Name: Gyda Valtysdottir
Occupation: Cellist, singer, and composer
Current Release: Gyda Valtysdottir's Epicycle II is out on DiaMond/Sono Luminus
Recommendations: It is so hard to pick only two! I’m not sure if this is allowed but here is a link to an article where I pick 10 things that have shaped me.
Last winter the album Naktés from Merope was the one that spun the most circles on my record player. I was also so fortunate to create music with them and go on a small tour in February, right before things closed down. They are such sublime musicians.
If you enjoyed this interview with Gyda Valtysdottir, visit her facebook account and bandcamp profile for news, updates and music.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing cello at 7. I had never heard it. My older sister played violin and told me that it was dark and mysterious - that sounded just right for me.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
This is something I’ve thought a lot about. Classical music education not only fails to enhance and support creativity, I think it can actually go against it. Hopefully this has changed since I was a child. I think improvisation, exploration and self-discovery is vital.
For my own development, I am glad that for few years in my early teens, I took a break. I got myself a guitar, learned my dad´s accordion, experimented with electronic music, recording, and composing before diving back into classical studies again.
After about 10 years of studies I had a long recovery back to creativity, but today I’m glad that I went this winding road to where I’m at now.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
My greatest challenge was to not take myself so seriously - even as my 7-year-old self playing cello! When I started múm, I really enjoyed the playfulness around it but as soon as I noticed people were watching I took myself too seriously again. I’m a very private introvert, and that has been a challenge to balance with this profession.
And my obsession with truth and honesty, haha. But I’ve reached a much better understanding and relationship with these concepts today.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I was a nomad for almost 5 years. Now, I live between Iceland and New York City, and travel a lot. Therefore I haven’t put up my own space anywhere so I work in various spaces around the world. My partner has a beautiful studio in NYC called figureight, and I’ve recorded a lot of my music there.
I love creating beautiful spaces and I´d like to think it has a big influence on one’s creation but to be honest, ideas don’t necessarily come to me when I’ve lit the candles and lined up the crystals. They might just come while driving around or at airports, or waiting in line at the bank.
But I’m sure if I had a studio set up I’d execute ideas faster and in a more consistent manner. For now, I work on music in blocks.
Tell me about your instrument, please. What was your first instrument like and how did you progress to your current one? How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
My first instrument was the cello. When I was 16 I started in a band called múm, which was at the time mostly electronic. The whole world of sounds opened up for me, but I felt my limits to express myself. I really wanted to master one instrument, be fluid on it, be able to say all those things words fail to do on it. The cello is very physical, it requires that you engage with your whole body. I also found a way to dance around while playing it - then I feel even more merged with it, and sometimes, it plays me.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
There is no schedule. I love strong seasons and I have come to find that I work best by following the seasons in me as well. There is time for sowing, growing, harvesting. I try to listen to the tides inside - there is time for reflection, to listen and take in. Other times you bake the bread and then go out and share it with people.
I have to remind myself of these seasons all the time. I often feel like I’m not working hard enough, not being productive. For artists, I think understanding your inner ecosystem is important - the work happens on so many plains.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
A song on Evolution called Í Annarri vídd ( Another Dimension) was a unique experience for me and it sparked the whole idea of how I wanted to make that album. I had felt a strong presence of a spirit who wanted to be embodied through me, he somehow co-created this song with me, I felt I only had to listen and follow.
I felt inspired to use a similar process for the whole album, that is to listen to a voice slightly outside of myself and not be in the way. It is very intuitive, I followed first impulses and didn´t look back. I had to make it this way, for my own evolution. I might use a totally different approach for my next album, with a lot of thinking, experimenting, and remaking.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Fluidity - when we’re fluid we’ll find our course and run through obstacles with ease. I can feel when my mind and body start to harden up, my thinking becomes rigid and my energy stagnated. Of course moving the body and especially water helps, but I also think the fastest way to reach that state is remove of any “should and should-nots” from your thinking and have a more inspiring internal dialogue with yourself.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
To understanding how you shape a sound from a sine tone, or scanning an audio file with an EQ, which is like looking through an audio-microscope on different parts of the frequency range of a sound, enhanced my ability to listened. It feels like exploring the chemistry of sound.
