Monday, May 30, 2011

Uht Oh

We've heard the phrase Uh-oh, as in, uh-oh, I slept through my final exam! And we've even heard Ruh-Roh, as popularized by Scooby Doo. When K and N and I were traveling around Iceland, we decided that a more formal way to 'uh-oh' is to overemphasize the end of the first syllable by adding a previously unheard 'T'. It's very distinguished now. Proper for even British royalty, or perhaps BBC detective series. Here is an example of its new use.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Competitive Yachting

In this crazy over-botoxed blingety-bling world, there's no sport that doesn't have its ultra-elite crowd. Golfing can be for the common man, and can also be the most upper-class event you can imagine. Hockey games have regular old seats and then the fancy owners and corporate people have their champagne box seats. Yachting was made for the elite. Here in Iceland thankfully it's too cold for bronzed beauties to be sunning themselves on their boats (instead they just get drunk on Fridays and Saturdays and go to the clubs wearing next to nothing while meanwhile it's snowing out), but I can imagine the boats themselves being really snobby. Kind of like a miss america pageant for the sea-worthy.

(click on the image for more bejeweled yacht admiring.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Harpa Harp

I had the very lucky pleasure of playing a real orchestral harp again, it's probably been over two years since I've had the chance! Gosh you guys, I love the harp. Hearing the sound from your own person playing it totally makes your whole body vibrate. It's not just pretty, it can also be kind of badass. It takes super strong fingers to play well, and it's no joke that it's been called the most difficult instrument to play (Along with the french horn, I think they about tie).

The principal harpist let me play through a few ideas on her harp, as I'm working on sketches for a harp and percussion piece for her and her colleague to play. And I got to play the harp in the almost perfectly soundproof practice rooms in Harpa, no less! Harpa harp. Here's a little clip of me noodling, just for grins. I liked this pedal combination a lot.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar)

I took a trip last week and took my chances in getting to a ferry that would shuttle me and two visiting friends to the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland. We arrived just in the nick of time. It was totally worth it, and completely breathtaking!

A short ferry ride brings you from the south coast of Iceland to the big island of Heimaey, in the chain of the Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar. I say a short ride, but that's if the weather is good, if there's not too much silt in the bay from shifting sands, and if the ferry is leaving from Herjolfur. Otherwise it could take you 2.5 hours. Luckily it was one of the most beautiful days I've seen in the whole time I've been here. Less than a half hour later we arrived in our seemingly exotic location. My friends and I both exclaiming how tropical the cliffs looked. But there are also sheep grazing on the tops of those precarious peaks!

The view from our room at the guesthouse had a mountain top on one side and two volcano cones on the other. Wild.

We took a walk around town, which has a sizeable 4000 people on it, including shops, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, everything a city needs. It would probably be more inhabitants were it not for the remote-ness of the place, previous volcano that pushed a lot of people away, and the relative closeness to Reykjavík, where all the kids are likely to escape. We saw the most stunning location for a soccer field ever- how distracting to play here with such landscape in the background! Not that I could ever EVER attempt sports, but if I did, I would blame all my bad plays on the scenery.

We then hiked up the main volcano! It was one of the strangest experiences I've had. The 'path' was little more than a slightly flattened area of lava stones. I think the volcano had cooled since a few years ago (when you could still feel the heat radiating) but I didn't want to go all the way to the tip for some unrealistic fear that the soil might be thin and I fall down into a magma-filled portal to hell (obviously). And there was high wind and blowing dust. That's a better excuse. It looked like Mars up there!

Luckily the last eruption was in 1979...though it was quite dramatic. The island gained about 25% more landmass from the volcano, and created a tranquil bay for boats, and fortunately everyone was evacuated safely and not a single loss of life. It's still very easy to see the new volcanic area versus the old farmland areas.

But even in the most inhospitable-looking locations, sometimes there's a little life.

And, after the hike down the volcano, and several glasses of water later (all the volcanic dust makes one thirsty!), it was time to cue the beautiful sunset.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer arrives in Reykjavík

After much anticipation, it seems that summer has finally arrived in Iceland! It's a shame that it was so dreary when my friends were recently visiting- it even snowed on the first of May. But I suppose that's the chances you take with weather! And this lucky streak of warmth and sunshine may be fleeting, but I'm still going to run outside and play in it. Everyone else has the same idea!

