” . . .Every piece on Skartamannafelagid is a triumph of this deeply integrated way of composing; layers pulling in different directions, astonishingly novel textures and sounds. We have something that appears to effortlessly bypass many conventions of form, melody and rhythm. . . “

Ed Pinsent on Skartamannafelagid in the Sound Projector January 12 2020.

What emerges is a slow-moving piece of enormous charm and beguiling sadness; it’s like the world’s most forlorn hurdy-gurdy or calliope, playing a melancholy dirge. The two pieces represent the seasons; the full title translates into English as ‘Song of Spring / Song Of Summer’, and it’s a follow-up to his 2017 release Haustlag / Vetrarlag which covered Fall and Winter. That’s a pretty well-worn theme in mainstream classical music (for instance Vivadli, Haydn, Glazuno), but Gunnarsson’s personalised and subtle take on it is new and refreshing. The field recordings used were captured in town and countryside to reflect the season in question; they are deployed incredibly sparingly, almost as background atmosphere to the gentle flute-recorder music. A mesmerising set; absolutely gorgeous music.

Ed Pinsent on Vorlag/Sumarlag in the Sound Projector January 12 2020.

“The opening of the work was breathtaking, Heiða subdivided into four discrete personalities, shifting rapidly between them. Multiple ideas, behaviours and identities impinged upon, collided with and interrupted each other continuously, articulated by Heiða in an unhinged way […] As Heiða softened into silence, Mengi was left filled with the sound of an electronic chorus of her siren-like familiars; emanating from unseen speakers, it was a beautiful and stunning resolution.”

Simon Cummings in 5against4 in February 2019

“Here there was a performance of an opera of Wagnerian length, width and depth […]
these were tidings and they rarely get any bigger in the world of opera in Iceland.”

Atli Ingólfsson in Þræðir 2018.

On October 6th 2014 Kate Molleson wrote the following article in the Guardian about the BBC SSO concert Hear and Now: New Icelandic Voices which took place on October 4h in City Halls, Glasgow:

BBCSSO/Volkov review – new Icelandic work chills and thrills

. . . Conductor Ilan Volkov got to know the Reykjavík composers’ collective Slátur during his recent stint as music director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Their playful, DIY, communicative ethos clearly struck a chord. In Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson’s Sporgyla, musicians gathered around large digitised graphic scores for a happy, chatty rendering of Iceland’s ancient parliament. . . .

On October 7th Carol Main wrote about the BBC SSO concert Hear and Now: New Icelandic Voices which took place on October 4h in City Halls, Glasgow:

Classical review: BBC Scottish Symphony

. . .Gunnarsson’s reinterpretation of the old Icelandic parliament involved six separate ensembles, spread out
through the auditorium, each huddled round a screen displaying their parts. In jittery conversation, there were plink plonks of comments from
strings, wailing winds in response, but, overall, it was an imaginative concept and one in which the composer was particularly well served by the BBC SSO’s consummate musicians who tackle whatever is put in front of them with skill and integrity. . .

On October 8th Keith Bruce wrote in the Glasgow Herald about the BBC SSO concert Hear and Now: New Icelandic Voices which took place on October 4h in City Halls, Glasgow:

 . . .In fact, there was a homogeneity to their sound which belied the fact David Brynjar Franzson is now domiciled in New York and Charles Ross is an Iceland-resident Scot, which suggests a pervasive stylistic influence in the SLATUR composer’s collective, of which Guomundur Steinn Gunnarsson, whose intended opener found a home at the start of the second half, is a leading light. His piece required six small groups scattered around the hall, each following a computer-generated score, four trios of winds with single brass and horn and two string septets with percussion. With the three clarinets, in 20s jazz mode, leading the way, it was a score worth waiting for. . .

On June 6th 2014 Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times about a concert with the Dog Star Orchestra which took place at Curve Line Space on June 3rd with music by the S.L.Á.T.U.R. collective, including the piece Spurningaleikur:

 . . .The Icelanders are into updating music based on flamboyant graphic notation, which was at the heart of much American and
European avant-garde music in the ’50s and ’60s. The SLÀTUR pieces required the musicians, often playing homemade instruments
made out of plastic soft-drink containers (Scrapple and Canada Dry were this evening’s Steinway and Fender), kitchen
items and whatnot as well as regular and altered instruments.
The players followed the moving lines and spheres and other geometrical shapes in a variety of ways. It was fun to watch. It
was more fun not to look at the screen and wonder about the sounds. . .

On April 23rd 2013 Steve Smith wrote in the New York Times the following article:

Ilan Volkov’s Tectonics Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland

. . . Alongside Magnus Lindberg’s buoyant Clarinet Concerto, with Chen Halevi as the vivacious soloist, were striking premieres by Icelandic composers: Gudmundur Steinn Gunnarsson’s glistening “Grafgata”; Atli Ingolfsson’s woozy, bristling Piano Concerto, with the splendid pianist Vikingur Olafsson; and “Under Takes Over,” a mysterious sequence of floating tones and lighting effects by Hildur Gudnadottir. . .

.  .  . Fengjastrutur, an Icelandic ensemble that specializes in unorthodox works, offered imaginative accounts of Mr. Wolff’s “Metal and Breath,” “Stones” and “Groundspace” alongside its own giddily absurdist creations, involving gunshots, a noisy swap meet and a belly flop into a rubber kiddie pool. The group’s realization of Mr. Wolff’s text piece “Pit Music,” done outdoors in the hole where Harpa’s hotel was to have stood, was the first time Mr. Wolff had ever seen the piece enacted, according to a representative of his publisher, Edition Peters. . .


