From Iceland — Sounds From The Quiet Place: Composer Hafdís Bjarnadóttir Sees Music In Everything

Sounds From The Quiet Place: Composer Hafdís Bjarnadóttir Sees Music In Everything

Published June 27, 2019

Sounds From The Quiet Place: Composer Hafdís Bjarnadóttir Sees Music In Everything
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Hafdís Bjarnadóttir has been performing, teaching and composing music for close to three decades now, diligently—and prodigiously—creating music for multiple acts across nearly every genre. Her most recent effort, ‘A Northern Year,’ is an extensive and fascinating composition she made for Passepartout Duo. It chronicles the movement of the sun over Iceland over the course of a year, using scientific data translated it into music, with stunning results.

A little help

Hafdís was initially interested in the visual arts, but upon hearing Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ “A Little Help From My Friends,” everything changed. “I first heard the song when I was 12 years old,” she says. “It felt like a religious experience. I just got saved. That’s when I just fell for music in general in my life and started playing guitar for real.”

She began to focus more keenly on music, leading to her enrollment in the Félag Íslenskra Hljómlistarmanna music school. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t really care what I will become, if I can just make music while I’m doing whatever I’m doing in life,’” she recounts. “I could just work at a swimming pool or a supermarket or whatever; if I have time to make music, then I don’t really care. Then that evolved into being a full-time musician and music teacher, so becoming a musician just kind of happened.”

The frog’s blues

Hafdís’ first album, ‘Nú,’ was released on the famed Smekkleysa label in 2002. It contains her breakaway hit, “Froskablús” (literally “The Frog’s Blues”), which went into heavy rotation, due in part to the video: a cartoon, wherein a frog looks for love, and finds it, in a sense.

This success prompted requests for composition, and the nature of Iceland’s networking and connections led to further work. When Hafdís was approached by Passepartout Duo, the only prompt she was given was to adhere to a theme of “light and darkness.”

Here comes the sun

True to her nature, she dove headfirst into the project with an idea inspired by the sun, consulting an almanac and charted data on the sunrise and sunset every day of the year; specifically, the sun’s height relative to the horizon.

From there, she sought to translate this data into music. “I made a system where the lowest point for the sun would be the deepest note on a piano, and the highest point would be the highest note,” she says. Using a base 24 hours, she also used the length of the sun’s appearance, in hours, as a basis for how long the notes were played. “So if it’s dark for that many hours, the note is that long.” Equinoxes and solstices are marked by “a change in mood.”

(Sunrise and sunset data notations Hafdís used for A Northern Year. Source: Hafdís’ Instagram)

The quiet place

The overall effect is striking. Winter is indeed dark, chilling and haunting; tensions rise in February, but with some brightness creeping in. The spring equinox is sparse, light, revelatory. By June, light accents and sparkling bells appear, accompanied by live recordings of birds. “I think I see patterns in so many things,” says Hafdís, “and there are also many patterns in music.”

Music is the most important thing to Hafdís, and it shows in her approach to her career. “I don’t want to be famous, because I’m a huge introvert,” she says. “I really need this quiet place. I really don’t want to be too busy that I’d have to be around people all the time. I also just love composing and love working. I have a lot of fun just being alone and working on music. But I am happy that I always have something going on with other people.”

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