The atmosphere in the city totally changed. It feels like a different country. Tables and chairs were pulled out from storage and now the streets are lined with coffee-drinkers and diners.

The trees have the first tiny leaves popping out, and the grass is getting very green again too! Though it will still be some time before the countryside and colder areas of the country see the green.

And Esja looks incredibly clear and bright without fog or rain getting in the way.

The light here is now really intense and direct, and long-lasting. I have to use both sets of my blinds to sleep, as it gets quite bright really early in the morning. Though it's not quite the 24-hour brightness yet, which should arrive in a few weeks, it was still quite pretty and sunset-like last night after 11pm!

Several people i know got sunburned from being outside lounging too long- something I thought would never happen in this nordic country. But that sun is a sneaky guy. Welcome back, vitamin D, good to have you in my life again! Just don't get too hot, Iceland, 'cause I sure didn't come here to get all sweaty.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Music projects, a list

Sometimes it seems like I don't do a lot of 'work'. I spend a lot of time here thinking, or reading, or chatting with people, or listening to concerts. But then I look back on the last 9 months and realize that I've done quite a lot of things! Here is a list of random projects I've been working on, because I love lists. And it doesn't even count the random sweater I'm trying to make, the collages I've cut and pasted together, and the fish-skin creations that I've constructed for sale at Mattress Factory. It really does help me put my Fulbright time into perspective; I don't know how much I'd be able to accomplish, or learn about, should I have had a full-time additional job.

11 potential songs/works for a new album
2 electronic landscape sound collages
3 choir works, 1 recorded already, 1 to be recorded and sung in Grindavík in June
1 piano solo
1 organ solo
performance of outdoor choral work with 6 singers, soundtracks, and performance artist collaboration
5 short concerts of my works
1 piece on music festival program
1 piece performed at an artist's salon evening
1 piano lounge gig
4 choir concerts at Neskirkja
singing at several masses and confirmations
3 performances of Beethoven 9 in choir for opening of Harpa
1 organ assistant gig

And still there are two months to go! I have some more recordings to finish, a CD to create (should all go well), and I'm always writing something, so I'm sure I'll be plenty busy for the summer as well, meeting random people and stockpiling fun experiences. But I'm also leaving some time in there to catch up on some sun-soaking. Gotta stock up before next winter!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jökulsárlón in Sunshine

I had seen the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón twice before, but both times were either cold, windy, rainy, foggy or a pick-2-or-more combo platter of bad weather. But this time it was miraculously springtime warm, sunny, windless, and the clouds were amazing! I saw things around the lagoon I'd never seen before. Hello, mountains! Why I never even knew you were there. So nice to see your glacial features in such beautiful dreamy light!

Even more strange is that I was the only car seeing this sight tonight- during the day the parking lot can be lined with buses and vans, but somehow nobody was visiting at this time of the evening. What a nice memory to have to ourselves.

Here's a panorama, should you want to click and enlarge for fuller effect. I still use my trusty old 2004 3 megapixel camera, but it still seems to captures the moment just fine.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Harpa Inside-Out

Three concerts for the grand opening previews of Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Center are completed. And I didn't fall off of the risers! Though I was precariously perched high on the topmost ledge, singing in a giant choir for Beethoven 9. The hall is beautiful, the sound rich. I don't think there's really a bad seat in the house, at least sound wise! This picture was my first rehearsal with the orchestra, before I was moved to dead-center (and then was too intent on singing to remember to bring a camera).

I took a couple pictures from inside the lobby so you can see what Iceland will have to offer many a visitor in the upcoming years. The ceiling is covered in mirrored panels, with two layers of windows forming crystal-like facets on the outer wall. It's a hexagon-lover's paradise. The main staircase seems to come from an invisible point on the horizon and then open up like a wedge; it's a really cool optical illusion.

