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  • Jimmy Broccoli

Hopelandic - A Language Of Gibberish - Amazing, Brilliant And Emotional Gibberish

Hi All

This is commentary on Hopelandic - you might find it interesting.

My writing has been profoundly and heavily influenced by the music and lyrical style of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. When looking for inspiration to write, I frequently turn towards Jón Þór Birgisson's (Jónsi) vocals.

In 2005 the band released an interesting collection of songs - titled "Takk". This album has a 98% world-wide approval rating on Google. Interestingly, the final 3 tracks on the album are not sung in any recognizable language - in fact, the lyrics aren't part of any established language at all. They are sung entirely in Hopelandic.

Hopelandic is a non-sense language that imitates the sounds of both Icelandic and English, but no actual words are being said or sung. It's similar to when a songwriter begins writing the music to a new song and adds nonsense vocals to match the music (to establish tone or rhythm) - the actual lyrics can be written later. It can be as simple as "la de de, la de dum, hummm, hummm". In the case of Sigur Rós, the "final lyrics" are never created, so the lyrics are made of nonsense words. The vocals are an added instrument - but the vocals are gibberish.

Strangely, both speakers of Icelandic and of English hear familiar words when listening to songs sung in Hopelandic. For the song I link to this post - Dauðalagið (The Song of Death, in English) - I hear many recognizable words. But not one word sung is sung in English. This is where the emotional beauty begins.

Although I strongly suspect singing in a gibberish language is unique to Sigur Rós (or, at least they were the first to use this technique - or the first to make it popular), this type of phenomenon isn't new.

Think of an English speaking person in a theatre watching and listening to an opera entirely spoken and sung in Italian. I don't know more than 3 Italian words. But, I am a fan of several operas (to include Italian and German operas). They move me. It is common for an English-speaking (only) attendee to be moved to tears by a powerful performance by actors who are speaking a language English-speaking audience members don't understand. It's the emotion behind the words sung - it's the emotion behind the performance that makes it all make sense.

Hopelandic and it's power over fans is interesting and noteworthy. Unlike Italian or any other established language, there are no dictionaries for Hopelandic. It's gibberish. There are dozens of sites online that present the lyrics to "Untitled #7 (Dauðalagið)" and absolutely all of them (without exception) are wrong. The sites present the lyrics as they hear them from their language point of view. In Dauðalagið I recognize English words. It's my brain attempting to create understanding of something that isn't understandable. I, like many others (who are listening), are creating meaning where there is none.

Or can there be an emotional meaning without it being presented in recognizable language? The answer, of course, is "Yes".

Sigur Rós' album "Takk" produces 8 songs all titled "Untitled" - but then the band named them all, so fans would be able to refer to the songs individually. That is why "Untitled #7" is also referred to as "Dauðalagið" - an untitled song with a title. Yeah, it's a contradiction.

In 2005 Pitchfork Magazine, in a very positive article, praises "Takk" as a departure from the usual Sigur Rós "music for wrist-slitters" as was presented in previous albums. I find this analysis fascinating because I find "Takk" the most devastatingly depressing Sigur Rós music up to that time. The reviewer at Pitchfork Magazine heard the songs very differently than I do. He experienced an uplifting album - I experienced the exact same album as hopelessly depressing. And neither of us are wrong.

So - what does Hopelandic sound like?

Here is Sigur Rós with a very powerful and moving performance of "Untitled #7 - Dauðalagið" - filmed in 2005 in Iceland. Jónsi begins the performance speaking to the audience in Icelandic - but then moves to Hopelandic when he begins singing. You, like me - like the audience and others who watch this video may/will recognize words within the lyrics. In the same way we may see bunny rabbits and the virgin Mary in the clouds, we hear words we recognize here. It's a trick - but you're in on the secret so, hopefully, you can enjoy the smoke and mirrors and realize you are listening to gibberish. But, highly emotional and brilliant gibberish.

Here is Dauðalagið (Live in Seyðisfjörður) - and I hope you enjoy it!

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