To Be Resuscitated By Flemming Madsen
After carefully lugging my vintage guitar amplifier all the way from New York to Iceland, I foolishly plugged it in without a power transformer. There was an unusually loud humming noise and then it started smoking. The smell of burned plastic gently wafted around my flat. My panicky brain immediately cycled through these thoughts: Smart move, Matt, not only will your wife kill you for nearly burning the place down, but also you’ve fried your amp. There was no avoiding the first problem. The second might just require a good repair guy. I started asking around and all of my musician friends recommended the same person: Flemming Madsen. I called him up, arranged the repair and about a week later my amp was like new.
Grateful for the fix and also interested to learn how he became so trusted within Iceland’s music community, I drove out to Akranes and spent the day at his home. We drank tea, listened to classical music, took some photos around his place and chatted about his electronics work, which he started doing as a thirteen-year-old boy working in an electronics repair shop, about 50 kilometres from the German border in the south of Denmark.
What brought you to Iceland? Why did you choose to live/work in Akranes?
I had an Icelandic girlfriend in Denmark for some years. She moved home and I followed her one year later, but we broke up shortly after I arrived. I decided to move with my son [from a previous marriage] to Akureyri because I got a good job there producing equipment for the fishing industry, but when I got there the company said, “There’s been a crisis in the industry, we can’t hire you.” So there I was in Akureyri with no work, no girlfriend, my son and no money at all. I really didn’t know what to do. But I said okay, I’ve moved to another country and I’ve taken my son here too. I have to stay and try to make things normal.
Then one day I got a phone call from a local school and they said, “You’re Danish and our Danish teacher has just gone to the psychiatric hospital. The students have been so bad to her that they’ve driven her mad. Are you prepared to teach Danish at our school?” I had always promised myself that I’d never be a teacher but I told them I would try. Now I’m not a language person—and my Icelandic was horrible at the time—but it worked okay and I loved Akureyri. But after my first year teaching there, an educated Danish teacher moved to Akureyri and the school had to hire him. I didn’t have a formal education as a teacher. So again I had no job and no money. It just wasn’t working. That’s when a friend reminded me of an advertisement for an electronics teacher in Akranes that had been posted a year ago. I called the principal and asked about the electronic teaching job. “Oh yes,” he said, “Funny that you should call because my electronics teacher just quit this morning!” I started less than a week later and I’ve been teaching electronics at Fjölbrautaskóli Vesturlands á Akranesi (FVA) since 1991.
What kind of work does an electronics technician such as you do?
In my electronics business I’m building and modifying Hi-Fi amplifiers, repairing guitar amplifiers and all the stuff connected with the music industry. I repair for Andrés at Tónastöðin. I’m also importing a lot of stuff like valves for amplifiers.
But my main work is teaching. I teach at FVA four days a week and off on Fridays. I do repairs mostly in the evenings and on weekends. I’m repairing all the time. If you’re educated in electronics you can’t stop repairing because if people know about it they always come with their stuff.
I’m also a student. I’m nearly finished with a MA degree in education with an emphasis in vocational training at the University of Iceland. I’m working on my final essay. Normally I would be working on that on Fridays, but now I’m paying bills and talking to you! I’m reading a lot about Creativity Theory too.
Would you elaborate on your studies in Creative Theory?
I hate copying what other people do. It’s boring. People often ask me, “I’ve found this schematic on the internet, can’t you just copy it and make that for me?” I say no. I don’t dare copy what other people are doing. You can copy everything but you will never get the same sound. It’s much more fun starting from scratch.
Therefore, I became interested in Creativity Theory when I started studying at the University of Iceland two years ago. I was in a course where we had to describe what we thought creativity was. I think I had to write a twenty or thirty page essay about it. I said creativity is connecting things in new ways that you never have known before. And how does that work? You see this thing, you see that thing and you try to combine them. Then you begin thinking more about it. You go into some kind of work cycle. You modify it all the time, it becomes better and you come to a solution.
I saw that when I’m working with electronics it’s creative. It must be because it’s exactly the same work cycle. And I know everything about it because I’ve done it for many, many years. And I realised that all creative people share the exact same work cycle. It doesn’t matter if you’re a scientist, architect, engineer, artist, musician, painter, sculptor—it’s exactly the same work cycle because we have the same brain. It’s funny!
You mentioned that you’ve done repairs for many local musicians. Would you tell us some of the musicians that you’ve done work for?
I really don’t know whom I haven’t repaired for! Oh yes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a repair personally from Björk. I’ve worked with a lot of the musicians that have played with Björk but never her personally. I’ve done a lot of work for Sigur Rós. I go through their stuff every time they go on tour. They often come here with a trailer full of stuff or I go to their place. They’re so professional and they often have double of everything. I’ve been doing a lot of work for Alex [Somers] and Kjartan [formerly of Sigur Rós] at Greenhouse studios.
It doesn’t matter whom I’m working for, I try to give the same service to everyone. I’ll tell you, it’s a dream to work with musicians compared to Hi-Fi people. Hi-Fi people think they know a lot about this stuff, but they really don’t know anything about it. When they hear a change in sound, they think it must be better. Especially when they’ve paid $200 for something! But changes in sound aren’t always for the better.
What’s the best way to get in touch with you if a reader needs their equipment repaired?
You can just bring your equipment to Tónastöðin. It usually takes only a few days to complete a repair.
Tónastöðin is on Skipholt 50d. You can contact them online or by phone on (+354) 552-1185.