Noticing the reaction of his group of dancers when playing them the music from classical/ambient duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s self-titled début album, British choreographer Wayne McGregor commissioned new material from the band for his upcoming modern dance project.

Comprised of two American musicians based in Europe (Stars of the Lid founder and sound engineer Adam Wiltzie in Brussels and pianist Dustin O’Halloran in Berlin), A Winged Victory for the Sullen was formed in 2011 and the music composed for Wayne McGregor’s dance piece formed the basis for the duo’s second album. Atomos (the dance project) premiered in London in October 2013 and Atomos (the score) was released in October 2014 on the Erased Tapes/Kranky record labels.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Atomos (2014)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Atomos (2014)

Always working at the intersection of music, visual art, science, technology and dance in collaboration with dance companies around the world, the contemporary choreographer has already worked with several high profile musicians such as Max Richter (“Infra” – 2008 and “Kairos” – 2014), Ólafur Arnalds (“Dyad 1909” – 2009) or Jon Hopkins (“Entity” – 2010). Notably, he has also choreographed Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” and Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue”.

He gave us visual ideas to work with which for me was really inspiring. He would send us photos, pictures of light or an idea of going into a black hole and things that were more cosmic and bigger – and to me it makes more sense when you’re thinking and writing about music. Dustin O’Halloran interview

Fluid and trance-like, the music naturally generates its own internal flux which the dancers translate into movement and body language.

Central to AWVFTS’s sound is the magical combination of electronics, electric guitar and effects pedals with acoustic piano and a string ensemble dominated by cellos. Organ-like electronic sounds underpin constant ebbing and flowing patterns punctuated by striking chords on the piano and gorgeous ostinato-based motifs on strings.

Over the last few years, Dustin O’Halloran has carved out his own successful solo path by scoring several movies such as “Marie Antoinette” (2006), Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy (2011), Breathe In (2013) and “Equals” (2014), or the upcoming Lion (2016) in partnership with Hauschka. The musician also recently won an Emmy Award for his main theme to the TV series Transparent (2014 -).

There is a definite narrative progression in what can be described as a suite of eleven movements simply titled Atomos I to XII, with “Atomos IV” mysteriously dropped. Introduced by the electro-acoustic drones of “Atomos I”, the suite develops and fluctuates over the course of 62mn while integrating electronics and sampled voices (“Atomos IX & X”) to culminate into a sweeping and majestic conclusion with “Atomos XI”, followed by a coda.

As a standalone record or enhanced by visuals at live shows, Atomos turns into a spectacular orchestral work gradually revealing its subtle beauty with every new listening and inducing moments of total contemplation.