Frontline World

ICELAND - The Future of Sound, January 2003

Synopsis of "The Future of Sound"

World Music's Global Reach

Sample Sounds From the Edge of the World

Learn More about Iceland

History, Culture and Unique Approach to Energy




Links and Resources

• General Background
• Icelandic Music
• Culture and History
• A Unique Approach to Energy
• Media Resources

General Background
The official site of the Iceland Foreign Service provides visitors with a wealth of background information on the country's people, history, economy and foreign policy. Learn interesting facts about Iceland -- for example, it has just three people per square kilometer, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.

Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations
Iceland has been a member of the United Nations since 1946. Its U.N. Web site presents background information about the country's history and people and offers facts about the country's diplomatic relations. A handy flowchart enumerates international organizations to which Iceland belongs, including the Arctic Council (which Iceland is chairing from 2002 to 2004).

2002 CIA Worldfactbook: Iceland
A good primer for anyone wanting to learn more about Iceland, the 2002 CIA Worldfactbook's section on Iceland offers concise, easy-to-scroll chapters of information, including a collection of demographic facts, descriptions of political parties and a list of key political leaders. An image of Iceland's flag can be enlarged at a click, and facts about the nation's economy, geography and communications can be gathered at a glance.

Iceland Tourist Board
Ever fancied taking a dip in a geothermal hot spring surrounded by a lunarlike landscape? Or imagined trekking along winding fjords to marvel at the largest puffin and razorbill colonies in the world? Sponsored by the Icelandic Tourist Board of North America, this Web site, accessible also in French and Spanish, offers to visitors interested in planning a trip information on where to go, when to go and why anyone should go to Iceland.

BBC Country Profile: Iceland
This BBC profile of Iceland offers an excellent general introduction to Iceland's modern history, politics and media.

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Icelandic Music

Iceland Airwaves 2002
Sponsored by Iceland Air and the city of Reykjavik, the Iceland Airwaves music festival was launched in 1999 as a forum to showcase budding Icelandic musical talent, such as the bands Quarashi and Sigur Ros. The 2002 Airwaves festival included international sensations Fat Boy Slim (United Kingdom), the Hives (Sweden) and Iceland's own Apparat Organ Quartet -- a band that continues to affirm why Icelandic music, with its crystalline complexity and innovation, is a window into the future of sound.

Kitchen Motors
Kitchen Motors was created in April of 1999 by three Reykyjavik-area musicians to help foster unlikely musical and artistic collaborations between local musicians, with the results performed before audiences and released on the Kitchen Motors record label. The creative think tank now covers every artistic bandwith in the creative spectrum, still instigating unlikely musical pairings but also promoting performance art events, exhibition showings, and film productions the world over. Visit their site to find out more about this quirky outfit and their upcoming projects.

The Icelandic Music Page
The Icelandic Music Page has an extensive listing of bands and musicians from Iceland, including links to their Web sites. It also provides information about Icelandic musicology and history going back hundreds of years. All genres of Icelandic music and styles are represented here, as is information about musical gear and musician unions and organizations that are active in Iceland.

BBCi's AboutMusic: Reykjavik Underground
The BBC world music series AboutMusic produced this profile of Reykjavik's music scene, interviewing the key players in the Reykjavik underground scene, across all genres. The site boasts more than 70 music clips from pioneering bands and shows the kind of cross-band collaboration that's become a hallmark of modern Icelandic music. One such musical collaboration is Kitchen Motors -- the creative crucible out of which such successful experiments as the Apparat Organ Quartet were born.

BBC Radio 3: Mixing It Visits Iceland
In October 2001, the BBC world music show Mixing It traveled to Iceland to explore the country's alternative music scene. Hear clips of music and be present at interviews with a dozen musicians from Iceland, who offer insight into why it seems that just about everyone in the country is musically inclined.

"Cool Heat in Rock Lab"
Since the late 1980s, with the advent of Bjork and her band, the Sugarcubes, Icelandic music has been renowned globally as a bellwether for musical experimentation and change. The persistent appeal of Icelandic bands such as Sigur Ros and Mum may reflect a desire from the general listening public to tap into sound that is, according to The Age (Oct. 8, 2002) unlike anything else. Many believe that it's Iceland's extreme landscape that has set Icelandic bands' imaginations into hyperdrive.

