Icelandic producer Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson has been creating atmospheres under the moniker Yagya since 2002 with Rhythm of Snow, released on Force Inc. His third album, Rigning, released in 2009, set the benchmark for not just dub techno, but electronic music as a whole. Yagya has studied computer science at the University of Iceland. It’s an understatement to say that he has a ear for beauty and melody in his productions. This year, he has released his 5th studio album called ‘’Sleepygirls’’ on Delsin. We chated over the course of a few weeks on Facebook. Here are the words that came out of it!
1)What gear / equipment do you use ?
My computer does everything, since I only use software samplers. I quite like it like that since I have so much control over everything. I recently bought a midi keyboard, which I’m starting to use now. In the past I’ve been using only the mouse to draw the melodies that I hear in my mind. For me as a electronic musician, sound and music is heavily intertwined, so speakers are very important. since they are my one and only link to the music (unlike, say, guitarist which relies on the guitar and skill to play it). Currently I’m using Quested V2108, PSI A21-M and Avantone Mixcubes. I truly believe that they are what matters most for me (along with the room they are in) as inspirational monitors can help create inspirational music. They don’t make the music or the sounds, but musical and honest monitors help me choose the right sounds, they will tell you if the track feels good and/or if it sounds good, and how everything fits together. I’m still exploring this territory, but I feel like I can trust this 3 set monitor combination regarding musicality and sound engineering. Not all speakers were created equally, so one has to choose carefully.
2) Your soundscapes are very unique..You like texture a lot and rhythm seems less important to you on previous albums but on Sleepygirls I thought rhythms were just as much important. Was it intentionnal ?
I guess it was partly intentional, I wanted to make loops that grooved a little bit more than my previous stuff, without being purely for the dance floor. It was just something I had fun with, since I tried not to force anything on Sleepygirls
3) How does the landscapes of Iceland influence you ?
I like mountains and the sky and the ocean, but I can’t say Icelandic landscape influences me directly. That said I don’t think I’d like to live in a huge city without sensing the tranquility of nature for an extended period of time. I like the calmness you often find in Iceland.
4) Are you aware of the immense cult following that you have ? Not only in the dub techno community but in post 2000, you are a very respected electronic musician.
Well, I can’t say I’m aware of any cult following, but people have mentioned it to me once or twice. To be honest I try not to think about such things, because I’m fearful that it might affect how I apply myself in making music. Perhaps if I convince myself that I know how to make music, I will stop trying to better myself. It’s a slippery slope. I kinda need to make beautiful music and can’t afford to take it easy, because I think contentment is the enemy of advancement.
5) Rigning is such a masterpiece. Could you tell us how you made the record and where did the inspiration/idea behind came from ?
I made that album on my laptop and my pc, and it took a loooong time because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. There were three records that inspired me while making Rigning: the first one was Rhythm of Snow, I wanted to make something similar since that was my first Yagya album. But I didn’t want to listen to it, so I just used my memory of it. (My plan has always to make the odd numbered record similar to what I have done in the past and for even numbered albums I try something new.) The second one was Laughing Stock by Talk Talk, which is such an amazing album. there are some great tranquil moments on that album that I wanted to imitate on Rigning. The third one was Blade Runner Soundtrack by Vangelis, which is sooo great! I love that film and I love the score.
Rigning wasn’t inspired by rain, it just happened that I used field recordings of rain in all of the tracks, so when the album was almost done it seemed natural to emphasize on that theme.
6) You said previously that you heard melodies in your head. That is intriguing. Do you have a set of samples or just do everything on the spur of the moment ? Basically, tell us a little about your composition process ?
Sadly almost nothing happens at the spur of the moment, since everything takes a rather long time. So I need to think up stuff that might fit for the track and then make it happen by searching for raw sounds (mostly very basic sampled analog synths) and tweak it until fits into the soundscape. Usually I try to lay down some chords and a kick, and create a basic mood, then I add layers to that to make it more complex. I play around with it and tweak it until it’s coherent and sort of “talks” to me. That’s a very important part and can take a long time. I try to make music that makes me feel like it’s more than the sum of the sounds.
Regarding the melodies in my head, I think once you have a basic foundation of chords/pads and rhythm there is often an implied melody, something that comes naturally. It’s easy to hear, I might hum it along and then I can draw it with my mouse. of course there are days that I’m just banging my head against the wall, but it’s important to keep working on it. I never create a track in one sitting, there are usually countless sessions for each one. When I’m making albums I work on it as a whole, so nothing is done until everything is done.
7) You’ve mentionned being influenced by Vangelis score on Blade runner, would you like to do a film score in the future ? Have you yet been approched to do so ?
