When Jónsi Birgisson and his partner Alex Somers made their expansive ambient record Riceboy Sleeps, they never intended to perform it live. Alex was already a a lover of ambient music, having studied studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston (where the pair met), while Jonsi had five full-length studio records under his belt as frontman of the acclaimed post-rock ensemble Sigur Rós. The collaboration adopts a different sensability — forming what Somers describes as "the blueprints of our relationship".
Prior to Vivid LIVE, the pair had only ever performed excerpts of the record at a Victorian Gothic church in New York City. Now, in its 10th anniversary year, Jonsi and Alex have fully realised their vision with an ensemble of 21 musicians and 12-strong choir in the cathedral that is the Concert Hall. The performance offered a majestic conclusion to the Opera House's 23-day contemporary music festival.
JM: First of all, congratulations on your performance at the Opera House, I know it uplifted a lot of souls in the Concert Hall. How did it feel to bring the album to life in its entirety for the first time in 10 years?
AS: We were just so so happy — to be honest we were really grateful. We couldn’t believe that we got to play the first ever performance of our album in that space. With all those beautiful, generous people. We felt the music translated pretty well and thought the audience was really nice, the players were great, we thought the conductor did a good job. You always want more rehearsal time, but we feel like we managed to do everything in time and I feel like there was a good feeling in the room.
Was it a conscious decision to hold off performing the album until now?
Absolutely. I mean the record is very understated — it kind of embraces smallness in a way that is just inherent to everything we do, and for that reason we never played it live. When it was brought to our attention that the record was going to have its 10th birthday, it felt nice to just do as a gesture towards it, to recognise it and fully realise it in a way we never had.
When I listen to 'Boy 1904', I feel like there are undertones of chromaticism and Renaissance choral music — did you ever take a conscious inspiration from those periods in making this record?
Actually not very much, but you’re right — 'Boy 1904' is the one choral piece that definitely draws from some of that era of vocal music, of Renaissance vocal music. But to be really honest, Jónsi and I aren’t super familiar with a lot of that kind of music. We have friends that are steeped in that world and when we come across it we’re like “What is this called?!” — and they’ll be like — “This is Renaissance” and we’ll be like “ooh!”. So I think some of that flavour somehow squeezed into that piece of music. But I would say outside of 'Boy 1904' I would go so far as to say there was zero classical music influence on that record, even though I studied music, Jónsi hasn’t — we don’t listen to much or know very much about it. I mean we have loved certain Gavin Bryars pieces to death, we love certain Arvo Pärt music, some certain John Tavner. So we do know some of it — but it’s not where we draw our influence from.
It was more punk to be honest. The DIY punk spirit of capturing small sounds, slowing them down to various speeds and then adding effects and then hearing these small details that were all around us. And then, building pieces of music on top of them, just instinctively. That was more how we were working, you know?