ACCLAIMED PRODUCER AND COMPOSER’S SCORE FOR ICELAND DOCUMENTARY
Icelandic producer and composer Valgeir Sigurðsson’ssoundtrack to the documentary film Dreamland(Draumalandið) is receiving critical acclaim following its release last month on his Bedroom Community label. In a 7.3 review, Pitchfork says, “Valgeir Sigurðsson goes the extra mile to produce work that stands up against the best of its genre,” while Dusted posits, “With such a keen ear for composition and flow, Sigurðsson has created a score that sounds remarkably evocative of the film’s main themes, while still able to stand alone as an album.”
Dreamland, a documentary about the exploitation of Iceland’s natural resources, tells a story about huge things—the fortunes of a whole nation; the destruction of vast landscapes; and the global economic forces, greater still than any nation, that fuel it all. Sigurðsson matches the film’s serious purpose, bringing his entire roster of Bedroom Community label-mates to contribute in some way to the creation of the score. Composers Nico Muhly and Daníel Bjarnason, industrial wizard Ben Frost, and American folksinger Sam Amidon and the small orchestra assembled for the record swell from moments of expansive beauty into massive, surging symphonic force.
Dreamland the film takes on the delicate task of unmasking the apparent win/win proposition of Iceland’s aluminum smelting boom—clean energy! new jobs! economic growth!—as a false blessing with very real consequences. Likewise, Dreamland the soundtrack takes global, seemingly abstract questions, and offers deeply personal responses.
Sigurðsson’s score makes fierce and direct statements of sorrow and indignation, but it also expresses, with a kind of hushed awe, the beauty of landscapes on the brink of devastation, and the seductive shimmer of the illusions that imperil them. In the album’s opening track, Amidon sings “Grýlukvæði,” an Icelandic folktune about a greedy hag come to devour naughty children, and in turn Valgeir reframes it as a sad, sympathetic reprimand to a people (Icelanders and, by extension, all of humanity) who would sell their birthright to a rapacious multinational.
This is all painted in brushstrokes broad and minute, from palette of hugely varied shades—Amidon’s banjo playing, Bjarnason’s John Cage-style piano treatments, Frost’s halos of distortion—but it all fits together as a coherent musical argument. Heard as an accompaniment to the film, the Dreamland score can disappear into the images and the narrative but on its own, the recording rewards close attention with urgent, emotional and meticulously-scored meditations on the natural sublime.
Sigurðsson earned a degree from SAE in London in 1991 and subsequently started in Reykjavík-based Greenhouse Studios in 1997. He was one of Björk’s closest studio collaborators from 1998 until 2006, handling various duties on her Selmasongs, Vespertine, Family Tree and Medúlla albums, film scores forDancer In the Dark (Lars Von Trier), Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze) and Drawing Restraint 9 (Matthew Barney). Sigurðsson has also worked with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, múm, CocoRosie, Camille and The Magic Numbers. In 2006 he formed the Bedroom Community record label/collective and has gone on to launch Nico Muhly’s recording career and release acclaimed albums by Ben Frost and Sam Amidon. Sigurðsson has composed music for TV, film and theater as well. Sigurðsson co-composed (with Muhly) music for Scent Opera, which opened at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in May 2009. Sigurðsson’s debut solo album Ekvílibríum was released by Bedroom Community in 2007.