Music, Value & Action in Reykjavik, Iceland – Hal Morrissey Gillman

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For the duration of June 2016, I lived in Reykjavik, Iceland to study the social and economic effects (and potential aiding factors) of a burgeoning and active music scene, especially one of such size relative to the population of Reykjavik (c.100,000). I did this by conducting ethnographic research in the form of interviews with relevant individuals in the industry, field-notes, as well as participant observation working at the Secret Solstice festival that takes place annually in the city. This data will be used as the basis of my senior honours dissertation on a discussion of methods of cultural value, with extensive reference to Bourdieu’s capitals, and the societal consequences of measuring cultural value simply in terms of economic or social gain, rather than as an intrinsic good, and the benefits of assessing accordingly.

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I stayed with Richard Korn, a double bass player in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, who had a lot of useful personal connections relevant to my research, who were largely involved in performing classical and contemporary music, as well as individuals who play a more administrative or non-musical role in the continuation of the scene. I was therefore fortunate to spend a little time with some important, academically useful, and ultimately interesting individuals such as Sigtryggur Baldursson, head of Iceland Music Export and drummer for the Sugacubes, and Jakob Frimann, keyboardist for Stuðmenn and producer of events/records/etc. to name but two. My previous work in events and the arts made it possible for me to also secure a management support staff volunteer position at a major music festival in Reykjavik, Secret Solstice. Besides the obvious occupational benefits of this work, the academic benefits were also clear — the 4-day event hosts a vast number of musicians and artists, many of whom of course are themselves from Reykjavik, and is a key event in Reykjavik’s cultural calendar. I was able therefore to witness firsthand the fluid interactions between musicians, scene-goers, event management staff, and non-musical individuals involved with the scene, to explore the factors that support the existence of the scene, the benefits of the scene, and the way that musical culture was valued by these parties.

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Despite Mr Korn’s kindness in allowing me to stay, cost-of-living Iceland is very expensive, and so I was initially concerned before leaving about being able to afford transport and food whilst working and assessing the extent of the local scene. I was extremely grateful and liberated therefore to learn that my application the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund had been accepted, which suddenly meant that I could focus on the task at hand without worrying too much about finances, getting around or staying fed whilst interviewing or working at the festival. This fortuitous outcome was somehow in tune with a notably Icelandic phrase and mindset that I heard from musicians and organisers again and again over the course of the month: ‘þetta reddast’, or roughly translated — ‘everything will work out’.

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