Sounds of Iceland – field recordings by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir


Sounds of Iceland – field recordings by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir
Gruen 157 | Audio CD > [order]


This recording takes you on a round trip of Iceland. The aural journey starts westward from the island’s south in the cold early spring. After a side trip into the West Fjords, our route traverses the north of the country at the height of summer, followed by an excursion into the interior highlands before a short stop in the East Fjords. As the sound trip nears its geographical starting point, autumn and winter make their appearance before the journey comes full circle.


The recordings do not feature human-derived sounds.


1. South

0.00 – 1.45 Strokkur geyser, Haukadalur
1.46 – 3.15 Hot springs, Haukadalur
3.16 – 7.04 Grímsnes lava field
7.05 – 8.11 Hot spring in Reykjadalur valley in Hengill geothermal area


2. South West

0.00 – 2.55 Urriðakotshellir cave, Heiðmörk Nature Reserve
2.56 – 3.47 Gjáarétt, outside Urriðakotshellir cave, Heiðmörk Nature Reserve
3.48 – 5.19 Stream near Lake Elliðavatn, Reykjavík
5.20 – 6.28 Eiðsvík cove near Geldinganes causeway island, Reykjavík


3. West

0.00 – 1.52 Hraunfossar waterfalls and River Hvítá
1.53 – 2.24 Deildartunguhver hot spring
2.25 – 4.49 Húsafell area
4.55 – 7.59 Surtshellir cave


4. Westfjords

0.00 – 3.38 Barðaströnd coast
3.41 – 5.19 Látrabjarg bird cliff
5.20 – 7.31 Near Galtarviti lighthouse


5. North

0.00 – 1.50 Goðafoss waterfall
1.51 – 2.52 Lake Mývatn
2.53 – 4.50 Hot springs in Námaskarð geothermal field
4.51 – 5.56 Dettifoss waterfall


6. Highland Plateau

0.00 – 1.53 Near Mt Laugarfell


7. From East to South

0.00 – 1.03 Klifbrekkufossar waterfalls, Mjóifjörður fjord
1.04 – 2.30 Sólheimajökull glacier
2.31 – 3.03 Gullfoss waterfall
3.04 – 4.11 Strokkur geyser, Haukadalur valley


7 Tracks (41′59″)
CD (1000 copies)




Recorded by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir / 2009–2013.
Produced and mixed by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir at Elektronmusikstudion, Stockholm / 2014.
Post-production and mastering by Sigurdór Guðmundsson, Skonrokk Studios.
Design by Sebastian Ristow, FLATLAB
Photos by Guðmundur Harðarson


Special thanks to Páll Hermannsson, Dagný Bjarnadóttir, Guðmundur Harðarson, María Ingimarsdóttir, Gabrielle Karlsén Beretta and the staff at EMS Stockholm.


With the kind support of Elektronmusikstudion Stockholm, Kulturkontakt Nord and Kraumur Music Fund.


Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2015 / Gruen 157 / LC 09488 / GEMA / EAN 4050486931226





Ed Pinsent | The Sound Projector
Round Trip – A sumptuous field recordings set is Sounds Of Iceland Íslandshljóð (GRUENREKORDER Gruen 157) presented by Hafdis Bjarnadóttir, composer and native of Reykjavík. It’s intended to take the listener on a physical journey which complete a round-trip from the South by way of the West Fjords and the Highland Plateau, and the proud boast is that there’s not a single “human-derived” sound anywhere on the entire album – just water, air, birdsong, geysers, lakes, waterfalls, caves, and other examples of nature’s watery bounty. Needless to say it’s more than a sound trip, and the record is illustrated with gorgeous full-colour photos by Dagný Bjarnadóttir, Guðmundur Harðarson, and Nick Martin. A beautiful, peaceful listen to the sound of a still-unspoiled region of our planet. From 8th April 2015.


