Sounds Icelandic - Essays on Icelandic Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries - Þorbjörg Daphne Hall

Sounds Icelandic - Essays on Icelandic Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries - Þorbjörg Daphne Hall

Triangulating Timbre in Sigur Rós’s Iceland

Sounds Icelandic - Essays on Icelandic Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries - Þorbjörg Daphne Hall

Brad Osborn [+-]
University of Kansas
Brad Osborn is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Kansas. His monograph, Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Brad’s current research focuses on music videos and the ways in which they animate broader cultural constructs.
David Kenneth Blake [+-]
University of Akron
David Blake is a Senior Lecturer of Music History at the University of Akron. His research interests include the interactions between popular music and higher education, as well as the analysis of timbre. He has received research grants from the American Antiquarian Society, the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives, and the University of Colorado American Music Research Center. His articles are published in Journal of Musicology, Journal of Music History Pedagogy, and Music Theory Online.


Heima, the feature-length film from the Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, has received considerable scholarly and critical attention, largely because it foregrounds the relationship between music and place. However, the film also takes viewers on a sonic tour of Iceland, and thus provides the opportunity to discuss timbre as not only the sound of place, but also the result of creative sonic and cinematic production. With a view toward analyzing the inherently multivalent, collaborative nature of such timbres, I introduce a new methodology I call timbral triangulation. Whereas timbre in studio recordings can be understood as the triangulation of instruments/technology/ producers that projects a ‘polished’ ethos of the studio, live recordings typically replace the technology and producers of the studio with the instruments/soundboard/crowd triangulation of a concert venue, which problematically serves as a synecdoche for the ‘raw’ experience of authenticity. I submit that Heima provides a comparatively rare timbral triangulation of instrument/place/microphone, wherein the increased focus on place (enhanced through cinema) ironically elevates the role of the microphone in its ability to capture the ‘natural’ sound of the instruments-in-place. However, this natural imagery is, unsurprisingly, also a product of very controlled signal processing in post-production. Interviews with the film’s sound editor Mehdi Hassine and re-recording mixer Chris Johnston will serve to problematise the supposedly structuralist relationship between music and place, and to specify exactly what role the physical places and instruments themselves play in the recorded sounds. Though admittedly nascent, the study of timbre in recorded (popular) music is already diverging between approaches that focus on source instruments and voices (Slater 2011, Blake 2012), and approaches that treat the studio and its inhabitants as a collaborative ecosystem (Zagorski-Thomas 2010, Easley 2011). Timbral triangulation aims to put these approaches in conversation with each other, and to elevate the role of place in the production of timbre.

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Osborn, Brad; Blake, David. Triangulating Timbre in Sigur Rós’s Iceland. Sounds Icelandic - Essays on Icelandic Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 208-219 Apr 2019. ISBN 9781781791455. Date accessed: 29 Mar 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.24101. Apr 2019

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