Karl James Pestka

composer / performer

Karl James Pestka (born in Lansing, Michigan USA, 10 October 1983) is a composer and performer living in Reykjavík, Iceland, who plays an active role in the prevailing classical direction of Icelandic pop music.

His compositions have won numerous accolades, including two first prizes from the Aegis Film and Video Awards and three Telly Awards.  As a violinist and violist he has worked with artists including Amiina, Bloodgroup, Hjaltalín, Rökkurró, Árstíðir, Pain of Salvation, Anneke van Giersbergen, and Ólafur Arnalds, with whom he performed in the BAFTA-winning soundtrack for the UK ITV series Broadchurch.  In the studio, Karl is also a sought-after string arranger and session player, having collaborated with musicians such as Barði Jóhannsson of Bang Gang, Dikta, Kaleo, Our Lives, and Helen Marnie of Ladytron.  He recently composed the string arrangements for the film The Finishers (De toutes nos forces), soundtracked by Barði Jóhannsson and featured in the Special Presentation section of Toronto International Film Festival 2013.

Karl received his Bachelor of Music degree in 2007 at the University of Michigan, studying composition under William Bolcom, Erik Santos, Karen Tanaka, Susan Botti, and Evan Chambers.  His second degree in electronic music performance was advised by Mary Simoni and Virgil Moorefield (former drummer of the Swans), while he studied violin under Yehonatan Berick, Paul Kantor, and Judy Palac.  During his time in Michigan Karl was awarded an honorable mention by the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards for his electric violin work.

Upon moving to Iceland after graduation, Karl worked in 2008 as the notation editor for the Icelandic music theory book Hljómamál, which is now the standard text used throughout Icelandic music schools.  In 2009, Karl composed the orchestral soundtrack for the Icelandic film Messenger (Boðberi), which was filmed prior to the Icelandic banking collapse and predicted the historic event.

He currently writes and performs in his solo project The Airelectric, collaborating on electric violin and live electronics with diverse artists such as VAR, Momentum, and harpist Lavinia Meijer.  Karl also spent several years in the Icelandic group Árstíðir, who gained significant public interest when a video featuring their choral performance in a train station went viral, reaching over 3.5 million views in under a year.

Karl teaches violin, viola, music theory, and electronic music privately in Reykjavík, and performs with Reykjavík’s premiere avant-garde string ensemble SKARK.  He recently was awarded a significant grant from the city of Reykjavík to develop an improvisation and composition program for Grandaskóli grade school children. During the academic year Karl attends computer science courses at the University of Iceland to aid the development of his own customized music software. His latest project is a toe-operated star-shaped surround panner.

When he is not on tour, Karl is an active sea swimmer, Klezmer fiddler, and tandem bicycle enthusiast. He has recently mastered the science of making giant soap bubbles which withstand the windy conditions of Reykjavík.