For centuries, music was something made in a living room, made at home. It was a brief fluke of the 20th Century that music came out of a heroic process in a hidden-away studio. But if the gold-plated, magical record is threatened, some artists are trying to bring the daily ritual of home music making back.

Ólafur Arnalds and Matthew Flook are each making gorgeous, cinematic-ambient tracks, and each have made projects that involve doing so on a regular basis in their homes. Let’s listen.

Arnalds has been making some of the finest scores anywhere, and now has earned the appropriate recognition. In celebration, we get to enjoy the documentation of his achingly-pretty Living Room Songs project free – along with free downloads of the record (or pay for higher quality). Erased Tapes, which also happens to be one of my favorite labels these days (see also post-minimalist pianist Nils Frahm, among others), brings the good news:

In celebration of Ólafur Arnalds’ recent BAFTA nomination for his score work on Broadchurch, Erased Tapes are streaming his 2011 Living Room Songs film in full; including behind the scenes footage which has previously only been available as part of the special edition CD/DVD set.

Shot by Gunnar Guðbjörnsson and Bowen Staines
Edited by Bowen Staines

You can purchase physical and high-quality digital from the Erased Tapes store, or grab the downloads free from the Living Room Songs site:


We get over half an hour of footage to watch. This is all acoustic instrumentation, in case anyone wants to question whether it belongs on this particular site – but, then, that’s the joy of the mobility of today’s digital recording technology.


It occurs to me that part of the magic of the Living Room Songs project is that it was done in a fixed span of time. Regardless of the success of the artist, that sort of discipline is essential. For the emerging artist, juggling bookings with other jobs, it’s an almost radical carve-out of time. But for the successful, touring artist, too, it can be a rare set of moments of truly personal creative space.

Ólafur Arnalds made his work daily over the course of a week, with one composition for each of the seven days.

Matthew Flook wrote me this week to share his moody, lushly ambient creation Exit Signs. Here, the cadence was one creation per week, for 13 weeks.

He joined the Weekly Beats project we mentioned earlier in order to produce the project.


52 Tracks in 52 Weeks: Starting 2014 for Producers

At the time, many of you expressed a desire to set your own timing and cadence. Sure enough, Flook decided after 13 weeks, he already had one record. The result, released yesterday: Winter Phase.

The day was January 1st, 2014… on which I was driving home from Long Beach, Washington with a mild hangover and a thirst for something new. I was tired and feeling beaten down by the failures of past endeavors, forgotten resolutions, and dwindling artistic productivity. This was it: the time to begin my new year with new ambitions, creations, and challenges. I needed to get back in the studio, and the only clear path in my hazy mind was to begin producing one song per week for the entire year; no excuses, no delays. This release is the culmination of the first quarter of this endeavor, recorded over the rainy winter months in my northeast Portland basement studio.

The individual songs from this weekly project have been mixed into a cohesive, linear album release, and re-mastered for better playability across audio systems. The recording, mixing, and mastering were all done in-house on a very strict schedule that required completing and publishing the results each Sunday by 12:00 AM GMT. The platform that helped me to establish this process is called Weekly Beats, found here: weeklybeats.com#/matthew+flook

This music is meant to capture a moment, and is recorded quickly without (my usual) excessive fussing over minor details. That being said, I put my best effort towards making these sound as good as possible in a week’s time, and suspect you’ll find some surprising subtlety in the mixes – especially if you give a listen with headphones. Enjoy!

Much is made of the cult of disconnecting from the Internet, abandoning Instagram and YouTube and Facebook and – yes, even SoundCloud. Yet Flook and other artists are paradoxically using those globally-connected tools to become more aware of the intimate, creative moments of their life. You can follow Flook on Instagram and see a kind of meditation on his creative spaces. It’s clear that these uploads, like diary writing to an unseen audience, somehow produce greater motivation rather than greater distraction. It’s part promotion, part self-incentive.