When I was younger, before I made music under the monker Yagya, I tried to make music for 2 or 3 short films. It was fun, but I haven’t done anything like that again. If I had the proper resources (i.e. time) I would love to write a film score, but only if I would get artistic freedom to do what inspires me (or if me and the director would really sync). I think it can be rather hard to write music for others since they sometimes have requests that you don’t agree with, it simply isn’t the same to follow someone other’s vision as following your own. But, oh man, I’d love to write something like the Blade Runner score, or at least my version of it. It’s probably immensely satisfying if things work out, and the film and the score compliment each other perfectly. I know, it’s very hard to do and I would have to practise endlessly before that happens!
8) I’ve seen that you’ve toured a lot around the world : Japan, Russia, Nederlands, Germany..No touring in America (Canada & USA) yet ? We ought to invite you to Mutek…
Well, actually I was a part of Substrata festival in Seattle last year (2013) curated and organized by Rafael Anton Irisarri. but other than that I haven’t toured in America. I find America fascinating, it’s so huge and so many great things in art and technology originate from there. I have never been to Canada (only USA (New York City and Seattle)), and of course I would love to play at Mutek! Playing live in the right venue for an excellent crowd can be a very rewarding experience.
9) Why is it important for you to release physical records (cd, vinyls) in this day and age of digital format ( mp3) ?
For me personally it just seems more real somehow, a physical object that you can hold in your hand and say “It’s done”, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, plus it’s a symbolic artefact that I can place in my shelf and move on. I think it’s similar when I buy music, it feels good to own the record you love, instead of streaming it or listen to it on youtube. That said I don’t buy CDs anymore, I just buy vinyl and mp3/flac. (But I will of course try and continue to put my music on CD as long as someone wants to release it and buy it.)
10) What would be your top 10 records of all time ?
1. An MLO Production – Io
2. Maurizio – M4.5
3. The Orb – U.F.Orb
4. Elliott Smith – Either/Or
5. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
6. Gas – Königsforst
7. Rhythm & Sound w/ Love Joy – Best Friend
8. Peter Gabriel – Passion / Music For The Last Temptation Of Christ
9. Philip Glass – Music with Changing Parts
10. Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence
David Morley is a British electronic musician, born in London and later moved to Belgium. Originally a child actor, he was in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in 1975. He was the in-house engineer for R&S Records in the 1980’s and 1990’s.He worked with Andrea Parker for many years co-writing and producing her album Kiss My Arp. He has released two albums under his own name – Tilted and Ghosts. David has an album coming up in december on Anodize.
Before we get into music topics. I have to ask you : how was it to work with the great Stanley Kubrick and what would be your favorite film from him ?
1) How did you start making music ?
I started out when I was about 14 playing guitar. I then studied guitar for 2 years in Brussels but the main thing with this was that there was a commercial studio attached to the school, so we used to use the studio for projects and sit in on sessions. I loved it.
At the time it was when studios were glorious places with space, high end equipment, all the new synths etc…so I knew I wanted to work in studios.
Backtracking a few years before this while I was at boarding school, something important happened to me too. When I was about 17, I escaped with a school friend one night as he had a friend with a car, who picked us up and we drove around the countryside in England. I sat in the back and the driver put Tangram by Tangerine Dream on. Until then I had been into rock and stuff like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Floyd, New Wave and Punk etc, but this blew me away. The atmosphere and sound was perfect for that night drive. That basically decided my own musical journey.
2) What gear/equipment/synths do you use?
I change gear quite a lot except for a few main pieces. For 25 years I have been using my Roland Tr-808, ARP 2600 and Prophet 5. Those are the core of my setup. Around that I usually use Modulars and samplers. Now I also have an EMS VCS3, Minimoog, Fenix II and Fenix III modular, Roland 100m and some more “modern” stuff (still 20 years old!) like Waldorf Microwaves, Yamaha FM synths etc. I have a load of samplers too! I used to use a Roland S-750 and Emulator III all the time, but also have a Fairlight IIx and series III that are being restored. They stopped working a few years back and I am excited to be getting them back soon. I sold some lovely pieces over the years which hurts when I think about it (Polyfusion, Buchla, ARP2500 for example) but still have more than enough to work with. In the studio I always work with a mixing desk. I hate recording and mixing in a computer. Not my thing. If I do a mix on the desk it’s always quicker and sounds better. I have an older MCI mixing desk that belonged to Kraftwerk during the period they did Tour De France and Electric Cafe. That means a lot to me.
I also have a few effects that I use a lot. An EMT reverb and an Eventide H3000 D/SE being the ones I use most.
3) How did you came to be in contact/involved with R&S ?
