While Marvel’s modern incarnations of Thor and Loki are dominating popular culture this month, Elephant In The Room (EITR) Production’s 'Midnight Sun: An Evening Of Icelandic Myth And Music', is an opportunity for audiences to discover the origins of these Nordic gods.
We spoke with EITR Productions’ company Founder James Moffatt about their upcoming performance at the South Australian Museum.
'Midnight Sun' is a blend of contemporary and classical Icelandic compositions. Can you see the influence of the Icelandic folk traditions on modern work by Sigur Ros and Bjork?
I definitely can. There's a couple of songs by Bjork we include in the programme, and both of them take advantage of a very metric pulse and rhythmic sparseness in the accompaniment that is very characteristic of some Icelandic folk music. Icelandic music often does an effective job of painting a so-called "sonic landscape" which, when you listen to it, brings to mind images of large frozen expanses. The very first piece in the programme, 'Island Farsaelda Fron', is a great example of how a lot of Icelandic music, including a large part of Sigur Ros' repertoire uses parallel moving fifths to obscure whether the tonality of a piece is major or minor. It creates a very Medieval sound that is characteristic of a lot of Icelandic music.
Many of the songs featured in the show are ancient and obscure. How much fun was the researching process for the show and what challenges did you encounter?
The researching of different songs was one of the most fun parts of developing the show. The Icelandic music centre in Reykjavík was a great help. Iceland is very proactive about promoting its culture overseas, so I had access to a whole lot of content to research from their website. Honestly, the biggest challenge was keeping the show to just an hour. You had to include modern songs as well as folk to properly represent the breadth of the culture, but when you're dealing with literally over a thousand years of stuff, there's a lot you have to leave out. Some of them also didn't have translations available, and as a singer you always want to know what it is you're saying so you can give it the proper emotional inflection. I ended up taking a short Icelandic language course in order to properly be able to know what a song was about and communicate that to my artists.
For the Norse people, music was a way of conveying mythology and folklore. What is your favourite Nordic myth featured in the show?
There's one which, when I re-wrote the myths for the show, I knew from the beginning was always going to make it in. Thor's famous hammer, Mjolnir, gets stolen by giants, and they'll only give it back if Freya marries their chief. Freya's obviously having none of that so Thor's forced to dress up as a woman and pretend to be Freya to get it back. It's an hilarious story. Loki gets some great moments where in keeping up the ruse he's able to make fun of his brother. It's a fun, somewhat frivolous story in the middle of this epic tale of treachery and woe that I keep coming back to.
Image © Jack Parker Photography
The tales of Thor, Odin and Loki have never ceased to capture the public’s imagination? What do you think is the universal appeal of these myths?
The characters are very human. I think that's the most important thing. It's full of epic tales of giant serpents that encircle the world and wolves prophesised to eat the sun but in the end the core of the stories is their heart. The downfalls of Odin, Thor, and Loki aren't that they weren't strong enough or that their enemies were epic beasts of legend, but that they treated each other badly, and the cycles of abuse and revenge kept escalating over and over until it took the whole world down with them. We don't all know a giant god with a magic hammer built by dwarves, but we all know someone who's a bit arrogant, and who can be thoughtless, and selfish, but funny and brash and kind. We don't all know a trickster who can shape-shift, but we all know a clown who thinks he's way cleverer than he really is, and keeps getting in over his head. We don't all know a one-eyed king with a spear and an eight-legged horse, but we all know someone who lets power get to his head. Myths are important to me not because they tell us about what people thought the world was like before they knew better, but because they tell us about ourselves.
While you performed the show last year to rave reviews, your upcoming performance will this time be held in the South Australian Museum foyer. Have you altered the show in any way to make use of the new venue?
In many ways it's still the same show as last year. We've all had an opportunity to reflect on what worked and what could use some polish, and small things have been tweaked around the edges, but the core is the same. The foyer of the museum has a really nice, echoey acoustic, very similar to the cathedral where we presented last time, so sonically the show is much the same, (with the added benefit of six months of polish) but visually, it should be a very different beast. The whale skeletons, and displays in the front foyer, and the glass wall that looks out onto the city at night will give us a really interesting visual element to work with for the show.
What are your future plans for the show?
We're actually really excited to announce that the Festival of Voices in Hobart has added us to their programme for this year, so we'll be going on tour in July for that. I have tentative plans also to tour it to Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane as well. As far as what will happen next, I really love 'Midnight Sun' and will always be looking for more opportunities to present it, but I'm also working on a series of 'successor shows' that will expand the Myth and Music series to other cultures. I'm in the process of developing three shows: an English show that will explore the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, a Russian one that will get into stories of Baba Yaga, and a Polynesian one that will be telling tales of Maui, the trickster god.