Born in Arizona and raised in Los Angeles, American pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran moved to Northern Italy in the late 1990s when still a member of indie rock band Devics. Settling in Europe coincided with the launch of his solo career with two solo piano albums. A chance meeting with American guitarist Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid) in the early 2010s sparked the formation of the excellent ambient orchestral project A Winged Victory for the Sullen and a move to Berlin. Since then, Dustin O’Halloran has been touring and recording extensively with AWVFTS and has also been involved in the scoring of several TV and movie soundtracks including independent filmmaker Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy (2011) and Breathe In (2013), the Transparent series (2015), Garth Davis’ Lion (2106) or George Tillman’s The Hate U Give (2018) – both in collaboration with German pianist Hauschka.
Now sharing his time between Reykjavík in Iceland and Los Angeles, Dustin O’Halloran released Silfur (Deutsche Grammophon) on 11 June 2021 last, a superb solo piano collection which crystallises his gradual evolution as a pianist and composer to date.
We are never the same person throughout life, which is not entirely different from music […] During my process, I continually thought about how the place you are in and the land you are on will find their way into the music.
This idea of place and time is fundamental to the pianist’s creative process. His début for the Deutsche Grammophon label for instance was a site-specific continuous composition for organ, electronics, cello (Gyða Valtýsdóttir) and voices. A collaboration with visual artist Slater Bradley for his installation (“Sundoor at World’s End”) at the Church of Mary Magdalene in Venice during the 57th Biennale in 2017, Sundoor 196 Hz was released in November 2019.
Recorded for the most part in Iceland between August and November 2020 – at a time when the pianist was unable to return home due to the lockdown – the music on Silfur revisits solo compositions released in the past fifteen years or so and takes stock of the time that has elapsed since their original release.
Dustin O’Halloran published his first collection of solo piano pieces in 2004, quickly followed by Piano Solos Vol. II in 2006. Featuring slow and delicately crafted pieces as a suite of numbered opuses, the two collections were recorded on an old upright piano while the composer was living in Lugo, a small town in the Northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Both collections had a significant impact at the time and were subsequently published as sheet music. And while “Opus 17” and “Opus 23” were originally written for the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, “Opus 37” became the signature tune to Drake Doremus’ 2011 romantic drama Like Crazy. In other words, Dustin O’Halloran’s early piano music served as a prelude to much larger scoring projects in the years that followed.
On Silfur, “Opus 17” is revisited twice, first as a solo piece and then arranged for strings. The Reykjavík-based Siggi String Quartet also contributed to two other Opus arrangements on the record. Two other opuses (44 & 55) were selected from Lumière (2011) which was originally recorded while the pianist was living in Berlin and already featured several string arrangements performed by the ACME ensemble. The final newly-composed piece “Constellation No. 2” featuring cellist Gyða Valtýsdóttir is leaning towards the musician’s more ambient and orchestral predilection.
As showcased with his work with A Winged Victory for the Sullen, acoustic spaces with natural reverb and decay are essential elements to the recording process – as well as the presence of sound engineer Francesco Donadello who was involved in every AWVFTS to date. On Silfur, Dustin O’Halloran adopted a similar approach by re-recording his music on a grand piano in three different locations in Iceland – two churches and a concert hall.
The reverberant spaces, the magnetic draw of Iceland as a recording location, the string arrangements on selected pieces and the cumulative experience garnered over the years as a soundtrack composer, a touring soloist and an American wandering around Europe all combine to lend the music on Silfur a newly-found breadth and depth.