Art / Movies / Music

Sigur Rós and The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment

By Huntress Thompson

Sigur Rós (and, indeed, post rock in general) is in the business of creating grand, varied soundscapes, and leaving listeners to wander about in them unsupervised. When it comes to visualising these soundscapes, it’s usually been a case of ‘each to his own’, but for Sigur Rós’s 2012 album Valtari, they’ve enlisted the help of these dozen listeners in particular as tour guides.

As it happens, all 12 are semi-famous, independent creative types whose specialty is filmmaking or visual arts, so we’re off to a good start.

Each filmmaker was given a budget, no briefs (shut it) and no creative direction.

Says on the band on their official website, “We never meant our music to come with a pre-programmed emotional response. We don’t want to tell anyone how to feel and what to take from it. With the films, we have literally no idea what the directors are going to come back with. None of them know what the others are doing, so hopefully it could be interesting.”

The band has opened submissions to all fans and video directors, asking them to create a video for any song from Valtari, and the winning entry (to be announced on 8 October) will be included in The Valtari Mystery Film series.

This has been the timeline so far – we’re 10 songs in.


Date: 25 May

Director: Ragnar Kjartansson

Track: Ég Anda

Multimedia artist Kratansson was, at 33, the youngest Icelander to represent his country at the Venice Biennale in2009. FYI, the Venice Film Festival is part of the Venice Biennale, a contemporary art exhibition held every two years. He is a founding member of the flamboyant and outlandish Icelandic band Trabant, and is a regular collaborator with Sigur Rós’s Kjartan Sveinsson.

Says the director of this piece, “First useful pop video in history. File under: Educational.”


Date: 6 June

Director: Inga Birgisdóttir

Track: Varúð

Inga Birgisdóttir, the sister of Sigur Rós lead singer Jónsi, designed the album cover for Valtari with their sister Lilja. Inga is also the baby featured on the cover of the band’s debut album Von.

Says the artist, “I wanted the Varúð video to have a slow build up like the song and leave something for the viewers to imagine for themselves. We have no idea who they are or what they are warning us about.”

“I made the video by animating a postcard (see attached) and filmed myself over and over again climbing on top of a woodenbox in front of some blue paper. ”


Date: 18 June

Director: Alma Har’el

Track: Fjögur píanó

Tel Aviv-born video artist Har’el shot to fame after working with Beirut’s Zach Condon on the music video for the band’s single Elephant Gun, earning a VMA nomination for Best Directorial Debut in 2007. She has also produced music videos for Jack Penate, Shearwater, Nikka Costa and others, and directed the award-winning documentary Bombay Beach.

Her video for Fjögur piano, the final track on Valtari, features Hollywood’s Shia LaBeouf.

She explains, “For me, it’s about not knowing how to get out of something without causing pain to somebody else. For other people, it might be about candy and fish. I’m down with that.”


Date: 2 July

Director: Arni & Kinski

Track: Rembihnútur

Arni & Kinski are the team behind Sigur Rós’s previous videos for tracks like Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása, Gobbledigook, Glósóli and Hoppípolla.

This feature reflects the positive effects of Sigur Rós’s music on listeners. The filmmakers say, fairly enigmatically, “We all want and need love. This film is a celebration of Sigur Rós’s music and the benefit it is having in the elevation of consciousness that is happening with humankind. People are finding strength in love, care, and respect for themselves, each other, and the world we live in.”


Date: 16 July

Director: Ramin Bahrani

Track: Ég Anda

37 year-old Persian-American director and screenwriter Ramin Bahrani was the mastermind behind 2007’s Chop Shop, the documentary about a street orphan living in Queens, New York, that led Roger Ebert to describe Bahrani as “the director of the decade.” He is a professor of film directing at Columbia University.

He was the second director to interpret the track Ég Anda for The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment.


Date: 31 July

Director: Ryan McGinley

Track: Varúð

New York-based photographer Ryan McGinley first came to the attention of New York’s fine art community (street cred intact) when he handmade and personally distributed his first book, The Kids Are Alright, among figures he respected in the community. The book, named after the The Who song, was soon reproduced in large format at the Whitney Museum of American Art, when McGinley was 25.

He says of this video, “This piece is my poem to new york city. I wanted to bring a childhood innocence to the streets, through a character whose own light and wonder effects the world around her. I’m always interested in an atmosphere where dreams and reality mingle on equal terms.”


Date: 13 August

Director: Melika Bass

Track: Varðeldur

Filmmaker Melika Bass most recently produced “Shoals” and “Waking Things”, which premiered at the Torino Film Festival in Italy, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

She says her interpretation of Varðeldur is “a film portrait of an unstable entity in a haunted vessel, drawn into and floating away from a siren song.”


Date: 28 August

Director: Henry Jun Wah Lee

Track: Dauðalogn

Photographer, filmmaker and traditional Chinese physician Henry Jun Wah Lee directed the video for Dauðalogn in the primeval forest of Yakushima. A remote island off the coast of Southern Japan, he chose the location because “the giant trees on the island were once revered as sacred by locals. They lived for thousands of years but for the past 5 centuries they were logged to near extinction.”

He says of his interpretation, “Dauðalogn is a spiritual and meditative journey into nature. Since the time of our earliest ancestors, nature has been a source for inspiration, imagination, and wisdom. Nature is where we come from.”


Date: 12 September

Director: Dash Shaw & John Cameron Mitchell

Track: Rembihnútur, Ekki Múkk

For the first time in the series, two Valtari tracks are featured in the same Mystery Film Experiment submission: Dash Shaw and John Cameron Mitchell’s collaborative piece entitled Seraph.

Dash Shaw is a comic book artist and animator who has unleashed some major conversation pieces (in the form of graphic novels and comic short stories) on the visual arts community.

John Cameron Mitchell is the American feature film director behind such award-winners as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus and Rabbit Hole. He also previously directed music videos for Bright Eyes (First Day of My Life) and Scissor Sisters (Filthy/Gorgeous). He is currently developing Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties for the big screen.


Date: 24 September

Director: Nick Abrahams

Track: Ekki Múkk

English writer/director Nick Abrahams co-directed the acclaimed Depeche Mode fan documentary The Posters Came from the Walls, and has directed two films about Sigur Rós (one in 2005 and one in 2008).

This video features Aidan Gillen (who recently appeared in Game of Thrones and The Dark Knight Rises) and English folk singer Shirley Collins as the voice of the snail. Abrahams describes it as “a magical journey through an English field. This short is something of a taster for a feature film I have in development.”


Visit the official Sigur Ros site for more on this project.



Huntress Thompson

In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.


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