Kjartan Holm sits stock still, gazing contemplatively into the middle distance. “It’s gonna be interesting to see how Airwaves will be run this time,” he says, finally. “I liked Harpa as a part of the festival, but it could definitely work without it. Maybe it’s a bit too polished and bright—it’s better to be at Gaukurinn, or some darker places.”
It’s yet to be announced which venue Kjartan will play in this year, but over the years he’s played in many of the darkest. First emerging onto the stage of Airwaves in 2006 as a member of post-rock band For a Minor Reflection, he has played every year since, appearing more recently as a member of punk outfit Tófa. In 2018, he’ll perform at Airwaves solo for the first time.
“My first solo show was at Norður og Niður, the Sigur Rós festival,” he says. “I’ve been experimenting—hopefully by the time Airwaves comes I’ll have it figured out,” he smiles. “No promises though.”
Kjartan’s solo work—located somewhere between contemplative composition, ambient post-rock and drone/noise—is a departure from his energetic, raucous band projects. It began during some time spent living in Berlin under the tutelage of Hildur Guðnadóttir and the late Jóhann Jóhansson, when he started some solo experiments during studio downtime.
“I just started making something,” he says. “And the results are this album. I’m not sure what I should call it—I say it’s noise music but it has pretty moments, orchestration, guitars, some percussion. If it wasn’t so noisy it could be film music, but you have these cinematic moments, then these industrial moments, then diatonic ambient moments. If anyone can find a title for this music, I’ll be thankful.”
Although he speaks fondly of his time in bands, saying “everyone should try it,” Kjartan finds a different kind of creative release in his solo work. His album, “Amusics,” is a hypnotic, sculpted, impressive block of sound; the culmination of his band projects, studio work, and a long-standing interest in noise.
“I wrote my thesis on noise and how noise affects the mind,” he says. “It’s used for baby monitors, to soothe a baby. There’s a reason we like the sound of the ocean—it’s pure white noise with no tonality. It’s a spectrum, sweeping all the frequencies all at equal volume, so we can’t distinguish anything, but it’s nice. I’m curious whether this kind of music can have this kind of influence on people—music that’s really loud, but puts you in a good place.”
Too much freedom
Reaching this good place has taken some time. “I think I’m finally doing something I’ve been meaning to do for so long, but I hadn’t found the time or reason for it,” says Kjartan. “Getting to know Jóhann and Hildur, and learning from them, and getting to know the insane pressure that comes with major Hollywood stuff, you really learn how to appreciate your own time better.”
The limitations of working on high-pressure film projects was actually the catalyst for Kjartan’s solo work. “Having too much freedom is maybe not always the best thing,” he says. “I personally need deadlines, or I’ll just have a panic attack and produce nothing.” He pauses, staring into the middle distance again. “It can be the best thing in the world, or it can tear you apart.”