Valgeir Sigurdsson: Architecture of Loss
Bedroom Community

Given that he's the label's founder, Valgeir Sigurðsson can probably release pretty much whatever he wants on Bedroom Community. But Sigurðsson's third album, originally composed for a ballet of the same name by Stephen Petronio, is a high-quality affair, no matter its creator's company title. The community side of the equation is borne out by the presence of label associate and fellow composer Nico Muhly, who plays piano on the thirty-eight-minute recording, violist Nadia Sirota, and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily. Though the music is wholly composed by Sigurðsson, Sirota's viola is such a central voice, Architecture of Loss becomes as much a showcase for her playing as for Sigurðsson's composing talents (he also contributes electronics, piano, baritone guitar, programming, and percussion to the recording).

Like a dance programme, the album moves rapidly from scene to scene, each one contrasting slightly to the one before it. Quieter passages frequently segue into loud, unsettling episodes that plunge the listener into murky, uncharted territories. The recording opens arrestingly with Sirota's viola rising out of a cool mist in the scene-setting “Guard Down,” the strings multiplying exponentially and flooding the aural space, before “The Crumbling” expands on the sound-world by adding pensive piano figures and bass thrum to the ponderous moodscape. Throughout the recording, creaks and other percussive noises add to the overall sense of drama, as Sigurðsson conjures barren, frozen vistas.

Though it's hardly a conventional electronica album, electronic elements do seep in occasionally, as evidenced by the minimal rhythm pattern coursing through “World Without Ground” and the blustery electronics that pop like firecrackers during “Big Reveal.” What also recommends the album is its broad range of sounds and moods. In animating “Reverse Erased” with a metronomic strut, for instance, Sigurðsson allows a mutant take on post-rock to enter into the album—even if the rhythms are almost buried under smears of hammering noise. And though Architecture of Loss does exude an icy quality, the wordless purr of Ismaily's voice lends warmth to “Between Monuments” before it erupts into a brief firestorm of drums and violent strings. Interestingly, the album's most memorable piece is also its shortest, “Erased Duet,” which leaves a strong mark when it underpins Sirota's lyrical lines with piano arpeggios. At album's end, Helgi Hrafn Jónsson's trombone adds a requiem-like note to the brief “Gone Not Forgotten.” While the music itself exudes a seriousness of tone and grandeur characteristic of a large-scale orchestral production, Sigurðsson's decision to use a small-scale ensemble works in the music's favour, as the flexibility of the group allows for a more natural sense of fluidity to emerge in the rendering of the score.

November 2012