Welcome to Prog Limelight artist Hekla

Hekla

Line-up: Hekla Magnúsdóttir (theremin/vocals)

Sounds like: Haunting, post-industrial soundscapes with ethereal vocals. Imagine Goblin reinterpreted by the Cocteau Twins.

Latest release: Á is out now on Phantom Limb

Website: www.heklaheklahekla.com

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“I used to describe my music as minimal sci-fi but I think it’s become bigger than that,” muses the softly-spoken Hekla Magnúsdótti. “It can be really dark and heavy but also really bright and light.”

The experimental Icelandic musician and vocalist is all about opposites. She swapped her cello for a theremin 10 years ago and more recently has exchanged the darkness of her native country for Berlin’s vibrant underground music scene where she frequently pops up on the live circuit.

“There’s a limit of venues and people in Iceland, so it’s a lot easier doing things here [in Berlin]. You’re more connected to the outside world and I’ve been playing a lot more here,” she reveals. “I really like to improvise live so my music has definitely evolved a lot since I moved.”

Magnúsdótti’s evolution via the notoriously challenging electronic instrument began when she joined a local Icelandic surf band a few years ago. By her own admission, it wasn’t a serious outlet but she used the downtime to experiment and craft the unusual sound that’s showcased on her haunting album Á.

“It’s pronounced ‘ow’ and it’s a letter that means many different things,” she says of the title. “It can be a river, lake, or a sheep, and you can use it if you put something on top of something else. I thought [the ambiguity] was very fitting.”

The 10-track was written and recorded around her son’s daycare – he’s now two-years old – and like the volcano she’s named after, is beautiful yet powerful and occasionally unsettling. Despite her classical training, she favours graphical notations over more traditional methods of scoring, preferring to illustrate the shapes she throws to create her unearthly sounds. Her son has even been known to join in too!

“He’ll wave his arms around and have a lot of fun!” she says with a laugh. “But [the theremin] is a very different experience to the cello; there are no particular rules on how to play and there’s a total freedom in how you approach it. I play through lots of effects pedals to try to take it to new places and I like to discover new sounds. You can do so many totally different things on it and I just wanted to get these new sounds out that I found interesting.” 

Given the evocative nature of her music, it’s not too surprising that film soundtracks are a big inspiration. When not listening to American theremin player Pamelia Stickney (“Her album Thinking Out Loud is one of the freakiest things I’ve heard,” she admits), she’s zoning in on spooky scores for It Follows and the 1992 remake of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She also name-checks Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Goblin among her influences and, like her musical heroes, her sounds have also started to appear in movies. Earlier this year, she was honoured when Bertrand Mandico used Arms in his dark fantasy The Wild Boys and she says there are more indie collaborations on the horizon.