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Drawing In The Air: Hekla’s Theremin Produces Birdsong & Whale Sounds

Drawing In The Air: Hekla’s Theremin Produces Birdsong & Whale Sounds

Photos by
Sigga Ella

Published September 19, 2018

Last week saw the release of ‘Á’—the new album by experimental theremin player Hekla. The album delivers haunting but sparse soundscapes, with Hekla’s voice accompanying the incredibly broad palette of this unusual instrument.

We caught up with Hekla in Berlin, where she resides. “I didn’t really think of it as a record,” she says. “It kind of grew from this type of graphic notation I was trying out different patterns on. The theremin is played without touching it so I thought it could be interesting to try to draw in the air.”

Sound collage

The album was composed and recorded both in Reykjavík and Berlin. “There wasn’t a lot of hi-tech processing,” says Hekla. “Some of the songs are even based on phone recordings mixed with recordings from the studio, and from concerts. It’s more like a collage of stuff from many places that I then mix together.”

Hekla’s theremin experiments started with making sound effects. Then, in 2008, Hekla and a group of friends started the surf-rock band Bárujárn. “It was fun to get drunk together and play,” she says. “Playing with other people was a motivation for me to continue playing the theremin, but I wasn’t taking it very seriously at first. In recent years I’ve been learning different techniques and styles and I’ve delved a little deeper into it then just making funny sounds and little melodies in between songs.”

No rules

With a lack of theremin teachers at her disposal, Hekla is largely self taught. “At the beginning I didn’t have a clue what I was doing;” she says. “There are no specific rules about how to play the instrument and there aren’t a lot of people around who play well enough in order to teach it. Originally, a friend of mine told me about it—she played me a Pamelia Stickney record and I totally fell for the theremin on the spot. Two years later I saw one for sale at an instrument shop so I bought it immediately. My interest was piqued as soon as I heard it. It’s such a remarkably beautiful instrument. It took a long time to truly learn how to play it.”

Stress and beauty

Since moving to Berlin, Hekla has been focusing more on her own material. “Until now I’d always been working with other people, but it’s good to just do a lot of different stuff, not to get stuck inside your own head. I really like the dynamic of collaborating with a band or as a session player or for someone else’s solo stuff. It’s always great to get new insights and new ideas that will then ignite some fresh inspiration. However, you obviously have more of a say about everything when you’re working on your own material. It’s also more stressful!”

The stress was worth it. ‘Á,’ offers a haunting trip through lush soundscapes, provided by Hekla’s multi-layered use of the instrument. “The theremin can produce so many sounds,” finishes Hekla. “Anything from deep bass to whale sounds to birdsong.” Hear all this and more on the album, and be sure to witness her haunting sounds live.

‘Á’ is out now. Hekla will play a release show in London on Oct. 15th and in Copenhagen on Sept. 21st. A Reykjavík show will take place on Oct. 4th at Mengi. See her website here.


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