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Review: Icelandic Composer Ólafur Arnalds’s Experiment in Artificial Intelligence ‘Re: Member’

The programmed and the human come together on an album that combines 20th Century composition and futurist electronics

Ólafur Arnalds

Benjamin Hardman

On his first solo project since 2013, Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds adds a new element – robots! – to his mix of post-minimalist repetition, indie swoon, film score frisson and ambient drifts. Re: Member is a conversation between Arnalds and algorithms, the programmed and the human, his own intentions and new inspirations, composed with a software called Stratus connected to two player pianos.

Nothing here has the unfamiliar, inhuman shocks of a John Cage indeterminate work, a John Zorn game piece or Autechre’s recent robo-dialogue. Instead it’s Arnalds’ signature gorgeous melancholy – as heard on albums like 2013’s For Now I Am Winter and the soundtrack to Broadchurch – with a gentle pulse. “Brot” features luminous throbs of strings, the itchy “Ekki Hugsa” twinkles with typewriter piano and “Inconsist” is reminiscent of fellow minimalist Hauschka gone downtempo. Clicks and clacks of the robotic processes add an extra textural layer for music that’s part Conlon Nancarrow’s 20th Century player piano compositions, part Aphex Twin Satie-and-skitter. A gentle mix of the stiff, sad and soothing.

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