Reykjavík Grapevine

Some Kind of Peace In A Chaotic Word: Ólafur Arnalds On His Most Intimate Album Yet

By Jess Distill
Ólafur Arnalds is here to save you from the COVID-19 anxiety.
Ólafur Arnalds is here to save you from the COVID-19 anxiety. Art Bicnick

Sometimes an album or a song comes along at a point where it feels like it’s exactly what the world needed. Ólafur Arnalds’ latest offering, ‘Some Kind of Peace’, is one of those albums. Described as his most intimate album yet, ‘Some Kind of Peace’ has been hailed by fans and critics alike as the perfect haven in this time of chaos and uncertainty.

A serendipitous alignment

Although Ólafur is quick to point out that this is by no means a “COVID album,” he appreciates the serendipitous alignment of events that has occurred to make it, and the impact his music is having as a result.

“The album was really focused on the ideas of community and rituals and doing things that are really pure and from the heart. All of these things became super important to us, or rather, it became obvious to us how important they are, when the pandemic hit,” he explains. “Our daily rituals were suddenly taken away from us, and we noticed their importance. We started looking more closely for community and really feeling the importance of that. So, for me, it just reaffirmed the direction I was going in. It wasn’t created from the pandemic but it definitely happened to fit right into it. It’s lovely.”

“Music, in essence, is a ritual. It’s a communal ritual that we take to reach a higher state of consciousness.”

Born from a desire to take himself back to his roots, ‘Some Kind Of Peace’ strips everything away from the lavish compositions and cinematic sounds that have become synonymous with Ólafur’s name, to reveal something a little more raw and vulnerable.

“It’s not that my music isn’t always personal,” he admits. “It’s just that I tend to create these big ideas or concepts to put in front of me, and it’s easy to hide behind them. I like to swing right in the other direction sometimes. I wanted to go back to before this was my job, before there was any pressure, and remember why I was making music.”

Art Bicnick

Telling his own story

Working mostly with friends who had been with him during that time, the relationship between Ólafur and his collaborators was as intimate as the music they created. “We had the opportunity to take a lot of time and really have a dialogue about what the music was about and what feelings we were trying to evoke. We would play it a few times and then listen back to it and ask ‘How do we feel right now when we hear this?’” Ólafur says. “We went into that aspect of it in a lot of detail, just listening and talking. Because it was so personal to me, I put even more effort into the tiniest details of performance.”

With every listen of ‘Some Kind of Peace’ something new becomes apparent: a string part you didn’t notice before, or a sound effect barely audible in the background, more a feeling than a sound. As though Ólafur is revealing himself little bit by little bit, the listener learns something new every time they play the album. Soundbites from his life, voice clips from the recording process, or samples taken of people and music that inspire him litter the album.

“How do you place a voice in voiceless music? How do you tell a story in instrumental music?” he asks. “I just have to add storytelling elements to it. It can be voices or the way something sounds. That’s how I add my own voice, so to speak, without actually singing, and tell my personal story through the album.”

Art Bicnick

A higher state of consciousness

One of the more fascinating samples on the album appears in the second track, the hypnotising “Woven Song”. Using the voice of an Amazonian medicine woman singing a traditional song of the Shipibo Tribe, the idea of ritual and the importance of storytelling and community is highlighted here. He hesitates before speaking, choosing his words carefully, but when Ólafur talks about the track, with excitement and verve, it’s clear that we have reached the soul of his music.

“I can go into some depth about it, but not the full depths,” he begins, with a slightly nervous laugh. “The moment I wrote that, the moment I found the combination of that piano with that voice, was the moment I knew the direction this album was taking. That song is really about the importance of rituals, and music, in essence, is a ritual. It’s a communal ritual that we take to reach a higher state of consciousness. I have gotten very interested in all sorts of rituals from all over the world in the past few years—taking part in them and researching them—and what we always find in common everywhere is the importance of music in those rituals.”

Ólafur holds his cards close to his chest. He wants to discuss this track further, to talk more about these rituals and communities he finds so fascinating. But he stops himself, careful not to give too much away, guarding secrets of experiences past, and projects yet to come. He may have opened up to his listeners more than ever before, but he’s not quite ready to reveal any more just yet.

Info: ‘Some Kind Of Peace’ is out now and available from the Grapevine Shop. Ólafur will be performing at Iceland Airwaves’ Live From Reykjavik Festival on Friday, November 13th. Tickets are available from the Iceland Airwaves website.

The post Some Kind of Peace In A Chaotic Word: Ólafur Arnalds On His Most Intimate Album Yet appeared first on The Reykjavik Grapevine.

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