Fast on the heels of a string of awards and growing international attention comes the album Horpma by the Icelandic composer Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson.
Horpma is a pair of two pieces for 27 plucked and hammered string instruments, which together fuse into an imaginary 54 string instrument (one string for every bead of the rosary). Each string of this meta-instrument is tuned according to just intonation, with an emphasis on narrow––or smaller than normal––intervals.
A new rhythmic ideal is the foundation of this music. The rhythms are not conceived or communicated through a traditional grid structure. Instead, Guðmundur has created epistemic tools to work with rhythm that reflect traditional Icelandic prosody. This principle of rhythm does not fit neatly into standard notation. Instead, the performers follow highly specific instructions that flow across a computer screen. To be able to execute such a score in real-time, Gunnarsson sought out performers from various musical discourses, each of which has in the past proven to be highly capable of embracing new ways of performing such as improvisation veterans Charity Chan and Kanoko Nishi, and Múm guitarist Róbert Reynisson.
To quote the composer: “By intently focusing on small differences, both in rhythm and pitch, the ear gets tuned to a microscopic mode of listening. When things then open up, a new sense of variety is gained.”
The recordings were made over a period of time in CCM in Oakland, California and at the Swimming Pool in Iceland.