Gonçalo Meller Cohen | Ponto Alternativo
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir – This Is The Real Sound Of Iceland
Living in this hostile land of northern Scotland, I’m closer to Iceland than most. A two-hour flight from Glasgow to Reykjavik, provided by the always sympathetic and easy-on-your-wallet Icelandic Air, is all that it takes to get me there to imbibe a tasteful pint of Einstök. From all the cities and nations that I’ve visited, Iceland is probably the one and only where I get this peculiar feeling of humans actually knowing their place. The inhospitable, glacial landscapes keep people humble, an inverted island mentality, as if all Icelanders have the awareness of Nature’s impending doldrum days. Man, it is absolutely different even from Aberdeen, where everyone is more focused on enjoying to loathe everything they see, complaining about their life’s miserableness at the pub’s stool; instead of thinking, you know, «fuck, look at the map on where we live, all that it takes is a sea’s bad day for us to be completely wiped out… shit, let’s stop complaining about Cameron a bit».


Thus, Iceland is this silent combination of ongoing peace and imminent disaster. Nature is everywhere, echoing, vocalizing at you. All your senses start to bloom like never before, as most towns where people congregate in this post-industrial era tend to clog them with exhaust fumes, mechanical bleating and ambulance sirens going bollocks. Not in Iceland. Your self-awareness flourishes as the day moves on and then there is this egotistical side of your brain which starts blabbing in you ear «I think I might belong here». But that’s just the envy for the locals, right. Even the Icelandic language, cryptic and much influenced by the Old Norse, sounds like it is coming directly from tree branches and basaltic soils.


All of this to say that I’m deeply glad to have found about Hafdís Bjarnadóttir, a Reykjavik-based composer who has released this year “Sounds Of Iceland”, a beautiful field recordings album. It has no people-derived sounds, as if you’re listening to a pre-human age. Solely lava fields, waterfalls, birds, lakes, the sea and, of course, the iconic geysers. I’m in love with this right now and I might, if there’s still time, to throw it in my best-of-the-year list. It is a captivating effort and I guess that I’ll keep following Gruenrekorder to see if there’s more incoming, seems like a quite interesting label.


Ingo J. Biermann | NORDISCHE MUSIK
Auch wenn Hafdís Bjarnadóttir zuerst Musikerin ist, —die Isländerin machte sich als Jazzgitarristin einen Namen, bevor sie jüngst auch als Komponistin in Erscheinung trat— als »Nordische Musik« ist ihre CD »ÍSLANDSHLJÓЫ nur mit einem sehr offenen Ausdeutung des Begriffs »Musik« zu bezeichnen. Da landet man sofort bei Pierre Schaeffer bzw. der »Musique concrète«, und Kategorien wie »Songqualität« und »Interpretation« sind hier total inadäquat. Soweit die 42 Minuten lange Kompilation aus Field Recordings isländischer Natur, die Hafdís zwischen 2009 und 2013 an verschiedenen Orten der Insel aufgezeichnet hat, zu beurteilen sind, wurde nicht verfremdet oder verändert, allenfalls wurden einzelne Tonaufnahmen von zumeist einer bis maximal vier Minuten Länge zu sieben »Suiten« montiert.


So zeichnet »ÍSLANDSHLJÓÐ | Sounds of Iceland« eine akustische Rundreise durch sieben verschiedene Regionen Islands. Dabei ist wesentlich, dass es sich ausschließlich um natürliche Klänge handelt, fernab menschlicher Zivilisation. »Highland Plateau« ist das einzige Stück, das aus nur einem Tonfragment besteht, nahe dem (aktiven) Vulkan Laugarfjall. Man hört recht nah am Mikrofon einen einsamen Vogel rufen, etwas Raunen des Windes (evtl. ist es auch ein Geysir), dann antwortet ein zweiter Vogel in der Ferne, dann womöglich ein dritter, der Wind rauscht… und schon ist das Stück nach kaum zwei Minuten schon wieder zu Ende.


