Once a drummer for the hardcore band Fighting Shit, Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds has become better known for his work in the ambient electronic field. With Irish dates coming up later this month, State spoke to him about his soundtrack work, reimagining classical music and having fun with techno music…
Your latest release is the soundtrack to series two of Broadchurch – the original soundtrack gaining you a BAFTA. Do you still consider this a full album of work (as For Now I am Winter and …Escaped the Weight of Darkness) or is it perhaps more a servant to the TV show and not 100% yours?
“Well, yes and no. I’d like to believe that the music stands fully on its own, and I think it does do that in terms of pure musicality. But I realise that our connotations with the music have much to do with the show, so while choosing which cues to feature on the release I had to have that in mind. The result is something which I would not really call an album of mine (if it was I would also have had something to say about featuring a bright orange jacket on the cover), but rather a collection of highlights representing the project as a whole”.
Many soundtracks centre around a repetitive theme that make them unsuccessful as a standalone album but you manage to work around this – are you conscious of how the music will work on its own too?
“Yes I think of this while writing and try to make the music both serve the show and be able to stand on its own. I think also what helps here is that there is so much music in Broadchurch which made it easier to find more varied content for the album. There is plenty of the same theme going on in this show too”.
And I have to ask, are you a Vangelis fan?
“Ha! Again, yes and no. I like it but there are never moments where I put Vangelis on… But I see where the question is coming from!”
2014 was the year you finally got to concentrate on your Kiasmos project with Janus Rasmussen. The album was a massive critical success and State was at Iceland Airwaves in November to see it live, both of you behaving like two boys on Christmas Morning. Was it as much fun as it looked, capping this project with a homecoming gig and were you happy with the reaction to the album?
“That was our first show after the album was released, so we were definitely celebrating but also, every show of ours is like that. We’ve said from the beginning that the moment this stops becoming fun we will stop”.
You’re also touring Kiasmos into 2015 so is it something you see yourself and Janus writing more music for down the line?
“Yes absolutely, we already made some new material which we have incorporated into the live show”.
Any plans for an Irish Kiasmos date, during festival season perhaps?
“There is! One is already announced (at the Opium Rooms, April 18), and we have a festival lined up for the summer which will be announced soon”.
Can you tell us a little about your Chopin Project – a collaboration with classical pianist Alice Sara Ott re-visiting the Polish composer’s music. You have been teasing about it for some months now…
“Yeah we actually did the main bulk of the recordings in July. So it’s been a while in the oven. The whole idea is about presenting Chopin’s work in a modern way and paying tribute to him. It includes both re-do positions and originals, but even the originals are recorded and presented in ways you haven’t heard before”.
Do collaborations really fuel you? It seems almost all of your output since 2011 has been a collaboration of some sort…
“Well in fact everything I do is some sort of collaboration as I always have to hire musicians to play the instruments that I don’t play myself and their input is always significant. I strive for collaborations because that’s where I learn the most”.
What next for you in 2015 – more collaborations, a concentration on performing or perhaps even a return to the personal solo work of ‘Living Room Songs’ with a fresh angle?
“The Chopin project is the main thing for me at the moment but I also have some cross-disciplinary collaborations coming up. Thinking about a new album..”.
What can we expect from the concerts in Dublin in February – will you be bringing other musicians with you and what recordings will you be covering?
“There will be eight of us on stage and we’ve put a lot of effort into the production as well. I’ll be concentrating on music from Broadchurch but it will include also compositions spanning my whole career rearranged for this eight person band which includes piano, electronics, string quartet and a brass trio”.
Lastly, is there any music, Icelandic or otherwise, that has made an impression on you recently, that we should be looking out for in this season?
“I for one am happy about the much debated new d’Angelo album!”
Ólafur Arnalds plays the Triskell Arts Centre, Cork on February 18th and the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire on 19th & 20th. Kiasmos play the Opium Rooms, Dublin on April 18