Isa_Bel is the collaboration of Belgian Wim Van Hooste and Icelander Ólafur Kolbeinn Guðmundsson. Guðmundsson is best known for his work under the name Rambelta, while Wim has been the driving force behind a number of Icelandic music journalism projects, most recently the website ROK > Icelandic Music Review and as a contributing writer to the print magazine RVK On Stage. Wim and I first connected via his earlier website, I Love Icelandic Music, and we’ve had an ongoing correspondence since then. In fact some Life in the Vinyl Lane reviews of Icelandic releases also appear on ROK.
The pair teamed up to give us Str/ax, a two-song 7″ of experimental electronica. I caught up with Wim via Facebook Messenger and posed a few questions about the project.
Wim, how did you and Ólafur first connect, and what made you decide to work together as Isa_Bel?
The origin of the ‘Isa_Bel’ collaboration between me, Wim Van Hooste, a.k.a. Dr ROK, and Ólafur Kolbeinn Guðmundsson (Súrefni, Korter í þrjú, Rambelta) goes back to Easter 2010. The day after the famous yearly Aldrei fór ég suður Festival (check www.aldrei.is) at Ísafjörður, the capital of the West Fjords, I met Óli met and we kept contact over the years. We had some kind of musical “connection” during his performance in a lopapeysa (an Icelandic woolen sweater) and the after-party of Aldrei ’10 festival, a festival founded by musician Mugison. One day, some years latera, Ólafur had the idea to work musically together with me, a Medical Doctor during daytime, Dr ROK during my hours off. I was asked to provide some WAV-files: recordings made while I was talking with my doctor’s voice in Dutch/Flemish about the human heart and circulatory system, as well as the human skeleton. Just before falling a sleep one evening, I came up with the duo name: ‘Isa_Bel’, the place where Ísafjörður and Belgium meet. Not sure if the name came to me ‘cause of Björk’s song entitled “Isobel”, a track from her album “Post” (One Little Indian, 1995).
What was the recording process like? You two are separated by a big, cold stretch of the North Atlantic. Did you have an agreed-upon vision before you started?
I recorded my voice at my home base on a Tascam device, that I bought to record Icelandic music podcasts over the years. The recordings took place at my man’s cave, also the base of the website ROK (check www.rokmusik.co) and the home of the virtual Icelandic music museum (check: www.icelandicmusicmuseum.blogspot.com).
Some years ago, Ólafur, a fisherman during day time, musican during his days off, moved from the south, to the capital of the West Fjords, Ísafjörður. There he started to (re)built and improve his home studio. Once finished, he started to record. He is known to built his own electronic equipment and release stuff as Rambelta (check: www.rambelta.bandcamp.com). Previously he released 4 EPs, cover art consisted of photographs taken by his girlfriend RebekkaGuðleifsdóttir.
For this project I was going to provide, besides my doctor’s vocal chords, my art work skills. I made 2 paintings acryl on canvas, to form the front and back of the release. I came up with the title of the vinyl single project: “Str/ax”. It is a word with a meaning in Dutch (Straks = ‘later on’) and Icelandic (Strax = ‘immediately’), although not the same meaning! The R/ was included to have a reference to the MD’s prescription method and the topic of the project (blood, heart and skeleton). I had the idea to call the tracks, A+ and A- (like the blood groups) and the track titles respectively: “Anarchy Anemia” and “Rhesus Disaster”. Ólafur distillated his housebrown cocktail of electro, experimental and soundscape. He wanted to do something besides the more mainstream music he makes as Rambelta. Let’s say more indie, something more alternative for his unique project.
We agreed for his project that Ólafur had to like my artwork, and that I had to love his music. So, we a had a artistic, musical deal!
Later in the process, late 2016/early 2017, we wanted to make a “physical” release, a 45 RPM 7 inch. With a good mixing and mastering of the music, that was our goal.
Previous I did the artwork for the LP “Fast” by Heidatrubador (2017) (check https://heidatrubador.bandcamp.com/album/fast).
And finally we found our man to do the mastering of the 2 tracks: the musical wizzard of Worm Is Green, Árni Teitur Ássgeirsson (check: www.wormisgreen.com)
The company Vinyll (www.vinyll.is), an Icelandic business that makes vinyl records in small amounts (starting from 1 copy !), got involved to provide 45 copies for the 45 RPM Isa_Bel release. 23 black ones and 22 transparent vinyl records, hand numbered.
Can we expect more tracks from Isa_Bel in the future? Is anything currently in the works?
Not at the moment. Not sure, maybe some remixes by other musicians!? Never say never!
Óli changed job, from fisherman he became captain of a vessel taking tourists to remote spots in the North (Atlantic Ocean), e.g. to Jan Mayen, East Coast of Greenland, … you name it. When he’s on the Ocean, he’s thinking about new music I guess. And back home he starts to record some music now and then.
You and I share a passion for Icelandic music. What up-and-coming Icelandic bands are you really into right now? Anything the Life in the Vinyl Lane readers should track down and listen to?
Plenty of stuff to recommend, for sure. Icelandic music scene produces more than 200 releases per year. Hard job, but somebody has to do it.
Here’s my selection, here today, tomorrow next week(another list I guess)
Everything on the Icelandic FALK label: espec. “AAIINNEE” and “Decanter”
Everything on the Lady Boy Records label: espec. “Rattofer”, Andi” and “Kuldabolti”
For Grrrl power:
“Skelkur í bringu” (100% Icelandic)
“Kælan Mikla” (100 % Icelandic)
“Dream Wife” (33.33 % Icelandic)
Duo “Legend” feat. Legendary frontman Krummi
Boys meet girl on bass band:
‘New ‘Old school cool stuff:
The return of “Mosi frændi” in 2017
Kontinuum: “No Nead To Reason” on Season of Mist label
Wim is never short on recommendations for Icelandic artists!
This isn’t dance floor stuff, this is sit-back-and-let-your-mind-expand kind of stuff. “Anarchy Anemia” has some beat-like percussion, but there is no consistency in the timing, so it’s not like Isa_Bel are trying to provide us with something formally structured. Which, I suspect, is the entire point. By taking us outside normal song structure and concepts we’re given more freedom to interpret and explore on our own. Often experimental electronica is so far removed from musical form as to be unrecognizable. But Isa_Bel take us to the outskirts of form, but do so without crossing over into the realm of pure noise. “Rhesus Disaster” puts more emphasis on beats, but once again not in the way dance tracks do, instead something more organic and entropic. This track feels more “electronic” to me, not in terms of electronic as a genre but instead as in it feels like there is electric current running through it; you can almost visualize the knobs being turned and buttons pushed to distort the current and create the sound.
I didn’t know what to expect from Str/ax, and I got more than I bargained for. The only thing I’ve heard recently that it reminds me of is Farmacia’s Suero, which is pretty high praise considering that album made my year-end Top 5 list in 2017. If you want to expand your mind, go to Bandcamp and check these tracks out HERE. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from Isa_Bel in the future.