From Iceland — Hearing The Image

Hearing The Image

Hearing The Image

Published December 14, 2022

Catherine Magnúsdóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Eerie and vast sounds set the tone for Netflix’s new Spanish-language psychological thriller “Jaula.” And the creative mind behind the score is none other than Snorri Hallgrímson, composer and producer of both his own albums and various film soundtracks. We caught up with the composer and producer about leaving his fingerprint on the “Juala” score while venturing outside of his comfort zone.

First Impressions

“It’s quite a funny story, actually,” Snorri says of finding himself working on the film. “The director (Ignacio Tatay) wrote to me personally. He had been following my solo music and asked if I wanted to do the music for the film.” Snorri elaborates with a story about his studies in Spain and an awkward networking meeting between his class and a film school. “I remember being so hungover during the meeting and having no patience for it, but someone from the film school there remembered me and pointed me out to this director years later.” 

Raw and creepy

Photo by Art Bicnick

The mystery thriller gave Snorri the possibility to expand his repertoire.“I realized I need to rethink how I approach this because I can’t just go and cry over my piano like I normally do,” he jokes. “I have to do something else.” 

“It was very challenging because it’s very different from the music that I had been doing before and from my solo music, which is very sort of listener-friendly — this soundtrack is the complete opposite.” Combining raw atmospheric sounds with creepy, dissonant and even uncomfortable viola tones allowed Snorri to play puppet master with the materials and fit it into the film with more uncanny tones than usual for him.

Soundscapes

Having discovered his appreciation for film and music early in life, it was hardly a leap for Snorri to understand and appreciate the interplay between sound and visuals. “The visual element of it is so strong,” he says. “I think it brings you to a place. The film music that I discovered and love is sort of slow and atmospheric and it would always enhance my experience of wherever I was, even just looking out the window, always making it more serene, more emotional in a way.” Starting out with a MacBook and Garageband, Snorri recalls how he tried to emulate scores he knew and loved with the basic tools he had at the time. “I remember coming home from watching “Babel” thinking ‘Wow, what is this music?’ and ordered the CDs. That’s my first concrete memory of really getting into film music. Then I just started playing around by myself, creating those kinds of soundscapes from there.”

“Minor, Minor, Sad Chords”

Comparing the two avenues of film scores and independent music, Snorri says he likes mixing the two and switching back and forth. “Especially when I do soundtracks like ‘Jaula,’ which is so different from the music that I do independently, it just makes me a better composer. It expands my creativity and I can use that to help me in both areas.” 

Having ended up in the genre of sad piano music for various reasons, Snorri says that on the one hand he feels some obligation to uphold the expectations he has set, but that it also comes very naturally to him. 

“But I also don’t want to be just like ‘minor, minor, sad chords’ all the time. It’s always very shallow if it’s just at that level. That’s where the film music comes into play, because then I get something where I’m forced to go out of my comfort zone and create something that’s completely different from what I would normally do.” That trip out of his comfort zone then gives Snorri new ideas and tools to use on his personal projects.

Balance

“My friends and teachers that I studied with in Spain would always tell me my music sounds ‘so Icelandic, it sounds so cold’. I got sort of fake angry at them at the time, but they’re not wrong either,” the composer recounts. It’s easy to think of the vastness of the Icelandic landscape when listening to Snorri’s very atmospheric and cinematic work. But it also reflects Snorri’s own preference for space and a balance between sadness and hopefulness.

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