Eydís Evensen on Embracing the Quiet

By Jane Lai

Thursday, September 28, 2023

When I first listened to Eydís Evensen’s work, I was biking through New York on a particularly hot night. In this ecosystem, there isn’t much “absolute quiet,” so when I leave the city and recalibrate in a small town, the quiet radiates in its stillness like a diamond in a sea. I hear crescendos of wind on a rather windless day, bells on a cafe door swinging open then closing, stamping of sneakers, and the distinction between concrete and grass where the shoes step. The noise is palpable. So when I tucked Evensen’s music in my ears amid the bustling city, I transported away and heard everything.

“I didn’t have the intention of a quiet album but it felt right in the moment,” she responded when I asked if her pieces underpinned that feeling. Instead, Evensen’s sophomore album The Light is a beautiful examination of how we trust things to fall into place. Another intent, I suppose, is to take a listener through a bookshelf of emotions. Recorded in a church, the songs present bare and not overly produced. You can hear the depth and the clicks and the taps and the pauses and the natural reverbs cast from a grand piano.

“Since kindergarten, we’d tell stories through singing,” she told me. “It was a way of spending time together.” As a classically-trained pianist, a post-classical composer, and a choir singer, Evensen started her artistic journey early, recalling early memories of listening to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” with her mom. In her early 20s, she lived in New York City for five years working as a model. She traveled the world and played piano everywhere she went, whenever there was one around. In Icelandic tradition, it’s celebrated to do multiple things and early education provided the resources and environments to do so. “Most of the time it’s music. Like that person is a doctor but also a great pianist. It’s a beautiful tradition that hopefully will remain for generations,” she said.

Now back in Iceland, Evensen pieced together the album about a year ago. She recorded piano first. “Transcending,” “Near Ending,” and “Full Circle” were improvisational. For other pieces, she reviewed rough sketches and during the recording process, nourished each one to life. She gave herself a few weeks for arrangements and another few for the songs to breathe before cementing parts. Evensen wrote “Resolution” and “Disturbance” living in New York City in 2018 though they didn’t take the shape and potential she wanted back then. 

In traditional Icelandic folk, “tvísöngur” (twin singing) dates back to the Viking ages. Between two voices, there are no instruments involved. Two melodic voices sing against each other in parallel fifths creating an atmospheric landscape with minimal flourishes like in Evensen’s “The Light II,” an impressive practice close to her childhood and roots growing up in Blönduós. And while Evensen participated in a choir growing up it was her first time recording voice. “All of a sudden it came to me,” she said. “I think it’d make most sense for me to perform this piece by myself and step out of my comfort zone.” 

Performance to Evensen comes full circle. It’s an exercise in consistency, routine, and feeling fit at the moment and believing in it. To prepare, Evensen applies transcendental meditation. It helps clear her mind and neutralize all thoughts and feelings. “I soundcheck, eat dinner, and give myself space to meditate and allow myself to feel honest because we all feel different every day,” she told me. At a recent performance, Evensen asked the audience if they wanted to share something. “I wanted to give the audience a chance to take a deep breath with me and think about someone or something we can give our light or our strength to,” she ended.

Evensen debuts The Light at National Sawdust on October 5th with a string quartet. 

About Jane Lai

Jane is pianist, songwriter, instrumentalist, and collaborator based in Brooklyn, NY.