Linda Buckley in Iceland

A report from composer Linda Buckley, who spent time in August 2014 in Iceland as part of a composer residency at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity. The center is located near lake Laugarvatn, around 90 km east of Reykjavik. While there, she was the only composer and stayed with six other visual artists  from Denmark, Norway, the US and the Philippines.


It is difficult to put into words, the feeling of waking up when there are only four hours of darkness, a sunrise that lights up your room in the wooden cabin by the mountain, step by step down the staircase until that heart-soaring view, the still expanse of lake with the soft pink light of morning, and beyond, the peak of the volcano Mount Hekla.

There is a different rhythm here, no longer running for trains, emails, deadlines, files. I feel a space being opened out, ready to be filled by beauty, landscape, new music.

There is much travelling, away from the quietness of the cabin – along the south coast of Iceland. Through the black sands and caves of Vik, with a wildness I had never known, to the calm majestic purity of the glacier Vatnajokull. This was something I had wished to experience for many years now, and it felt at once familiar and strange. Moving through vast lava fields, the closest experience I can imagine to landing on the moon, the mists of waterfall Gullfoss like dancing ghosts, diving into the warmth of hot springs… This all seeps in, little by little, and I feel changed. The music comes, and it feels wider somehow, almost panoramic, emerging from a true place and a heart filled up by the power of this new place, an almost overwhelming beauty.

I sing and look out onto Hekla, the beginnings of a song cycle for Iarla Ó Lionáird, with old Gaelic poetry of love and loss:

A bird lifting from clear water,
a bright sun put out –
such my parting, in troubled tiredness,
from the partner of my heart.

Later I learn that this mountain whose ice-capped view has accompanied my daily composing is steeped in folklore, thought to be a gathering place for witches, that the souls of the condemned travelled through Hekla’s crater on their way to hell.

News of an impending volcanic eruption breaks and earthquakes begin to impact the stillness of the landscape. I continue with my work, new music for the Crash Ensemble, which unconsciously begins to channel a sense of almost volcanic activity. I imagine the movement of lava within, its breathing, pulsating – tectonic plates shifting, being immersed inside the magma chamber. I am embracing noise again, huge electronic waves of sound, an earthquake swarm.

The final piece of music I worked on was coming from not a place of volcanic unrest, but that of stillness and calm. It is provisionally called ‘fridur’, Icelandic for ‘peace’ , and full of shimmering harmonies. This is being written for Isabelle O’Connell, for piano and electronics.

As I had hoped, my time in Iceland sparked something in my imagination in a deep and transformative way. The creative impact of these experiences may be seen more fully over the coming months, with time to process the sights, feelings, ideas. There is a sense of awe, of wonder that will carry through and is now within, and I can be transported back to that moment when the Aurora Borealis shone through the night sky outside our wooden cabin, the lights dancing for us, green and red and violet.

Listen to a clip from the electronics part of Linda’s work-in-progress for the Crash Ensemble



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