Ghostly sounds from buzzy Berlin via the fjords of Iceland.
“I used to describe my music as minimal sci-fi but I think it’s become bigger than that,” muses the softly spoken Hekla Magnúsdóttir. “It can be really dark and heavy but also really bright and light.”
The experimental Icelandic musician and vocalist is all about opposites. She swapped her cello for a theremin 10 years ago and more recently has exchanged the darkness of her native country for Berlin’s vibrant underground music scene, where she frequently pops up on the live circuit.
“There’s a limit of venues and people in Iceland, so it’s a lot easier doing things here [in Berlin],” says Magnúsdóttir. “You’re more connected to the outside world and I’ve been playing a lot more here. I really like to improvise live so my music has definitely evolved a lot since I moved.”
Magnúsdóttir’s evolution via the notoriously challenging electronic instrument began when she joined a local Icelandic surf band a few years ago. By her own admission, it wasn’t a serious outlet, but she used the downtime to experiment and craft the unusual sound that’s showcased on her haunting album Á.
“It’s pronounced ‘ow’ and it’s a letter that means many different things,” she says of the title. “It can be a river, lake or a sheep, and you can use it if you put something on top of something else. I thought [the ambiguity] was very fitting.”
The 10-track album was written and recorded around her son’s daycare – he’s now two years old – and, like the volcano Hekla is named after, it’s beautiful yet powerful and occasionally unsettling. Despite her classical training, Magnúsdóttir favours graphical notations over more traditional methods of scoring, preferring to illustrate the shapes she throws to create her unearthly sounds. Her son has even been known to join in too!
“He’ll wave his arms around and have a lot of fun!” she says with a laugh. “But [the theremin] is a very different experience to the cello: there are no particular rules on how to play and there’s a total freedom in how you approach it. I play through lots of effects pedals to try to take it to new places and I like to discover new sounds. You can do so many totally different things on it, and I just wanted to get these new sounds out that I found interesting.”
Given the evocative nature of her music, it’s not too surprising that film soundtracks are a big inspiration to Magnúsdóttir. When not listening to American theremin player Pamelia Stickney
(“Her album Thinking Out Loud is one of the freakiest things I’ve heard,” Magnúsdóttir admits), she’s zoning in on spooky scores for It Follows and the 1992 remake of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She also namechecks Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Goblin among her influences, and like her musical heroes, her sounds have also started to appear in movies. Earlier this year, she was honoured when director Bertrand Mandico used the song Arms in his dark fantasy The Wild Boys, and she says there are more indie collaborations on the horizon. We can’t wait to see what she does next… NRs
“THE THEREMIN IS A VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE TO THE CELLO: THERE ARE NO PARTICULAR RULES ON HOW TO PLAY.”
SHADOWS AND LIGHT: HEKLA’S “UNEARTHLY” SOUNDS ARE ENCHANTING.