Interview: Valgeir Sigurðsson

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Tonight at Village Underground, Icelandic electronic musician Valgeir Sigurðsson joins City of London Sinfonia to première his work No Nights Dark Enough. We caught up with the man behind the music to talk about what motivated him to form his own record label, the creative process and his latest piece.

Tell us about your set-up: what do you use to create music and what material do you like to work with?

I work mainly out of my studio, Greenhouse in Reykjavík. The studio is equipped with pretty much everything one might need for recording and mixing. When I’m writing I tend to experiment a lot, looking for sounds that inspire, as sound is often the starting point of a piece and the computer is where everything is gestated. I like to work with organic acoustic sounds that transform, mutate and morph into the digital world of total control.

What inspires you to create music?

Collaboration keeps things fresh and interesting for me. I’m constantly making music, whether it’s writing new work or producing someone else’s music, mixing, even mastering or running the label. When I start working on something new I try to erase everything, and start with a clean slate. I go on hunts for inspiring images or text, ideas or theories. When I’m not actively writing something I capture ideas here and there, record them quickly and store on a hard drive that I sometimes go back to when I’m starting a new work. A deadline is the single most important thing though. Without one I’d never finish anything, and the thing about music is that it is never really finished. There just comes a point when you accept it and get ready to move on.

Youve collaborated with some really big names what was it like working with Björk and how did it come about?

That sort of felt like getting a real-life degree in every aspect of music making. Being able to watch observe and help her process, and so many amazing collaborators that passed through at various stages of the work during the eight or so years I was working with Björk. And I was given a whole lot of time and space to be creative within that environment, travel the world making music. I can’t say enough good things about that whole experience. There was also a point when it felt like a good time to move on.

In 2005 you founded record label Bedroom Community what motivated you to set up your own label and what advice would you give to artists trying to do the same?

I felt that I hadn’t managed to nurture my composition work at all, and I had a lot of music that I wanted to make of my own. Meeting Nico Muhly and Ben Frost gave me context for this, and I really wanted to help them produce records and get them released. It seemed like the best idea was to build a structure around that, because the studio was already there, the music was there, and we were all interested and intrigued by each others music and ideas. The best advice is to find your own path and be open and collaborative. Also, be prepared to work very very hard.

Youre writing a new piece to be performed in our Summer Festival. Could you shed some insight on No Nights Dark Enough and your compositional process?

The brief was to write a piece in response to John Dowland’s Flow My Tears, which is a 16th-century song. It’ll be around 30 minutes long, for a chamber orchestra and electronics. Many pieces have been based on Flow My Tears and some of them I actually like a lot better than the original! I started by looking for as many different versions and recordings of the song as I could and look at the score and try to understand how it was put together. The poem is very beautiful, and I decided that I would write one movement for each verse in the poem. Then I basically threw the original away and tried to get away from it.

As with No Nights Dark Enough, you often combine electronics with orchestral forces why is this important in your music?

Electronics and orchestras —and orchestral instruments— are equally fascinating to me. I find that there are uncharted territories when it comes to combining these two elements. The orchestra as an entity doesn’t really operate in a way that is favourable to electronics, working with PA’s and amplification, doing sound checks and so on, but as I started working with orchestras in the studio before I ever worked with one for a performance I was sort of able to ignore that problem. When I started writing orchestral music I had to reverse-engineer that technique I’d been developing in the studio. It’s a struggle to marry these two forces successfully, and one of the things that always excites me about music-making is challenging myself. I don’t want to play it safe, and the failing-potential keeps me interested. 

No Nights Dark Enough
Tuesday 17 June
Village Underground
Book tickets now

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