Nicht alle Aufnahmen erzählen solche Geschichten; häufig ist das Plätschern von Gletscherwasser oder das Donnern von Wasserfällen zu hören, verschiedene Geysire, heiße Quellen… und immer wieder auch Vögel, die interessantesten Mitwirkenden dieser Natur-Tour. Schade nur, dass diese interessanten Vögel nicht weiter erläutert oder mit Fotografien in dem ansonsten sehr eindruckvollen Beiheft vorgestellt werden; so erfährt man leider nicht wirklich viel. Auch hätten die Ausschnitte fast durchweg sehr gerne länger sein können. Bei einem solchen offen unkommerziellen »Liebhaber-Produkt« hätten die 24 Fragmente locker auf 70 oder 75 Minuten ausgedehnt sein dürfen.


Hal Harmon | Musique Machine
Gruenrekorder imprint presents Sounds of Iceland, field recordings by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir. For those unfamiliar, Gruenrekorder is a label that specializes in found sounds, audio documentaries, and field recordings. I’ve grown quite fond of this label’s output, but this beautifully presented CD may be their finest offering yet. On this latest album, we are taken on a journey to Iceland. Rather than observe the bustling hub that is ‎Reykjavík, we are treated to natural sites that Iceland has to offer.


It’s a little known fact, that at the top of my bucket list for places to travel resides Iceland. I don’t know if it’s the puffins, the milky blue lagoons, or Bjork, but I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland. So it was with great interest that I listened to Hafdís Bjarnadóttir’s Sounds of Iceland. Over the course of nearly 42 minutes, Bjarnadóttir manages to capture the majestic beauty of Iceland’s many natural offerings. The disc is divided into 7 tracks, each piece covering a particular region in Iceland: South, South West, West, Westfjords, North, Highland Plateau, and From East to South. This is pure audio documentary, expertly captured in pristine clarity. Sit back, relax and hear the sounds of waterfalls, caves, bubbling hot springs, the spray of the North Atlantic crashing the Icelandic coasts, chirping birds (puffins perhaps?), geysers, and many of Iceland’s other natural attractions. The album’s focus and simplicity are what makes the sounds presented so endearing. And it should be noted that Bjarnadóttir added no human-derived sounds to this recording. What you hear is what you get. However, I’m sure she had to edit down many, many hours of material to present to us the best sounds he found on his journey.


If the Iceland’s Board of Tourism was smart, they would do well to hire Ms. Bjarnadóttir as their documentarian, to promote the the natural splendor of the country. There are certainly no tricks or surprises to be found here, just the simple sounds of nature in a place far removed from my own. An exceptional release through and through. Perhaps one of my favorites from the Gruenrekorder imprint. If you are a fan of straight forward field recordings, you would do well to add this to your collection.


Pierre Cécile | Le son du grisli
C’est peu dire que la nature est inhospitalière (sûrement autant qu’étonnante) en Islande. Et c’est ce dont rend compte, avec une approche au micro qui m’a laissé rêveur, ces « sounds » captés par Hafdís Bjarnadóttir. Le patronyme de l’homme au micro nous fait penser qu’il est des lieux et qu’il connaît donc plus que bien son sujet. En plus de faire le tour de son île, il a tenu à enregistrer en toutes saisons.


Sur le CD, c’est donc de l’eau qui bout sur un feu jamais éteint, du vent qui vous gèle même si vous vous trouvez à des centaines de kilomètres d’où il est passé, des fjords qui fondent ou qui vous fondent dessus, des avalanches de rafales ou des chutes d’oiseaux (certains cris sont étonnants !). Pour accompagner tout ça, on trouve dans le digipack un petit recueil de photos (une quinzaine). Bref, de quoi faire un beau voyage.