Some parts, even the day before, looked very much under construction:

But then at the last second, beautiful things appeared, like fountains outside, pavement, bridges, a store, furniture, shiny floors and walls. It was pretty incredible the transformation.

On the way out of the building after the final concert, I was just in time to catch an incredible sunset on the horizon. It seemed like luck to catch the light through these panes of glass but it was totally intentional, and brilliant, on the part of the artist and architects who designed the building's layout! Harpa looks so different in various times of day and light, and will certainly look different throughout the year as the sun changes angle dramatically. It will soon be the kind of place that stops people dead in their tracks to go oooo and aaah. I think even more fancy technical work is planned for the facade and interior of the building, to be completed in the months to come.

A grand opening weekend of celebrations is planned for Harpa, and you can check out the schedule and more information at

Friday, May 06, 2011

Unexplored sights on the Golden Circle

There is much to see on the Golden Circle trip, as I've written about in the past. But as someone who's lived here for a while, I've taken the trip a few times and it's nice to include new sights each time, keep things fresh. I had some friends from home visit this past week and we took a few detours that I had not seen before!

This cave, or series of caves, at Laugarvatnshellar, were inhabited by a family until 1974!! I couldn't believe it but then I saw that their cave-home had a wood frontispiece and a door, and looked like it could have been made slightly homey inside. Still, it's a small cave. Apparently the family would make goodies to sell to visiting hikers and tourists. Now it just shelters sheep and helps with farming.

I had never been down to the edge of Gullfoss yet! The times I've been there it was either with a tour group (no time), or in the winter (too much ice). But this time it was dry, and VERY dramatic. I don't think I've ever felt this close to a roaring waterfall, like I could get sucked over the edge!

We drove out closer to Landmannalaugur, closer to the highlands, than I'd ever been. The road got a little rough but it was worth it- there are so many geological features I'd never seen the likes of yet. The area on top of this mountain was a flat, barren floodplain. There was a mysterious monolithic dam up here, and a lock, that was part of a power plant. When you crossed a bridge over this crazy, eerily silent and lifeless floodplain of black stones, you could see a sign that says 'Caution- area may flood rapidly and unexpectedly, with strong currents.' Not a place to wander off of the main road.

On the bottom of this mountain, however, was a recreated Icelandic homestead, based on the first archaeological site that was explored by researchers. It was awfully picturesque, but sadly the doors were locked. There was a great sign outside of this monument too, though.

The trip this day was horribly windy and rainy at times, but on the way back home, a burning red sunset made it all better. It looked like the mountains were on fire all Lord of the Rings-style. Sauron's territory, perhaps? Keeping watch over the lava fields.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Harpa Concert Hall

I'm honored to be singing as part of the Choir for Beethoven 9 in the grand opening concerts of Harpa, the national concert hall of Iceland. I even think I may be the only non-native person in the choir to be singing, so I feel extra special (and also slightly nervous that I might sneeze on national television or something).

I had a sneak peak at the current state of the building, as the three opening concerts begin tomorrow, but there is much to do. Still, the building is already very impressive, and I think it will be a great landmark in the city's architecture.

The building is really curious, it looks quite different from all sides. As it's based on Icelandic rock forms, and the curtain-like waves of the Northern Lights, one would imagine that there's a lot of complex geometry involved. The windows of the building have been the cause of millions of kronur of stress and frustration, but it's gonna be amazing when the construction is completed.

Here and there are colored mirror-like windows, which look really transparent from the inside but from the outside also reflect passing cars-- I don't know if this was intended but the moving reflections look like gemstones turning, their facets sparkling.

On the back side of the building are windows in even more colors- the 'green room' area had green, yellow, and orange windows.

Inside the concert hall is bathed in a beautiful red wood (sometimes crappily installed, but that will be invisible soon) and state-of-the-art lighting and acoustics. The choir for Beethoven 9 never sounded better. There's a great resonance without it being boomy or complicated. I could finally hear myself sing!

And the view of Esja in the distance, and the harbor, is simply amazing. I'd come to concerts here just to watch the midnight sun from the top of the staircases here. You'll have to scope that view out for yourself!

More pictures to come after the opening, as we are obligated to not reveal too much until the concerts have begun.