Olafur Arnalds, "re:member" (Mercury KX)
Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds goes far beyond the use of innovative software involving self-playing pianos on "re:member," a wistful album also incorporating various string ensembles, fast and slow beats and even the human voice as it alternates between being buoyant and calm.
Probably best heard on the track "they sink," Stratus, the software Arnalds developed with Halldor Eldjarn, allows him to set values like rhythm and tempo to form a three-element creative loop with a pair of self-playing pianos: they respond to his keyboard playing while Arnalds is in turn affected by their notes and chords.
The multi-part title track launches the album as a good sampler of the rest of the record. A swirling string section latches onto a gentle piano figure, what sounds like the Stratus is soon enveloped by watery sounds, the strings make an expanding return and restless drums boost the intensity. The fade is short and definitive.
"unfold" retains some of the opener's elements but English singer Sohn's layers of wordless vocals over the last minute imbue the pulsing tune with mystery and passion. "saman" is among the album's calmest inlets, a brief composition of soothing piano sounds, "ekki hugsa" is Arnalds at his most intensely hypnotic and the arrangement on "undir" goes the whole nine yards in just over 6 1/2 minutes.
No matter where the needle drops on "re:member," Arnalds' talents ensure a memorable experience.