From Iceland — Lost in Berlin

Lost in Berlin

Published April 3, 2009

Lost in Berlin
Composer Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir is certainly one of the most prominent Icelandic artists to emerge in a long time. Raised in a musical environment, she has been writing and performing music since the tender age of thirteen. Her career is highlighted by successful collaborations and has been on the rise ever since she laid hands on the cello. Since graduating from the Berlin University of Arts, Hildur has gone on to play with many famed artists; Pan Sonic, Nico Muhly, Angel, Ben Frost and Jamie Lidell, to name a few.
Her sophomore solo album, Without Sinking, has already been ranked as one of the top albums of 2009 by some publications. It was released by Touch, one of the biggest labels for electronic music. We called up Hildur to ask a few questions about her album and her career and to glean some info on the fabled Berlin kebab.
*Has the cello always played a big part in you musical compositions?
No, of course I first went through the phase of being in teenage rock and pop bands and that kind of stuff. But I think it was around the year 2000 that I started writing primarily for the cello.
*When you are making music or working with music, do you find that education matters?
Both yes and no. When creating music, I feel education doesn’t really matter except that when you’ve studied you learn a certain way of handling it. When composing, I work a lot instinctively, but on the other hand when playing a string instrument like the cello I think it helps immensely to have the experience of a classic education.
*You’ve worked with all kinds of sound installations, but also with music that is meant for commercial release. Do you think there is a strong relationship between the two?
Well I see music – most of the time – as sound. But of course, there is a great difference between sound installations and the music I release in album-form. When you make music for a certain installation or performance, you work a lot more with the space you are playing in. At those performances, I work a lot more with just the materials I have at that given time. So it’s more like a sound happening, where I channel certain emotions and experiences. But on the other hand, when I’m making music for publication, the process is a lot more intimate. The solo stuff that I’ve been working on is mostly all written and performed by me, and then I’m trying to work a lot more inward trying to locate more personal experiences.
Without Sinking
Hildur’s latest LP was released in March and has already made a big critical splash. I asked Hildur to tell me a bit about the album. Recorded both in Iceland and Berlin, Hildur says the creative process was in retrospect a natural one, without any stress or discomfort.
“This is my second solo album and it’s a little bit different from the one before it because spent a lot more time working on it. The oldest material on the record is probably about three years old.
Like the other album its fairly short, short songs, and the cello plays the lead role. What is also different about this album is that I have a few guest players on this one. Jóhann Jóhannsson, Skúli Sverrisson and Guðni Fransson, my father, all contributed to the album.”
*How do you make your music? Is it a constant process or do you work in intervals?
It’s a bit different. I work very intensively, and I’m often more manic than not. Working on something for fourteen hours straight and then putting it away used to be my M.O., but I have been reconsidering that attitude as of late. I am looking back a lot more now, returning to stuff that I was working on before and looking at it from a different perspective.
*Since yours is very experimental music, do you feel that you’ve maybe reached a wider audience than you expected?
That was the case with my first album, at least. The cello is an instrument that people know very well. Since it has the same sound spectrum as the human voice, it gets very close to people, and of course the way the instrument resembles the human form, people have a lot more to relate to than with many other instruments used in experimental music. And since the album is mostly based on the cello, people sometimes prefer to classify it as classical music. That isn’t a very big deal for me, since I don’t really care what people want to call it. I have been more affiliated with the experimental scene and my working methods are more close to it, but since there is something in my music that people can relate to I think they’re a lot more open to it.
*Thus far you have worked with a wide range of artists and people. Are there any interesting projects or collaborations on the horizon?
Right now, I am working on an organ piece for an arts festival in Riga, Latvia. This is the first time that I am composing for the organ so there is a whole new world of sound involved in the process, and I have been getting more acquainted with the instrument in the process. Elín Hansdóttir will have an installation accompanying this piece that I am very excited about. I think of music a lot of the time as lights and shadows, and I feel that she shares my perspective with her art.
*Will you be following up the album with a tour?
With this kind of music the follow up process is different than with popular music for instance. You don’t go out and tour clubs and live in buses for a month. This kind of music doesn’t have the base for that kind of touring. It’s a lot more playing in art events and that kind of setting. Of course there are a lot of concerts but you might say I won’t be living out of a suitcase to promote this album.
*Well to finish things of, where can I get the best Kebab in Berlin ?
Hah, this I have a very good answer to. It’s on Kolmutsrasse on the corner of Danzigstrasse and there is a place called Zweistrum. They serve a wicked kebab that I sincerely recommend.
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