Olafur Arnalds brings experimental music to Cork and Dublin

Ólafur Arnalds has provided the soundtrack for TV show Broadchurch but also has a clubbier outlet with Kiasmos. He performs in Cork and Dublin next week, writes Ed Power.

Olafur Arnalds brings experimental music to Cork and Dublin

Ólafur Arnalds has provided the soundtrack for TV show Broadchurch but also has a clubbier outlet with Kiasmos. He performs in Cork and Dublin next week, writes Ed Power.

One of the most striking components of the hit BBC thriller Broadchurch was its unnerving score. Swooping strings and spectral piano ratcheted up the otherworldliness, contributing another layer of creepiness to this baroque whodunnit set in deepest Dorset.

“Broadchurch was huge — in English speaking countries especially,” says Ólafur Arnalds, the Icelandic musician behind the acclaimed soundtrack. “It definitely helped a lot in those parts of the world. Obviously it’s big in England — it’s an English TV show. And it is big in Australia too. But then you go to other countries and they’ve never heard of it.”

Broadchurch made stars of its leads, Olivia Colman and David Tennant. It has also elevated the profile of Arnalds, with the show’s creator Chris Chibnall revealing that the brooding tone was informed by the composer’s writing. “The entire feel of the show was inspired by his music,” Chibnall would say Arnalds, too, took a great deal away from the experience — one of the most challenging he had yet undertaken. “I created eight hours of music for it — that’s 12 albums. After you’ve done that, you’ve learned a couple of things, for sure.”

Arnalds, who comes to Ireland next week for concerts in Dublin and Cork - as part of Triskel's 40th anniversary celebrations - was regarded as a talent to watch long before Broadchurch. His by turns stark and complicated contemporary music has seen him heralded as one of Iceland’s most acclaimed young musicians and a worthy successor to Bjork, Sigur Ros, etc.

He also lives an intriguing second life as one half of the electronic duo Kiasmos — whose quicksilver grooves could not be further removed from the intricate ennui of his Broadchurch score. “The energy is much calmer at the theatre shows,” he says.

“In a way, it’s the same [as Kiasmos] but just at a different level. When it’s a theatre, I sometimes miss seeing people move — feeling that energy. On the other hand, doing the party shows you miss the production values, the fact people are sitting and watching something with a plot and an arc. Ultimately I get to do the best of both.”

Arnalds is a quintessential Icelandic musician in that he’s dabbled in every genre imaginable. He used to drum in a hardcore rock band, he composes euphoric bangers, he’s a respected composer. He was even one half of a Pet Shop Boys-style synth duo.

In Iceland professional performers are always playing in many projects at the same time because that’s how you make a living. Also nobody really cares what you do because you’re not going to sell a million records. You don’t have to think about fitting into the mainstream

Iceland used to feel like the edge of the world, he says. But with Reykjavik becoming a major tourist destination and the country gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s bohemian hang-outs, perceptions have shifted.

Today, being from Iceland is regarded as an enormous plus in the eyes of the music industry. “For a while it was very difficult to be signed if you were from Iceland.”

“Now the labels love Icelandic artists. They are an easy sell — you just have to say a musician is from Iceland and people will check it out.”

In Cork, Arnalds will debut material from his new album, Re:member —a meditation on the interaction between humanity and technology. Several tracks were composed using self-playing pianos — those creepy “ghost” instruments familiar from TV shows such as Westworld.

“I am not interested in artificial intelligence,” he says. “Why would I want to listen to music made by a computer? What is the computer trying to say to me? Nothing. For me, it’s about researching our relationship with the piano. If we change the way we play piano, do we change the music that comes out?”

Re:member is out now. Ólafur Arnalds plays National Concert Hall, Dublin, on Monday (sold out); and Cork Opera House on Tuesday.

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