Artificial Intelligence, Brian Eno And The Displacement Of Air: The Making Of Halldór Eldjárn - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Artificial Intelligence, Brian Eno And The Displacement Of Air: The Making Of Halldór Eldjárn

Artificial Intelligence, Brian Eno And The Displacement Of Air: The Making Of Halldór Eldjárn

Published October 18, 2019

Main photo by
Sigga Ella

Musician Halldór Eldjárn has been drawing a lot of attention recently for his AI-approach to composing, as well as his homemade percussion-playing robots. Here’s what has made him the artist he is today.

Generative music

The concept of generating music has always fascinated me. My uncle, Kjartan Ólafsson, has worked in this field for decades, creating an AI-driven music composition software called Calmus. He definitely made me realise it was possible to make a computer write music. I was then introduced to Brian Eno’s works—he coined the term “generative music” for music that is ever-different and changing, created by a system. As a programmer, it was very easy for me to start experimenting with creating my own generative music, and the first released piece was “Poco Apollo,” which was composed in 14,000 parts based on data from photos taken by astronauts on the moon. I’m actually about to release my debut album, which is based on this music piece.

My brothers & family

My oldest brother, Eldjárn, was a virtuoso guitarist or a “guitar-man” as he regarded himself, but sadly he passed away due to illness when I was 11-years old. He gave me my first piece of music production gear, the Yamaha QY-70, which was at the time a state of the art device. My other musician brother, Úlfur, has wildly influenced me from an early age, giving me records to listen to with artists like Serge Gainsbourg, Stereolab, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Boards of Canada. He taught me how to play the synthesizer and we used to have synthesizer jams at our home and record them on cassette tape when I was 6 and he was 21. My brother Ari does not work as a musician, but nevertheless he is a talented instrumentalist. Ari taught me to play drums when I was little, which I then made my main instrument and went to study percussion for eight years.

Matthías Hemstock

Matti was my teacher in music school. He is a really gifted musician and a great friend. Not only does he have a very deep understanding of music and its secrets, but he also becomes his students’ spiritual leader. We still meet and have coffee regularly. We once sat for five hours straight and philosophised about music in his kitchen while drinking so many cups of ristretto that I almost got caffeine poisoning and had to lie in bed for a day!

Jean-Claude Vannier

I’ve listened a lot to Serge Gainsbourg, and his most famous album Histoire de Melody Nelson’ has been my go-to reference for string arrangements. Jean-Claude Vannier did the orchestrations on the album and they are just legendary, rich and beautiful. I have not heard a great deal of his other works though.

Evelyn Glennie

Soon after I studied percussion, I got a CD with Evelyn Glennie. She is a virtuoso percussion player, mainly for playing mallet instruments like marimba and xylophone. I listened a lot to her and I admire her for her skills. The fact that she is almost deaf also emphasises the fact that music is so much more than the displacement of air, or sound waves. She has said in interviews that she has instead taught herself to hear with her body. Picking up high frequency vibrations through her skin, and through her feet. In fact, she will often play bearfoot to feel the sound vibrations from the floor better.

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