Atli Örvarsson is a film composer, formerly based in Los Angeles. A few years ago, he packed up all his belongings and moved with his family to Akureyri in the north of Iceland, where he grew up. A few years ago, moving from LA to Akureyri would have meant the end of his career, but thanks to technology, frequent travel, and some talented musicians in Akureyri, he’s right on track. “This type of work can easily be done remotely,” Atli says. “Also, I figured out in LA, even though I was working with someone in another part of the same town, getting around is such a hassle that we still ended up working over Skype. So there really isn’t that much of a difference, you just need a good connection to the internet.”
In addition to composing in Akureyri, he’s also had a hand in creating a studio orchestra and recording film and tv scores in Akureyri’s concert hall and culture centre, Hof. “I was at home for Christmas maybe four years ago and met up with Þorvaldur Bjarni Þorvaldsson, the musical director of Hof and Sinfonia Nord. I hadn't seen him for years and we started talking about how fun it would be to use the building, Hof, for recording. As often happens, a chat will lead to bigger things and when I moved here, we decided to try it.” The experiment was successful, and Hof turned out to be a great place to record. '
With the help of Þorvaldur, Atli set out to build up a studio orchestra in the small town. Made up of musicians from Akureyri, along with visitors from Reykjavík or abroad, the orchestra now regularly records symphonic music for film and TV, sometimes with the aid of the talented choirs in the area. For Atli, this is nothing short of a miracle, “I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is surreal. It shouldn't be possible to be 90 km south of the Arctic Circle and we’re standing in this amazing building with this great acoustics, with these great musicians, making music on an international scale.’ It’s the Icelandic miracle all over again. How can a town of 18.000 people, in a country with just over 300.000 people have this? It’s the Icelanders’ patented mixture of insanity and ingenuity. It’s often not far between the two.”
Atli says the locals have greeted his project with open arms, “The musician’s here in Akureyri have been really accepting and grateful to get some new opportunities. I’ve also felt a lot of interest and goodwill from the town council as well as people around town.” Despite the warm welcome, Atli had some trouble convincing people about the nature of his work. “Mostly, people think this is just a super weird thing to do. When we first started, the first time I recorded music here for a film was when we recorded strings for a film called The Perfect Guy. It was released in the US a few years ago and topped box office lists for something like two weeks. When I was telling people in town about this, they just didn't get it. They heard what I was saying but the scale of the project didn't register with them. Little by little, people have realised that it’s real, even if it still feels a little unreal.”
Read the full interview with Atli in the latest issue of Iceland Review. Click here to subscribe.