“The funny thing is that I wasn’t even planning on releasing this album,” Bára Gísladóttir says, a wide, animated smile taking over her face. The composer and double bassist is only weeks away from releasing her newest solo album, ‘HĪBER,’ a piece in eight movements for double bass and electronics. “I’ve been working on it for three years so it’s been a lot of time just thinking and digesting rather than actually working,” she admits. “The musical part is just the tip of the iceberg, which is always the case [for all of us], but it’s even more so than usual here.”
The dichtonomy of Bára Gísladóttir
In person, Bára’s somewhat of a contradiction. Musically, her works tread the line between discomfort and beauty. Harsh, unrelenting and at times even uncomfortable, Bára’s tonal creations require active, focused listening in the most primal sense. Before meeting her, based solely on her art, I expect to find an intense, sullen Edgar Allen Poe-esque character. Instead, I’m treated to a vivacious, expressive woman whose prose and reflections on her works—and music in general—embody the word thoughtful. Not to mention, she’s pretty funny too.
Words before music
“‘HĪBER’ is a an exploration of texture and darkness, where core serves as a common thread. The title itself is a word stem referring to hībernus, meaning wintry, or of pertaining to winter or suitable for getting through winter,” Bára explains. “I wanted ‘HĪBER’ to boast the idea of winter lasting longer than a semester. ‘HĪBER’ also refers to hibernation, portraying both the process and the content of the album itself.”
And this entomological research, Bára emphasises, goes much deeper than you’d expect. “In fact, a lot of these pieces had titles before they were even written,” she reveals.
For instance, the fifth movement—an affecting, almost apotheotic polar track—is entitled “tvíhirta.” “The word ‘tvíhirta’ may sound Icelandic, but it is sort of a made up word. Tví meaning ‘two of something’ and hirta [is reminiscent] of ‘hjarta’ (heart). Somehow I also relate hirta to ‘flétta’ (braid), which does not really make much sense at all, but is important to understand the content of the movement itself,” she explains. “’Tvíhirta’ deals with the concept of an organism having two hearts, but perhaps not naturally. Tvíhirta is spun out of the thoughts on a body being—even unwillingly—given an extra heart with a somewhat horrific transplant.”
The physicality of playing
The bass might be—to those unaffiliated with contemporary composition—an unusual choice for a solo instrument. But for Bára, though, it’s the most fitting one for her nature.
“The bass invites you to dig deep, both literally and figuratively. It has the most intense and also the most diverse soundscape of the string instruments,” she says, before laughing and joking that she hopes her violinist friends don’t get angry at her boldness. “I also think I’m a bit physical in what I do. I just feel that I can merge with my instrument and I don’t know if I could feel that way with, say, a trumpet.” She smiles. “Then of course I know a lot of fantastic trumpet players! People find what works for them.”
But, while listening to Bára’s works, it’s clear she has an affinity for the droning instrument, and the album—mixed by her long-time collaborator Skúli Sverrisson—is the epitome of this.
So how should one prepare to experience the severity of ‘HĪBER’? “I’d personally want to be in a small, dark room with huge speakers and listen to it really loud,” she says. “Then sit and close your eyes.” And enter hibernation.
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