Recorded live at the University of York, one woman and a cello was all it look to make this album. Iceland’s Hildur Guðnadóttir will most likely ring bells with the Heathen Harvest readership for her work in Throbbing Gristle and Scandinavian experimental/electronic ensemble “múm”, but here she is alone in another of her solo efforts. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Hildur was making her own albums but Leyfðu Ljósinu is her eighth such work since 2006. Don’t let the fact that this is a ‘live’ release generate the idea that you’ll be able to hear the whoop and hiss of an audience in the background – far from it – Leyfðu Ljósinu is a live album in a studio sense only, which means the whole thing was done in one take, free from editing and overdubs. There is no background noise, there is no interference. Everything you hear in this work is purely organic, recorded using nothing else but a SoundField ST450 Ambisonic and two Neumann U87 microphones. It is an exquisitely intimate work.
The idea of intimacy should always create a feeling of the up-close and personal, and this concept is extremely relevant here. The choice to use microphones rather than DI’ing jack-to-jack means that the whole recording has a tactile reality to it. Everything seems so immediate in its proximity that you can feel the soft air wake from the brush of the bow on the cello, sense each scratch of a string and hold each vocal exhalation sensually close. Guðnadóttir is an expert in the multifaceted, through clever use of electronic manipulation she is able to overlay her own vocals and cellowork several times through the album during the live setting, giving the album a feel of the singular and multiple. But even these multiple overlays still seem to retain a personal rather than epic air to them. This album is not about the grandiose, it is about the minimalist, and Guðnadóttir is always careful to ensure that this remains the case throughout the record’s 39 minutes.
Technically, Leyfðu Ljósinu is all about texture. It is an extremely tangible album. Musically, it’s a journey from a heavenly ambient realm into somewhere wholly darker. The title literally translates as “Allow The Light”, an extremely curious title for such an eerie piece of work. Starting off with the tantalisingly slow and meditative repetition of some cello chords, the album very gradually descends into somewhere supernatural and unsettling through the use of repeated sung vocal patterns, musical ambience and eventually, energetic, angst-ridden cellowork. What begins as something meditative and warm snakes its way through sonic pathways of despair and doom towards an angered and violent conclusion before dropping everything and leaving us naked in a miasma of our own bewilderment. Such is the intensity of the closing moments that we almost end up feeling sonically ravished and left for dead, as our perpetrator slits us with her last chords, jilts us in an instant and leaves us at the crest of our own climax. As an audience, for all intents and purposes, we have been very much used.
Leyfðu Ljósinu is masterful at its approach to the minimalist. The album seems to go through four distinct ‘waves’, each building on the last and getting gradually more intense until the closing cadences. It’s hard to accurately categorise this work, but though it’s a classical album in ingredients, it retains a feel of the ambient and dark ambient. The layers are so lifelike and well-pieced together that it reminds me of the truly excellent work Shutûn by the collaboration Troum & All Sides, such is its genius at meshing long ambient sections and giving them their own personality.
More than anything though, Leyfðu Ljósinu is a visual work. The sounds here are so intimate and undeniably real that the album takes on a graphic element. It retains an ability to aggrandize certain colours and associations which will be very personal to each listener. It creates such a sentience within the audience’s psyche that it almost runs its own story in filmic effect, transcending the aural layers into which it’s pressed. On the surface, the title of “Allow The Light” may refer to coaxing the brighter layers out from this piece of minimalist classical music, but more than that it’s a plea for us to see the beauty in everything musically dark. Leyfðu Ljósinu stands proudly in its own category as one of the most authentic, emotive and vivid works in ambient music this year. It lacks nothing.
02. Leyfðu Ljósinu