For centuries, music was something made in a living room, made at home. It was a brief fluke of the 20th Century that music came out of a heroic process in a hidden-away studio. But if the gold-plated, magical record is threatened, some artists are trying to bring the daily ritual of home music making back.
Ólafur Arnalds and Matthew Flook are each making gorgeous, cinematic-ambient tracks, and each have made projects that involve doing so on a regular basis in their homes. Let’s listen.
Arnalds has been making some of the finest scores anywhere, and now has earned the appropriate recognition. In celebration, we get to enjoy the documentation of his achingly-pretty Living Room Songs project free – along with free downloads of the record (or pay for higher quality). Erased Tapes, which also happens to be one of my favorite labels these days (see also post-minimalist pianist Nils Frahm, among others), brings the good news:
In celebration of Ólafur Arnalds’ recent BAFTA nomination for his score work on Broadchurch, Erased Tapes are streaming his 2011 Living Room Songs film in full; including behind the scenes footage which has previously only been available as part of the special edition CD/DVD set.
Shot by Gunnar Guðbjörnsson and Bowen Staines
Edited by Bowen Staines
You can purchase physical and high-quality digital from the Erased Tapes store, or grab the downloads free from the Living Room Songs site:
We get over half an hour of footage to watch. This is all acoustic instrumentation, in case anyone wants to question whether it belongs on this particular site – but, then, that’s the joy of the mobility of today’s digital recording technology.
It occurs to me that part of the magic of the Living Room Songs project is that it was done in a fixed span of time. Regardless of the success of the artist, that sort of discipline is essential. For the emerging artist, juggling bookings with other jobs, it’s an almost radical carve-out of time. But for the successful, touring artist, too, it can be a rare set of moments of truly personal creative space.
Ólafur Arnalds made his work daily over the course of a week, with one composition for each of the seven days.
Matthew Flook wrote me this week to share his moody, lushly ambient creation Exit Signs. Here, the cadence was one creation per week, for 13 weeks.
He joined the Weekly Beats project we mentioned earlier in order to produce the project.
At the time, many of you expressed a desire to set your own timing and cadence. Sure enough, Flook decided after 13 weeks, he already had one record. The result, released yesterday: Winter Phase.
The day was January 1st, 2014… on which I was driving home from Long Beach, Washington with a mild hangover and a thirst for something new. I was tired and feeling beaten down by the failures of past endeavors, forgotten resolutions, and dwindling artistic productivity. This was it: the time to begin my new year with new ambitions, creations, and challenges. I needed to get back in the studio, and the only clear path in my hazy mind was to begin producing one song per week for the entire year; no excuses, no delays. This release is the culmination of the first quarter of this endeavor, recorded over the rainy winter months in my northeast Portland basement studio.
The individual songs from this weekly project have been mixed into a cohesive, linear album release, and re-mastered for better playability across audio systems. The recording, mixing, and mastering were all done in-house on a very strict schedule that required completing and publishing the results each Sunday by 12:00 AM GMT. The platform that helped me to establish this process is called Weekly Beats, found here: weeklybeats.com#/matthew+flook
This music is meant to capture a moment, and is recorded quickly without (my usual) excessive fussing over minor details. That being said, I put my best effort towards making these sound as good as possible in a week’s time, and suspect you’ll find some surprising subtlety in the mixes – especially if you give a listen with headphones. Enjoy!
Much is made of the cult of disconnecting from the Internet, abandoning Instagram and YouTube and Facebook and – yes, even SoundCloud. Yet Flook and other artists are paradoxically using those globally-connected tools to become more aware of the intimate, creative moments of their life. You can follow Flook on Instagram and see a kind of meditation on his creative spaces. It’s clear that these uploads, like diary writing to an unseen audience, somehow produce greater motivation rather than greater distraction. It’s part promotion, part self-incentive.
Matthew’s blog follows this process:
And the finished album:
You can follow Ólafur Arnalds, too, primarily on his Facebook. (Ah, the irony of “artists” posting Facebook pages maintained by someone else — it rather misses the point. Nothing like that here.)
Once upon a time, little production moments would be tightly-guarded secrets, unless manufacturer artist relations people were breathing down your neck to get an endorsement in. Here, they’re shared freely, almost as part of the process, and so we know, for instance, Ólafur is a fan of Spitfire Audio’s BML string library and the wonderful (though I’ve had little chance to write about yet) Universal Audio Ocean Way Studios reverb:
Ólafur joins Erased Tapes stable mate Nils Frahm to talk about what it means to make modern classical music in a new idiom:
And his latest record “For Now I am in Winter” came out earlier this year, as blissful as skating across a frozen, white pond:
I can’t really draw any connection to these two records other than they have “winter” in the title, and you can see parallel practices from the two artists to ritualistic production and accompanying Internet promotion and distribution. But they do give me a similarly happy feeling, so there’s that.
And it’s a pleasure to take these winter treats into spring. (Well, unless you’re in the midwest of the USA, where apparently you should hole up with these two albums and some long-lasting batteries during a major winter storm this week!)