Ólafur Arnalds: 'I wanted the album to sound like the process, full of excitement and wonder'

Ólafur Arnalds: 'I was searching for the feeling of being completely 'free', something I have only ever experienced when I'm deep into the creative process'

credit: Benjamin Hardman

Icelandic composer discusses his fourth solo record, innovative use of technology and upcoming shows

Ólafur Arnalds' striking blend of styles and unconventional compositional techniques have earned him a fanbase that similarly traverse genre and form, as far as musical tastes go. The Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and producer is continually praised for his multi-layered approach and impressive output, which includes the score and end-credits track for the 2013 ITV series Broadchurch, for which he won a BAFTA, and an admirable number of studio albums, soundtracks, collections and collaborations under his belt. His latest release, fourth solo record Re:member, is a perfect example of his desire to push forward with new ideas and innovations, with tracks that veer towards restraint one minute, before heading off on an expansive journey of varying soundscapes the next.

'This is my breaking out-of-a-shell album,' he previously said of the album. 'It's me taking the raw influences that I have from all these different musical genres and not filtering them. It explores the creative process and how one can manipulate that to get out of the circle of expectations and habit.' As Arnalds currently tours Europe in support of the album, we catch up with him to hear more about Re:member and the creative process behind the minimalist and experimental record.

You've been touring quite extensively recently, how have people responded to your newer material?

It's been great! I always enjoy taking new material on the road where we get the chance to develop them further. The album is one thing, a snapshot of what the songs were at that time, but they are really more like a living organism and keep evolving every night we play.

How did you find the process of putting together re:member? Was there a particular feel or thematic concept you were aiming for?

I wanted the album to sound like the process, full of excitement and wonder, mirroring my feelings while I made these songs. I was searching for the feeling of being completely 'free', something I have only ever experienced when I'm deep into the creative process. That's when all the good stuff happens.

What exactly is Stratus and how does it feed into this album? What were the reasons behind implementing the software now?

Stratus is a software that I designed with my friend Halldór Eldjárn that controls two player pianos that react to what I play on a third piano. For me it was a way to make something familiar brand new and in that way jolted my creative thinking. It was a way to get out of a rut that myself and external influences had kind of got me in. We spent almost two years developing it and it's still far from perfect but it had a huge effect on the way I wrote songs for re:member. In a sense it's almost like jazz improv. I play something and the pianos respond.

Technology seems to be such an important element of the album so how did you recreate this for your live shows?

The important thing is to not think of the live show like the album. It's not about 'recreating' the album songs. It's about creating something new. A live venue full of fans is a very different medium than a spinning disk, so it needs to be approached completely differently. I think of technology as a tool. It can enable you to do certain things that aren't possible with analog gear or even playable by humans so the same technology we used for the album has made me able to create some very improvised and unique sound worlds on stage.

How would you describe your usual process of writing and composing?

It's always a little different. For this album it was a lot of trial and error, experimentation and exploration. Trying to find something that excited me.

You music traverses genres, taking in classical, electronic, techno and more. Have you found that your core audience also varies in terms of their taste in music?

I think my audience is a super diverse group. Probably most of them listen to all the stuff you mention and don't differentiate, similar to me.

How has the Icelandic music scene grown and developed since your early days as an artist?

It's pretty different now actually. Unfortunately most of the venues I used to go to as an up and coming artist in Reykjavík are now gone with very few replacements. There's still a lot of great music being made in Iceland but with some new genres getting popular. The biggest difference might be that the focus has shifted a bit from making it big outside of Iceland to making music for Icelanders.

Apart from touring do you have any plans for releases within the next year? If so, will this likely be linked to re:member or something totally disparate?

We have some exciting re:member related releases coming up this year. But mostly I'll be concentrating on touring and gathering inspiration for whatever my next project will be.

Ólafur Arnalds plays SEC, Glasgow, Fri 22 Mar.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

Ólafur Arnalds

Icelandic experimental electronica and ambient musician.

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Sun 18 Sep

£32.73–£39.75 / 0161 907 9000

Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London W6

Fri 16 Sep

£38.60–£44.10 / 0844 249 4300

Sat 17 Sep

£38.60–£49.60 / 0844 249 4300