||BJ Nilsen &
2005 Helen Scarsdale CD
1. En dåre kan fråga mer än tre visa kan svara / Einn fáviti getur spurt meira en thrír adrir geta svarad
2. Heilir, thorn eirs hlyddu / Lycklige de, som lyssnat
4. Det är bäst att jag börjar, annars kommer jag aldrig hem /
Nú er kominn tími til ad byrja, annars kemst eg ekkert heim aftur
Brennivin is an Icelandic liquor vulcanized from the humble potato and flavored with cumin, although you'd be hard pressed to taste much beyond the astringent burn that it leaves in your mouth. Bottled in matte black glass and stamped with ominously simple labels, brennivin appears less like something to imbibe and more like poison; and in that creeping slow death kind of way, it is. For the Icelandic electro-absurdist outfit Stilluppsteypa, brennivin has soaked into every fiber of their being; and as a result, oozes out of their terminal drones, sputtered rhythms, and atomic fractures. As much brennivin (and mind-altering chemicals in general have been a muse for Stilluppsteypa, they are also a curse; Stilluppsteypa's oblique Dada expressionism and devilish black humour erupt with megalomaniacal invincibility that comes with a few too many drinks; but at the same time, Stilluppsteypa has developed a parallel ethos of clinical minimalism the reflects the introspection, headaches, and melancholia of the morning after.
In their poetically abject celebration of brennivin, Stilluppsteypa (comprised of Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson) accepted the invitation from Swedish composer BJ Nilsen to collaborate upon an album related to alcohol and its mind-numbing effects. Nilsen has been working in various constellations of experimental music, best known for his recordings as Hazard published through Touch and Ash International. Focusing the perception of natural sounds through a reconstruction of time and space, Nilsen has rendered the commonplace sounds of wind, rain, and snow as stealthfully seductive and quietly menacing drifts of frozen sound. Their resultant collaboration is an existentialist allegory in which the three drunkenly stumble out in a Scandinavian winter night and spiral toward the inevitable point in which they blackout. Lest this be construed as a derelict piece of method acting, the craft that Nilsen, Sigmarsson, and Thorsson brought to Vikinga Brennivín is impeccable, as the extended soundfields breath with the majesty of distant fog horns and sparkle with the delicate light of countless stars cast down from the black heavens onto the frozen tundra below. Frightening and barren, yet hauntingly compelling, Vikinga Brennivín is an isolationist masterpiece.
The first edition of Vikinga Brennivín was strictly limited to 300 copies due to the elaborate artwork. The Helen Scarsdale Agency commissioned its in-house fabricator Jim Haynes to produce the exquisite packaging of hand-manipulated copper foil with silkscreened text. A second edition with the same silkscreened design on paper had been published shortly after the first pressing was sold out.
Drinkers out there: pay attention, because our favourite drunks are here and they celebrate their favourite drink: brennivin. Never heard of? No problem. It's an Icelandic liquor made of potato and flavored with cumin, which burns down your throat - and I know: the only two times I was really sick of alcohol in the last 10 years was of brennivin. The first time I got this poison served was at Stillupsteypa's house - no wonder, they are from Iceland and like everybody from there they drink. A lot. An insane lot. These days Stilluppsteypa is Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson and they team up with BJ Nilsen - our man in Sweden (and known from Touch releases, more than his drinking habits, at least here). Of course it's hard to tell wether one would think of the booze if it didn't have that title, nor is it easy to relate the music to the drink. The five lengthy pieces here all deal with a hermetically closed sound. Processings of field recordings perhaps, but no longer recognizable as such. Some ten or so years ago, someone invented the term 'isolationism' for this kind of music, but basically it was what everyone else called 'ambient industrial', but somehow 'isolationism' sounded better. It's certainly an appropiate term for this CD. It's either music you hear when you try to make it home after a night of heavy brennivin intake and if that didn't do the trick it's music you hear in your head when you wake up. It's almost claustrophobic music, but beautiful claustrophobia. Lovers of Nilsen's other work, or Thomas Köner's old work, should keep an eye open for a CD packed in copper-plates inside a jewel case. -- Frans de Waard
This is one of the best, most expertly crafted releases I have heard in quite some time. The artist formerly known as Hazard (Nilsen) and Stilluppsteypa (recently reduced to a duo of Sigtryggur B. Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson) combine sounds that evoke panoramic landscapes. Beginning this remarkably cohesive 56 minute set, "En Dare Kan Fraga Mer An Tre Visa Kan Svara" approaches like distant footsteps trying to walk straight on a windy path. Small rustling sounds eventually coalesce into thicker swarms over 12 minutes. This music is successful because it recalls a barren landscape, but still provides small, recognizable nuances to cling to. The quiet crackling sounds, bell tones and low moans which hover just below the long sustained tones of each piece add depth. At first Vikinga Brennivin seems minimalist in that there are no melodic or rhythmic elements. However, its appeal lies in uncovering the many layers of sound that make up this minimal facade. During "Heilir, thorn eirs hlyddu" there is a wall of static that is barely noticeable until it is suddenly removed from the mix at the six minute mark. The six minutes that follow this shift are then more interesting because they feel like undergrowth being pulled to the surface for inspection. On "En Dare..." and "Det Ar..." the trio pursue a decidedly more organic sound, while on "Heilir..." and "Vidunder" a digital patina is added to the low-end rumbling that provides contrast but doesn't sound too jarring. On "Vidunder" in