I love texture - it is one of my most inspiring aspects of sound, it almost has a synaesthetic relation to a touch to me. I know that working with electronic music greatly influenced my cello playing. I was obsessed with texture, constantly listening to the different harmonics I could catch with changing the speed, weight, and placement of the bow.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through playing together or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is amazing. I truly need it to feel more myself and more free, because it pushes me to constantly find new and different aspects of myself in relation to others. I do believe that the world is one of interconnection. It is co-creation and I wouldn’t be who I am without my relations to others. This record Epicycle II is an ode to collaboration, to the people who influenced me, whom I discussed music and art with, played with, and shared visions with.
How is preparing music, playing it live and recording it for an album connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Everything is improvisation for me. I feel that at the core of improvisation you are practising living. You are practising embracing each moment. What might seem like a failed note or a mistake can turn into gold with the right mindset.
I also feel like every creative process starts with improvisation and when you can really fall into it, you’ll go beyond the limitation of what your conscious brain is capable of. Again, even if you’re performing something you’ve been playing for years, in a state of improvisation you’ll allow it to be different each time. It will speak to the hall, the audience, and your own emotional state at that moment and will therefore be more alive.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' and 'performance' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre?
The sensation of the sound and its timbre is my very first inspiration. The composition itself is sort of the byproduct of exploring that sound. Sometimes a sound just feels “fertilized” and the DNA of the piece is hidden inside it. I often feel as if I don’t really know how to compose. I only know how to not be in the way, as it is happening.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Fascinating question - as I already mentioned, sound and touch overlap in my mind. When I’m performing or mixing, I feel the sound as much as I hear it. There is the sense of how it touches my skin. Also space, sort of the amount of nothingness in the audio space is important. On Evolution I was often trying to suggest that space, pointing it out without filling in.
I love looking at the whole reality as music, if you zoom in, it is all waveform in different frequencies. Therefore it is all a symphony of sounds and frequency. You sense the resonance with other beings, you feel harmony and tension, and just like in music it doesn’t mean good or bad. Tension can be exciting, interesting and necessary for motion. Places gather the frequency that has been left there. We fall out of alignment and need to be attuned. This vocabulary is literal, for we live in a vibrational universe.
Regarding literal synaesthesia, I have only once heard a painting. It was by Paul Klee and later I read his diary and found how big a part music played in his life. He played the violin and had a hard time deciding whether to focus on art or music. So it makes sense that there is music in his paintings.
I also always smell wet leaves and mud when I listen to Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left. I listened to that album repeatedly while working as a gardener during a rainy summer, when I was 16.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
This is a recurring topic in my mind. When I was a teenager, I felt so obligated to use my voice to the greater cause of everyone, whenever I was given a platform. I felt so silly to talk about myself in interviews. At the same time I didn’t want to sound like an angry teenager, I wanted to fully understand what I was talking about. I found it hard to be political, mostly because I thought politics was the rubbish of the world. It is sort of the outer layer of society. I don’t think it can really make the changes, they need to happen in people hearts. I also felt that any language can be turned up against itself, so better to speak music. You can be an undercover rebel. Art is so much about authenticity & that alone can be political, as it brakes the constructs and pushes for social change.
I wrote an essay when finishing my bachelor’s degree in music about art under Totalitarianism. I found it so amazing that rulers could fear and therefore kill artists for the art they created. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini - they all openly spoke about the importance of art shaping new social constructs because art was the only weapon they could use to change people’s consciousness. That is powerful! So in a way everything is political, however, we do take different roles and we must recognise our strengths and weaknesses.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music and performance still intact. Do you have a vision of music and performance, an idea of what they could be beyond their current form?
Answering this question in August 2020, it doesn’t seem intact at all! There are hardly any concerts on the horizon, record sales are in a free fall and after a short comeback of vinyl, those same consumers are now (thankfully) becoming too environmentally conscious to want to make or buy audio engraved in plastic! Spotify is still paying $0.0084 for a stream and AI are starting to be valid musicians!
I am utterly optimistic though, evolution is inevitable. I’m happy to ride the tides. I imagine that the great leap within humans has to do with unlocking the potential of our own brains, exploring the ability of our consciousness.
Now we really need to think outside the box. I don’t even see any box, so I’m thinking astro-travel-aural-orgies is the future were we’ll merge with sound in one big ocean of vibration. Money becomes an even more abstract concept and we’ll find ways to manifest our material needs.