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Our Guest Editor Jack White interviews Composer Hafdis Bjarnadottir!
What is the contemporary-classical music scene like in Iceland at the moment?
I would say that the contemporary-classical music scene in Iceland is bubbling with life! The community is close-knit and almost everyone knows each other. There are lots of events going on with live performances by locals or visitors, probably something happening almost every day. We have some contemporary music festivals here, for example Dark Music Days, Cycle Music and Art Festival, Reykjavik Arts Festival and Icelandic Festival of Electronic Arts with music by Icelandic composers and guests from other countries.
What is your favourite music venue in Iceland?
My favourite venue is without doubt Mengi. Every day there is something interesting happening there, whether it be contemporary-classical music or other kind of
stimulating music for the brain. Definitely my go-to place. Our new-ish concert hall, Harpa, also has a wide range of music on their program. If I want to hear laid back
bar music I go to Rosenberg Cafe, and then there are lots of jazz venues as well. I remember reading that you scored music to a film recently.
What did you learn about scoring moving images through this process?
Scoring a film (The Dog With The Woman) was a very new and different experience for me. It probably varies between different film projects and directors how much the music should stick out, but in this case I had to adjust to the fact that the music should usually not be the centre of attention. I’m used to composing with the motivation of keeping the listener interested throughout a whole piece of music, but in this case the film is the main thing and the music is there just to enhance it slightly. Very interesting and pleasurable experience, I would like to do more of this!
How would you describe your musical language?
I see my musical language as a kind of a compost of different styles and genres that have decomposed into something else. I enjoy listening to different kinds of music and sounds to absorb licks and tricks to use in my own compositions. What kind of music I make depends a lot on the ensemble or performer who will perform the music. That is, I try to compose music that fits the performer(s) I’m composing for. What I really feel like is being a compost bin of different styles, that’s my favourite, and if I can use groovy rhythms somehow in pieces I’m extra happy.
Would you describe yourself as an eclectic composer?
How much of your compositional language is related to the landscape of Iceland?
In which piece(s) would you say that a connection of this nature is most evident.
It’s a cliché in Iceland to say that the Icelandic nature influences your art, but in my case it’s true! I can’t escape that cliché. I have been using nature sounds in my pieces more and more since 2009 or so. I think it started in the end of my ensemble piece Krónan (2009), which is based on charts and graphs from the bank collapse in 2008. The piece ends with an escape from reality into the nature. I haven’t really felt like coming completely back from that escape since then. Other pieces with field recordings from Icelandic nature include From Beacon to Beacon (2011) written for Nordic Affect, Dettifoss (2014) written for Tøyen Fil og Klafferi and Wind Roses (2016) written for Uusinta Ensemble. In 2015 Gruenrekorder in Germany released my album with nature sounds I have collected from the nature of Iceland. There is no “music” on the album, only nature sounds arranged together.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a couple of projects going on at the moment. One of them is an album with various pieces I’ve composed after 2009, some of which I’m still working on. It’s due
to be released in the end of summer. I’m trying to push the limits of how many different styles I can get away with putting together in a single album, so this is a very fun project for me to be working on. I’m also working on a new piece for the Norwegian quartet Tøyen Fil og Klafferi, to be premiered at Ultima Festival in Oslo this Fall. Apart from that I’m starting to plan part three of my ongoing knitting piece, alto to be premiered this Fall in Iceland. This is a piece in seven (if I remember
correctly) movements where I turn a knitting pattern into music. I made part one for orchestra in 2008 and part two for solo piano in 2012, so it’s about time to carry on with that. My goal is to finish this before I turn 70. For the future, I’m dreaming of composing for some kind of a mixture of jazz and contemporary big band, I will
soon start looking into that.