Keeping Múm

The members of this Icelandic trio want their soundtrackesque music to make you feel

If you're like me, you're getting a little weary of how each and every new style of music, new band and musical artist has be sequestered in their own little cubbyholes.

In addition, every so-called music critic with a word processor is intent on coining a "clever" new phrase to avoid otherwise describing or thinking intellectually about said musical category. I don't know about you, dear reader, that makes me want throw an honest-to-God tantrum, my little fists drumming an enervating beat into the dumped tapioca pudding on the linoleum.

The latest annoying musical appellation I discovered--it happened the other day while I was researching my new favorite group, Múm, from Iceland--was "glitchcore." What the hell does that mean?

Judging from Múm's music, it must mean gorgeous, haunted melodies derived from rhythmic foundations. The results are created by digital and analog synthesizers, cutting-edge urban beats and assorted acoustic instruments such as violin, viola, cello, accordion, melodica, glockenspiel, guitars, bass and percussion.

It's a combination of electronica, pop, hip-hop, jazz, classical chamber music, minimalist composition, dance music and meditative musical mantras--music for the mind, the soul and, sometimes, the feet.

Whatever you want to call the music, its makers will share it with the sweaty desert hordes here in Tucson. Múm is scheduled to appear at the Solar Culture Gallery on Saturday night, July 10.

Múm are playing their third American tour, this time to support their spanking new album, Summer Make Good, on the British independent label Fat Cat Records.

Band member Gunnar Örn Tynes certainly isn't a fan of categorization, as he and his band mates--Örvar Thóreyjarson Smárason and Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir--are constantly trying to throw off labels such as "Arctic rock" that are as heavy and constrictive as a soggy fur coat.

It's disturbing to Tynes that people lump his group in with Björk and Sigur Rós, two otherwise very talented artists who happen to be the only other Icelandic acts familiar to most American listeners.

"I do not think that there is a specific sound played by Iceland bands," said Tynes, speaking from a backstage phone before last week's Seattle performance. "Maybe I am biased, because I am in the middle of it, but that's like saying there is a specific sound played by English bands, when there is a great diversity within that country's music." (Like many Scandinavians, Tynes speaks better English than most Americans.)

Several auxiliary musicians bolster the trio on its latest recording. And although the core group numbers three, it used to be a quartet. Valtysdóttir's twin sister, Gyda, was with the group until she left after its last album--the groundbreaking Finally We Are No One--to study music at the conservatory.

The members of Múm came together in Reykjavik about five years ago when Tynes and Smárason, who were in a conventional rock band at the time, agreed to compose the score for a production of a college play. Members of the theater troupe were the sisters Valtysdóttir--Kristín sings and Gyda plays cello.

The foursome chose an invented word, pronounced "moom," as their new band's name.

"It's onomatopoeia, actually," says 25-year-old Tynes. "It is a word that just means the sound it makes when you say it. I just learned that word recently, by the way."

Tynes says he and the other band members have absolutely no intentions or expectations about the effect of their music.

"We do not hope that a listener has a certain reaction. I rather hope that a listener has a personal reaction. We are not trying to make people feel a certain way with our music. We are trying to make people make themselves feel a certain way. We just want people to feel."

Múm's music can be seen in many ways as an abstract painting--it is open to the interpretations of the listener.

"I love when music is able connect to feelings and carry emotions," says Tynes. "They don't have to be the feelings and emotions I put into the making of the music. But if you put your feelings or passion into music, the people listening won't get the exact feelings. They will get some feelings and emotions from it, but it is more important they are feeling the vibrations. It's 'Good Vibrations,' if you want to put it that way.

"In abstract art, there are no perfectly set feelings and logic. It is the energy that is what's important in it, not the specifics."

The fact that some listeners find Mum's music similar to movie soundtrack music delights Tynes, because "it kind of makes me think we are going somewhere in the music or something's happening, or that the listeners are making something up in their heads."

Tynes is intrigued when the discussion moves to the question: Where does noise end and music begin?

"I don't actually think that there's a difference. I listen to some music that would be considered noise by many people, and it's different from what they think of as music."

Subjectivity and context have a lot to do with it, he says. "For instance, I was recently at a concert by Kid606, I believe, and I think most people would call that noise. But to me, it was great. I loved it and it was beautiful. But I could go to a similar concert at a different time and could not have even listened to it."

Like his band mates, Tynes listens to a wide variety of music--from classical composers to hip-hop and hardcore, and everything in between.

"When you like music in your life, you want to be able to decorate your life in different kinds of music according to what is going on the world and what is going on in you. During different moments, you listen to different types of music.

"And sometimes you want to redecorate. Being able to appreciate lots of music means you have a lot of ways to decorate your life and just as many ways of expressing what is going on with you in relation to the world."

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