Ólafur Arnalds: Tiny Desk Concert The Icelandic composer is joined by two "ghost" pianists, making mysterious and memorable music at the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk

Ólafur Arnalds

It's as if the pianos were haunted. Somewhere about midway through this Tiny Desk, as Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds performed on his electronic keyboard, two upright pianos were playing lilting melodies behind him, absent any performer at the keys. And yet these "ghosts," along with Ólafur's band of strings and percussion, put together some of the most beautiful music I've heard at the Tiny Desk, made all the more mysterious through its presentation.

About ten minutes into the performance Ólafur looked behind him at the two pianos, looked to the NPR crowd and said, "well I guess you're all wondering 'what and why,' to which there's no easy answer." He hit the keys on his electronic keyboard and the two pianos behind responded with cascading, raindrop-like notes. "What I can say," he continued, "is that I've spent two years and all of my money on this — to make my pianos go bleep-bloop." What Ólafur was referring to is software that he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn developed. A computer, loaded with this musical software (which Ólafur calls the Stratus system), "listens" to Ólafur's keyboard performance and responds by creating patterns that are musically in tune with the chord or notes Ólafur performed.

So why do this? Basically, it's a way to break out of the box musicians often fall back on as performers — the familiar responses that years of playing can reinforce. With that is the hope that the computer will create a response that is unfamiliar and, in some cases through speed of performance and the sheer number of notes played, impossible for a human to have made. So, it breathes new life into the music for the listener and the performer.

It was a gently stunning and memorable Tiny Desk. More of these creations can be heard on Ólafur Arnalds' brilliant, fourth solo album re: member. The full album is out August 24 on Mercury KX.

Set List

  • "Árbakkinn"
  • "Unfold"
  • "Saman"
  • "Doria"

Musicians

Ólafur Arnalds (keys), Viktor Arnason (violin), Unnur Jónsdóttir (cello), Katie Hyun (violin), Karl James Pestka (viola), Manu Delago (percussion)

Credits

Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Dominik Piorr; Audio Mix: Ólafur Arnalds; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, CJ Riculan, Bronson Arcuri, Khun Minn Ohn; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eric Lee/NPR.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Melanie Faye plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Melanie Faye (Home) Concert

Melanie Faye stole the show during Masego's Tiny Desk concert, so we invited her to perform her own quarantine concert.

Kate Davis plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Kate Davis (Home) Concert

One of our favorite indie rock lyricists performs a four-song concert for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

John Legend plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

John Legend (Home) Concert

This four-song set for Tiny Desk's quarantine series is utter joy.

Lyric Jones plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Lyric Jones (Home) Concert

The Boston-born, Los Angeles-based rapper does it all in this performance for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Thao Nguyen plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Thao Nguyen (Home) Concert

Thao is joined by two cellists in this remarkable set for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Lucinda Williams plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Watch Lucinda Williams Play A Tiny Desk From Home

Lucinda Williams and her guitar mate, Stuart Mathis, set up shop for a Tiny Desk home concert at Thirty Tigers' headquarters in Nashville.

Nilüfer Yanya plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Nilüfer Yanya (Home) Concert

After performing for us last year, Nilüfer Yanya rejoins the Tiny Desk team from afar, performing three works from her last album and debuting a new song.

Tom Adams plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tom Adams (Home) Concert

The singer and songwriter plays four new songs from his home in Cornwall, accompanied by a modular synthesizer and fronted by Adams' gifted falsetto.

Lenny Kravitz plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Lenny Kravitz (Home) Concert

The bohemian rock icon performs a Tiny Desk quarantine concert from his home in the Bahamas.

Diana Gordon plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Diana Gordon (Home) Concert

The singer-songwriter channels Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan in her Tiny Desk quarantine concert.

Back To Top