Hekla’s haunting theremin evokes the cold and magical depths of Iceland. On Á, the Icelander uses her theremin in such a way as to conjure up a plethora of ancient spirits under a neon-green swirl of northern lights. Hekla Magnúsdóttir is a devoted pupil of the instrument; this makes her more than adept, putting her into the range of a master. She’s an expert when it comes to playing and manipulating its air. Her dedication and study has given rise to enviable, supreme levels of skill, and while it’s hard not to be affected by the ghostly, spectral qualities of the instrument, it’s capable of being so much more than that. It’s capable of great emotion and intelligence, not just to accompany an episode of Most Haunted or a trashy Halloween weekender on TV; what the stereotypes of popular culture would have you believe.
Hekla shows the listener the emotional capabilities of the instrument with equal elevations of intensity and finesse. In saying that, there’s something incredibly eerie and fragile in its sound. There’s no denial. Bold and distinctive, Hekla’s haunting music has that wow factor, which is all the more impressive on a debut, but it also develops an experimental side with its clashing tones and intermittent noise-clusters, only to slip into a spacious and peaceful zone where the theremin ghostly levitates, clothed in nothing but the night.
Her voice rises and falls, in tune and in time with the spooky (and queasy) dips. The music cries with the repetitious chorus of whale-song. Hekla gently unsettles and stirs up the folklore of the land. It’s an intense ride – and her current Berlin residence gives the music a propulsive, contemporary electronic edge, as dark as many of the music’s German electronic sisters, but at the same time set apart purely because of the theremin’s presence. While there’s plenty of power and roar to its revolutions, it’s also capable of shutting down and giving in – giving up – to sadness.
The theremin cries in the black of the dark, a lone shudder of electricity and a desolate lament, a hymn where verses are seared in painful yowls and a mile-wide loneliness. It feels like an outsider – instrumentally, at least – occupying a stretch of deserted road. But its individuality is also a cause for celebration, and a blessing. It moves through life as a solo entity, roaming the wilds of Iceland in search of something that may never be found. Contrasting this is her angelic, ever-echoing voice, which is a source of precious light in the frozen hinterlands of resolute snowfall and bitter ice.
She brings the theremin out of its shell, away from its séances and shadows, without dissolving any of its mystery. Á will be released September 14 on Phantom Limb.