Interview with Yagya
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