Sunday, December 21, 2008

On The Shortest Day of the Year

Today is the shortest day of the year.

Ancient societies gathered each year to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Today, as the darkness gathers around us and the weather turns cold, sadness and endings seem to be everywhere, and a plaintive melancholy blankets the earth like a new snow.
Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound
But while you debate half-empty or half-full
It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown

Death Cab for Cutie (a band named after a song the Bonzo Dog Band song performed in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie) seems to understand this time of year perfectly as they create languid soundscapes of infinite sadness punctuated by a growing sense of hope:

The ancients created the Winter Solstice celebration to nurture and feed that hope. After today, the days get longer and light slowly returns to replenish the earth. Starting right now, by minutes (or sometimes even seconds) a day starting now we reclaim the world from the forces darkness.

Today, in Reykjavik, there is sunlight for 4 hours and 56 minutes. The economy is in tatters and people are uncertain of their future. Tomorrow brings only 10 more seconds of daylight. But gradually it increases until summer (where the sun technically sets but leaves behind enough light to see 24 hours a day).

Olafur Arnalds is a 21-year-old Icelandic classical musician who covers Death Cab for Cutie with a string quartet. Even without words, the mixture of hope and sadness seeps through (and what is it with the devotion of Icelandic bands to otherworldly sonic soundscapes anyway?), which is strangely appropriate on the shortest day of the year:

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