"The Bands That Came in From the Cold"
Find out why Scandinavian music is the hottest thing around, from the hard-rockin' thrash of bands like the Hives to the atmospheric bliss of Sigur Ros, a band from Iceland that performs in Hopelandic, a language it invented. An Icelandic expatriate living in San Francisco attributes the hotbed of musical experimentation to a creative reaction to six months of long nights and harsh winters. (San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 20, 2002)

Born in Reykjavik on November 21, 1965, Bjork Gudmundsdottir (or Bjork, as she's commonly known) is Iceland's most famous export. This visually lush fan-site is brimming with information about the artist, from her first record release at age 11 to a slew of photos, a nicely arranged biography and inimitable musings from the "Bjorkess" herself.

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Culture and History

CultureNet Iceland
In Icelandic and English, CultureNet Iceland touts itself as "the official gateway to Icelandic culture on the Web." The site features online newsletters about various art and cultural events in Iceland and features Icelandic artists, including three winners of the 2002 Carnegie Art Award. Information about famous Icelandic writers, such as Nobel Prize-winner Halldor Laxness, is also available, along with an archive of past newsletters on such subjects as Icelandic film and literature.

History of Iceland
Presented by the Icelandic Tourist Board, the History of Iceland page provides the Web visitor with a well-informed overview of Icelandic history, from the settlement of Iceland by Norwegian and Celtic immigrants in the late ninth century to the founding in A.D. 930 of the Althing, the world's first parliamentary system. Find out about Iceland's Age of Stone Throwing, when the parliamentary rule of the Althing splintered amid clan warfare. A timeline featuring milestones in Icelandic history, such as its independence from Denmark in 1944, can also be found here.

Icelandic Sagas
Written between the 12th and 13th centuries, Icelandic sagas are records of oral accounts passed down through the generations. These sagas describe the exploits of individuals, in the vein of Beowulf, or document whole communities in a style the site itself describes as "blunt." The stories are peppered with supernatural explanations for events. This Web site includes several famous sagas, such as the anonymous Eyrbyggja Saga, as well as one about Norwegian kings written by the Shakespeare of Icelandic literature and poetry, Snorri Sturluson.

Icelandic Folklore
Presented by Virtually Virtual Iceland, this Web page includes four traditional tales of magic, mystery and mayhem: "Loftur the Sorcerer," "Deep Are the Iceland Channels," "The Guardians of Iceland," and "Jolasveinarnir -- Yuletide Lads." What does a cow licking a tree signify? The answers to that and other Icelandic superstitions are revealed here.

Jo's Icelandic Recipes
Iceland boasts a smorgasbord of exotic culinary treats. Some perennial favorites include the eggnoglike eggjamjolk and Mandarin orange cheesecake. Mutton lovers, try your hand at Lifrarpylsa, Icelandic-style haggis. For the truly courageous, this Web site of traditional Icelandic recipes and family favorites reveals how rotten shark meat is prepared. Find out how food and tradition coalesce in festivities like the Day of St. Thorlakur.

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A Unique Approach to Energy

Because of Iceland's abundance of hot springs, geysers and volcanoes, the country is a geothermal paradise, helping to make it the only country in the world where the availability of electricity exceeds the demand. More than 66 percent of all the energy produced in Iceland comes from two renewable sources: hydroelectric energy and geothermal power. Despite this cornucopia of clean-burning, cheap energy, Iceland is still dependent upon oil imports to power its armada of more than 2,000 fishing trawlers and transportation vehicles. The ever-resourceful nation is exploring alternative forms of energy, including its efforts to become the world's first hydrogen society. Iceland's hydrogen guru is chemistry professor Bragi Arnason, who first unveiled the idea nearly 30 years ago to cynical colleagues. While hydrogen is easily manufactured in Iceland via geothermal-generated electricity and water, the challenge is in storing vast amounts of the world's lightest gas within spaces compact and powerful enough to power cars, trucks and fishing vessels. Enter the hydrogen-powered fuel cell, championed by Professor Arnason and backed by such heavy hitters as Daimler Chrysler. According to Physicsweb ("The Hydrogen Economy Blasts Off," July 2002), fuel cells could be the technology that proves key in saving Iceland $150 million in annual oil imports and slashing its greenhouse gas emissions. Will the tiny nation become the "Kuwait of the North," leading an energy revolution in which it exports hydrogen to markets in Europe and abroad?

