So continuing my exploration of somewhat off the wall contemporary Icelandic music I come to Jóhann Jóhannson’s “oratorio” Drone Mass. The inspiration and textual base is the gnostic “Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians” discovered in 19435. These appear to be very obscure texts and Jóhannson really just uses syllable combinations from them to create a series of vocalises. These are then set for string quartet, eight member choir and electronics.
The musical style is minimalist in a way that’s a bit like Górecki or Pärt but with electronics. It’s quite hypnotic with some really tectonic bass supplied by the electronics in places. The vocal style varies from something like renaissance polyphony to something more rhythmically articulated. It’s the sort of music one easily gets sucked into. Across the 50 minutes or so of music there’s enough variation of style to keep things interesting.
The performance on the CD was recorded by members of the Danish ensemble ACME and the Theatre of Voices conducted by David Hillier. It’s a work they have done before with the composer so I suppose it’s as definitive as these things can be. The recording, made in the Garnisonkirken in Copenhagen in 2019, is very well engineered with an all enveloping sound world and some seriously extended base (at least on the hi-res digital I listened to). It’s more “enveloping” on headphones but if you have the gear for it the full body shaking bass experience is best over speakers.
The recording is due for release on March 18th on standard quality CD, vinyl and in a variety of digital formats including hi-res.