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Songs We Love: Nordic Affect, 'Clockworking'

The Icelandic group Nordic Affect has commissioned new works for its forthcoming album, <em>Clockworking</em>.
David Oldfield
The Icelandic group Nordic Affect has commissioned new works for its forthcoming album, Clockworking.

Iceland might be small and isolated but the country's music scene is substantial, resonating far beyond the island nation. One Icelandic group that thrives on both new and old classical music is Nordic Affect. Formed in 2005, the quartet of women is equally at home playing 17th century dance music and newly commissioned works like Clockworking, the title track from its forthcoming album.

Once the piece gets up to speed, from its slowly churning opening, you feel like you've stepped inside a giant clock. Gears of various sizes click and spin at their own pace — some interlock, others whir along independently. The effect is calming, a Gothic stateliness.

Nordic Affect's artistic director Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir thinks of Clockworking as an rendezvous between human and machine. It harks back to a time, she says, when "rhythmical repetitions permeated life, be it through the chopping of wood, making of butter or spinning of yarn."

The sounds come from a trio of strings — violin, viola and cello — plus electronics. It's the brainchild of composer María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, member of the indie band amiina, which served as the string section for Sigur Rós. And one more indie Icelandic connection: Clockworking was mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson, the proprietor of Greenhouse Studios and an engineer who's frequently teamed with Iceland's greatest export — Bjork.

Nordic Affect's album Clockworking is released July 31.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.