From Iceland – Christmas beyond the stratosphere


Seven days before Christmas, Reykjavík musician Hekla Magnúsdóttir will team up with multimedia artist Lilja María Ásmundsdóttir to give a groundbreaking concert.

You may know Hekla as one of Iceland’s foremost practitioners of the theremin, the otherworldly sounding electronic instrument invented in the 1920s by a Russian physicist. And Lilja María can cite among her creative achievements the design and construction of a unique string instrument, the hulda, which produces both sound and light, and which she will play during the concert.

Hekla and Lilja María studied composition together at the Icelandic Academy of Arts, and they are organizing the concert in Hannesarholt to unveil their new joint creation, entitled “Lofthjúpur”. “It’s like the end of the world, where space begins, you know? Helka said, when asked for the meaning of the name, “kind of like where the oxygen stops.”

Lilja María with her hulda – photo by Pola Maria

Distorted sounds

In addition to her hulda, Lilja María will play the prepared piano; one where the tone of the strings has been deliberately distorted, for example by placing screws on them, or by weaving wooden dowels between them. “And the sounds that come out – those two unusual sounds that you don’t hear often – blend so well with the theremin,” says Helka. “It’s like a very airy atmosphere.”

“It’s like the edge of the world, where space begins and oxygen stops.”

The duo will also perform some theremin classics that were composed around a century ago. “This is one of the first written electronic music, like a 1929 Schillinger piece and a Wilkens piece called ‘Dance In The Moon’,” Hekla says, recalling a time when writing conventional music for the theremin. was a routine for many composers.

Quirky curiosity

Nowadays, at least compared to a century ago, the theremin is mainly considered as an original curiosity, tending to serve more experimental types of music. However, Hekla’s unconventional approach extends beyond her choice of instrument, and despite being a formally trained musician, she eschews standard musical notation for her theremin compositions. Instead, she devised a system of her own: a form of graphical scoring that made sense to her, but could also be learned by other players.

“When you’re playing, you’re kind of drawing in the air,” Hekla explains, referring to the fact that the player isn’t actually touching a theremin while playing it. “So I find that very useful while I mark doing an abstract sketch of what it’s going to look like. “

Looking at Hekla’s scoring, it’s easy to visualize the graceful movements of the player’s hand represented by the swoops and squiggles. And those swoops and scribbles look pretty good on the page, an undisputed bonus for their creator who sells colorful prints of the rating online. “A great Christmas present for a grandfather or an aunt who practices theremin!” Hekla notes on his Facebook page.

Hekla’s theremin notation – image by Hekla

Where space begins and oxygen stops

Hekla and Lilja María plan to record ‘Lofthjúpur’ at some point and release a sample of it on seven inch vinyl. To accompany this, they also plan to print the score of the composition, each musician using their own personal notation and include it on the disc.

So get on the sleigh to Lothjúpur; the curved edge of the atmosphere where Earth’s air gently merges with space. And have a Christmas at the theremin.

The concert takes place at Hannesarholt in Reykjavík on December 18th. Tickets are available on

Hekla – photo by Pola Maria


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