particular, sharp high-end digital stabs echo from speaker to speaker and are the closest the trio get to achieving rhythmic tension. During "Det Ar..." a single low tone is given several minutes to meander before being joined by what sounds like smoke or gas being emitted from a pipe. The effect is akin to watching clouds pass slowly overhead through a skylight. The sounds that are used throughout the album sound as if they were carefully chosen. The group meets its objective of combining elements in ways that produce subtly changing, atmospheric works in which more is discovered upon each listen. They seem well-attuned to a common mission and the result sounds more seamless than simply being the sum of familiar parts. The gorgeous, unique silkscreened copper plate by Jim Haynes that serves as the sleeve for the first edition of 300 enhances the perception that this is a work which has been carefully and lovingly crafted out of a combination of passion and skill. -- Jim Siegel
God damn, this is a beautiful record. Serious headphone drone from the land of ice and snow (BJ Nilsen hails from Sweden, Stilluppsteypa from Iceland). Music for floating ice sheets and melting glaciers. A heady mix of tectonic drones and distant forest clatter, with stones and twigs breaking under foot. The first track creates such a heavy space that it leaves an empty feeling in the room when it abruptly ends. The second follows suit, with a thick translucent haze, the consistency of melted glass, all gooey and hot. The final track is a journey into the Black Forrest at night filled with electronic bugs and ghost like wisps flying overhead. So put this on, lay down, turn down the lights a float down the river like a giant piece of broken off ice pack. -- Jefre Cantu Ledesma
The first edition of this album is already something of a collectors' item, as Helen Scarsdale's in-house designer (and frequent Wire contributor) Jim Haynes prepared just 300 handmade copper foil inserts with the album title and track info silk-screened on them. They look very nice indeed, even if they're stuck in a standard jewel box, but to be honest I'd have preferred a free bottle of Brennevin myself, Brennevin being a seriously headfucking potato alcohol normally bottled in suspicious-looking black glass and highly popular in Iceland, which is where electronicians Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson aka Stilluppsteypa come from. They're joined by BJ Nilsen, who hails from Sweden where they also produce some pretty wicked liquor, but that's probably beside the point on five (there only seem to be four marked on the copper plate) tracks of utter majesty. Don't you dare say electronic music can't move you to tears; these huge, spacious glowing structures are sombre, magnificent and exquisitely constructed (and I haven't got the faintest idea what their titles mean.. something to do with the booze, who knows?). And I thought that irr. app. (ext.)'s Ozeanische Gefühle was a hard act for Helen Scarsdale to follow. Like Matt Waldron (irr. app. (ext.) to you), our three protagonists here have something that's all too often lacking in today's boot-the-Mac-click-open-soundfile-and-let-it-rip-and-while-it's-playing-I-can-answer-email (just joking) electronic music culture: damn good ears. They probably don't have much liver left if the press release is to be believed, so make sure you get your copy of Vikinga Brennevin before stocks dry up altogether. (If you miss out on Jim's copper plate, don't worry the music will be the same on the second edition.) -- Dan Warburton
Signal To Noise
Issue 38, Summer 2005
A tribute of sorts to the harsh Icelandic liquor brennivin, Vikinga Brennivin is fittingly woozy, numbing record. Both BJ Nilsen and Stilluppsteypa are famous for their ability to create dark, surrealist soundscapes from common sources, and their work here is no different. From the haunting field recordings that start the disc, through the dark drones and glacial scrapes, the musicians use a wide palate of sounds to create their windswept epics. In general, Stilluppsteypa tend to have a slightly more confrontational sound, with members Sigytryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson twisting their tones into a squirming mass. Nilsen, on the other hand, focuses mainly on creating huge, heavy backdrops that cloak the record in pudding-thick layers of drone. The record's first edition, limited to 300 copies, comes packed in gorgeous silkscreened sheets of copper foil that perfectly compliments the beautiful, alien music. -- Ethan Covey
The Wire, Issue 258
Bremmin is a famously potent Icelandic potato and cumin liquor that comes in forbidding black bottles. Whether laptop duo Stilluppsteypa record under the influence of their national tipple is not made clear, but the evidence of this suitably blurred and bleary collaboration with sound artist Nilsen, it certainly sounds like they do. Nilsen's Hazard release on the Ash International and Touch labels feature motionless, brooding stretches of treated environmental recordings. What his collaborators bring to this project is a sense of unpredictability, even madness. But it's a slow, sleepy kind of madness, as if the music is under the influence of the paralysis-inducing drug curare rather than the firewater suggested by the album title. Despite the strung out, claustrophobic feel, however, Vikinga Brennivin is a fascinating and strangely beautiful record -- addictive, one might say. Various stretches might be said to evoke the relentless throb and tinnitus whistle of a serious hangover, but mostly it's an album of meticulously crafted dronescapes and seeping atmospheres. Layers constantly appear, shift and disappear, to occasionally hallucinogenic effect, as on the richly involving final 20 minute drift piece, but more often suggesting psychic disquiet and disconnection. The second track is a steely but miasmatic inferno of deep, rumbling frequencies and submerged, agitated voices, a sonic black hole seeming to suck in all but the most unsettling noise. It's powerful stuff -- in fact, any recovering alcoholics tempted by a drop of the hard stuff should consider buying Vikinga Brennivin for use as aversion therapy. -- Keith Moliné