Article Monoplex #3: Grandma Lo-fi: The Basement Tapes of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir
In the context of grandmas, the notion of a back catalogue is likely to evoke images of brochures filled with dropshoulder patterns and adverts for Knitmasters, piled chronologically to the ceiling in a room subsiding under fifty years worth of surplus wool. More so, at least, than a discography of over 600 songs and 59 music albums. But that’s exactly what this grandma, Sigríður Níelsdóttir, had to her name. Packed with tea bags and bird feed her shopping trolley wasn’t (not entirely anyway); a bescarved Sigríður wheeled her home-produced CDs – complete with self-made artwork – across Reyjavík, to top up stock at the 12 Tónar record store.
In 2000 this ‘Grandma Lo-Fi’ took up a less than conventional hobby at the age of seventy, that saw her kitchen become a storehouse of musical implements and her basement flat a recording studio. Fascinated by sound, Sigríður built a collection of cassette recordings that included a group of seven dogs barking in unison, that she’d met whilst living in Brazil; the ‘coo’ of a sick pigeon who she once fostered; and the noises of her pet guinea pigs and her cat Trítill. She delighted in her homemade sound ‘tricks’, which included a hand whisk becoming a helicopter; an egg slicer a harp; tin foil a crackling fire; and a bottle filled with buttons for a percussion section.
Removing the doily covering the ‘Entertainer’, her pet-named Casio keyboard, Sigríður set rhythms for her noises to play out alongside, recording them together with lyrics – at times meaningful, at others gibberish – to create tracks for albums with such fanciful themes as ‘cowboy life’.
Befitting Sigríður’s methodology and her merriment, directors Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir, Orri Jónsson, Kristin Björk Kristjánsdóttir piece together her story in DIY fashion using Super 8 and 16mm film. Scenes are interspersed with stop-motion animations and paeans from a younger generation of Icelandic musicians of bands like múm, Seabear and Sigur Rós, set against backdrops of Sigríður’s colourful collages. Too shy to ever play her music in public, these musicians have since brought her songs to the stage through The Sigríður Níelsdóttir Experience.
The world out there is full of music, and in the final years of her life this grandma took joy in finding ways of capturing, recreating, and perfecting it.
Download one of Sigríður’s hits, Naggrisirnir
Grandma Lo-fi: The Basement Tapes of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir will be screened at 5pm in the Article Monoplex. More info here.
Illustrations by Lisa O’Hara