Just as tourism has exploded here, Icelandic musicians have taken the world by storm. From quirky pop and post-rock ambient to renowned contemporary neo-classical, this small island nation is the 'it' spot for music of all kinds. And its growing herd of avant-garde musicians is bridging genres in powerful and exciting ways. So why are Icelanders so musically prolific and successful?
There are a number of answers to that questions, says Icelandic composer Kjartan Holm. The essence, he says, lays somewhere in between being surrounded by stunning nature and feeling the freedom to make any and all kinds of music.
Together with his colleagues Paul Corley, Daníel Bjarnason and Georg Hólm (his brother), who are known for their work with the legendary band Sigur Rós, Holm composed, recorded and produced the soundtrack for FlyOver Iceland. Both together and independently, the four are renowned for their ethereal music which has taken many forms over the years, ranging from giantly-successful electro-pop crossovers that took them on tours of stadiums around the globe to feature film and television soundtracks.
They're part of a generation of Icelandic musicians that's spread their influence around the world. And they've brought their talent and creative energy to FlyOver Iceland.
The FlyOver Iceland creative team knew from the get-go that it'd be important to work with Icelandic talent to compose the score accompanying the visually-stunning images on the four-floor screen. As part of a creative intent to be true-to-place, it's an essential part of a truly authentic and emotional experience.
Discussing the process from the group's studio at the far end of Reykjavík's Grandi neighbourhood, steps from the rugged coast of the North Atlantic and surrounded by start-ups, design firms and fish-packing plants, Holm describes the process of composing and producing the score for FlyOver Iceland as both "highly detailed" and "really, really fun".
"We've all been involved in scoring before—things like movies, TV shows, operas, dance performances and symphonies," Holm says "But this is the first time we've done something like this together."
The task was to create a nine-minute piece of music to accompany the dazzling series of jaw-dropping film footage showcasing the remote beauty of Iceland. They were immensely impressed by the footage, he says. After brainstorming, they began to compose the music, combining all their musical ideas and fitting them to the picture.
Then, they brought in instrumentalists including a string quartet and vocalist Sigríður Thorlacius. Holm says they also played many instruments like guitar and percussion themselves, right here in the studio.
"All the music was composed and recorded right here in Iceland," he says.
Collaborating with FlyOver Iceland's Creative Director Rick Rothschild and Director Dave Mossop, the score was then mixed and prepared for the attraction in stereo 23.1, where it will be played on a complex system that involves 23 channels and one sub-channel. The mastering will place certain sound parts of the score in certain parts of the FlyOver theatre as well as make the overall score feel omnipresent for every listener instead of coming from the front like it would sound when listening to a band or in a recording studio.
In other words, it's a highly-technical sound system, an audio experience as much as it is a visual one.
The field of successful contemporary musicians in Iceland is remarkable, given the country has a population of just under 340,000. It produces more world-class musicians than any other country in the world, on a per capita basis. Records by Icelanders top the charts in diverse genres from classical to punk and everything in between.
Of course, long, dark and cold winters make for ripe creative flourishes. Add to that a strong education system, a plethora of music festivals and a passion for creative arts and you've got a wealth of musical talent here—just as in the literary arts. No matter the genre, the underlying impetus is to try new things creatively and resist any kind of pigeon-holes. As Holm explains, "I've never felt that any kind of music isn't allowed here. You can just do your stuff, do your thing."
That sense of freedom is palpable for people who experience FlyOver Iceland. Like the influence of the storms brewing on the North Atlantic, the rumbling of tectonic plates, the calving of glaciers, it's an intense and authentic part of Iceland's story.
When asked to describe the Icelandic sound, Holm says it is "mystical, majestic in a way, mysterious, soaring. Some people would probably say 'weird or obscure' and I can agree with that in a way—it's hard to pin point just one typical sound to a whole spectrum of music coming from the same island."
Regardless of how you describe it, the sound of Iceland is as big as the island is small. And no where will it sound bigger than at FlyOver Iceland, where it'll be paired with some of the most most stunning film footage ever seen of Iceland.
How's that for creative freedom?
"All the music was composed and recorded right here in Iceland," Kjartan Holm says.