Published October 19, 2017
It’s a stormy Tuesday night when I meet artist Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir in the dark hall of Hótel Holt. Desperate for peace and quiet, we decide to hide inside the tiny red elevator. Ásta has recently been asked to create the soundtrack for a children’s play called ‘Íó’—an all-women show that will premiere in Tjarnarbíó on October 29.
As she speaks, Ásta’s eyes pierce through me, and her soft-spoken words fill the space like a thick, glimmering mist. She pushes the button for the fourth floor with a smile, and up we go, with a sonorous clank.
Darkness and light
Despite having made music for years—both on her own, and with her band aYia—this is Ásta’s first time weaving a soundtrack for a theatre piece. “It started as this kind of journey, where there was a script for it, but when it came down to it there wasn’t really a script,” she says. “So it was like making something from invisible clay.”
She began by creating long symphony tracks in her studio, inspired by Hans Zimmer’s powerful melodies, but she soon realized she had gone too dark. “The girls were listening, silent, still-faced and then they said, ‘Ásta, are you going to pay a psychologist for the children?’” she chuckles. “The music was really scary—super dramatic and heavy—so I had to throw it all away.” As if pulled down by Ásta’s sudden gravity, the elevator starts to descend.
In the end, Ásta drew from the joyous nature of the play to give the soundtrack an upbeat electronic jolt, that is nevertheless still in tune with Ásta’s melancholic soul. It’s precisely this eagerness to experiment—as well as her knack for improvisation—that gives Ásta’s work its resonance. You can see it in the way she swings between thoughts, framing every word with fluid hand gestures. She’s often been referred to as a poet, but Ásta doesn’t like categorisations when it comes to her work. Music, poetry and visual arts don’t exist in a vacuum; rather, as she says, “it’s like lines in a swimming pool, but the water is the same.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that she poured her heart and soul in an art piece that has enclosed music, literature, poetry and visual performance within a single cocoon. “With the soundtrack, I’m connecting all these elements to the music because everything is from the same source,” she explains, as the sound of the elevator sliding upward once more fills our ears. “Your vision connects to your ears. The people that are doing the play and the costumes do tactual work—so my element in this is making something tactual for the ears.”
It’s clear that this collaboration took Ásta to corners of her spirit that she hadn’t had a chance to explore, pondering sounds and silences alike. Working with a team made solely of women also gave her work a different energy. “These ladies have a very special charm to them,” she reflects. “When I’m working with them it’s so special—it’s a kind of healing energy, and you’re right in it. I’ve never been in anything so empowering.”
As Ásta steps out of the elevator and into the darkness, I don’t think she realises that she holds some of that power too, with an inner spirit that speaks a thousand tongues, and is destined to tell a thousand more tales.
‘Íó’ premieres at Tjarnabíó on October 29