On May 11th 2011 Allan Kozinn wrote in the New York Times:

Seven Composers, Seven Countries

 . . .The opposite effect animated “Mardigosa” (2009), a spare fantasy by the Icelandic composer Gudmundur Steinn Gunnarsson. Here quirkily repeated vocal syllables commanded the attention, while the players mostly tapped rhythmically on their instruments, occasionally letting loose with a few notes. . .


From Nutida Musik on Dark Music Days 2012 Andreas Engström wrote:

. . .  Ásgeirsson och Gunnarsson är aktiva i kompositörs- och musikernätverket Slautur vars aktiviteter sker mest i periferin till de etablerade scenerna i Reykjavík. Att på detta sätt få med två i sammanhanget okonventionella verkformer som dessutom var fantastiskt fina och tydligt genomförda kompositioner var en krydda i programmet som gav mersmak.

Nutida Musik 4/2011-12

Reviews of Horpma


On July 24th 2011 Thomas R. Erdmann wrote in the Jazz Review:

 . . . To most this will sound like music for transcendental meditation, but what it really is is the new in contemporary classical composition.

Conseguito Silenzio was the title of clause in the Sound Projector where Ed Pinsent reviewed Horpma among other things on April 29th 2011:
. . .The press notes here tell us that fans of Harry Partch will probably enjoy Horpma, which is probably true if one is thinking about home-made multi-stringed instruments and just intonation tunings, but what also resonates is that Partch sometimes attempted to score the patterns and rhythms of human speech in his music. Traces of this can be found in the recording of ‘Bitter Music’. At all events, I’m very impressed with this extremely distinctive and unusual work by Gunnarsson, and it’s presented in a very nice embossed cover. . .

Conseguito Silenzio

Dan Warburton reviewed Horpma in Paris Transatlantic in the Summer 2011 issue:
. . .At its busiest it plinks merrily away like a cross between Harry Partch and 70s Ligeti (though not as rhythmically regular as either), but when the texture thins out – and “Horpma I” gets really sparse about halfway through – Cage comes to mind.  . . .

Tokafi on May 10th 2011
. . .The sound is surprisingly uniform: subtle timbral variations and clashes of intonation exist here on such a microscopic level that it takes a while to pick them out. Once heard, however, they arguably become the most defining characteristics of the work. Similarly, once your ears accustom themselves to the ancient tuning system, a seemingly infinite number of intervallic structures and microtones emerge from the sonic architecture. . .
. . .if one is to move quickly between different parts of the two movements, the music superficially sounds almost identical. Of course, any closer inspection exposes a highly nuanced and varied microscopic soundworld—its only true inconsistency being constant inconsistency.
By Hannis Brown

On June 28th 2011 Nicholas Zettel published this review in Foxy Digitalis:

. . . Horpma utilizes silence or resting periods effectively in the middle of the 32-minute first part. As the second part opens with an immediate urgency and fast pace, the radical break between silent passages and frantic plucking and hammering offers one of the most percussive sequences of the release. Over multiple listens, I found myself returning to the actual split between the two parts of the release, building anticipation for the engaging closing through the preceding maddening silence. Each listen seems to present a different reward, and it’s almost as though the rhythms are different each time you hear the piece. Catching another note here-and-there shifts your understanding or perception of the fragile compositions. . .
. . .Gunnarsson’s Horpma is direct and engaging, enough to reward the listener for sticking with the piece through any difficult moments. Apart from any conceptual triumphs, the piece succeeds due to the performers’ ability to execute a “score” that provides all sorts of suggestions and memories about music to the listener. Art and folk correspond in the execution of Gunnarsson’s goals, resulting in a remarkably accessible conceptual piece.

In the Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter – April 22nd, 2011
. . .The music on this odd yet enchanting disc falls somewhere in between. Strange, plucked, bent-note, minimal yet somehow focused. Mechanical like a clock slowly breaking down, starting, stopping and then adding notes as the tempo carefully increases. Certain notes are magnified and held up for inspection. Slowly certain themes or patterns emerge, certain combinations of notes point to subliminal direction. This disc consists of two pieces, one around 32 minutes and the second about 13 minutes. The second piece is more sped up and nearly frantic in part like machine that has been wound up too tightly. The somewhat nervous pace makes this music more intense and engaging as if we can’t wait to see what will happen next… Another review no doubt about that. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

17. Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, Horpma
A pointillist st-st-st-st-stroke from an Icelandic composer whose Autechresque sense of rhythm blurs the lines between organized, random, and sheer madness. He makes a 27-instrument ensemble sound like rain falling on a Guitar Center.

Horpma was number 17 on Christopher R. Weingarten’s end of year Avant Album list in SPIN magazine and the that followed was the description.

Guillaume Belhomme wrote in le son du grisli
Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson : Horpma (Carrier, 2011)

. . . Les motifs que se repassent guitares et clavecins, piano et harpe, ukulele et
langspil, déclenchent au fil des secondes une œuvre singulière, faite autant d’insistances que de
beaux accidents.

On May 1st 2011 Luca Pagani wrote in the Italian All About Jazz:


. . .Gudmundur Steinn Gunnarson ha studiato composizione con Alvin Curran, Fred
 Frith e John Bischoff e da questi ha imparato senz’altro una cosa
fondamentale: non imitare la musica dei maestri e fare quello che si vuole.
Il linguaggio sonoro è quasi totalmente assente. La partitura è talmente scarna
e meccanica che ogni ascoltatore potrà decidere a suo piacimento se queste
note rigate e ripetute significhino qualcosa oppure nulla. Rimane comunque
un’altra ipotesi: questa musica potrebbe risultare ancora troppo “precoce” per i
contemporanei, oppure totalmente insensata per ascoltatori di certe latitudini o
perfino per l’ascoltatore umano e quindi essere dedicata e scritta per una
qualche forma di divinità, per il mondo naturale o animale. . .