In today's interview, Icelandic artist Karlotta Skagfield discusses her latest audio-visual project, an installation based on dramatic Icelandic landscapes. This installation is a work-in-progress, and Karlotta was kind enough to share a preview of her work with us, a video of a piece called 'M I S T U R' which you can view below. I highly recommend watching this with headphones, for a fully immersive experience.
Question: Could you briefly introduce yourself and your project?
Answer: I am an Icelandic sound designer, composer and vocalist. My most recent project is an audio-visual installation, where I explore different places in Iceland and create music to them. The title of the piece I shared above, M I S T U R, is the Icelandic word for Fog and it describes this audio-visual very well. A hypnotic journey for the ears and eyes. We travel through a typical Icelandic landscape of fog and moss without ever really reaching home.
Q. How has growing up in Iceland influenced your relationship to nature? And how does that transpire into your work?
Answer: Growing up in a small town called Akureyri, I had nature all around me. My parents had a studio on the countryside so I spent a lot of time during my youth playing outside surrounded by mountains and playing by the ocean while they were working on their art.
It definitely had a big impact on me and I think it made me more aware of the sounds that are always around us. Some frequencies have negative physical effects on me and when I was younger I didn’t quite understand it so I avoided them as much as I could. However when got older I wanted to understand this phenomenon better so I immersed myself in it and tried to make those uncomfortable frequencies bearable. Which is probably the reason why I am so fascinated by all sorts of sounds today and why I wanted to create a project that is about evoking feelings. Good or bad.
Q. How do you approach scoring a landscape?
Answer: Usually, I start by watching the landscape and try to focus on the sounds. I always carry a sound recorder with me so that I can record whatever I hear. Then I can use the recordings in my compositions, bringing real Icelandic sounds to the image. Then most often a melody comes into my head and that’s when I sit down at the piano and start writing.
Q. Has writing music to videos of landscapes familiar to you altered your perception of these places?
Answer: I cannot say that it has. Because the music I write for each and every video is the melody I hear when I’m in that particular place. So I guess I’m just materialising what I already heard.
Q. Has an artistic work ever changed your perception of nature?
Answer: Maybe not so much changed my perception of nature, but encouraged me to dig deeper into these nature sounds. The film “The secret life of Walter Mitty” for example really stuck with me. All the nature scenes were beautiful and a lot of them were shot in Iceland. I also watch a lot of David Attenborough documentaries where it’s so easy to get mesmerised by the sounds and the videos. It is really inspiring.
Q. What are the roles art can play in fighting the climate emergency and environmental crisis in your opinion? And what are the roles artists and art organisations can play?
Answer: I think they can definitely raise awareness and lead by example. It’s important to use whatever platform you may have to do so. Artists also have the opportunity to do it in a beautiful way that might reach a larger audience.
Q. And finally, where can we find out more about your work? Are there any projects you would like to promote?
Answer: I update my website regularly with new projects so I guess that would be the easiest way to find out more about it: www.karlottaskagfield.com
At the moment I am working on an exhibition where these audio-visual pieces will be projected on a big screen, allowing the audience to walk into a room and be surrounded by nature. The date for the exhibition has not been set yet, it will be announced on the website later.
What I particularly enjoyed about Karlotta's M I S T U R, and the other pieces from the same project I had the pleasure to get a sneak peak at, is the way images and sounds work together to create a mesmerising feeling which lulls the audience into a quasi-hypnotic state, enabling us to experience those landscapes in a new fascinating way.
It was really interesting to learn more about Karlotta's approach to audio-visual work, and I find her relationship to sound truly fascinating:
"Some frequencies have negative physical effects on me and when I was younger I didn’t quite understand this so I avoided them as much as I could. However when got older I wanted to understand this phenomenon better so I immersed myself in it and tried to make those uncomfortable frequencies bearable."
It seems to me that we can clearly hear the impact of this sonic investigation in M I S T U R! What are your thoughts on this? How did you experience M I S T U R? And have you ever perceived certain frequencies in a way similar to what Karlotta described?
This is a topic I am particularly interested in, as I am currently researching tactile perceptions of sound myself. Perhaps this might be a discussion for a future blog post - please share your thoughts by commenting to this post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to contribute to the blog!
Karlotta Skagfield is a sound designer, composer and vocalist from Iceland.
Karlotta grew up watching both of her parents, a painter and a sculptor, explore new grounds and set up various art exhibitions around the globe. Being born at the heart of this unique world, it was inevitable she would immerse herself into the art scene.
From a very young age, she was extremely sensitive to sounds, without knowing why, but emotions, sounds and colours intertwined all together. At times it could be difficult to be in certain places where some frequencies would have a physical effect on her. At an older age, Karlotta started to explore this mystery and gain an understanding of the effects of sounds to human emotions: "Why would a certain sound make you feel the way it does?"
She took her earlier career steps at the Fine Arts School in Reykjavík where her focus shifted to music, entering "Reykjavík Academy of Vocal Arts" where the young artist studied opera and composition over the span of 6 years, including performances on stage and exhibitions. Following those years, Karlotta moved to London to further explore the classical world of music.
Once in London, Karlotta quickly discovered that she had a passion for a more extensive take on music, shifting her focus to music creation rather than performance. Joining the ever-multicultural scene of the British and Irish Modern Music Institute, she started working as sound designer, creating sounds and Foley for films, documentaries and TV.
Today she combines her love for sound design and classical composition with her former studies to create audio-visual work. Combining dramatic visuals of Icelandic landscapes that she associates with Icelandic nature sounds, Karlotta's work interprets the feelings she experienced in those places. Her work intends to create a bridge between music and visuals so that the feelings and emotions of one are transferred to the other. It is intended to make the music surround the audience, creating overwhelming emotions and giving spectators a glimpse into her mind.