Hear Gyda Valtysdóttir of Múm revive Earth’s oldest surviving composition, “Seikilos Epitaph,” from her solo debut
The wonderful Epicycle by Iceland’s award-winning Gyda Valtysdóttir (of Múm) will finally be issued worldwide through figureight records this fall. Hear the first track from it today via Stereogum.
The album collects Gyda’s new and unique visions of existing classical pieces, covering a range broad enough to include the great master Sergei Prokofiev, through to 20th century experimental music theorist Harry Partch, via the “Seikilos Epitaph” – the oldest known surviving musical composition in the world. Giving herself creative free-reign, Gyda – a classically trained and highly accomplished cellist – gave each piece a reimagined identity and sensibility, treating her arrangements not as new performances, but as “recloaked” arrangements.
Gyda’s background comprises both indie music (she co-founded the hugely acclaimed múm in her teens) and classical (a student of the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory in St. Petersburg, she holds a Double Masters in music), and these threads cohabit on Epicycle. A symbiosis of astute compositional mastery and innately approachable musicality, leading to Epicycle as a natural conclusion. The results here – assembled by Gyda and label-founder / close collaborator Shahzad Ismaily – run like a heavenly mixtape, tying together strings of history and geography into a single album. The timespan of these pieces covers 2,000 years; their homelands cross continents.
Alongside Gyda’s cello, piano, voice and zither, the record features Ismaily’s guitar, synthesisers and percussion, and a handful of immensely talented further collaborators. But the focus is almost always on Gyda’s own instrumentation, from the sparse, swooping loneliness of her cello in ‘Ancient Mode’ (the Partch piece), to her lulling dreamlike voice in ‘Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai’ (Schumann).
Epicycle was released initially (CD-only, Iceland-only) through Reykjavik label Smekkleysa, and received weighty prizes at the Icelandic Music Awards. This new issue – its first international and vinyl release – is released through figureight records. The label is led by Ismaily (Bonnie Prince Billy, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Colin Stetson among many others) and label manager Hildur Maral (ex-Bedroom Community).