Tobias Fischer | Beat
Wenn der Traum eines Island-Urlaubs am Budget scheitert, verspricht dieser 40-minütige Field-Recording-Trip Abhilfe. Wie ein Fremdenführer klappert Bjarnadóttir die Insel ab, von den aufbrausenden Geysiren im Süden und mysteriösen Höhlen im Westen zu friedvollen Landschafts-Stimmungen im Norden und den Wasserfällen des Ostens. Der Schwerpunkt liegt auf aquatischen Aufnahmen. Elektrisches Surren, aufbrausende Fontänen, delikate Clicks und Cuts und wunderlicher White-Noise – letztendlich verstärkt der klangliche Reichtum den Traum vom Island-Urlaub nur noch.
link / Beat / September 2015


Brian Olewnick | Just outside
More a documentary project than an „art“ affair, I suppose, and an extremely handsomely produced one, both visually and sonically. Each of the seven tracks, save one (which is less than two minutes long) is comprised of three or four sections recorded at different locations; we move smoothly from one to another. This could occasion a slide-show quality but the choices made by Bjarnadóttir impart a subtle sense of connectivity, so that the side by side aspect feels „right“ somehow. We travel from the delicate bubbling of hot springs to soft cave drippings, from waterfalls to bird-intensive cliff sides, from windswept plateaus to geysers. Impossible to say much more about it than that. If you’re into lovingly assembled recordings from exotic (to most) places in the natural world , tis one is right up your alley. Really fine job.


Reykjavík resident Hafdís Bjarnadóttir takes the listener on a forty-two-minute round trip of Iceland on this latest installment in Gruenrekorder’s Field Recording Series. It’s about as pure a representation of the label’s series project as could be imagined, given that the recordings, which Bjarnadóttir gathered between 2009 and 2013, feature nature sounds exclusively. That said, the fact that Sounds of Iceland excludes human-derived sounds comes as a little bit of a surprise, given Bjarnadóttir’s beginnings. After picking up the electric guitar at the age of twelve, she started playing in bands and exploring rock, folk, and jazz styles. Over time, however, her attention gravitated to composition, a move that eventually saw her earn a Master’s degree in 2009 from the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Her interests aren’t limited to field recordings, by the way, as evidenced by a CV that includes idiosyncratic creations such as an orchestral work based on knitting instructions and an ensemble piece based on financial graphs and charts related to Iceland’s 2008 banking crisis.


The album’s Iceland journey begins in the southern part of the island in the early spring before moving westward and continuing in a clockwise direction. Interestingly, spatial movements are matched to seasonal change as the return to the geographical starting point coincides with winter’s retreat. In some respects, the content of Bjarnadóttir’s recording is consistent with what one might expect of a field recordings-based portrait of Iceland: subdued sections dotted with bird chatter, wind, and the murmur of the Atlantic Ocean and the Greenland and Norwegian Seas punctuated by occasional eruptions of geysers and hot springs. But the trip also includes cave explorations, waterfalls, and visits to nature reserves, the Látrabjarg bird cliff, and Galtarviti lighthouse, with all of it woven together into a constantly stimulating travelogue.


Two things about the recording stand out above all else: first of all, even though Sounds of Iceland is marked by dramatic contrasts in dynamics, sounds spanning the full range of the spectrum are present; secondly, while geysers and hot springs form a key part of the content, a rich variety of other sounds appears, too, and one comes away from the recording humbly reminded of how much activity is present in even the most depopulated geographical region. Finally, helpful track-by-track details allow the listener to follow the movements on a map as the recording unfolds, and the smartly packaged release is enhanced by the inclusion of a twelve-page booklet whose colour photography of the Icelandic landscape brings the project to life all by itself.


Richard Allen | a closer listen
“These recordings do not contain human-derived sounds,” writes Hafdís Bjarnadóttir in her introduction to the evocative Sounds of Iceland. This is a difficult achievement in field recording, although with 90% of Iceland residents living in or near Reykjavik, it likely grew easier as the artist left the capital. A few birds are present, although no Icelandic horses; the focus is on water in all of its guises, save for rain.