Landsvirkjun: The National Power Company
Since 1983, Landsvirkjun has been entrusted with providing nearly all of Iceland with electricity. A town in northern Iceland has a 5 percent share in the mostly state-owned utility. On the home page, you'll find recent energy-related news updates, including the announcement of bids being accepted by Landsvirkjun for the controversial Karahnjukar Hydropower Project, which will feature dams, a power station built and operated by the utility, and a colossal new aluminum smelter from Alcoa.

National Energy Authority of Iceland
Orkustofnun, Iceland's National Energy Authority, has been in existence since 1967, advising the government on energy issues, conducting research and providing services, all related to tapping into energy reserves from Iceland's unique volcanic, green and glacial landscape.

"Iceland Launches Energy Revolution"
This BBC article provides a good overview on how Iceland plans to harness the power of hydrogen through fuel cells to help meet the country's energy needs. If Iceland is successful in this, hydrogen-based fuel cells would replace the dirty carbon fumes sputtering from car exhaust pipes with a new "waste" by-product -- water.

"Hydrogen Puts Iceland on Road to Oil-Free Future"
This article appeared in Planet Ark (May 31, 2002). In 2003, Iceland's novel use of hydrogen as a possible energy source will be put to the test as three hydrogen-powered buses, built by a consortium of major industry players, including Mercedes' Daimler Chrysler, take to the streets of Reykjavik. If these three buses operate successfully, more cities --Madrid, Amsterdam, Hamburg and others -- could follow suit. Major obstacles still remain, however, in trying to harness energy from the world's lightest element.

"A Visionary Energy Policy"
Get a glimpse into Iceland's visionary energy policy by reading this article about the Sudurnes power plant, which produces electricity via geothermal steam. The plant also makes hot water for the local community -- and "waste" runoff is enjoyed by locals and tourists, who soak up the pollution-free water.

"Running on Hydrogen"
This report from Science Wire (Jan. 22, 2001), a joint project of San Francisco's Exploratorium Museum and PRI radio program The World, comes from Reykjavik. Reporter Rebecca Roberts met University of Iceland professor Thorsteinn Sigfusson, who is working with officials in the government to make hydrogen a viable fuel source. According to Professor Sigfusson, utilizing renewable energy sources, from the extraction of hydrogen to its storage as a fuel in fuel cells, is key to this new hydrogen economy.

Alcoa's Green Light
Iceland's petroleum imports provide fuel for the nation's transportation vehicles, fishing trawlers and energy-intensive smelting industry. Aluminum giant Alcoa got the green light from the government of Iceland to construct a 300,000-ton-per-year "low-emission" smelter in eastern Iceland. Though a majority of Icelanders welcome the project, environmentalists want the area designated as a national park. (Bjork's mother went on a 20-day hunger strike to protest construction of the smelter.)

The Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA) vehemently opposes Alcoa's construction of an aluminum smelter in the vicinity of Europe's largest national glacier, Vatnajokull, which INCA says is one of the biggest unspoiled areas in Europe. Find out more about why INCA sees the project as a threat to the unique wilderness of the Icelandic highlands and how dam construction may do more harm than good in the region.

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Media Resources

Icelandic National Broadcasting Service
The state-owned Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV) has been operating since 1930. Promoting Iceland's language, history and cultural heritage, RUV broadcasts programs throughout the country via the two radio stations and the one television station it operates. The Web site is in Icelandic.

Founded in 1913, Morgunbladid (Icelandic Morning Paper) is Iceland's largest daily newspaper, with a circulation of 56,000. The newspaper's Web site is in Icelandic.

A weekly publication in English, Logberg-Heimskringla features news and articles of interest to all people of Icelandic ancestry. Peruse the archives and visit the Travel and Children's Corner sections. is a clearinghouse of current-affairs information compiled from various news agencies, including the UK Guardian, the Boston Globe, Hoover and the Atlanta Journal. The site also features useful sidebar links organized into Guides and Directories and News and Media resources.

Iceland Review
Offering daily news from Iceland and more, Iceland Review is an online publication replete with different sections, from Daily Life to Fun and Eating Out to articles about Iceland's capital, Reykjavik. The publication's news bulletins, updated daily, and feature articles can be accessed through free, online registration.

The Washington Post, Iceland
The online edition of The Washington Post features a World section in which news articles pertaining to Iceland can be found. A recent article, "Earth to Iceland," is by staff writer Cindy Loose, whose experience of the nation's unique geography led her to comment that "sometimes in Iceland, it's hard to remember you're still on planet Earth." Links to Iceland's political parties and travel options can also be found.

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