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Violinist and Composer Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir to Release New Album STRENGUR in August

Performer, composer, curator Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir is one of Iceland's leading figures within the early and contemporary music scene.

Violinist and Composer Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir to Release New Album STRENGUR in August

On Friday, August 26, 2022, violinist and composer Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir will release a new album, strengur, on Carrier Records. strengur is a set of five groups of three pieces, each created in deep collaboration with a long-term creative partner: Halla Lovísa Loftsdóttir, Davíð Brynjar Franzson, Lương Huệ Trinh, Kent Olofsson, and Mirjam Tally. For the project, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir asked each collaborator if they were willing to explore modulating the traditional roles of performer and composer, by performing and visualizing a performance of a score created by her gut strings - the very same technology they had to consider as they in parallel-composed a separate set of written solo works for her.

Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir explains, "I am sitting on an eroded concrete overlook. It is a sunny day. The air is nippy so the wind coming over the Öresund strait feels like gjóla (breeze, slight gust of wind). I have gathered stones and twigs and pinned down transparent sketching paper on top of the concrete. I pull out my old gut strings, they show me the wind direction and I tie one to a nearby railing, dip it in red ink and let go. The gjóla starts to play with the string, sending it across the paper. I sit on the cold ground and watch. Occasionally, I swap out a string or a piece of paper, or re-dip the string in the inkpot. As the gjóla continues, red shapes appear. Patterns from the surface under the tracing paper emerge, made by stones encapsulated in the coarse cement, bird droppings and the lichen that lives on it.

"When I invited each partner to participate in this project, they graciously accepted and so the journey began. As often with long creative processes, the project took unexpected twists and turns and so, what started off as a wish to collaborate differently, ended up as a deep and personal journey mediated by these longstanding creative relationships."

The first collaboration - stretching the term to its limits - is with Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir's great-grandmother, singer, poet, and farmer Halla Lovísa Loftsdóttir. After discovering a compilation of her great-grandmother's recordings in Ísmús, an Icelandic online music and culture archive, and diving deeper into her oeuvre, it sparked the wish to "meet her" through sound. Halla chose her performance of a part of an Icelandic oral hymn tradition - tunes that were passed on person to person, set to the 17th century Hymns of the Passion by Hallgrímur Pétursson - as a meeting place. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir explains, "At first, I improvised with her, but I felt like I could not 'meet' langamma (great-grandmother), partially because of the tuning system in which she was singing. I turned to Vietnamese đàn tranh player Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, a master of improvisation and different tuning systems to hear if she could help me find a way in. It took my friend, trained in traditional Vietnamese performance, to open the door to music making with langamma. On the basis of what Thủy heard and improvised, I embarked on a process that first led to a purely electronic piece which later developed into Hölluþula, a quadraphonic work for solo violin and live voice."

Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir and U.S.-based Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson have collaborated since 2018. Their work spans projects relating to wavefield synthesis technologies, telematic performance, and most recently, artificial intelligence. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir says, "violin fragments incorporates field recordings from my home town Malmö in Sweden and builds on artificial intelligence driven resonances that respond to my playing, placed in a relationship with sounds found in the field recordings. The work was developed through shared listenings and a myriad of virtual try-outs where the AI and I got acquainted. Later, real-life testing took place at the Inter Arts Center in Malmö as well as during a residency at the Titanik A.I.R. in Finland. The premiere took place at Dark Music Days, 2022 edition."

Halla Steinunn met the Vietnamese-born Lương Huệ Trinh in 2017, and later, together with đàn tranh player Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, formed the Vietnamese/Icelandic improvisation group ð. The letter is mutual to both languages, but audibly straddles two very different sonic worlds, a cultural difference the artists wanted to explore through music. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir says, "Trinh was at the time completing her master studies in multimedia composition from the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre and I was curious about this more formal side of her music making and commissioned a written work by her, set to include electronics, that later premiered at the Skálholt festival in Iceland. The result is a work which balances between written and improvisatory passages. It draws inspiration from an Icelandic folk song, with a vocal part that converges in some parts the Vietnamese phonemic with the Icelandic alphabet."

Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir says, "I have enjoyed numerous conversations through the years with Swedish-born Kent Olofsson on music's many spatial practices. In 2020, when I considered commissioning a violin solo to be performed within my installation Þytur, it felt like a good opportunity to turn our conversations into a hands-on collaboration. Þytur was originally created with and for the sand dunes of Formby in the U.K. as part of my site-respondent installation Spherical White with Diamond, commissioned by Curated Place for the NATUR project in collaboration with National Trust Formby. Kent's response to the work was a violin score, which consists of nine parts that combine graphic, textual and written notation. His approach invites the performer to navigate through space and react from varying listening positions within the sound installation. Violin with Þytur was premiered in Sweden as part of Inter Arts Center's programming for Malmö Museum Night in 2020."

Swedish-based, Estonian-born Mirjam Tally and Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir first collaborated in 2014 when Halla commissioned her to write a new work for the chamber ensemble, Nordic Affect. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir says, "I was immediately taken by Mirjam's sonic world and her way of writing where she asked me to explore the sonic resistances and possibilities of my instrument. I knew of her activity as an electronic improviser and her interest in field recordings and so, when I was formulating a project around 'material exchange' related to field recordings I immediately contacted Mirjam and commissioned a solo violin work.

