Out Take: Herdis Stefánsdóttir


Web: herdisstefansdottir.com

Contact: Kyrie Hood, [email protected]

Most Recent: Y: The Last Man

The 2021 series Y: The Last Man, about a post-apocalyptic world devoid of beings with a Y chromosome, is accompanied by a haunting, choral score that centers around the female voice and incorporates elements of western cinema music. It was written by Icelandic composer and electronic musician Herdis Stefánsdóttir, who in addition to television and film, has also composed for theater and dance. “It’s very different,” she says of composing for live performance compared to film and TV. “Dance is so free-form; the music and performance hold each other’s hands. You have free space to create music in an open format while with a film, you have to adapt to a certain vision. You don’t have complete freedom.”  

As a Master’s student in film composition at NYU working to establish a career, Stefánsdóttir said she would work with student filmmakers and score short films. In New York, she met Johann Johannsson at a screening for The Theory of Everything and offered to be his assistant, which led to an internship with him as he worked on the score for 2016’s Arrival. “That was my first insight into what it is to write, score and work on big projects,” Stefánsdóttir says. “When I told Johann I wanted to write music and not have to have another job, he said the most important thing was to work on your own music, surround yourself with inspiring people and be open to whatever projects come your way. That advice led me to quitting working for him and making a record and really focusing on my own music. That’s important––nurturing your own work.” 

It led to scoring work such as The Sun is Also a Star, which earned her a nomination for the Icelandic Music Awards, and the HBO series We’re Here. “You just have to write music and really enjoy that process,” she advises. “I can only give advice on what has helped me––and that was to start by working with student filmmakers and scoring short films. I would introduce myself to production companies. Reach out to composers and ask if they need an assistant. It’s a lot of networking and knowing people.”