daudibaldrsThis is the infamous album recorded in prison by black metal musician Varg Vikernes.

Given Varg’s troubled past, troubled present, and (most likely) troubled future, it would be easy to say that Dauði Baldrs is most interesting because of the man who made it. Musically, it isn’t such of a much. Varg was only allowed a midi keyboard, and he made an album that pushes the boundaries of the term “minimalist.”

Dauði Baldrs is thirty nine minutes of droning, repetitive 8-bit melodies, meant to articulate the death of the Norse god Baldr (the lyrics missing from the album can be read on the Burzum website). “Í Heimr Heljar” agitates things a bit with some percussion, but mostly the album consists of monophonic synth and piano themes, like Philip Glass making videogame music.

Some accuse the album of sounding hopelessly repetitive, but honestly it’s no more repetitive than Burzum albums released on the other side of the bars. I think it’s meant to sound like this, and that Varg uses repetition as an intentional artistic device. This album pounds basic and simplistic ideas through your head with the unvarying repetition of a punch press machine, causing you to disassociate from what you’re hearing. The result is a little like hypnosis: you feel completely adrift, and unmoored from reality. If it’s done properly (and has the necessary inspiration), music doesn’t really need to get any more complex than this, and Dauði Baldrs can be seen as a brief exercise on how to do less with more.

Scott McCloud once said something about how art equals abstraction. Charles Schulz doesn’t need to draw every hair on Charlie Brown’s head. A few quick rakes with a pencil are enough. In the same way, Dauði Baldrs presents a highly abstract set of ideas that are not fully realised (which would be with guitars, orchestration, and whatever else ), and the attendant assumption that your own imagination will fill in the missing parts. It’s not as abstract as music can get, though. Truly abstract music is not audible at all, it’s written — sheet music on a piece of paper.

I like video game music (I refuse to call it “chiptunes”), but even that comparison misses the mark. I can’t do anything more but describe Daudi Baldrs as “abstraction”. Varg is sharing his musical ideas with us through an 8-bit midi keyboard, and hoping our brains will decode it back into music again.

Its entertainment value is questionable, but Dauði Baldr is a good example of art bypassing technical limitations like a spy weaving through enemy picket lines. One thing remains certain: if Varg Vikernes gets put in a stone hotel with nothing but a triangle, he will still make music to the best of his abilities.

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