Interview: Ólafur Arnalds and Pianos That Go Bleep Bloop Knar Bedian November 16, 2018 Featured, Interview On his latest work, re:member, Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds blends technology and music not only in the sounds itself—he uses a special software to create a unique chorus of pianos—but in the creation of the cover art as well. We had a chance to hear more about the bleep bloops of his piano before his upcoming concert at Berklee Performance Center. Read on to hear more, and grab tickets to catch him live this weekend. KB: You’ve mentioned that the neoclassical classification is irrelevant. Please describe your music without using genre names. (We usually ask this question, and have gotten answers that are everything from describing the ingredients of the sandwich their music would taste like, to a simple one-word response like “canyon” to a more musical description like “percussion sonnets.” You’re free to describe it however you’d like.) OA: My pianos go bleep bloop. KB: Can you also explain the decision for the language of the song titles? How did you decide which song would be in which language? OA: I chose a word that I felt fit to that particular song. Sometimes my thoughts were better “channeled” through an Icelandic word rather than English. KB: Can you please talk to me about the build in “inconsist,” and generally about how you use layering, effects, and dynamics in your music? OA: That one actually took a little while to put together—one of those tracks which you never know if are actually going to end up on the album or not. The idea of it is a quite simple question/answer type structure where a theme is introduced and constantly built on to a climax until at the end you have just the string quartet playing a more simple, melancholic version of the theme. I’m always aiming towards moments like that. Very often the most important moment of the song is not the climax but what comes after the climax. The resolution. KB: Can you tell me more about the title formatting for this album? The colon placement in the album title re:member is peculiar, and all of the songs are written in lowercase. OA: To me it means kind of the opposite of dismemberment—to become yourself again. To become a member, so to speak, of yourself again. KB: Making this album was a long process of exploration and experimentation. Through making Stratus and trying to rediscover my own music I found a way to help my get lost in the flow of making music. That’s where all the best music comes from. OA: The colon is there for people to stop and revaluate something they think they know, e.g. something like a familiar word or, in my case, the piano. KB: What was it like working with SOHN? How was that process different from working with others from a more classical realm, or someone like Nils Frahm? OA: It was super spontaneous. SOHN was renting a studio space for a little while in the same complex as my studio. One night he came over, we had a drink, and I played him this demo I had just started working on. He just started singing. Most of the best collaborations happen that way, spontaneous, no matter the background. KB: What’s the story behind the album art? OA: I got a friend of mine, Torsten Posselt from FELD studios in Berlin, to make it. He used the Stratus software as a starting point and made his own software that could translate the same midi signals I was using for the music into artwork. For example, on the album cover for re:member, each dot corresponds to a piano note in the title track: 88 fields correspond to 88 notes; the thicker the dot, the higher the frequency of that note being played. KB: I love all the sounds and textures you can hear when you listen closely to Life Story Love and Glory. Did the recording process of those singles differ from this one, in terms of the amount of background sound you included? There is still a bit of that intimacy on the quieter numbers like “momentary” and “saman” OA: Life Story Love and Glory is a completely improvised recording, which is why I think you can still hear me walking across the floor to the piano at the beginning of one of the tracks. We didn’t do any re-do’s. Whatever we recorded is what we released. I tried to capture some of that intimacy in parts of the album but of course those were more planned out, which is a mistake in a way, cause you can never plan for spontaneity. KB: Because of your piano Stratus setup, it’s difficult to recreate songs. How does this affect your recording process? OA: Yes it is… Sometimes I’d catch a really cool accidental rhythm with the Stratus but I wasn’t recording, and might not ever be able to recreate it. I actually spent a couple of days trying to recreate one of those accidental rhythms before I gave up. In the end I just had to embrace that some things, or musical ideas, are just not meant to be. KB: You talk about how your creative thinking changes according to what other notes the digitally-created notes the other pianos play. Do you improvise a lot to get a feeling for how the song may end up, or do you already have a composition in mind and play it regardless of what the feedback from the other pianos? To clarify—I’m wondering about the notes you play, not the sounds emitted from the other pianos. OA: It differs… Some songs were solely written with Stratus and in those cases I had no idea before hand of what chords or melodies would be there. They came simply from improvising with the instrument. In some others Stratus was more of an additional element and I tried to create some specific ideas with it. But even those idea would usually change a little bit once I tried it out—but think that’s normal with any instrument. Ólafur Arnalds performs at Berklee Performance Center this Sunday; tickets can be found here. 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