From Iceland — Hekla Magnúsdóttir Harnesses The Power Of A Unique Instrument

Hekla Magnúsdóttir Harnesses The Power Of A Unique Instrument

Published September 15, 2020

Hekla Magnúsdóttir Harnesses The Power Of A Unique Instrument
Photo by
Art Bicnick

In a small garage on Öldugata, a humble studio houses the equipment that Hekla Magnúsdóttir uses to create the type of music that gets under your skin, crawls around, lays eggs and then hatches into spiders that bite you until you listen to it again. It’s good stuff.

Eerie Equipment

Hekla plays the theremin, an electronic instrument controlled without any physical contact by the performer. It’s a box with two antennas, one controlling the pitch of the note and one controlling the volume. The effect is an eerie sound that would be right at home in a horror movie.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Hekla released her new EP ‘Sprungur’ on August 27th and she says it’s more conceptual than her album that she released in 2018. “I was thinking more of entering some kind of alternate horror dimension or something,” she says with a smile. The first track is called Velkominn, and it features growling voices of horrific beasts welcoming the listener to the show. The rest of the album is a haunting, atmospheric experience. “I wanted it to be…like an imaginary horror movie soundtrack.”

Bending The Rules

Hekla has a musical background. “I started playing cello around 9,” she says. “I was always making my own songs.” She got her first theremin when she was 18 and lost interest in the cello. She says she likes how much more approachable the theremin is. “You don’t have to be formal. You can, if you want, but it’s not restrictive. It doesn’t have a rule book, which kind of also makes it more difficult to approach,” she says and laughs.

“I wanted it to be…like an imaginary horror movie soundtrack.”

There may not be a rule book, but there are legitimate techniques that performers have illustrated in the instrument’s 100-year history. “I have gone to a couple of these theremin academies,” she says. “They’re people who meet in different cities of Europe and play together,” she says.

“There are also classes and stuff, like there are proper techniques, but I like to kind of take
things that I like or are useful to me and also [take] my own approach,” she shrugs.

Hekla is currently making graphic notations of her personal approach to the theremin. “I’m planning to do a little book with an introduction to theremin graphic notation that’s easy to understand.”

Surf Symphony

Beyond taking full advantage of the spooky sound the theremin produces, Hekla is also working with a group of musicians to produce a surf rock symphony. Think Dick Dale meets Johann Sebastian Bach. “There’s a rondeau, a minuet, allegro and adagio,” she says.

While it’s unclear when the surf symphony will be available, but ‘Sprungur’ is available now on Spotify and Bandcamp. It’s a perfectly eerie experience, just in time for autumn and celebrating the theremin’s centennial.

“Sprungur” is available now on Spotify and Bandcamp.

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