Elin Gunnlaugsdottir, Composer

Composer in Residence

Elin at work on the balcony

Tell us a little about your background in music…
I started with the piano at the age of nine and I studied the piano for a long time. After I finished high school I studied music education at the Reykjavík College of Music and graduated with a Diploma in Music Education in 1987. Two years later I started my studies in theory and composition at the same school and I graduated with a Diploma in Composition in 1993.
Postgarduate stuies took me to Netherlands where I studied composition for two years at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague. Since I finished my studies I’ve been active as a composer and a music teacher in my hometown Selfoss.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your pieces?
It is different. I don’t wait for inspiration. But I’ve always been inspired by nature and the sounds of nature. I read also a lot of poetry and it often gives me a good start for my compositions. Studying music written by others is also important for me. But sometimes I just start to work on a piece and that can also be inspiring because one note calls for an other note etc. But maybe the most inspiring thing for my compositions is a good coffee! I can’t start working without it.

What brought you to Bordeneuve? What did you hope to accomplish?
It was the birdsong on your website! I’ve been in residency in big cities like Paris and Berlin. My life at home is quite busy so this time I wanted to be where there is quiet. Therefore I chose to stay at Bordeneuve. I wanted to observe nature and try to record some sounds in nature. But at the same time I needed peace to start to write a new piece, and I’ve been working on that piece since I came. It is a piece for alto flute, viola and piano.

You’ve been listening a lot to birdsong and observing bees and butterflies – how do you translate that into music?

I’ve been trying to translate it into sounds and I hope to do more of it. What I’ve found out is that there is never a quiet moment here. So John Cage’s words “there is no such thing as silence” are so true. Those layers of sounds in nature are also interesting and the morning chorus of the birds is a kind of a crescendo and a decrescendo. My main quiestion at the moment is: When do the birds go to bed? Because they seem to be singing all day long until late in the evening.

The butterflies and the bees are also interesting. The butterflies never seem to be still… So my guess that is their “flutter” will end somehow in my music.

Do you have a favourite instrument to write for?
Some people would think it is the flute because I’ve written a lot for the flute. But it is the violoncello. It is so colorful. But in a way all instruments are my favorite instruments because I like to explore their diffrent sounds. For me composing has a lot to do with exploring.

What makes a composition successful from your point of view?
It is a very hard question because this is also a matter of taste. I like compositions that are original in a way. I’m not really a fan of composers that follow certain kind of a school. I once heard a composer say “do what ever you want, but do it well” and if I hear a composition were I can feel that the composer has devoted him- or herself fully to the work then I think it is a successful composition. Time will decide what lives of the music that is written now a days.

What has your Bordeneuve experience been like?
It has been as I hoped; a quiet place where I’ve been able to start a new piece and dream about other unwritten pieces.

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