On her astonishing new release “Saman” (highly recommended!) on Touch she combines rich cello tones and sylph-like vocals as if she wanted to bridge light and darkness in the listening experience that she provides to even the most fussy of listeners. Just after the announcement of such release we had a chat with brilliant Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir… Enjoy!
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Hildur! How are you?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I’m fine, thank you!
Chain D.L.K.: First of all, satisfy a curiosity of mine: the last time I saw you performing was in Bari on the occasion of Time Zones. You offered a breathtaking performance together with Johann Johannsson. I remember the audience was expecting you to play more music but organizers told us that you didn’t go back out on stage because allegedly Johann expected a standing ovation. Is it true?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I remember this. There was a misunderstanding about whether there was a break between our sets or something like that. We decided not to have a break between the two sets, but perhaps that was not communicated to all the people involved. I’m sorry if it caused confusion in the audience – that was not our aim of course!
Chain D.L.K.: It was a very touching musical experience, the way you managed to render Iceland… I’d like to ask you how can you tune your cello to those icy, wild landscapes? Is there any hidden secret that an Icelandic knows in order to evoke this musical history that other musicians can’t understand?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: There is no hidden secret that I know of. I just play what comes to me. I can’t speak for my fellow people though.
Chain D.L.K.: Before talking about your last album, can you tell me how you fell in love with the cello?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: My mother introduced me to the instrument. It took a while for me to fall in love with it, but there was no turning back after it happened.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any other instrument you’d like to know in the same masterful way you know the cello, in a way that becomes an extension of your language and soul?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I would like to know all instruments that way!
Chain D.L.K.: One of the most fascinating aspect of your music is your astonishing ability in rising simple cello lines to empyrean levels where just a block of metal cannot feel touched. What’s the importance of importance in this process of musical “sublimation”?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I think the most important thing about writing music, or whatever you do, is to try to be as honest as you can. Not to get stuck in any pre-conceived idea about what you or the audience has about your music. Try to be as free as possible. Then hopefully you can create something that speaks to you, and the listener.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides your Icelandic roots, is there any area of your personal interests that inspire your music in a way or another?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: My surroundings, reading, drawing, writing, family and friends are all things that inspire me. I am never sure what to answer when people ask me about immediate influences, but I think everything you do, go and see is bound to have some influence in what you create. I think my main point of interest of influential input, is that I rather prefer positive input than negative input.
Chain D.L.K.: Are there any other folk elements in your music that audiences cannot easily recognize?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: Not that I know of. Except that I like folk music.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any part of your rich collection of tracks that contemporary audiences are prepared enough to understand better than at the moment when they were composed?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I think the audience is free to understand my music in any way they want. I do not like to tell people what it is that they should experience or what they should imagine or feel. The beauty of music, is that people have the freedom to create their own images to what they hear. I do not want to tamper with that. I am not one to believe that you need special knowledge or education to enjoy music or art. It is true that education can deepen you understanding, but it can also get in your way. So I think the best way to enjoy whatever it is you are experiencing is with an open mind.
Chain D.L.K.: Icelandic musicians became very popular and you personally lived this astonishing growth… everyone imagines Icelandic people as a very united community after that slap to the bankers, but what about the music community? Is there any kind of competition or envy inside that scene?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: I have not lived in Iceland for so long, so it is hard for me to judge the current state of things there at the moment. But in my experience, my generation, people have always been very supportive of each other, and the scene has been very free of envy and competition. I think the bank crash hasn’t changed that at all.
Chain D.L.K.: You performed for many big names of contemporary music. Is there any specific collaboration that can be considered a milestone of your personal artistic and musical growth?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: My collaborations are mostly with dear friends, and all of them are special, just as different friends are special. The beauty is that most people I collaborate with are dear friends that I have had the privilege to have played with for a long period of time. You create a very special bond and trust after such a long time. You create some kind of language without words. Like mum for example, I have been playing with Örvar and Gunni since before mum started, so we literally grew up together. We know pretty much everything there is to know about each other, good and bad, so that creates a foundation for a completely different way of communication than with somebody you just met. For me, music is all about communication. Both with the people you play with, and the people you perform for.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s finally speak of “Saman”… why “Saman”?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: “Saman” means “together” in Icelandic. One meaning of that is the merging of cello and voice which is a theme I am working with a lot on the album.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the connection between this album and your previous ones?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: There is no special connection between the records in my mind. “Leyfðu Ljósinu”, the record before “Saman”, is one long piece recorded in surround. So the structure and the recording process of “Saman” has more in common with my previous records. Although a few pieces on “Saman” are recorded by an engineer (Francesco Donadello), whereas “the Mount A” and “Without Sinking” are recorded entirely by me. So in a way I am maybe opening the process or working on a record bit by bit. Letting other people in a little bit more.
Chain D.L.K.: “Heyr Himnasmiður” means “smith of Heaven”, doesn’t it? What’s the meaning of these words you so masterfully sing?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: It is a hymn, the music is written by an old teacher of mine, Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson. It is one of the most sung icelandic hymns. The lyrics were written in 1208, by a man on his deathbed who has just been hit on the head with a stone, and he writes it as he is dying. This is an english translation of the lyrics:
Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one,
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
human every sorrow
from the city of the heart.
Chain D.L.K.: Another heart-wrenching moment of your album is “Heima”, a word whose meaning any fans of Sigur Ros should know… again, as with the previous question, what’s the meaning of the lyrics?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: Heima means “Home”. And as you can imagine from the title, the lyrics are about coming home. Feeling the warmth of being home.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any song or melody of “Saman” that would stop you in your tracks because of your personal involvement, an excess of captivation or enchantment? If so, could you explain the reason?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: All the melodies are equally important to me. I am not sure if one melody has the power to open up some hidden pandora’s box. But what is elevating for me, both in performance and recordings, is if I can get lost in the sound of what I play. Stop the chatter in my head, and be completely in the sound. When you achieve that, you reach some kind of musical bliss. It sounds a bit euphoric, but I am sure anybody who has been fully focused on an activity can understand that to some extent.
Chain D.L.K.: Would you introduce any guest musicians or collaborators for “Saman”?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: The only other musician on the record is Skúli Sverrisson, a very dear friend and collaborator, with whom I have played for many years. He is one of the people I have had the privilege of having an ongoing musical friendship with. One of the people I don’t need to use words with. He plays bass on the track “Heima”. As I mentioned before, the engineer of the record is Francesco Donadello, a dear friend and brilliant engineer. He recorded a few tracks, and helped me in the final mixing stages. Although this was the first time we worked together, I hardly said a thing to him about what was needed, he just understood.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you bringing your music on the road? Any anticipation of forthcoming tours?
Hildur Guðnadóttir: Yes, I am playing a handful of shows in Europe this winter, and touring the US West Coast with my dear friends A Winged Victory for the Sullen in December.
visit Hildur Guðnadóttir on the web at: