Boomkat Product Review:
Preeminent theremin player Hekla Magnúsdóttir coaxes a beguiling spectrum of tones from her trusted and notoriously difficult instrument on a superb vinyl debut for Phantom Limb - the label run by former FatCat Records, Thrill Jockey and Royal Albert Hall bods James Vella, Ken Li and Mark Pearse.
Short of developing your own software from scratch, it’s maybe harder than ever to make genuinely unfamiliar sounds nowadays - but that’s exactly what Berlin-based Icelandic theremin player and singer Hekla has done on Á, unpacking and reframing some 100 years of the Theremin’s history into her breathtaking solo opus .
“Hekla's music exists singularly. A one-off talent, emerging from no particular scene, ascribing to no particular rules.
A long-term scholar of solo theremin, Hekla (shortened from her own name Hekla Magnúsdóttir) uses her instrument as an otherworldly and highly evocative Siren-call. A spectral, wailing, howling, lamenting yearning second-voice that underpins a soft vocal delivery... as if her studio had been haunted with a chorus of ghostly backing singers.
As a creative tool, the theremin - bizarre, unique, and rarely heard - can be expressive, intuitive and highly adaptable. In Hekla's hands, her instrument covers an enormous range, from skittering birdsong of high frequency chirrups and chirps, to grinding, tectonic sub-bass. We are given the throbbing, apocalyptic dread of 'Muddle' and the baroque beauty of traditional Icelandic hymn 'Heyr Himna Smi∂ur' in sequential tracks on the album's A-Side. Appropriately, she also writes that the album title - Á - is similarly multifaceted in her native Icelandic: "a river is an á and also it means ouch like when you hurt yourself, and also when you put something on top of something you put it á (on) something.”