Ólafur Arnalds’ ‘New Grass’ Captures the Secret Life of Icelandic Moss

Ólafur Arnalds — in collaboration with photographer Benjamin Hardman — has released a short film for his song ‘New Grass’, a cut from Ólafur’s 2020 album some kind of peace. Using a macro lens, the pair captured the microscopic, dance-like movement of Icelandic moss when exposed to water.

Benjamin was introduced to the phenomenon by a friend who came across some volcanic rocks covered in moss on a construction site and decided to save them taking them back to his cabin to care for them. One morning when watering the moss-covered rocks with a spray bottle, he noticed the moss reacting to the moisture uniquely. It began to dance with fast and sudden bursts of motion as the water absorbed into its leaves. After hearing this story, Benjamin decided to visit the lively rocks in person and observe the process up close with a macro lens.

Ólafur Arnalds says, “New Grass represents revival, growth and exploring new paths. So when Benjamin showed me some experiments he had been making, exploring how moss reacts to water, I instantly thought: We have to make a music video out of this. The challenge was to try and tell a compelling story within this minuscule environment – to change our perspective and see it as a huge world, full of life and possibilities.”

Read our interview with Ólafur Arnalds about recording his album some kind of peace


Jeffrey G Duckett of The Natural History Museum says: “Mosses can survive for many months, or years, in dry condition. It is unsurprising therefore that drying and wetting of mosses are accompanied by major changes in the morphology of the plants. These changes are manifest in the plants by extensive movements of the leaves and twisting of the stalks of the spore-bearing capsules.”

Gordon Rothero, Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh explains this natural phenomenon further: “Mosses photosynthesize but have been around for some 450 million years, over that time they have adapted to different habitats. When water is available to them it is absorbed, and the moss photosynthesizes again. Mosses like the Racomitrium lanuginosum in the video grow in a habitat that frequently dries out and respond very quickly to re-wetting so they can start photosynthesizing. This is what is happening in the video – a dry moss is dancing in response to re-wetting. Ecologically important and fascinating as well as beautiful.”

Olafur Arnalds New Grass

Although the video looks like a time-lapse (a film technique in footage taken over long period of time is sped up and compressed), the footage seen in ‘New Grass’ is in slow-motion, capturing in intricate detail the “dance” of the Icelandic moss.

Benjamin Hardman says, “The video is an ode to the incredible world of moss. In Iceland we have a volcanic landscape covered in various types of moss, collectively surviving the brutal Arctic elements in a magnificent macro world that exists at a scale too small for us to notice. It was an unforgettable moment when it dawned on me that the entire landscape of moss around Iceland and the world could be dancing just like our moss rocks, endlessly reacting to the changes in weather and seasons. What a beautiful world live in, it deserves our love and care. “

Follow Ólafur Arnalds at olafurarnalds.com

Follow Benjamin Hardman at benjaminhardman.com