Ólafur Arnalds: “I don’t like the whole God complex thing.” Interview by Ruth Bailey


“I don’t really remember a time where I was not going to be a musician – it’s just something that I always wanted to do. I’ve just been fascinated with the whole thing since I was very young and the only things that have kind of changed were maybe that I took different jobs within the music industry. For a long time I wanted to be just a producer, and then I wanted to be a sound engineer, and then I wanted to be just a performer but then, you know, I ended up being a composer – something related to music anyway.”

These are the simmering reflections of a calm and even spoken Ólafur Arnalds. The 29-year-old Icelandic native who is perhaps somewhat of a sonic enigma, making his way this week to Australian shores – landing first in Queensland, for the Brisbane Festival this weekend.

In many respects Arnalds represents the quintessential modern-day maestro and composer. Motivated to create cross-genre pieces grounded in the origins of classical and neo-classical, while also straddling electronic and synth minimalism. His talents for arranging both techno-infused arpeggios, as well as for crafting incredibly evocative, emotional and orchestral fueled fireworks are prodigious and, fortunately for us, the opportunity to experience both his styles has arrived for Australian fans.

First up, Arnalds will be performing a suite of shows, alongside his friend and playing partner, Janus Rasmussen, under their moniker, Kiasmos.

A self-titled debut and full length album released via the Erased Tapes label late last year has been quietly gaining momentum across both Europe and the USA. Rasmussen (the lynchpin of electro-pop outfit, Blood Group) and Arnalds decided to pursue their idea of creating an electronic album that could be listened to as one entire piece rather than a collection of works, the result is a long player which cleverly layers all the aspects of their musical artillery. When Cyclic asked Arnalds about the apparent success of the album his belief was that it lay in the type of audience they strive to be making the music for.

“There has been really growing interest in me as an artist over the last few years – and I guess this scene now, that is created around the type of music that I do, and my colleagues, has grown in the last couple of years. Even though Kiasmos is electronic – pretty much just dance music – it still kind of fits into that whole scene and people in that scene tend to be very excited about new things and are very supportive as fans.”

But how does a collaboration like Rasmussen and Arnalds’ come to be? The duo met some eight or nine years back when Rasmussen arrived in Iceland,their friendship, according to Arnalds, forged over many low-key music making soirees.

“We were friends first and we liked to make music in our free time together, and we have been doing that for almost ten years now, just making music as a hobby together and not really caring about letting anyone hear it or trying to release it. So I think it’s a very natural collaboration.”

Arnalds reinforces his idea that in order for partnerships to be successful the foundation for an organic collaboration should exist.

“I usually try to collaborate with people who are already my friends, because when you are good friends collaboration will be good (automatically), I think.” He says.

The duo will be accompanied by longtime collaborator of Arnalds, visual artist Mani Sigfusson, whose captivating visuals will add an additional dimension to Kiasmos performances.

Lucky Sydney fans on the other hand, look set to be treated to the alternative side of Arnald’s personality, the part that is deeply rooted in traditional and classical styles of music. He will do a special, one-off, acoustic performance for the Sydney Graphic Festival at the iconic Sydney Opera House, a venue the composer is curious to play in.

“It’s a very famous place that everyone knows. Every time I tell my friends here at home that I’m about to play the Sydney Opera House, everybody goes, “Wow!” It’s a very prestigious institution and I think it’s a great honour to play there but, to be honest, I don’t have any idea how the acoustics actually are , I’ve heard they’re good.”

Acoustics aside, Arnalds integrity as a performer unsurprisingly ties into his approach connecting with a live audience.

“To be honest, [the acoustics are]not as important as intimacy with the crowd and the audience, to have some sort of a personal connection with people who attend the concert is a lot more important.”

The modesty of this master emerging as he denounces the idea of on stage ego.

“I personally, in my own concerts, I do a lot of talking and I like to talk to people because I feel like it brings me to the same level as they are and it stops being some kind of mystical artist up on stage and just brings me down to the floor where everybody else is and we have this musical dialogue together and not just a one-way conversation. I don’t like the whole God complex thing.”

Although he dislikes any reference to God or prodigy-like status, it is very clear that this man’s calling in life is to continue to make music that matters to both himself and others. Adding yet another facet to his career, is his soundtrack and film score work, along with commercially funded ventures. He’s a BAFTA award winning composer and, while he acknowledges the leg up this type of work has given him in a very competitive industry, his continued modesty in these regards clearly delivers him more and more of these types of projects.

“It’s helped my career tremendously, it’s just a part of what I do, and working on these more commercial projects is just a part of what I do. When I do well in that aspect I’m very happy, and I strive for that.”

Kiasmos and Olafur Arnald’s play the following dates in Australia 2015:

Fri 25th Brisbane Festival http://bit.ly/1HPkGhq
Sat 26th Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Sun 27th Wave Rock Weekender

Thurs 8th Jive, Adelaide http://bit.ly/1KY9McS With Special Guests PINES
Fri 9th Melbourne Festival http://bit.ly/1IAK5fg

Sat 10th Ólafur Arnalds @ Sydney Opera House
~One off concert of new works and rareities w/ visuals by Máni Sigfússon + Chamber Orchestra w/ arrangements by Viktor Orri Árnason


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I find myself in a 'looping state of mind' more often than not.