I’m quite familiar with 2 Langspils: an old and newer one. Golden oldies first.
The Langspil is a traditional Icelandic drone zither. It has 1 melody string with 1 to 5 drone strings (usually 2), so it is easy to learn to play it compared with more complicated instruments. The langspil can be played by plucking the strings by hand, with a bow or by hammering. Langspils exist in two basic versions, straight and curved and are generally around the length of 80 cm, but can be as long as 104 cm or as short as 73 cm. Many different types of wood have traditionally been used, including pine, fir, beechwood, birch, oak and walnut, since they were generally constructed from driftwood.
In 1855 the book ‘Leiðarvísir til að spila á langspil’ (A guide on playing the langspil) was published. It also included information on how to make langspils, although with a slight printing error in the fretting. This book increased the popularity of the Langspil quite a lot. However by the middle of the 20th century the instrument had become rare and few played it any more. The langspil has an important place on the yearly folk festival on Siglufjörður in the North of Iceland.
Langspil, the radio show
Heiða Eiríks (singer Heiða í Unun/Hellvar, full name Ragnheiður Eiríksdóttir) is the radio host of the program “Langspil, íslenskt já takk” (Langspil, Icelandic, yes please) on the Rás 2 radio channel of RÚV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. A program about Icelandic music, with the focus on new releases, interviews and live recordings. The show is broadcasted every Thursday evening. I contacted Heiða to know why she choose the name “Langspil” for her radio show:
“Langspil is considered the only “real icelandic” instrument, even if there are simular instruments from other countries. My idea was to use this name as I only play Icelandic music. Something very Icelandic like that would also perhaps be linked to more traditional or even classical music, but in Langspil the radio show you will hear a lot of rock music and indie, and punk and pop and metal and jazz, in fact very varied musical genres, that have only one thing in common: the music is from Iceland. So the instrument Langspil was a good representation of that.”
You can listen to the show by streaming on Thursday evening or listen to the podcast here:
Please notice 100% Icelandic music, but Heiða talks Icelandic. It is a good opportunity to pick up some Icelandic words: a win-win situation!
- Wim Van Hooste
Sources: Wikipedia, RÚV, and the Website of the duo Funi (http://www.funi-iceland.com/)