BY CHRISTOPHER LEON
Seven songs. Seven Iceland towns. Seven weeks.
This is Olafur Arnalds’ offering Island Songs. The musician embarked on a journey across his homeland, encountering other artists along the way to create a mix of ethereal and eclectic soundscapes – of thoughtful remnants of the times and stories.
The release has been met with mixed reviews. The Guardian dubbed it “sweet, boring hipster melancholia”; while the Nordic Music Review called it “astonishing” and “the most outstanding portrait of Icelandic music and their local communities”. So do you need to be Nordic to understand and appreciate Arnalds’ work? We certainly don’t think so – but we decided to settle in for a quick chat to shed light on the songs.
What do you think about the sounds? Have a listen here, and let us know in the comments below.
What inspired you to develop Island Songs?
I wanted to find out what drives people in different communities, and who make music and art for different reasons. But the seven-song video concept is a continuation of my previous series Living Room Songs and Found Songs, so the idea is developed over quite a long time.
How did the collaborations for each work originate?
Mostly through a lot of research. I wanted to show a broad spectrum of musical medium, instruments and traditions in Iceland, and I searched for people who fit into those roles. Some of them I knew previously and wanted to work with anyway, but others I simply discovered through this research.
What do you look for when writing electronic music combined with traditional instrument? How should they ideally complement each other?
There are no rules concerning that in my mind. But I often try to look at it from a mix engineer standpoint: ‘Do these sounds fit together in the mix’?. You have to do that with any combination of instruments anyway, so it’s not really that different from combining acoustic instruments.
What did you look for to inspire your music in each location?
The people I worked with and their stories.
How did you develop your style toward ethereal soundscapes and the use of electronic music?
I started playing around with MIDI strings in Cubase when I was 15 or so and wrote my first album in the following years. That album didn’t have any electronics, mostly just piano and strings. But I’ve never been that much into classical music (although I enjoy it) so my influences were always rather coming from pop, rock and electronic music. Slowly, I started incorporating those elements, too. It was just instinct or habit, rather than a conscious decision.
What is your next musical project? And will you take this concept to other regions of the world?
I’m currently working on a couple of soundtracks as well as preparing my next solo album. That will be a totally different concept. I don’t like to repeat myself too much.
Pick up the album from Readings.
Images supplied. Copyright Mercury Classics/Marino Thorlacius.