Whilst I was studying guitar, me and my best friend James Martinez made a 12” single. It was financed by a friend of his family who was a well known DJ in Belgium at the time (Steve Johnson). When he had finished, he took it to MusicMan records in Gent and Renaat heard it. He released it on R&S and when we went down to sign the contract, he asked me if I knew how to wire up a studio. I lied and said yes. That night I stayed in the studio in Gent and wired up his studio which had an Emulator III (which blew me away). He then asked if I wanted to do a track and me and Renaat started releasing stuff as Spectrum. From then on, I stayed at R&S until maybe 2000. That was in 1988 I believe.
4) When you started making music, what artists or labels influenced you ?
I was influenced by the classic artists like Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Schulze, Kraftwerk, Black Sabbath, quite a few krautrock bands but also some punk bands (I still love Crass and The Subhumans (the english band) for example) and some new wave bands such as Fad Gadget. Belgium had some great bands at the time like TC Matic, Front 242 and the Neon Judgement. Loads of influences though. Allan Holdsworth for example is an amazing guitarist and his music inspires me too. Same with Pat Martino.
5) Evolution, released in 1993, still is in my opinion a classic and of one of the best track from that era..
In 1992 I made that track at my home studio. The thing is I became diabetic about then and when I left hospital, I couldn’t drive for 6 months. So I borrowed money from my dad to set up a small studio at home (tascam mixer, tascam tape machine, Roland Jupiter 4 and roland sampler). I did Evolution and went to Renaat with it, who said it was great but didn’t suit R&S, so he thought he should start a separate sub label for that style. So, he started Apollo records and released Evolution as Apollo 1.
6) You seem to be doing a lot of mastering work nowadays, in your opinion how does music sound today with all those tools available ?
I master my own work and if people ask, I’ll do theirs, but honestly I leave the top end work to the professionals! I can master electronic music however.
I have a problem these days in that whilst most tools have become better and certainly more affordable in many cases, the end format and how people are listening has become worse. My main criticism of especially electronic music these days is the mixing and arrangements. It seems as if people lack the mixing skills. Mixing is IMHO not a technical process but an art and it’s not about a mix being perfectly balanced and each individual component being processed as perfectly as possible. It’s about creating an atmosphere and depth that makes you want to come back for more and transports you somewhere. Sometimes it seems that the bigger picture is forgotten and the details are overworked.
Modern software doesn’t actually help in that respect with mastering presets, EQ presets, automated everything and unlimited tracks and plugins. Limitations can be a good thing.
The rise in new modular synths is great too but there is a danger that people are buying individual modules that do specific tasks. For me, the wonderful thing about modular synths is that you can build whatever you need (if you give it enough effort and thought) out of a decent but basic set of modules. Nowadays there are modules that IMHO are too specific and end up being gimmicks. So, it is excellent that good quality gear has become affordable and more people can make music, BUT I do wish people didn’t think of (certainly electronic music) as being based around technology. The tools should not be driving the music.
7) What are you up to these days musically ?
At the end of December I have a new album released on Anodize records. It’s called “Sanctum. Also, there is an album released to aid Breast Cancer. Loads of artists, including myself, gave tracks and it’s a great thing.
8) Finally, your 10 favorite albums or top 5 albums ?
Hard one as it changes all the time. One of my favourite recordings is the 12” of “Slave to the Rhythm” by Grace Jones. That influenced the way I thought of produced music completely. A masterpiece.
Kraftwerk Computer – Computer World
Tangerine Dream – Rubycon
Edgar Froese – Aqua
Black Sabbath – any of the first 4 albums
Pink Floyd – Animals
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works I
Vangelis – Soil Festivities
Locust – Weathered Well
Allan Holdsworth – Road Games
Subhumans – From the Cradle to the Grave
Mix with Evolution :
Here is my last mix on Soundcloud, my last ambient-techno tribute mix, and the very last one I’ll be doing, With a rest of on Mixcloud, it contains the likes of Mixmaster Morris aka The Irresistible force, David Morley, Gescom aka Autechre, Speedy J, Orbital, Photek, Vapourspace & Claude Young. Its companion on Mixcloud has Sandoz, Gas, and µ–Ziq.
– Trust : Microglobe by Mijk Van Dijk was featured on the compilation Trance Europe Express 2, and has a vocal sample from the movie The Abyss. (”You have to look with better eyes)
– Ethereal murmurings by µ–Ziq is quite simply a stunning piece of music. Released in 1994, the best year in eletronic music in my opinion with SAW2 and Global communication’s 76:14.
– Gas Microscopic is not Wolfgang Voigt but Mat P Jarvis aka High skies his album was released in 1995.
– James Bernard’s Phosphorous on Atmospherics, also released in 1994 on Rising high is too underated.
– This is the type of music I’d like to hear in heaven maybe?