amiina, “AnimaminA”

Artist: amiina
Title: Animamina
Release Date: 2005

amina, AnimaminA, released 2005 by The Worker’s Institute

1) skakka
2) hemipode
3) fjarskanistan
4) blaskjar

amiina, a group of four musicians, is probably most famous as Sigur Ros’s backing string quartet, as well as their opening act on Sigur Ros’s 2006 tour[1]. They are composers in their own right, however, and their debut EP release AnimaminA features them playing not only strings but various pitched and unpitched percussion, with a bit of sampling and laptop work thrown in. Each track is mostly built out of patterns which interlock and hocket in intricate and lovely ways. Though I assume these pieces are greatly collaborative, the fact that each track name is signed in a different hand implies that each had a different “lead” composer.

“skakka” opens the CD uncertainly, with a staggered rhythm played on a low metallophone that soon settles down into a simple pattern, which is joined by what sounds like a marimba and a glockenspiel playing their own loops agains a soft, high electronic background. It’s a very still, meditative piece – listening to it is like watching dusk become night.

“hemipode” is more active; it opens with a thin cloud of string harmonics over a bass line provided by pizzicato cello, eventually joined by hammered dulcimers and a glockenspiel, in angular, complemetary rhythms. After a slight pause in the middle, everything restarts and is joined by bowed strings, giving a depth and fullness to the sound. The feel is one of joy, of celebration.

“fjarskanistan” begins with gentle tinkling that’s like water dripping into a pool which provides the background for a slow chorale on strings that seems to be always ascending, as if constantly reaching for something. It’s a sweet, yearning song full of hope.

The EP closes with “blaskjar”, which features a beautiful solo cello woven into a dense 5/4 texture of hammered dulcimers, metallophones, and pizzicato cello. The track closes the album perfectly, with a sense of resignation.

AnimaminA is a wonderful album. It opens and closes in minor key, bracketing two major-key pieces — I like to think of the journey from night, to day, back into night. Although the entirety of it uses the same basic compositional technique, each track is its own world, like a music box given color and life. I eagerly await their first full-length release, due out by the end of this year.

(1) I saw both play in Boston, and was actually more impressed by amiina.