From Iceland — Heading Into Pleasure Valley With Kira Kira

Heading Into Pleasure Valley With Kira Kira

Published April 6, 2024

Heading Into Pleasure Valley With Kira Kira
Photo by
Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Kira Kira’s Unaðsdalur Embraces Light And Truth 

Since the premiere of her debut film Grandma Lo-Fi at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival in 2011, Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir has sought to capture the tragicomic balance of creativity in private life. Now, 13 years later, her upcoming feature film Coffee First is in development, aiming to tackle creativity and love.

“It’s wild how I always put my heart on the line and how much I care about the art I create,” Kristín —better known as Kira Kira— explains. “Sometimes I fly too close to the sun and then, in an instant, a healthy creative zest gone too far becomes the death of me.”

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

“I know I need to sleep and eat, but sometimes the creative fires burn so hot that I can’t sense anything else. In some ways, this kind of devotion can become quite comical, but there have definitely been moments where I’ve noticed that I went too far,” she continues. “I wanted to write a film about how we can treat our creative spark with greater care.”

 “If you never open the curtains and let new sunshine in on your work, it just withers and dies like a flower in winter.”

Kira Kira began her career in 1999, founding the Reykjavík-based experimental art collective Kitchen Motors alongside guitarist Hilmar Jensson and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. She’s been going pretty full-on ever since.

“I get a million ideas every second and execute a lot of them. I don’t want to stop that. But I do champion a healthy rhythm around creativity, where there’s space to bake bread and go swimming with friends,” she says, using delightful phrasing that often characterises her speech.

“How it went for Jói is a big reason why I want to speak up about how we need to be careful not to overwork ourselves,” she says of her friend and former collaborator, who died of a suspected overdose in 2018. “Even when our job is in music. Working too much can happen to anyone. But when an artist does it, there seems to be a totally different attitude towards it. Coffee First is about this, among other things.”

Capturing the essence of truth

While filmmaking lends itself to confining, logistical challenges, Kristín nourishes her unrestricted creativity through music. “There are endless delays and waiting in the process of creating a film, as every filmmaker knows. But I’m always working on music, too. That’s how I keep my creativity in a consistent, vibrant flow. It’s important to me to tend to that flame with a kind of playful respect and curiosity at all times,” she says.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

In another brilliant turn of phrase, Kristín compares creativity to a room that can become stuffy without the occupant’s care. “If you never open the curtains and let new sunshine in on your work, it just withers and dies like a flower in winter,” she muses. “That can never happen with creations. Finding ways to continuously rebirth the energy of the creation is an absolutely vital part of the process.”

Unaðsdalur (Pleasure Valley) is Kira Kira’s tenth release — her sixth studio album — adding to her versatile discography of film scores, collaborations and solo works. In contrast to her previous albums, Unaðsdalur is surprisingly short, running roughly 25 minutes. This brevity emphasises Kira Kira’s message with the album. “It’s a tribute to simplicity, the core truth.”

In Pleasure Valley

Named after the eponymous location in the remote Westfjords, from where Kristín’s paternal family hails, the album has taken on a broader conceptual meaning for the artist.

“In Unaðsdalur, only love and nature rule”

“Unaðsdalur has become a sort of utopia for me: an emblem of earnest grounding in harmony with nature and love, a parameter for authenticity. I’ve dipped my toes into the film scoring business and seen some of the nonsense that goes on in there, which hardly anyone talks about. It wasn’t pretty! The way I have seen film composers treated is both savage and cruel,” she laments. “Luckily, I managed to come out relatively unscathed. But some people aren’t that lucky.”

The location — and by extension, the album — is a place of personal grounding, shielding Kristín from pernicious influences and leaving her artistic integrity unscathed. Unfortunately, the physical location is inaccessible for much of the year. Rather than letting that stop her from enjoying her rural sanctuary, Kira Kira invites others to experience Unaðsdalur’s bliss through her music.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

“One summer day, I sat in my garden after a trip to Unaðsdalur. I felt a sense of sadness over the fact that the road there is only open for a short period over the summer,” she explains. “So, I thought, ‘What if Unaðsdalur is a state of mind?’ Then all I need is a shift in perspective and I’m there. So I looked around, flowers blooming, ‘This is also Unaðsdalur. This is my Unaðsdalur right now,’ a place within and around me where music and films are free from the influences of chaotic and often toxic outside forces. It’s where no one except love tells me how my art should be done.”

Kira Kira has filled her 47 years (and counting) with wondrous creativity, experimenting with sounds and textures, and collaborating with dear friends. Critical of the negative financial forces driving the film scoring industry, Kira Kira would like nothing more than to speak the truth. That’s what Unaðsdalur is all about. “There’s no room for pretence, snobbery, or career vanity,” she says. “No rules that serve no purpose. In Unaðsdalur, only love and nature rule.”

A revolution of open hearts

An important feature of Kira Kira’s creative processes is her determination to work alongside trusted colleagues. Her chosen family includes friends old and new, all united in playful experimentation and improvisation. Among those present on Unaðsdalur are her Kitchen Motors co-conspirator Hilmar and trumpeter Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson, whose instrumentation has featured on every Kira Kira record, save for one.

Through the artist’s creative process, she’s managed to release an album that emits a feeling of pure light, friendship and warmth. Perhaps exhibited most clearly on the album’s final track, “Love in such a way that the person you love feels free,” in which Kira Kira stripped the song of any bells and whistles.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Finished mere days before sending the album to be mastered, Kristín woke up on the morning before Christmas and recorded the song at her homestead in Stokkseyri. “I thought, ‘How can I, in the most simple, clearest way, record and release this song?’ I think that stands out, in regards to honouring a space for the purest form of unfiltered musical expression on a record.”

During these turbulent times, Kira Kira hopes to inspire a “love revolution. A revolution of the open hearts. And that takes badass, expressive courage and tenderness. Fearless tenderness,” she says. “There is great cruelty, pain and darkness rampant in the world right now and I believe it is of great importance not to add to that by creating art that invokes further pain. My intention is very clear. My intention lies in love, in the light. I’m not going to give darkness my attention.”

Unaðsdalur is out now on all streaming platforms. Kira Kira will host the international premiere for her short film We The Lightnings alongside a music performance in Los Angeles on April 7 at the Philosophical Research Society.

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