From Iceland — The Silence Between Airwords

The Silence Between Airwords

Published November 6, 2015

Grayson Del Faro
Photo by
Birta Rán

Silence is more than just the thing that happens at the end of a song and before the beginning of the next one. It’s also the thing that happens between words. As much as we all love talking and yelling and listening to music, sometimes you need to appreciate some silence.

The only problem is, should you choose to look for it, you’d be hard-pressed to find any during Iceland Airwaves. Although silence will find you in fleeting moments in certain spaces or at certain performances, the one event during Airwaves that guarantees you an appropriate amount of this precious substance is Airwords.

The idea of having literary readings at Airwaves started in 2013. That year, it even included an off-venue “poetry jam session” with local publisher and writers’ collective Meðgönguljóð (Partus Press). This event paired poets up with musicians to accompany their readings at Vínbarinn at Kirkutorg. That year happened to be my first year at Airwaves and (admitting my bias as a poet myself) it has become my favorite tradition at the festival. To me, Airwaves is an exploration of all the ways we can interact with music and blend it with other forms of art, so it’s hard for me imagine Airwaves without poetry.

The official event is held in Kaldalón at Harpa and intersperses readings with musicians, occasionally combining the two. This year, the literary lineup included many Icelandic writers, including prolific Bragi Ólafsson as well as British novelist and journalist Laura Barton. These were interspersed with music, most notably an atmostpheric performance by Québecois folk band Emily & Ogden.

As the genre of poetry is largely defined by its meticulous use of silence, it is appropriate to begin. This year opened strongly with stunning reading by Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, who read alongside recordings of Daniel Bjarnason’s chilling string arrangements. In front of a beautiful projection of smoke passing over the moon, she read skilfully in both English and Icelandic, allowing certain moments between words to be filled only with strings and others with true silence.

The blend of readings and performances slowly wound their way into night, ending with performances by Úlfur Úlfur and Kött Grá Pjé. Some may think of hip-hop as the antithesis of literature, but to many, it is the most obvious combination poetry and music in modern culture. Especially in Iceland, some think of hip hop as the newest expression of Iceland’s rich poetic history.

So despite their finished effects being near inverses of each other, it seemed a natural progression to begin the evening with Valgerður’s artfully arranged silences and end it with Kött Grá Pjé’s love of noise.

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