Published January 4, 2016
Released for a recent Airwaves, ‘Höfnin Hljómar’ (or ‘Harbor Sounds’) is a sampler of some of Iceland’s experimental electronic musicians. “Sampler” is putting it lightly, as the wide variety of techniques and outcomes on the fourteen-track album range from “The Harbour V2,” an aggressively strummed electric guitar soundscape from two members of industrial/hardcore bands; to the cute, quirky synth piece “Mephisto” from the multi-stylistic Jónas Sen.
And then there is everything in between. The album sets up two poles of electronic music, with tracks generally falling to one end or another. At one end, we have very active and aggressive sounds/techniques; and the other, minimal, soft, ambient textures. At the active end are the industrial tracks, and works like “Trade Intensity” by Auxpan (Elvar Már Kjartansson), an almost static-like piece that uses the left and right stereo speakers quite sneakily. At the ambient end, “Raven” by Þorkell Atlason is the most harmony-based track on the album, as if a Bach fugue was filtered down to a watery wash of pure tones.
There are a few moments where the two ends of the sound spectrum meet in the middle, and the results are varied. Pleasantly surprising is “Reverse” from Björk Viggósdóttir, which uses coarse, aggressive glitches but in slow tempo. It has a filmic quality—one could imagine it over the end credits of some techno-futurist tale. “Administrating I” by Inside Bilderberg is the closest to mainstream EDM (electronic dance music) on the sampler, but even this track remains a bit lost in an ambient-tribal subgenre. Less palatable is “Fjörgyn” by Stereo Hypnosis, which mostly sounds dated, like a 1980s technology upgrade that made it into the late 90s.
Coming from such a small community, there’s bound to be personnel overlap on tracks, which can start to feel insular. That said, the diversity of backgrounds of the musicians make up for the narrower roster. Some musicians are just starting out, and others are seasoned veterans. Some have formal educations, and some just take risks and see what happens. In the end, the resulting electronic soundscapes are as diverse as any other genre of Icelandic music today.