Last night, along with my sister, I had the privilege of seeing Jónsi and Alex Somers perform their ambient album Riceboy Sleeps for the first time at the Sydney Opera House. The album was released in 2009 and the performance was part of a tenth-anniversary celebration tour, which coincided with Vivid Sydney.
For the live performance, Jónsi and Alex were accompanied onstage by a 21-piece orchestra, a 12-member choir and conductor Robert Ames in the Concert Hall.
To be clear, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to hear this music live. Both musicians have various other musical projects and so much time had passed since its release.
They certainly did not disappoint. Aside from a brief, quiet introduction to the show and a minor break after the opening segment—their All Animals EP—the entire instrumental album was played from start to finish with no spoken interruption.
The orchestral arrangement was absolutely beautiful, with Jónsi and Alex contributing electric and bass guitar (and the signature cello bow) for particular pieces. The percussionist was particularly fascinating to watch, as he stood at the side of the stage and swapped between xylophone, bubble wrap, wobbleboard and a bag of metal items to add extra motifs and character to the music. I had always wondered what had been used to create certain unusual sounds on the album.
There’s no real way to explain this music live other than to say that it seems like music that almost barely exists. Whilst similar to the post-rock catalogue of Sigur Rós, Jónsi and Alex have put together a live show that is somehow both ethereal and deeply resonating. Low strings and bass lines drive the emotion and fill the room, whilst higher-pitched, ephemeral elements twinkle and flicker, almost like a candle that’s about to go out.
One of the highlights, in my opinion, was the song Indian Summer, which opened with piano by Jónsi and escalated gradually into a full orchestral piece with his signature falsetto—an altogether awesome sound.
At the conclusion of the show, Jónsi, Alex and the accompanying musicians received a well-deserved standing ovation. It was one of the most astoundingly beautiful performances that I have ever seen.
As we exited the building, suddenly surrounded by the noise and spectators of Vivid, I couldn’t help but think about how time and space had melted in the theatre. They really transported us to another place.