New names to the ECM roster, Claudio Puntin and Gerur Gunnarsdˇttir arrive with a highly unusual project in "Ţlir" - a musical topography of Iceland, an Iceland both observed and imagined, mirrored in legend and folklore as well as in the work of composers of our time. The music on "Ţlir" is highly contemporary yet also timeless; it has very deep roots.
Iceland is the homeland of Gerur Gunnarsdˇttir, violinist and vocalist. Her partner, clarinettist Claudio Puntin is from Switzerland and of Italian descent. They have collaborated on many projects over the years. The working title for the present concept was "Essence of North", and its programme derives from original compositions and improvisations, influenced by the land and the people of Iceland and by the folk music and contemporary composition of that volcanic island in the North Atlantic.
These elements - original composition, improvisation, folk song, adaptations of contemporary music - are interwoven and contrasted with each other throughout "Ţlir". Sometimes the folk songs are presented in their purest form, with that almost effortlessly graceful proportional balance of sound, harmony and melody that seems specifically Northern/Scandinavian; sometimes Puntin and Gunnardsdˇttir use the "systems" of folk music to build a new kind of improvising. Myriad aspects of Iceland come into play as inspirational sources - from ancient sagas of elves and trolls to the movement of Icelandic horses in the hills today, from descriptions of the invisible "hidden people" ("huldufˇlk") to programmatic impressions from the natural world - the slow melting glaciers over thousands of years, the midnight sun. Both musicians play beautifully throughout.
The vocals of Gunnarsdˇttir are for the most part wordless, but on "Hvert ÷rstutt spor" she sings a text by Halldˇr Laxness, the Icelandic writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955, in an adaptation of a composition by Jˇn Nordal (b. 1926). Nordal was part of the Darmstadt circle in the late 1950s, and his early work was strongly influenced by Icelandic folk music. On "KvŠ§i§ un fuglana" Puntin arranges a piece by composer Atli Heimir Sveinsson (b. 1938), once an associate of Stockhausen, Pousseur and B.A. Zimmermann but also known for his work in films exploring Icelandic folk themes (e.g. "Seven Folk Tales", 1976).
Gerur Gunnarsdˇttir has worked regularly with the Ensemble Modern, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, K÷lner Kammerorchester, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Consortium Classicum, and other leading orchestras and chamber ensembles. She has been second concert master of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and leader of the Icelandic Opera. In the last six years - since 1995 when she co-founded the duo Essence of North with Puntin - she has been involved in groups that investigate Northern roots in the context of a larger "world music." Since 1998 she has also played in Claudio Puntin's band Quipu.
Claudio Puntin, who studied both jazz and contemporary music in Cologne and Rotterdam (participating also in courses with Sergiu Celibadache), has played with a very wide range of musicians - from Dave Liebman to the Ensemble Modern, from Hermeto Pascoal to Klaus K÷nig's Orchestra. He has been a member of Fred Frith's bands Tense Serenity and The Science Group, played tributes to Benny Goodman with the popular King of Swing Orchestra, toured the USA with the contemporary klezmer band Kol Simcha, performed modern composition (several composers have written works for him) and free improvisation, and written music for films and radio plays. His own music has been performed at the Donaueschingen Tage Neuer Musik. Puntin also leads his own quartet with Anders Jormin, Miroslav Tadic and Marcio Doctor. Claudio Puntin has appeared at international numerous festivals, from Amsterdam to Peking, from Rio de Janeiro to Kansas City. Outside of music he maintains a parallel artistic career as jewellery designer and goldsmith, and has exhibited his work widely. More details of his broad-based activities can be found on his web site at http://www.puntin.de