Stimulus 1: Varuo by Sigor Ros, music reviewPosted: October 2, 2013
Note: music review posts discuss the stimulus selection, structure, and general response patterns, giving an overview of the stimulus before digging into the responses.
Stimulus number 1, numbered for convenience not playlist order–each session’s music was randomly ordered–was a track from 2012 Sigur Rós album Valtari. I’d been enjoying the band’s previous work in the last year, taken by the textures, slow builds, and dramatic extremes of intensity. When I saw a new album had been release a month or two before the scheduled response recordings, I chose a track to reserve for the experiment. The 24 response session are my first 24 full listenings to this epic piece of music, and it was a really intense experience almost every time.
I wanted to include a piece like this because of its proportions. Awe is a common but rarely captured response to music, and I knew this band regularly constructed pieces which overwhelmed. This track was chosen in part because of length (its shorter than some), the structure of the music (ABA’, with great dynamic range), with a long layered build, and the children’s chorus at the end.
Looking at specifics, the structure of this piece is AA’Ba, with the first three sections starting with relatively sparse instrumentation and growing in the number of instruments, intensity, frequency range. With each A, there is an instrumental opening featuring piano and a mixture of strings swooping and sighing without release. The voice enters, first sharing the same patterns of behaviour, and then bridging into two long calls, long enough to see in the spectrogram above. The second A, A’ rather, has more rhythm section presence, with more bass and a low tom entering under the second pair of calls. After A’, the music again strips down to piano, but this time with childrens chorus picking up the slow rise and fall pattern to being B. Through B, layers upon layers are added, resuling in the growing fire in the second half of the spectrogram. While melodic lines continue the longer rise and fall figure, the percussion is relentless and completely straight, though steadily growing in intensity until it cuts away for the final fade. The music ends with the children’s chorus, singing the eponimous warning, twice with hold shimmering seconds, and at last closing in unison, alone.
I don’t have much of an idea what the lyrics mean, but the mood of the piece, for me, was mostly of sustained tension, without repose or rest until the track ends. Melodically, the music seems to be endless elision, no clear cuts or segments. Within the murky mixtures, there were many timbres I found strongly aesthetically pleasing. The vocal line, haunting falsetto, was captivating, particularly at the calls, and the mountain of sound in section B was repeatedly overwhelming, leading to several chills and an intense response I can only describe as vibrating in my chair (more on that when I discuss the physiological responses). In short, this piece totally swept me away through most of the listening sessions.