Nordic Music Central Viking Hero

Gunnar Ingi Guðmundsson (Iceland) – Eyðibýli (Abandoned farm) (title track from album)

Gunnar Ingi as he prefers to be known is an Icelandic film composer. I see he studied Music Composition for Film and TV at Berklee College of Music in Boston, through the portals of which numerous ‘NMC alumni’ (i.e. they have been in these pages) have passed, and which some, like John Mayer and Annie Clark, fled home through.

So you can understand why his speciality is “new Icelandic music in cinematic style.”

On September 1st he released a new album called ‘Eyðibýli’ (‘Abandoned farm’, alt: ‘Deserted farm’), his first solo one, after six months of recording.

He says, “The music on the album is dark, dramatic and bright in chapters.”

Now by this stage I’ve learned all I need to know because as I’ve said on numerous previous occasions when reviewing Icelandic artists this country is tailor-made for ‘cinematic’ application; ‘dark and bright’ (just two of its many contrasts, see the review of MSEA, 21st August for more); and most definitely the ‘dramatic.’

The question is how well can he transfer these attributes into his music?

To generate the underpinning story for the album he envisaged a secluded farm that had been deserted and tried to create a storyline like a movie through music that deals with the desert (Iceland has one, it’s just frozen solid), the fjord, the couple in love, the last inhabitant, the wilderness, the countryside, and more. It could be The Farm with No Name in a spaghetti western.

I’ll restrict myself to the opening track (of 10) and main theme, which is also the title track and therefore focuses on building an image of this forsaken farmhouse that sets the scene for the remainder of the album.

Before I do, a quick glance at the image of the farm will immediately put British readers in mind of the ‘Local Shop’ (“for local people”) on the windswept moor high above the lunatic town of Royston Vasey in the 1990s TV dark comedy series The League of Gentlemen.

I hope Gunnar won’t mind me mentioning that because there is a certain symbiosis between that rarely visited (because there are no ‘local people’) shop and an isolated farm in Iceland, where for the most part there are no people, period. And let’s face it, you have to have a sense of humour when it gets light at 11am and then starts going dark again at 2.30pm and you’ve run out of Brennivin.

The track is immediately evocative; its piano and strings melding into perfect union. Only two minutes and twenty seconds long it might be used for all manner of cinematic adventures. I could imagine immediately how it might fit with Clint riding into Tombstone out of the High Plains, or Will taking off to repel the evil aliens single handedly on Independence Day, or John Wayne wading onto Omaha Beach on D-Day, guns blazing.

Or better still, accompanying the aforementioned John’s infamous tribute to the dead Jesus, “truly this man was the sonna Gawd”, in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

But ultimately it is an Icelandic production. Would it go with, say, Friðriksson’s epic Cold Fever, as the Japanese visitor tramples his way across Iceland encountering the weirdest folk the country has to offer along the way? Absolutely.

If you’ve never been to Iceland, decide to go and want to prepare for the real deal, not just the geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and manic nightlife, my suggestion would be to read an Indriðason crime novel and Hallgrímur Helgason’s Reykjavik 101 before you arrive and then on the bleak 30-minute bus journey across an active lava field into Reykjavik listen to ‘Eyðibýli’.

You’ll be as well prepared as you ever could be.

The supporting musicians are all from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra:

Geirþrúður Ása Skelton – Violin

Bryndís Halla Gylfadóttir – Cello

Baldvinn Ingi Tryggvasson – Clarinet

Birgir Þórisson – Piano

Stefán Örn Gunnlaugsson – Piano, Sound engineering, and Mixing.

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