From Iceland — Documenting A Delicate Present: Minningar Showcases Climate Change Through The Sounds Of The Glaciers

Documenting A Delicate Present: Minningar Showcases Climate Change Through The Sounds Of The Glaciers

Published May 7, 2021

Documenting A Delicate Present: Minningar Showcases Climate Change Through The Sounds Of The Glaciers
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick & Daniele Girolamo

The thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is one that challenges unperceived existence. It asks but one question: How do things live and act when humans are not there to experience them?

But take that experiment and move it one step deeper: What of things that are, even when left alone, constantly bombarded and affected by the choices of humanity? How do we perceive the existence of an object that cannot exist separate from the one hearing it? Such is the fate of many natural phenomena worldwide, such as the glaciers, which are, at all times, being slowly destroyed due to global climate change caused by humans.

Composed of Eyrún Engilbertsdóttir, Úlfur Hansson, Magnús Bergsson and Daniele Girolamo, Minningar is a new musical project that seeks to document the existence of such objects. They recently released their debut album ‘From the Ocean/To the Ocean (Memories of Snæfellsjökull)’, which is based on field recordings taken from the Snæfellsjökull glacier last summer, in the midst of the pandemic. The album features a few of these recordings laid bare, along with two that the group has improvised intricate and impassioned soundscapes over. The end result is a documentation of a moment in glacial time that already, only months later, seems lost in the ether.

Minningar next to a leviathan

Minningar began with Eyrún and Daniele. Together, the duo set out to do a musical project to bring attention to climate change. Daniele subsequently pulled legendary field recorder Magnús Bergsson into the mix and, later still, a chance meeting brought Úlfur into the fold, along with his newest custom built synthesiser, the Orichalcum.

“We decided on Snæfellsjökull because it is disappearing,” Daniele explains. “I was there two years ago and there’s so much less now. But it’s a magic place that you can even read about in the Eddas, such as with Bárður the giant who slept in Sönghellir, the singing cave.” They were so inspired by the tale, the group decided to record one song there, which features improvised kalimba by Eyrún. Entitled “Sönghellir”, it’s a wistful track, underlined at all times by the expansive echo of the cave and silky sounds of rushing water.

“There’s something in the air out there. You almost feel like you are standing next to a leviathan. The glacier has a presence,” Úlfur says. “And, of course, it is the entrance to the centre of the Earth.”

Fragile beauty

Poignantly, it was the COVID-19 pandemic—which, as many experts say, has its roots in the zoological and sociological disruptions caused by climate change—that allowed Minningar to make the record.

“Due to COVID, there were no tourists so we could get really good field recordings,” Daniele smiles. “So we were lucky. Maybe it’s the only good thing COVID brought.”

“I cry when I think that the next generation could never see what we have seen.”

That said, the three cannot help but fixate on the tragic remnants of climate change wherever they go. And even in Iceland, which has remained relatively unscathed by the wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural wreckage caused by climate change, the threat of global warming is uncomfortably close.

“Ok is officially gone, which is crazy,” Úlfur says, referring to the former Okjökull glacier near Langkjökull, which was the first Icelandic glacier to disappear due to climate change. “We have all this expansive beauty to take in whenever we want, but it can all go away. It’s very fragile. We need to preserve those things,” he continues mournfully.

Eyrún nods. “There are not that many places you can drive half an hour and see a volcano,” she adds. “That’s the sad part. There’s a goodbye feeling in [this album] as well.”

“I cry when I think that the next generation could never see what we have seen,” Daniele concludes, softly. “And this is, together, [Minningar’s] goal. It depends on us. We can’t do everything but we can leave a small sign of right now.”

Check out ‘From the Ocean/To the Ocean (Memories of Snæfellsjökull)’ by Minningar at Vinyl copies will be available soon. You can also see Minningar out at Mengi on May 25th. 

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