From Iceland — Our Gods Never Existed: Bára Gísladóttir’s Music Mass

Our Gods Never Existed: Bára Gísladóttir’s Music Mass

Published October 19, 2017

Our Gods Never Existed: Bára Gísladóttir’s Music Mass
Elías Þórsson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

‘Mass For Some’ is the new album by composer and a double bass player Bára Gísladóttir. It’s a strange avant-garde concept album based around the Christian mass, but in a way, it deconstructs it and turns it on its head with terrifying effects, random guttural laughter, and the bone piercing screech of strings.

“I think the album is a bit out of place and I am working with quite a bit of black humour, even though I might be the only one to find it funny,” says Bára. “But I’m in no way making fun of the Latin mass format; I think it’s great.”

I nostri dei sono morti

One of the more stunningly disturbing songs on the album is titled ‘I nostri dei sono morti-—Italian for “Our Gods re dead.” Despite sounding like something carved into the walls of the seventh circle of Hell, this is related to the hard-to-describe levity of the album. “When I was living in Italy I used Duolingo to learn Italian, and once this sentence came up and I thought it was hilarious to get the satisfying “bing” sound when I wrote ‘Our Gods are dead’,” Bára says. “It’s also quite a statement, but I don’t think our gods are dead. I think they never existed.”

The word “mass,” in the context of the album, also takes on another meaning. When you listen, you feel engulfed in the pure mass of sound. It’s immensely uncomfortable, yet strangely soothing—sort of like if Wes Anderson did a remake of ‘The Exorcist.’

The album is also deeply personal—it’s second song is entitled ‘Afi,’Icelandic for grandfather. “My grandfather was the biggest character I’ve met, and my soulmate,” says Bára. “He died in 2013 and now my dad owns his house. It stands empty and I decided to record my entire album there. It was strange recording there, especially during the night when I could hardly see anything. I felt like an intruder, creating all these strange sounds and screechy noises.”

The burnout that lit creativity

In recent years Bára has been a sought-after composer and instrumentalist. Her success has brought with it an emotional strain. “I’ve been blessed with being fully booked for a while, but this summer I just burned out from work,” she says. “I’d started to feel like I was doing office work. I love to compose, but what people often don’t realise is that writing music is not just creativity—it’s also a lot of hard work and manual labour. Writing things down, and making sure they look right.”

It brought her to the brink and she didn’t want to make music anymore. She felt she didn’t have anything to offer and decided to leave Copenhagen, where she’d been living, and travel to the remote Borgarfjörður Eystri to stay with a friend who was working there. “I managed to get some sleep and I didn’t have to answer emails,” says Bára. “I realised that I actually had time, and began thinking about this project through the night. It came to the point where I had to make it happen just to save my sanity.”

The result of this sanity-saving operation is a remarkable album. There doesn’t seem to be a more apt metaphor for it than the beeping sound of Duolingo success when you type in “I nostri dei sono morti.”

Bára’s release concert is at Mengi on Friday, October 20, and she’ll appear at Iceland Airwaves.

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