The set travels the country clockwise and seasonally, proceeding from spring to winter, when Ring Road can be impossible to traverse. The format is enticing, in that it invites others to trace its path. As those who live in Iceland or have visited the nation know, one can’t simply drive in a circle around the country; one must make detours, especially if one wishes to experience the Western Fjords; Bjarnadóttir takes this detour, and I have as well. In fact, I’m more than a little bit jealous, as this is the journey I have vowed to someday take. On my last visit, I covered the Iceland Airwaves festival, but didn’t leave enough time on each side of the festival for more than day trips. I stopped just short of Jökulsárlón (which is not included here), barely missed the Galtarviti lighthouse, where múm recorded Summer Make Good, and saw the waterfalls at Gullfoss and Skógafoss, but not at Dettifoss and Goðafoss. My boots got soaked at Vík, but I never got close to Lake Mývatn. Bjarnadóttir hits the areas I missed, and many more. Listening to this collection, I am reminded of the natural sonic treasures of Iceland, as well as the (mostly) unmarred visual beauty. One can drive up to a glacier in a blizzard (I am not a smart traveler), and no signs or stations will block one’s path.


Bjarnadóttir is a wonderful tour guide. As a guitarist and composer, she already has a number of releases and awards under her belt. Her diverse background in both sound installation and ensemble composition has given her a keen ear for arrangement, which makes Sounds of Iceland sound much more like a composition than a simple collection of recordings. Each section involves a smooth overlap of sources. She begins big, with geysers and hot springs, capturing the listener’s attention before introducing more subtle sounds, such as the birds at the Grímsnes lava field. The waterfalls will come later; she knows that these will provide the “payoff” noises, like the crescendoes of a classical concert. We never hear footsteps, or inhalation. She is fully present in the set, yet seems fully absent or erased.


Bjarnadóttir is also fully aware of attention spans, and by mixing 24 snippets of sound into the seven segments of her 42-minute set, she keeps the tour moving at a quick clip. In person, one can spend hours in the caves and coves; Bjarnadóttir gives us minutes. There is always something exciting around the next bend. A pristine recording of a local stream provides a teaser: bigger things are on their way. The first waterfall is heard in the third segment, and the sound is enormous. Unlike other field works, this one is meant to be played loudly. By the time the artist reaches Dettifoss and Goðafoss, the sound is deafening: a cacophony that humbles by virtue of volume.


Special notice goes to the packaging. Sebastian Ristow gives Sounds of Iceland the sharp color and beauty it deserves, bringing the recording scenes to life for the home listener. While there’s nothing like being there, this is the sort of recording that might entice a listener to purchase a plane ticket; it’s certainly tempting me to return to Iceland sooner than I had planned. With so much sonic treasure located throughout the island, one hopes for a follow-up, and soon.


Guillermo Escudero | Loop
‚Sounds of Iceland‘ is a new release of German Gruenrekorder label that belongs to the ‘Field Recordings’ series and now features the work of Icelandic sound artist Hafdís Bjarnadóttir who lives and works in Reykjavík.
‚Sounds of Iceland‘ includes field recordings made on a trip around Iceland which begins west of the island in early spring and continues for the West Fjords, route through northern Iceland and at this point of the trip it was summer time. Then follows the journey through the interior highlands, before making a brief stop by the East Fjords. When the tour reached its point of origin, came fall and winter.
The sound of the strength of the waves, the singing of birds, and waterfalls are a good source that transmits and conjure-up the rich geography and nature of Iceland.


Łukasz Komła |
Wsłuchajcie się w islandzkie cztery pory roku.
Hafdís Bjarnadóttir pochodzi z Reykjaviku, jest wykształconą muzycznie artystką, gdyż ukończyła studia na Wydziale Jazzu (gitara), ma licencjat ze współczesnej kompozycji, a w 2009 roku zdobyła tytuł magistra na Duńskiej Królewskiej Akademii Muzycznej w Kopenhadze. Zainteresowania Bjarnadóttir są bardzo szerokie i nie zamyka się na nowe estetyki, raczej swobodnie porusza się między różnymi gatunkami. Jej drugi solowy album „JÆJA” (posłuchaj) był nominowany do Iceland Music Awards, z kolei na płycie „Sounds of Iceland” pokazała, że jest kreatywną twórczynią nagrań terenowych.


