Hekla – Á (Phantom Limb, 2018)


Wholly electronic in its production of sound, the theremin possesses a strangeness in character and tone through its organic playstyle. Motions through air elicit a sonic response, as though one is playing the very fabric of the atmosphere; resonant tones croon and bend to the human touch, drawing local feeling and memory through this portal.

There is little to Á besides Hekla’s voice and the movements of her hands writ large through the theremin. This simplicity enhances its impact, the sparsity inherent across its span focusing the mind through absence. It sounds peculiar, out of time almost in its sepulchral tones as though worshipping at the altar of ancestry..

This is particularly noticeable in “Heyr Himna Smiður”, a traditional Icelandic/Old English hymn. The reverent chords that historically would have emanated from that classic beast the organ, or perhaps from a choir, are summoned through the gestural theremin in a strange light. The echoes of a thousand medieval masses seemingly hang in the Icelandic air, waiting for Hekla’s aerial and the electronic rituals to return them eerily to life.

Elsewhere the appropriately titled “Í Felum” (in hiding) bends in dark and haunting movements. It has an ancient and secretive atmosphere to it, some quiet spectral force moving around us unseen and unheard just waiting to be uncovered. It is spooky, its evocations oddly familiar yet just beyond the reach of remembrance like some genetic memory. The old and the new clash, life a confusing battle as evoked in “Muddle”. It strobes and grinds and rumbles in discordant and almost alarming burning.

“I feel death” she can just about be heard singing, a sliver of vocal sensitivity slipping through the deep theremin slashes that trace old scars. History and modernity blend into one, the past and the present feeding into one another in a bristling mass of entanglement. There’s nothing new under the sun is what they say, every feeling and action one found repeated across the ages. We live “Í Hring”, in a circle, history repeating itself, humanity doomed to repeat mistakes learned and lost across time.

It is a lovely piece, cerebral and crooning, bassy foundational throbbings seating the circular lines and floaty vocals above in tired and dark passages. Death closes the ring that encircles, ancestral lessons bleeding out of the landscape but they’re messages lost and ignored, laments cast to the wind. Occasionally someone like Hekla comes along and stands still for long enough to channel them, and perhaps even learn.

Closing “Stundum”, “sometimes”, pads slow and measured, horn-like creepings slide alongside gleaming and piercing rays. This sonic regurgitation of the past feels alien and almost unwelcome, its teachings distant and faded as it hovers in between realms. The electronic world seems to summon the old for guidance and advice, yet warbles in uncertainty in applicability. Sometimes listening, sometimes learning, sometimes applying, it’s not enough. Change is action, and if we want to protect the world our ancestors held more dear and sacrosanct than us, we should heed their teachings.