Galtarviti is the name of an abandoned lighthouse on the outskirts of the West Fjords. It’s just as remote as it sounds: it can only be reached via a four-hour hike, or by boat, when the tide is right. It has no Internet, no cell phone connectivity and getting a decent latté there is damn near impossible. And we are all invited!
“Galtarviti is a really creative place. I don’t care if calling a place creative sounds all new-agey and weird, it’s true. Maybe it’s being surrounded by the oldest mountains in Iceland, maybe it’s the isolation. The place definitely has something to it.”
Gunnar Tynes of the band múm (Iceland’s third most beloved musical export) is explaining why he likes to make music at the aforementioned abandoned, isolated lighthouse. Galtarviti has played somewhat of a role in his band’s history, and they have recorded some of their best work while in exile at the lighthouse. While it may seem odd that an artist would feel defensive of his opinion that a peaceful spot in the countryside is conducive to creativity, it is important to remember that members of múm probably get asked about magical elves and nature more than most. And that he had what some believe to be a near-elf experience at Galtarviti at one point.
As you read this, Tynes will be a more than week into a month-long stay at Galtarviti. And if you are musically inclined, not averse to hiking or boat rides and have some vacation time on your hands, you should go and join him there and help construct an album that’s meant to raise funds for necessary repairs and improvements on the Galtarviti facilities.
Along with one of Galtarviti’s landlords, Ólafur Jónasson, Tynes will stay there until July 25, recording the aural outpourings of whoever happens to pass through (and a lot of established musicians and artists have already committed to a visit). He will then assemble the recordings into a coherent whole, to be released in benefit of Galtarviti early next year. The Grapevine met up with Tynes and Jónasson on the eve of their departure to Galtarviti and got them to tell what they plan on doing this summer at Galtarviti, and why.
Creating a haven for artists
“It’s really basic,” says Jónasson. “We’ve been planning to make a benefit album for Galtarviti for a long time, just assembling songs from some of our friends and well-wishers onto an album and selling it for a profit. When Gunni got the idea of making it into a collaborative effort, where we would invite good people to contribute and help us brew up something special in a session, we jumped at it. Hopefully we can release it as early as next Easter, maybe at the Aldrei fór ég suður festival. That would be ideal.”
When asked what the proceeds of the album will be spent on, Jónasson explains all the work that needs to be done to get it into shape. “We’ve been working on repairing the place for a long time. We’re always doing some sort of short-term repairs, and we feel it’s necessary to bring it into proper shape once and for all. There’s a lot that goes on there during the winter, the weather gets crazy. The roof has blown off once and several windows have broken from storm-action, in the short time that we’ve had it. So the idea is to get Galtarviti into the best possible shape so it can serve as a haven for artists, musicians and writers who want to escape the city to work on their art. And a lot of art has been made there; the former lighthouse-keeper wrote at least nine novels in his occupancy. It’s a sin that more people don’t get to experience a stay there, and we aim to mend that.”
Given the severe isolation Galtarviti offers, the place is still remarkably accessible, and therein lies part of its charm. You can either get there by boat from Suðureyri (a 20 minute drive from Ísafjörður, which is a 45 minute flight from Reykjavík) or via a 2-4 hour hike from Skálavík (a 40 minute drive from Ísafjörður). “It’s really like being on [isolated tourist haven] Hornstrandir, except you’re closer to civilisation. We recently found that the GSM network had reached Skálavík, the next fjord over, but we are fortunately still out of its reach,” says Jónasson.
Accessible as it may be, getting there is still no picnic as Tynes relates: “We once had to leave a harmonium organ up on the middle of the mountain on the way there during mid-winter, we couldn’t make it the whole way on account of the snow. Fortunately it was well packed, so we managed to bring it to safety in the spring. That hill, it’s called Piano Hill now. Bringing instruments there is definitely easier said than done. We’ve sometimes gone there before embarking upon a world tour. After ferrying all of our instruments and stuff to Galtarviti you turn into a kind of übermensch, suddenly loading amps and drum kits between venues isn’t such a big deal. You get loaded with energy.”
*Why do you think that is?
“You’re just alone in the universe over there. Each day seems to stretch out into infinity and you manage to fit everything into it,” says Tynes. “The whole concept of day is kind of outdated in Galtarviti during the month of July. You can only tell passing time by the tides, if at all. And that makes a huge difference, but there’s also a sort of energy that’s hard to put into words. Let’s just say that getting people to come for the first time can be hard, but getting them back is no problem. Maybe it’s the fact that your left hemisphere is busy with meetings and macchiatos and planning tomorrow while your right hemisphere only wants to exist and create and enjoy life. And when you visit a place like Galtarviti, the left one is forced to relax. You can’t plan anything, and you can’t worry about anything. And that’s a great feeling.”
Jónasson finally tells us that many consider the Galtarviti area to be the richest habitation of elves in Iceland. “I can’t offer any proof, but it is a different place. Óskar Aðalstein [Guðjónsson, writer/lighthouse keeper who stayed with his family there for 24 years, from 1953-1977] said that one of the hills contained a symphony orchestra of them. But I’m yet to hear it.” And Tynes concurs: “I haven’t really given much thought to elves. But the only time in my life that I’ve had “strange things” happen to me was when múm was here for the first time, in 2001.” He then relates a lengthy story involving the plausible possibility of elfin intervention that he will surely recount once you visit him at Galtarviti.
Those interested in visiting Galtarviti to help create what’s bound to be an interesting work of music can make arrangements to do so via email@example.com. They check their e-mail every couple of days