As far as artist names go, Muted is one of the most apt titles Bjarni Rafn Kjartansson could have chosen for himself. The very mellow and pleasant musician recently released his second full length album, ‘Empire,’ a dreamy collection of hushed, naturalistic, chill electronica songs featuring collaborations from the likes of Jófríður Ákadóttir (Samaris, JFDR) and Ásdís María. Recorded and produced over a sporadic three-year process, which began with the artist connecting to his natural surroundings.
Proudly hailing from Egilsstaðir, in East Iceland, Bjarni currently lives in Germany. He has released five collections of music, but considers ‘Empire’ to be his true second album since the release of ‘Muted World’ in 2014. “When I don’t feel inspired to make that kind of music, I tend to make a lot of hip hop beats,” Bjarni says. “That’s basically my go-to when I want to make music but I don’t feel like I want to do my main sound.”
When he does delve into his main sound, it is always quite close to home. “When I make my songs I use this zoom mike and usually start making a beat consisting of these field recordings, and then I build on top of that,” he says. “I used that a lot when I was back home in Iceland. I would always go out, go somewhere in nature, sit by a little river or something and just record the sounds, and then mix them in between with the other stuff like the synths and stuff.”
Bjarni’s process then takes him into a lengthy process of repeat listenings, self-criticism, and hyper-perfectionism. “I’m constantly making some tunes, and I’m listening to them over and over again in the bus,” he says. “It’s the songs that last the longest that that make it through. Then I usually end up with some concept.” The concept Bjarni came to as he created and criticised these songs kept returning to the land of his birth.
Bjarni feels deeply connected to his native land’s nature and the impact of the peace and quiet comes through in the subtle, cloud-like texture of his music. Having spent his life growing up in a place “two minutes from nature,” the influence of silence and space allows him to convey his specific ambient environment. The album’s colourful, cartoon-esque cover art was by Steinunn Harðadóttir, aka dj. flugvél og geimskip, who also collaborated on one of the album’s tracks, conveys a whimsical, bold, and joyous vision of Iceland’s nature, perfectly encapsulating Bjarni’s love of his land.
“When I’m making the music, even though I’m here in Germany, my mind is still goes to the places I love and my roots,” he says. “The empire is kind of the nature of Iceland in my mind. I just picture myself just standing on top of the mountain looking over all the untouched nature. I think about it every day, even subconsciously. It’s just there, always.”