempo phrase at its center that could easily be a soundtrack cue. But to hang the lazy “cinematic” tag on this music would sell it short. Guðnadóttir weaves too many lines together, makes the overall sound too full and rich, and uses repetition to cast such a strong spell that the incidental nature of cinematic scores just doesn’t apply.

Only the length of the album at times detracts from this spell. Combined with the way the cello dominates the timbral range — giving the whole a misted, twilight cast — the album drags in places or slips too much into the background. But before too much monotony sinks in, Guðnadóttir eases a lilting zither into the bottom of the mix to give a piece like “Casting” an aleatory feel. She also doesn’t waste time without intros or outros too much, preferring instead to dive right into her material, in what feels like mid-thought.

It’s touches like these that give Mount A the feel of a virtuoso sketch artist, one who might draw the same shape dozens of times and never be finished, but whose figures always pulse with vigor and ideas.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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