The instrument starts to come together
Today, Halldór Úlfarsson still remembers to praise those who were then studio masters at the university:
‘The help and expertise that I had access to at the school, for example in the metal- and woodworking studios, was extremely important both for the development of the instrument and for the continuation of the entire project.’
A six month study period also had a significant impact on the development of the instrument. During that time, Úlfarsson’s supervisor was the legendary guitar designer and industrial designer Kari Nieminen.
‘Personal tutoring from the founder of the Versoul guitar company was crucial for the future of my career.’
The university's atmosphere was also something really new for the Icelander, ‘In the Degree Programme in Applied Art and Design, you didn’t work with artists but rather with manufacturing and the wider society. That's where I learned to think in a user-oriented manner’.
Iceland gets an Oscar for the first time
Over the years, the halldorophone project has continued to the point where there are now five complete halldorophones in existence. Three more will be completed this spring – the first orders that Úlfarsson has received.
Every instrument is unique. For example, an early version of the instrument that is owned by the Icelandic pop group múm is an entirely unique experimental version.
It is interesting that the instrument builder himself does not have a music education background, ‘I do listen to a lot of music, and I really value it,’ Úlfarsson says.
One moment in which Úlfarsson is especially proud of was when he saw the movie Joker (2019) directed by Todd Phillips. The music in the film is the work of Úlfarsson’s long-time friend and colleague Hildur Guðnadóttir. This cellist-composer chose a halldorophone to be played on the movie’s soundtrack.
The stringed instrument can be heard throughout the soundtrack that has just won the 2020 Oscar for Original score. It is the first Academy Award ever to be awarded to an Icelandic artist and the first since 1997 for a female in this award category.
An instrument needs a musician
An instrument does not exist unless there is music to be played on it. This is why the academic career of Halldór Úlfarsson now continues in the world of music: he is working on his doctoral dissertation at the Music Department of Sussex University. The instrument, he says, needs composers, players and, above all, open-minded musicians.
A regular visitor to Finland, Úlfarsson gushes praise for his cooperation with cellist-composer Max Lilja and the Defunensemble music group. The work and pioneering thinking of the now-deceased Finnish electronic music developer and composer Erkki Kurenniemi have also been of great importance.
‘The halldorophone does not fit directly in any current definition. It is, after all, a strange instrument,’ its inventor says with a laugh.
‘I have created a tool that awakens in certain musicians curiosity and a desire to experiment,’ he adds.
Perhaps this strange, novel instrument can give classically trained musicians the opportunity to experimentally express something that has not come forth through other instruments.
Text: Tiiu Pohjolainen
This article has been updated on February 10, after the 2020 Oscar Gala held in Hollywood.