This led to a process where we shared field recordings but also sent us into the studio where we deployed my method of using my field recording kit on the inside of the violin. The resulting archive became the foundation of the electronic part, which in return affected and shaped the writing of the solo score. The electronics were released by Mirjam on an album in 2017, which won the Swedish Manifest indie prize. The work is now released for the first time together with its solo part. The title, In the Bottomless Hollow of the Winter Sky, is a fragment from the writings of the Estonian poet Kriistina Ehin, whose work Mirjam and I both hold in high regard."

About Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir


Performer, composer, curator Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir is one of Iceland's leading figures within the early and contemporary music scene. She has been the artistic director of Nordic Affect since its inception in 2005. Halla Steinunn's work has been a tour de force when it comes to work with composers, visual artists, and producers. She is driven by an ecosystemic outlook on creation, set to further explore its world-making possibilities through music's many mediated relationships.

Halla Steinunn's playing is featured on albums on the Sono Luminus, Brilliant Classics, Bad Taste Records, Musmap, Tally and Carrier Records labels. They have received various accolades, including The Iceland Music Award and the Swedish Manifest Prize. The album Clockworking, which included her solo performances of music by Hildur Guðnadóttir and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, was featured in a row of best-of-the-year lists, including Night After Night, The Chicago Reader, and The New Yorker. She has appeared as a soloist, chamber musician and instrumental improviser at festivals such as SPOR festival (DK), Skaņu Mežs (LV), TRANSIT Festival (BE), Dark Music Days (IS), November Music (NL), KLANG (DK), Iceland Airwaves (IS), Estonian Music Days (EE) Ensems Festival (SP), North Atlantic Flux (UK), Imago Dei festival (AU) and GAS festival (SE). She has toured twice with Nordic Affect in the U.S., playing at venues such as National Sawdust and Spectrum in New York, Constellation in Chicago, the UC Berkeley Art Museum and within the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavík Festival.

Her compositional output has spanned everything from electro-acoustic compositions to sound and media installations. 2018 saw the release of her work He(a)r on Nordic Affect's album by the same title. The album was featured in various best-of- the-year lists, including The Boston Globe, I Care if You Listen, Morgunblaðið and Second Inversion. Recent projects have included Spherical White with Diamond, a site-respondent installation created for Curated Place and NATUR (UK) in collaboration with National Trust Formby (UK), and Fjärilarna steg upp (The butterflies ascended) an installation of 8 mono channels created for The Botanical Garden in Lund (SE). Among upcoming projects is a Canadian commission created in collaboration with composer Rebecca Bruton for SPHERE: The NAC Orchestra's Festival for Ecological Attunement, curated by Angela Rawlings.

With degrees from The Royal Danish Academy of Music and Indiana University School of Music Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir now holds a PhD position in artistic research at Lund University, Sweden. Halla plays a David Hopf violin from around 1780 in a baroque setup by Matthieu Besseling. Learn more at www.hallasteinunn.com.

strengur Tracklist


1. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - Hölluþula for solo violin, voice, and electronics [5:22]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Halla Lovísa Loftsdóttir*, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy
2. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - strengur for for scordatura violin, aeolian violin, gut string, and drum [8:50]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
3. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - hvinskyn for electronics [8:07]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Halla Lovísa Loftsdóttir, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, Árný Inga Pálsdóttir
Artificial intelligence production by Davíð Brynjar Franzson.
4. Davíð Brynjar Franzson - violin fragments for violin, 20 artificial intelligence voices, and live electronics [14:52]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
5. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - strengur for live electronics [5:46]
Davíð Brynjar Franzson
6. Davíð Brynjar Franzson - strengur, fragments for live electronics [5:24]
Davíð Brynjar Franzson
7. Lương Huệ Trinh - Departure of a Leaf for solo violin, voice and electronics [7:56]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
8. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - strengur for live electronics [8:30]
Lương Huệ Trinh
9. Lương Huệ Trinh - Thinh không (Ether) for live electronics [9:56]
Lương Huệ Trinh
10. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir/Kent Olofsson - Violin with Þytur for solo violin and electronics [20:12]
Maja Jantar (voice), Angela Rawlings (voice), Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir (violin, voice)
11. Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir - strengur for live electronics [7:43]
Kent Olofsson
12. Kent Olofsson - strengur Zona for electronics [11:08]
Kent Olofsson
13. Mirjam Tally - In the Bottomless Hollow of the Winter Sky for solo violin and electronics [10:07]
Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
14. Mirjam Tally - strengur for electronics [8:53]
Mirjam Tally, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
15. Mirjam Tally - Frost [7:58]
Mirjam Tally, Matilda Andersson, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Anna Petrini

Total Time: 2:20:45

Solo part of works 1, 2, 4, 7, 10, 13 recorded at Inter Arts Center Studios, Sweden
Final mix and mastering by Valgeir Sigurðsson at Greenhouse Studios.
Photos: Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir
Graphic Design: Guðlaug Friðgeirsdóttir

*Halla Lovísa Loftsdóttir's singing was recorded in 1969 in Reykjavík by Hallfreður Örn Eiríksson. Used with permission from The Árni Magnússon Institute.




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