Newcomer Hekla releases her uniquely beautiful debut album for solo theremin and voice A through Phantom Limb Records - run and curated by former FatCat Records, Thrill Jockey and Royal Albert Hall execs James Vella, Ken Li and Mark Pearse. A Berlin-residing Icelander, Hekla’s sparse, delicate, fractal music exists within these two worlds: dark and magical as Iceland’s permanight folklore; and (though beatless) as deeply sonic and intense as Berlin’s electronic scene. A long-term scholar of solo theremin, Hekla (shortened from her own name Hekla Magnúsdóttir) uses her instrument as an otherworldly and highly evocative Siren-call. A spectral, wailing, howling, lamenting yearning second-voice that underpins a soft vocal delivery, as if her studio had been haunted with a chorus of ghostly backing singers.
While a handful of reference points share a similar ground to A - Colleen’s interplay of voice and instrumentation; the richly immersive filmscore work of sadly passed fellow Icelander Jóhann Jóhannsson’s; “grandmother of theremin” Clara Rockmore’s close relationship with such a singular instrument; Julia Holter’s intelligent and classically-aligned songwriting - Hekla’s music still exists singularly. A one-off talent, emerging from no particular scene, ascribing to no particular rules.
As a creative tool, the theremin - bizarre, unique, rarely heard - can be expressive, intuitive and highly adaptable. In Hekla’s hands, her instrument covers an enormous range, from skittering birdsong of high frequency chirrups and chirps, to grinding, tectonic sub-bass. We are given the throbbing, apocalyptic dread of Muddle and the baroque beauty of traditional Icelandic hymn Heyr Himna Smi∂ur in sequential tracks on the album’s a-side. Appropriately, she also writes that the album title - A - is similarly multifaceted in her native Icelandic: “a river is an á and also it means ouch like when you hurt yourself, and also when you put something on top of something you put it á (on) something.”
The album was written and self-recorded by Hekla in her home studio in Berlin around her son’s daycare schedule. Icelandic super-musician Mr Silla (a part-time múm member) guests on a number of tracks. Tallinn-based engineer Jose Diogo Neves - a stalwart of Icelandic and Portuguese music - mixed and mastered A. James Vella formed Phantom Limb in June 2017 after eight years in A&R for FatCat Records. Mark Pearse (formerly head of contemporary music programming at the Royal Albert Hall) and Ken Li (formerly of Thrill Jockey, now of Nettwerk) joined the team shortly after.
(Due to a typo on the part of some record suppliers, you might also know Hekla as 'Helka'...)
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