Zaczynamy podróż wczesną wiosną od południowej części wyspy („South”), gdzie mamy okazję usłyszeć jak brzmią gorące źródła Haukadalur i w dolinie Reykjadalur oraz gejzer Strokkur, następnie udajemy się w południowo-zachodnie rejony („South West”). Tam artystka odwiedziła jaskinię Urriðakotshellir, Rezerwat Przyrody Heiðmörk oraz dostrzegła walory dźwiękowe strumienia w pobliżu jeziora Elliðavatn. Na zachodzie („West”) wzmożony szum wodospadu Hraunfossar na rzece Hvítá z czasem milknie i przechodzi w delikatny śpiew ptaków, który przybiera na sile w następnym fragmencie („Westfjords”). Islandzkie fiordy to bez wątpienia prawdziwy raj dla ornitologów.


Letnią porą Bjarnadóttir zabiera nas bliżej ciepłych źródeł i wodospadów, lecz tym razem na północy kraju („North”). Przez krótką chwilę wsłuchujemy się w dźwięki przyrody tuż obok hostelu Laugarfell („Highland Plateau”) położonego we wschodniej części Islandii. W niektóre miejsca (np. gejzer Strokkur) powracamy, ale już bardziej jesienno-zimową porą, z drugiej strony wędrujemy też w nieznane zakątki wyspy, takie jak okolice lodowca ólheimajökull.


Materiał z „Sounds of Iceland” daje dobre wyobrażenie o sile i różnorodności przyrody, jaką skrywa w sobie ta niewielka wyspa, a także zrywa pokaźną warstwę lukru na jej temat, która mam wrażenia w ostatnich dekadach niefortunnie urosła do pokaźnych rozmiarów, dając błędny obraz tego niezwykłego miejsca na ziemi.


Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
For some reason I always believed that Iceland had some particular noisy nature, with those geysers exploding high up. Not that I heard (or saw) any of that during my ultra brief stay there. This release of these pure field recordings from Iceland proofed me indeed wrong. One Hafdis Bjarnadottir made these recordings and she takes us on a trip around the Island. Each of the seven segments is divided in more than one piece and the journey starts down south on Iceland, going westward and then north. There is no human intervention in these pieces and while each section contains multiple pieces, they still sound like a small composition of nature sounds, and not a solid piece of field recording. Recordings of water dripping in caves, stream, geysers, wind, hot springs, birds, waterfalls and all such like makes this one excellent trip. And a trip that is indeed not as noisy as I expected, but sometimes it does; the crackling of ice, the geysers high up in the air and close by taped waterfalls, but it’s all put together in quite a clever way, like acousmatic compositions, creating delicate balances and a great narration between these loud and softer sounds. Great release.


Beach Sloth
Sounds of Iceland have love for its surroundings. Capturing the exquisite beauty of the oftentimes straggly landscape, the pieces are edited ever so slightly to give the impression of a quiet meditative journey. Volume shifts from the sounds of cute animals to silence to the thrashing waves are displayed as affectionately as possible. By letting the pieces speak for themselves Hafdís Bjarnadóttir is able to show a sense of belonging over the course of the album. Pieces are divided according to region and this gives off the sense of geography that informs the entire endeavor.


Bird chirps introduce the opener “South”. From there she lets the decay of the waves’ crash inform the rest of the early sounds. The sounds of bubbling are rather playful and she spends a good amount of time letting them settle into the overall mix. Coming full circle she reintroduces the birds and eventually an ominous drone from the distance. On “South West” the water drips and forms a good section of the piece as her concentration on the sound is stellar. Volume defines the loud “West” whose first half is pure intensity. Eventually this melts away to reveal delicate fractals of sound. “Westfjord” is the heart of the collection and by far the highlight. Incredibly dense it covers a vast amount of lovely creatures. “North” and “Highland Plateau” take a more minimal approach, letting the small sounds receive a great deal of attention. Bringing the album to a satisfying conclusion is the cyclical work of “From East to South”.


This is an album that displays an deft ear for both the large and small sounds of the world.