The NYC record label figureight has released a stream excellent albums since its formation in 2017—not least, by Icelandic artists JFDR, GYÐA, Indriði and Úlfur. The label also has several international artists on the roster, including Randall Dunn; a producer and serial collaborator with strong and various ties to the Icelandic scene.
We caught up with him for a brief chat about abstraction, narrative, friendship, inspiration, and what you can expect from his show at IÐNÓ on December 19th, as part of the ongoing “Mengi Series.”
Could you tell us a little about your connection Iceland? Have you been here or played here before?
I first became interested in Icelandic music scene through Eyvind Kang, who has family ties to there. Through him I met a bunch of people over the years. I recorded a Norwegian band called Splashgirl there years ago and enjoyed spending time there. Since then being involved with figureight and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson I have broadened the circle so to speak. I’m very fortunate to have so many friends there.
You’ve likened your work to painting or prose as well as music: is this to do with a breaking down of formalism or structure, and a focus on evocative qualities — texture, colour, depth?
All of these things, really. It’s mostly in its need to portray an image or a narrative in an abstract form vs work traditionally with any sort of structure or medium. I think of things very emotionally and make the choices related to that.
Does this multidisciplinary tendency manifest in your live performances, through, say, use of multimedia?
No, all of the visuals I prefer live to keep an internal relationship that is subjective for the listener.
How did you get involved in the figureight family, and how has that informed your work?
I have known Shazhad Ismaily a long time and did this record, “Beloved,” upon his invitation. I appreciate him pushing me to do that. I also work often in the studio the label was formed around in NY. Having that support made this record possible.
Could you tell our readers about what they should expect from the MENGI show, and your fellow performers?
I will be playing with a 5-6 piece ensemble. Úlfur Eldjárn will accompany me on piano and synths, William Hayes on guitar, Shazhad Ismaily on bass and keys; Ulfur Hansson on processing, and Veronica Dye on flute. We will play a few interpreted versions of themes from the record and will be also doing some new pieces and improvising. It will be a relaxing and meditative experience I hope. This is the first show of this music so I think we will all experience the newness together.