Ólafur Arnalds, Brighton Dome, Wednesday, 26 September 2018

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Over the last decade, Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds has established himself as one of the most ambitious and in-demand composers of film and television scores around, winning a BAFTA in 2014 for his Broadchurch soundtrack.But it was his solo work and, specifically, latest album Re:member, that was the focus of this show at a bustling Brighton Dome – the maiden night of a long tour in support of the record.

Masayoshi Fujita’s supporting performance was a fitting companion piece. His understated solo vibraphone masterclass was as captivating as it was intriguing, full of haunting drone and bright, cascading melodies.

Then Arnalds appeared amidst darkness and flashing lights at a grand piano, centre-stage. His brittle, melancholy piano-playing served as a beautiful skeleton around which surrounding strings swept and counter-melodies hung; an electronic drum kit offering scaffolding and heft.

Delicate minimalism occasionally gave way to intense, multi-layered electronic sound collages, which dissipated temporarily to expose stark, individual elements, the rich musical landscape blooming with dynamic flux.

Given that this was the opening night, the sonic clarity of the show was breathtaking.

Observant audience members will have noticed a pair of raised, ‘self-playing’ upright pianos flanking the rear of the stage. They were the results of Stratus technology, a piece of software jointly-created by Arnalds that allows notes played on one piano to generate supplementary ones on others.

The lonely instruments were almost ghostly, simultaneously indicating glaring absence and uncanny presence.

Leaving the stage to a standing ovation, the 31-year-old returned for an encore of old MySpace favourite 3055, and a solo performance of Lag fyrir Ömmu, a tribute to his late grandmother.

Strings were audible in the distance – presumably backstage somewhere. It was an unusual but highly-effective idiosyncrasy, and an appropriate note on which to end a beguiling evening of experimentation and emotional exploration.

★★★★

Originally published in The Argus.
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