maría huld markan - violin
hildur ársūlsdóttir - violin
edda rún ólafsdóttir - viola
sólrún sumarliðadóttir - cello
what is amina?
amina is a string quartet comprising four icelandic young women, founded in the summer of 1998. we met in tónlistarskólinn í reykjavík [the music school of reykjavík] and started playing together in 1996. we started doing lots of studio work with all kinds of pop and rock bands because there weren't many string groups taking on that sort of flexible and time-consuming work.
is that how you met sigur rós?
yes, they phoned us in the summer of 1999 when they had finished ágūtis byrjun. they needed string players for their album release concert at the icelandic opera house. they had used an octet from the icelandic symphony orchestra on the album and they gave us those octet arrangements which we shrunk down to quartet arrangements. then they talked to us again for the union chapel concert in summer 2000 and we've been touring with them since.
how were the strings written for the new album, ( )?
the strings had been evolving gradually during the two years of touring but the concert arrangements were very basic. these arrangements had just sort of happened organically without thinking so when we were faced with recording the album we sat down for the first time and started analyzing what we were going to play. we listened to concert recordings and wrote a few lines of notes but scrapped them because we found that with the sort of music that sigur rós play, it's more about atmosphere and spontaneity. after we had established the general atmosphere we wanted, the strings were basically improvised in the studio until we were happy with the result.
how was sigur rós involved in the process?
they weren't very involved really, they were mostly just kicking back and having fun in the studio while we were recording. after we'd been playing for an hour we'd call them in and ask them "hey guys, what do you think of this?" and they were like "uhm yeah, that's cool". kjartan was there most of the time to oversee the recording with ken [thomas, the engineer] but they just let us do our thing and didn't interfere much.
what's it like working with sigur rós?
it's great. it was a little difficult when we came in at first because we'd been classically trained where everything is about instructing you what's right and what isn't and you just play the notes on the sheet, whereas sigur rós have some kind of telepathy thing going on where they just sit down and play without ever needing to talk, which was very different from the classical conventions we were used to. we weren't sure if they wanted us to play really grand-like or stay in the background because they never given us any instructions. it's mostly a "hey, do you wanna play something in this song?" kind of thing.
do you prefer this way of working to the classical work conventions?
definitely, that's why we've been playing with sigur rós for so long. this kind of work is so much more rewarding than being session players, for example, where you just sit down and play whatever's on the sheet and then it's over and you go home. with sigur rós we've been able to be part of a collective force where the music just flows naturally and there are no limitations because you don't have to follow any rules or prefabricated guidelines. it's all very open and cooperative with sigur rós, sometimes we join the band to play other instruments like hammond organ or glockenspiel in songs that don't need strings.
for how long do you intend to continue playing with sigur rós?
we will probably stop playing with them after this tour which ends in april. we'd like to move on now and see what happens. after having completed this new album, sigur rós and amina will probably start moving in different directions, which is probably a positive thing for both groups. some of us have been living in different countries and it's been difficult for all eight of us to be this one whole all the time. this has been a great project and it's been very inspirational and rewarding for us to work under another group's name but we think now it's time to start doing things on our own terms.
so what's next for amina?
well we've definitely given up on being session players and playing at special occasions like weddings. we can't help but be bored with that kind of thing after having had this kind of creative freedom with sigur rós for so long. we're now rather familiar with the technical aspects of making music and we've playing around with the idea of recording an amina album this year with not just strings but with all kinds of other instruments as well. we've come to know each other so well musically that it'd be kind of silly to pass up an oppurtunity to record an album together. it's probably just a matter of time.
where does the name 'amina' come from?
it was originally anima, we came up with that name during a panic attack the day before our first concert when we realised we didn't have a name for the quartet. we were flipping through a latin dictionary and came across the word 'anima', which means soul or spirit. it's maybe kind of pretentious but we just thought it sounded nice. after half the quartet left and two new players came in we switched the letters to make 'amina', mostly out of laziness.
how did the string intro in the new live version of von come about?
we got a phone call from the band the day before the icelandic opera house concert that they'd like the concert to start with a 10 minute string intro that would lead into von. we had written down a few keywords of what we wanted it to be like and we just improvised it at the concert. we've kept it similar to what we improvised there but it's different every time we play it.
we've heard that the new version of von and hafssól might be on the upcoming vaka single, is this correct?
there were some concert recordings made of those songs during last year's tours because the boys intended there to be a live element on the vaka single but they've now decided to scrap that idea and use something else instead. so von and hafssól aren't likely to be the vaka single, i'm afraid.
how did the new song 'mílanó' come about?
jónsi was running back and forth with a minidisc at the soundcheck before the mílanó concert in 2001 and he asked us to play something so we improvised what is now the foundation of mílanó. we didn't play it at that concert but jónsi listened to the recording afterwards and really liked it and said "let's play mílanó at the next concert" even though it wasn't a song yet, only this small idea. after we'd been touring for so long with the same setlist, it was very refreshing for all of us to play something that we didn't know by heart, a breath of fresh air. we started a rule which we've been trying to hold that we must play at least one improvised song at each concert. mílanó has since them evolved quite a bit and has been frequenting the setlists lately.
and now for the gossip part of the interview. maría, you and kjartan have been together for over two years now. what's it like working so intimately with your boyfriend?
you would think that the relationship would be doomed with having to work together for such long periods of time as when we tour together but it's actually worked out very well. we work well together but inevitably there are occasionally some strange situations you end up in. but that's just how it is.
okay now that we've got the gossip i think that's about it. thanks for your time.
you're welcome, it's been our pleasure.
(translated from icelandic by björn erlingur flóki björnsson)