From Iceland — Reykjavík Arts Festival: Úlfur and Halldór Eldjárn's Reykjavik GPS Brings Interactivity To Music

Reykjavík Arts Festival: Úlfur and Halldór Eldjárn’s Reykjavik GPS Brings Interactivity To Music

Published May 30, 2018

Phil Uwe Widiger
Photo by
Art Bicnick

It’s one of the first bright days of the summer in Iceland when I meet composer and musician Úlfur Eldjárn at Kaffi Vest. He orders two espressos, one for him, and one for his brother Halldór. “One time, when Halldór was late, the waiter asked me whether everything was alright with my coffee,” he tells me. “He thought I had taken a sip and didn’t like it.” Shortly after, Halldór arrives to complete the dynamic, original and creative duo. Their newest collaboration is set to revolutionise the way you listen to music—and how you experience Reykjavík as a city.

The composer and the programmer

The two brothers both have a diverse background in music. Úlfur, who grew up in a scene that revolved around jazz and avant-garde, recently returned to school to study composition. “A lot of the ideas that I am working on now come from this period,” he says.

Halldór benefited greatly from his brother’s instruments and recording gear being available to him during his childhood. While his band Sykur is the red thread through his musical career, he has been busy with numerous side projects along the way.

“I’ve been working with Ólafur Arnalds for the past two years,” he says. Halldór studied computer science and tries to simplify the matter for me. “The shortest version is that the software enables Ólafur Arnalds to play three pianos at once.”

Right. Who would have expected anything less?

A new corner, a new sound

Úlfur and Halldór are now finishing the last touches on their newest collaboration, called “Reykjavík GPS,” which is set to premiere during the Reykjavík Arts Festival on June 4th. People will be able to download an app on their smartphone, put on their headphones, and experience Reykjavík’s traditional centre in a personal way. Depending on which turns they take, they will change the soundtrack of their walk.

“Depending on which turns you take, you will change the soundtrack of your walk.”

Úlfur’s task was to compose the music. “It’s like writing many versions of the same track,” he says. ”It’s going to be kind of a puzzle where you can take a sound clip and match it with many others. Then we’re mapping them onto the area in Reykjavík so that when you walk in a certain street you’ll hear a certain sound clip; maybe a piano playing. When you walk past the next corner, something else will start to happen in the music.”

The area will roughly cover Reykjavík’s old city centre, from Hljómskálagarður, up to Hallgrímskirkja, and down to the seaside.

Connecting music and location

Halldór’s task was to make sure the technical side of the project was working. “When I was doing the very first test, I just created the soundtrack for my street,” he remembers. “I immediately started to connect the locations with the sounds.”

Úlfur agrees. “It’s not just a musical piece, it’s an art piece, too. It changes the way you experience what you see.”

Bringing interactivity to music

“It’s weird that we have all this technology, but we’re still relying on a very conservative way of listening,” finishes Úlfur. “In an era where we have video games, massive interaction in social media and all kinds of immersive experiences. I think it’s obvious that there needs to be more musical experiments in that field—because music is perfect for this.”

Take a walk with Reykjavík GPS at this year’s Arts Festival, and hear the duo’s inventive ideas bring the city to life around you in a whole new way.

Reykjavík GPS premieres at noon on June 4th at Hallgrímskirkja. You will be able to download the app for free here. Read about other events of the Reykjavik Arts Festival here.

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