Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Happy 2024! Your financial support helps us bring you our great musical programming year-round.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Volcanic Transmissions

If the word "aura" is defined as a pervasive atmosphere, then it's a perfect title for this piece by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who has a knack for creating vivid sonic environments.

Like much of the 39-year-old Icelandic composer's music, Aura teems with extraordinary sounds. They can strike you as otherworldly or born of electronics, but instead they are organic and acoustic, like transmissions from beneath the earth's crust. It is music that befits an island engendered by eons of volcanic activity.

Revised especially for the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet (whose performance was filmed by director David Holechek), Thorvaldsdottir's gently rumbling, crepuscular music oozes from blackness. It turns out she also has a cinematic eye for atmosphere, calling for a darkened stage with the audience seated around the musicians. The players' fingers should be illuminated, their shadows projected onto the wall. "The performers become moving lights," she writes in her performance notes.

The piece opens with the quiet hum of a bowed vibraphone and the swishing of fingers massaging the skin of a bass drum. Soft mallets on metal tubes sound a wind-chime motif that acts as a recurring talisman. Large cowbells are scraped with drumsticks, a gong is tickled with a wire brush and even bows are bowed, with one tip planted on a bass drum.

It's an exceptional storehouse of sound in service to the luminous, evocative textures and timbres — smartly assembled — that have quickly come to identify Thorvaldsdottir as a singular voice in contemporary music.

(LAPQ's album Beyond will be released June 16 on Sono Luminus.)

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

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.