Published September 23, 2016
Gyða Valtýsdóttir sits at the table of her large, wood-lined loft apartment, cradling a cup of coffee. She stares into the distance, pondering the question. Most known as one of the original members of múm, she left that band’s first incarnation in the mid-00s, and quietly vanished from sight. So: where has she been?
“I ask myself that question too,” she smiles, after the long silence. “For almost five years, I lived out of a suitcase. I was improvising life, jumping between dots connected by music projects. I would stay where ever I was, or bridge it with other travels. I loved it… but when people asked me where I’d been, I sometimes felt I was nowhere at all—maybe New York, or Istanbul, but never for long. I didn’t stay anywhere for more than a month.”
Her time off the map—or on “a different kind of map,” as Gyða would have it—led to many chance meetings and collaborations. She worked with Colin Stetson, and toured with Josephine Foster, living and collaborating with her for two months in Morocco, pausing sometimes to record new work of her own. Along the way, she was one of the musicians in Ragnar Kjartansson’s multi-screen installation ‘The Visitors,’ shot in a mansion in the Hudson Valley and currently showing at London’s Barbican Centre.
“That was such a fun project,” says Gyða. “A lot of amazing stuff happened to me—I feel very lucky with what comes my way. A lot of adventures happen when you’re just out there.”
The journey began after her time in múm. “Múm got a lot of attention when we started,” Gyða explains. “I realised I wasn’t in it for that kind of success. Then I saw this Persian frame drum player one time, channeling all his energy into his performance. It made me realise what I was searching for in music. And I just needed time to find it.”
She flew to Russia to study classical cello, before finishing her master’s degree studies in Switzerland. “When I look back on it, it’s such a weird road,” she says. “But it was an alchemical process. After the classical studies, it made sense to improvise, and say yes to everything, and try different things. It was very important to get the creative flow back.”
This summer, Gyða quietly released a new album, ‘Epicycle’, on Bandcamp, with a physical release in the works. “The idea has been with me since I was eighteen,” she explains. “I wanted to introduce all the classical music that I was finding to my friends. So I had the idea of covering classical music from the last 2000 years. It was recorded here and there, all over the place, on my travels, in different ways.”
She produces a delicate piece of paper bearing download instructions, and a short text: “Please plant me / I will grow a red poppy / in a sunny bed of soil / and water plenty.” I turn it over in my hands, feeling small bumps inside the paper. “The papers grow flowers,” says Gyða. “My mom planted one, and now they’re growing. That’s when I felt the conclusion of this record, when I saw the flowers.”
Seeking and finding
Gyða has played with múm periodically over the years, and will join the band onstage once more at the Airwaves festival, accompanied by the Kronos Quartet. “It felt very natural to join them again on stage,” she says, “although I come in now as more of a session player. But múm is kind off a big family, with all kind of uncles and aunts.”
Settled in Iceland, for the time being, Gyða speaks of other future projects, including recording her solo work, and a period of focussing on the cello. “I like to allow things to happen naturally, in their own time,” she says. “I don’t feel like I need to push anything into existence.” She bursts into laughter, saying: “Maybe I’m almost too relaxed about it!”
“You go full circle,” she finishes. “When I started múm, we were so fascinated and curious about sound, banging on stuff, and being like: ‘Hey, listen to this!’ And it feels like you go through a whole alchemical process to reach that point again.”
Note: Since this piece, ‘Epicycle’ was released more formally on the Smekkleysa label. A release concert will happen on Friday, 3rd of March.