Herdís Stefánsdóttir is a composer of music for multimedia, a songwriter, and an electronic musician. Her compositional endeavours — installations in museums, dance, theatre, and a successful electronic music duet she is a part of – are establishing her as an expansive artist. Herdís Stefánsdóttir graduated with an M.A. degree in film scoring from New York University in 2017. Since graduation she has scored two feature films, an HBO series and a few short films. Her scoring work includes Ry Russo – Young’s MGM/Warner Bros. feature film, The Sun Is Also A Star and the HBO series We’re Here. Herdís was nominated for The Icelandic Music Awards for her score in The Sun Is Also A Star.

How did you become involved on The Essex Serpent?

Both Dustin (co composer Dustin O’Halloran) and I got the scripts and were really into them, we had never co-composed anything before and this felt like a perfect project for both of our voices combined!

You Interned with composer Johann Johannsson when he was scoring the movie The Arrival, in 2016, what was he like to work alongside and learn from?

It was really inspiring and interesting. I think Johann’s score for Arrival is one of my favourite scores of recent times. It was super cool to see his sessions and how he composed and worked with sounds, I definitely learned a lot from it. It was also the first time I got to see the process of scoring a film. 

Your style is very inventive and original, you blend voices, with synths and live instrumentation, what composers aside from Johannsson would you say have influenced you as in film score composers and also from other genres of music?

I am very influenced by a lot of music that is not film music, everything from hip hop to classical. Some of my favourite composers are Ligeti, Penderecki, Messiaen and Debussy. I love Ennio Morricone and watching some of the films that he scored was the first time I got interested in music for film! When I’m scoring film’s I rarely listen to film music for inspiration!

Y The Last Man, is an interesting watch, how did you become involved on the scoring of this and was it something that was different for you and was there a temp music track on the film?

There was no temp music, and I wrote a chunk of music not to picture while they were still filming! It was the first time I worked on a story with an apocalyptic world and definitely found myself in that world!

Staying with Y The Last Man, I felt that the opening theme particularly had to it a kind of western as in cowboy sound, was this something that you set out to do?

The wild west was an idea from the director and was a way to interpret the lawless world that forms within Y and takes us through the journey and road trip in the story. 

Was it a score that you found to be difficult to get into, because there are several complex characters in the story, so did you have a starting point for the scoring of the project as in a scene, a character, or maybe a line of dialogue or a location? Or did you already know the story and begin writing before seeing any footage?

I started out finding a sound for the world of Y, and started focusing on the day it all happened and developed the sound of the world from there! Later I looked into some of the major characters like Agent 355, Yorick and Jennifer Brown. Finding a sound and theme for them helped me then continue developing sounds and themes for the show! 

Did the producers of the show have a lot of involvement in how the score should sound or where the music should be placed?

I was very free in creating the music for Y which was great and inspiring. I guess I got lucky finding a sound and themes early on that they liked!

Was writing music for film a career that you had decided upon from an early age, or was it initially music that you were interested in and the film scoring came later?

I started with studying general composition but in my studies, I started collaborating with dancers and theatre students in my school. That’s when I became more interested in collaborations like that. Combining music with visual material etc. After my B.A. in Iceland, I applied for a film scoring program at NYU and got more interested in writing music for film. 

Film music has evolved and altered over the past decade or so and the soundscape has it seems come into its own, your scores are a combination of soundscape and thematic, do you think that the opening theme in movies will one day return in the form it was?

Film music is always developing, and things go in and out of fashion, you can say that both in film making and music. I think anything can work and happen when it comes to films!

What would you say is the role of music in film?

It’s helping tell the story and sometimes adds what we don’t see on the screen, it’s like the 4th dimension of the film. 

Do you perform on your film scores?

Yes, I recorded myself playing the piano and electronics, I also tend to use my voice quite a bit!

Do you have set routines when scoring a movie, or does every film differ in respect of the scoring pattern?

It has always been a different approach for me, so far, all my projects have been very different. I never know what I’m going to do before I start a project!

Are there any genres of film that you would like to write for, a western maybe?

I’d love to score a western one day but mostly I want to work on good stories that inspire me!

When spotting a movie how many times do you like to see it before starting to formulate ideas regarding sound and structure of the score?

I normally read the script and watch only once before I start! I like to try not writing to picture in the beginning. But as it progresses; I go deeper into certain scenes!

You have worked on features, TV projects and shorts, what would say is the most challenging type of project to work on?

It really depends on the project. TV scores can be challenging because there is a lot of music and often a tight delivery schedule. Films can be challenging too as there is often more details and less repetition of the music!

What is next for you?

I’m starting a new feature which is a thriller/horror and then I’m working on my solo record under the name Kónguló. First single comes out on June 10th!


The Essex Serpent is a recent TV mini-series on Apple Tv that follows newly widowed Cora, who, having been released from an abusive marriage, relocates from Victorian London to the small village of Aldwinter in Essex, intrigued by a local superstition that a mythical creature known as the Essex Serpent has returned to the area. The story explores the scenario of religious superstition and a more rational understanding examination of the superstition, both views colliding and contradicting each other over unusual, mysterious, and unexplained events. The series which is now in its fourth episode intriguing is a well-paced account, that has a strong and flowing script that is delivered wonderfully by the leading actors and supporting cast, which includes the multi-talented Tom Hiddelston and the excellent Claire Danes. The series has to it an attraction and a beguiling, persona which is mainly down to the performances of the cast and the arresting cinematography courtesy of David Raedeker, with the cameras being positioned and deployed at odd angles and at low levels especially when the filming is over the damp, desolate, and forbidding marshes.

Its a storyline that does throw up some surprises which makes me wonder if the conclusion will be a rational explanation as Cora (Danes) is suggesting, or if it will be a mystical route that brings the tale to an end? We will have to wait and find out. The music too plays a major factor in creating a mysterious, romantic, and unsettling atmosphere. The score is the work of two composers, Dustin O’Halloran and Herdis Stefansdottir, who have collaborated to create a score that is more than just supportive of the storyline but becomes an integral part of it. As yet there is no soundtrack release but with a series such as this and also with a score of this quality then it is only a matter of time before the music is released. The music is realized by an array of instrumentation, I would not label it as being grandiose in any way but it is certainly an affecting work, the music hinting at what the serpent is or could be whilst also having to it a personal and more intimate style and sound when applied to the central characters in the series, but the themes are not strictly attached to the characters but more to the emotions or feelings that they are experiencing either at the time or in their past. The music and sounds also work well with the various landscapes and settings within the series, colouring and adding depth to the proceedings. The composers creating two differing musical worlds for the rural settings of Essex and the busier locale of London.

Essex having to it a more solid and down to earth style and London being given a slightly softer and delicate persona, but still sounding somewhat rural. The instrumentation is interesting with the score utilizing cello and violin in most cues, the composers also introducing interesting sounds and adding textures and layers to the score which are fashioned via found instrumentation. It maybe a score that is not yet available, but I am hoping that it will be issued very soon. Worth watching and listening to.