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amina fecundus: severing the heart strings
words by jonas moody / photos by hörður sveinsson

amina is four, small girls. edda, hildur, maría huld, and sólrún are entirely unassuming and forthright, considering the world tours and enormous recognition they have been exposed to over the past four years. as the string quartet composing songs and touring with sigur rós, they have been indoctrinated into the world of big-name bands, but they remain remarkably grounded and demure despite all the celebrity surrounding them. now they have taken a summer to see what they can do on their own. amina are stepping out from behind their stringed instruments and exploring the endless permutations of unconventional and invented instruments, computer sampling and composition, and general cavorting and carousing in the recording studio. the little darlings of sigur rós are all grown up and cooking up something good.

amina amina amina
amina amina

in posse

"we met at tónlistarskólinn í reykjavík (the reykjavík school of music) in 1996 and started as a summer project doing paid concerts in people's gardens. just classical," explains maría huld, one of the groups violinists in the string quartet formation. "then we started to do more studio work with bands because no one else was around to do it." the group was originally called anima, latin for spirit, chosen frantically out of a latin dictionary before their first performance. when their finally came time for a bit more rumination concerning the name, it was decided that anima was far too pretentious and the name was overhauled into the vastly different, amina. in the summer of 1999 everything changed when they got their fateful call from sigur rós inviting them to come and play at the release party for the band's album, gtis byrjun (fairly good start). the two groups meshed so well that sigur rós invited amina to come on tour to support the album. this collaboration made a huge impact how amina conceived themselves as musicians. sólrún, the group cellist, elaborates, "in the beginning we were these poor, little girls on stage. we didn't know how to do anything, how to plug something in. we just came in, just showed up. so we were the spoiled princesses." actually the girls admitted to learning quite a lot about some of the more technical aspects of performing while on tour. but the real evolution was that working with sigur rós encouraged these classically trained musicians to indulge in a less structured style of composition. their background in music dictated that "everything is about instructing you what's right and what isn't and you just play the notes on the sheet, whereas sigur rós has some kind of telepathy thing going where they play without even needing to talk. but really it was a big relief to throw away the sheet music. i don't think we could even play sheet music anymore." it was during this tour in 2000 that the tracks for sigur rós's next album, (), came into being. "we just messed around during sound checks and played along with what the guys were coming up with. the song is what happens in the meantime, so by the time we are in the studio the song is there, but the song on the album is just one version. during the tour, songs are put together like a web, always adding and changing. when you play something 200 times you'll go mad if you don't change it." this organic process of song-writing with sigur rós has infused amina with a will to go beyond their role as an appendix and make an attempt at forging their own music. "working with sigur rós was never difficult and they even wanted us to branch out and try to play other instruments when the song didn't call for strings. however, the time came to make something of our own. the music we've been making has been amazing, but it's all promoting sigur rós. i think the timing is really perfect. we are just now ready to do our own project."

in esse

their disposition is diligent and somewhat academic. these are not your aggressive rockers, but a collection of introspective and almost bookish students. in fact, in their manifestations outside of amina they are all students. edda has love in her eyes when she speaks about the kalimba; she studies japanese in denmark. hildur cannot help but fidget on the metallophone; she studies biology and nutrition in denmark. like some people collect stamps or spoons, maría huld collects sounds like wood crackling in a fireplace; she studies computer music and new media in reykjavík. sólrún likes to invent instruments with her boyfriend; she studies musicology and arts administration in holland and england. when i sit down in the studio with them they scavenge for pieces to mic up a frankensteined music box. they work without speaking, each one handing the next what it needs, until maría is cranking away and the room is filled with sweet, tinkling sounds. sólrún moves to one side and reveals one of amina's brainchildren, the glass-o-phone. it consists of four wine glasses filled with varying amounts of water. each glass is fixed at the foot to a board and fitted with a contact mic on the bowl. the instrument is played by quickly rubbing the lip to producing an swelling, eerily vocal sound or alternatively thumping the bowl for more punctuated tones. but it's not just these instruments that characterize the sound amina seems to be constructing; with this new music they seem to be tapping into a collective fecundity that has been nearly seven years in gestation. this summer has finally given them an opportunity to realize that potential. with the support of kjartan sveinsson, sigur rós's keyboardist and maría huld's boyfriend, they have certainly come into their own with the more technical aspects of recording. however, they seem to be playing the blanche dubois of the icelandic music scene as far as recording space is concerned. in this summer alone they've been benevolently given access to spaces like helgi eiríksson's kolstaður in borgarfjrður and sigur rós's sundlaugin in mosfellsbr.

in utero

amina has certainly been prolific with their time in the studio. after only three days of recording for sigur rós's upcoming album, they managed to cut six tracks and immediately went to work on their own project in kolstaður and sundlaugin. they've been holed up since june writing and recording bases for performances at denmark's forma nova as well as a small show at reykjavík's gallery klink & bank. what's more, the girls seem very proud to announce that they have a bun in the oven, an ep slated for release in october or november and possibly an lp at some after after that. their studio looks like mad musicologist's workshop with pieces and innards of instruments and hardware strewn around the room. out of this chaos they have managed to fashion a complex and very controlled sound. the new music could be described as ambient, but in its layers and lush tones there is something far more engaging than ambient can convey. "people say that there is an 'icelandic sound' these days, but we can't really hear it. maybe it's because we are making it and know all these other bands. it's like when someone tells you that you look like your sister, but because you've grown up with her, all you can see are the differences." some say that bands like sigur rós, múm, or mugison have been strongly influenced by the icelandic landscape, to which amina says, "it's not like we're sitting around the studio talking about all the beautiful mountains; you're blind if you don't see the mountains." that said, their music does seem to possess an otherworldly quality, characterized by muted, metallic sounds like music boxes, glockenspiels, kalimbas, psalteries and metallophones. these combine to create a liquid texture that ripples with reverberation, like the first sounds an infant might hear through all the amniotic fluid. above this vibrant base the music by sweetened amina's masterful and lissome strings. while the music is not girlish, there is something both youthful and feminine to their sound. with their homespun instruments and domestic sounds like a crackling fireplace, amina is creating something remarkable. "this has come so easily for us, but we don't have any big expectations. we just want people to see that we are not just cute session players. and stop asking us to smile more."

(jonas moody for reykjavík grapevine)

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