What do you get when you combine dreamy Icelandic post-rock music, otherworldly landscapes and a laid-back Sunday drive that goes on and on and on?
Buckle up and hunker down for a ride along Route One.
Streamed live on YouTube and broadcast live on Icelandic national television on June 20 and 21, the special televised event managed to bring together what The Independent calls the “holy trinity of calm" for the first time: jaw-dropping natural scenery (Glaciers! Geysers! Waterfalls! Fjords! Lava beds! Volcanos! Sulfuric moonscapes!) as only Iceland can do it; an exceedingly atmospheric soundtrack provided by Reykjavik-based band Sigur Rós; and the blood pressure-lowering, popular-in-Norway slow TV movement in which nothing much happens and that’s kind of the point.
The epic televised road trip, 24 hours in duration, was timed deliberately to coincide with the release of the first new Sigur Rós single in 3 years. It also just-so-happened to be summer solstice. And given this is Iceland, land of the midnight sun, the longest day of the year stretches on forever.
It’s unclear who exactly was behind the wheel during the entire 828-mile-long scenic joyride around Iceland which unfolded, counterclockwise, along Iceland's famed Ring Road, aka Þjóðvegur eitt (Route 1). Probably not members of the band itself but a couple of dedicated drivers, likely employees of RÚV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, who tag-teamed during the day-long circumnavigation.
The crucial road trip soundtrack was provided, naturally, by Sigur Rós in real time using a “generative music software” app. Given the expansive, hypnotic nature of the critically adored band’s oeuvre, its hard not to imagine the aforementioned driver(s) nodding off just as those watching the journey unfold on television were no doubt mesmerized and drawn deep into a soothing, sleepy place.
The Independent explains the live scoring process for Route One:
The individual musical elements of unreleased song and current Sigur Rós festival set opener, ‘Óveður’ are seeded through the evolving music app Bronze, to create a ‘unique ephemeral sonic experience’.
Stunning landscapes and “ephemeral sonic experiences" aside, did anything unusual or of Earth-shattering importance happen during Route One?
For the most part, Route One remained faithful to the slow TV movement, a trend that kicked off in earnest in 2009 when the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) aired footage of a 7-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo. The intentionally non-enthralling — not to mention attention-span-testing — broadcasting event was a hit with viewers, all hungry for more glacially paced televised goodness.
And so, additional long-haul train and boat journeys followed along with marathon knit-offs, extending wood-chopping sessions and very long science lectures. A 24-hour salmon fishing-thon and “Piip Show,” a voyeuristic peek into the life of Norwegian birds, both generated considerable buzz amongst slow TV enthusiasts.
This isn't to say that nothing happened along Route One aside from a generous eyeful of Iceland. There were occasional bouts of Icelandic weirdness here along with a few “happenings” that punctuated the landscape-driven lassitude: stops for fuel at far-flung service stations, adverse weather conditions, traffic, tunnels, sheep, cheering fans, a horse, a man in a horse mask.
At the conclusion of the journey, Sigur Rós premiered the disturbing, not-so-chill-at-all music video for “Óveður” directed by Jonas Åkerlund.
"In a day and age of instant gratification and everything moving so fast, we wanted to do the exact opposite,” Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi Birgisson explained to The Independent. “Slow TV is counter-active to the world we live in, in that it happens in real time and real slow."
If you happened to miss the livestream of Route One (I only caught a bit of it toward the tail end which featured some serious meadow action), you can watch 4 hours of the journey on YouTube. Sigur Rós has also announced on its website that the entire journey around Iceland, all 24-hours of it, will be available on-demand as soon as possible, so plan your summer chill-out sessions accordingly.
RÚV also extensively documented the slow-burning trek on Instagram while urging viewers to follow along via a map that shared the vehicle's exact location as it circled around the entirety of the island: "We encourage all citizens to keep abreast of the trip and participate in the broadcast with creativity in mind."
As The Verge notes, Route One is certainly fine way to see — and experience — all of Iceland without setting foot in the country. Okay, it’s nothing like the real thing but it’s certainly the cheapest and most aggravation-free way to experience the geothermal-heated tourist hotspot— a new breed of armchair tourism.
As I reported earlier this month, Iceland has struggled with assorted woes that come along with being too popular with tourists. The small country of just over 300,000 residents is looking to limit — and in some rural communities, outright prohibit — short-term vacation rental listing services like Airbnb to help control the situation. Although long-popular with savvy travelers seeking natural splendor and vibrant culture (read: raucous nightlife) in equal measure, Iceland’s sharp influx in visitors is due largely to “Game of Thrones,” which was filmed in some of the country’s most dramatic locales.
And yes, Sigur Rós performed in a cameo appearance during “The Lion and the Rose,” the second episode in the fourth season of HBO's wildly popular fantasy series.
The band, which puts on a hell of a live show (I've seen them thrice over the years, the first time in 2001), will be touring throughout Europe and North America this summer and fall.