Matthew’s blog follows this process:

And the finished album:

You can follow Ólafur Arnalds, too, primarily on his Facebook. (Ah, the irony of “artists” posting Facebook pages maintained by someone else — it rather misses the point. Nothing like that here.)


Once upon a time, little production moments would be tightly-guarded secrets, unless manufacturer artist relations people were breathing down your neck to get an endorsement in. Here, they’re shared freely, almost as part of the process, and so we know, for instance, Ólafur is a fan of Spitfire Audio’s BML string library and the wonderful (though I’ve had little chance to write about yet) Universal Audio Ocean Way Studios reverb:

“BML + ocean way = actually some decent vintage sounding strings! #kiasmos”

Ólafur joins Erased Tapes stable mate Nils Frahm to talk about what it means to make modern classical music in a new idiom:

Nils Frahm & Ólafur Arnalds Conversational Interview: Modern Classical Composers in the New Electronic Age [Redefine Magazine]

And his latest record “For Now I am in Winter” came out earlier this year, as blissful as skating across a frozen, white pond:

I can’t really draw any connection to these two records other than they have “winter” in the title, and you can see parallel practices from the two artists to ritualistic production and accompanying Internet promotion and distribution. But they do give me a similarly happy feeling, so there’s that.

And it’s a pleasure to take these winter treats into spring. (Well, unless you’re in the midwest of the USA, where apparently you should hole up with these two albums and some long-lasting batteries during a major winter storm this week!)



  • Henry Dark

    It’s almost Darwinian, the survival of the blandest.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, let’s not be too harsh. First, you’re applying that to two different artists whom, as I said, were paired here only because they each happened to have projects being shared this week that worked in this way. Second, to me, the one thing they have in common is a kind of straightforward emotional tack… I think they’re not trying to be so fancy, either artist, in their own way.

      I can imagine reception to this music would depend largely on mood, though that’s largely true.

      When we want stuff edgier / more experimental, we’ll have that, too.

    • Matthew Flook

      An interesting if off-the-cuff response to the music here; but to each their own, indeed. I fully intend for the Exit Signs sound to evolve over this year of weekly production and believe it has already done so these first 13 weeks, starting with some more mild-mannered melodic IDM material and later dabbling with more energetic tempos and sounds (track 7, for example).

      That all being said, I’m deeply offended that yohan the cat does not find my material to be edgy, techy, glitchy and digital, as I work hard to meld exactly those things into my otherwise bland textural works. :)

    • yohan the cat

      I wasn’t actually referring to your music with that comment, but enjoy the unintended offense if you like

    • Matthew Flook

      I kid. No hard feelings. And more importantly, I have another song to go write!

    • yohan the cat

      i find this less bland than much of the ‘edgy’ techy glitchy digital music, which masquerades as ‘new’ but often ends up sounding samey/characterless & devoid of emotion… but to each their own. Whats that saying: ‘critics are people who run on to the battlefield after the war is over & stab the wounded’ Are you brave enough to post a link to your presumably unbland music Henry?

  • Miguel Marcos

    Peter, gotta say I truly enjoy the range of subject matter here. Just marvelous.

    A long time ago, I was enrolled in the University of Miami School of Music’s composition program. This was during the days when the Mac was relatively new. Though we had to turn in our assignments handwritten on manuscript paper, I bought a Mac Plus. I could only afford Deluxe Music Construction Set (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deluxe_Music_Construction_Set) for notation and printed my scores on a dot matrix ImageWriter II. The sounds I could generate were really cheesy but there was a thrill anyway, though not as much a thrill as getting your pieces played by live musicians.

    Having tools like that Spitfire library now is just so incredible for people who can’t work out the time or place or economics to gather a string ensemble and for people who just want to experiment. Not that the Spitfire library is cheap, but it’s an investment that can give some very nice returns to some composers. (Kudos to Spitfire: They split profits with the artists sampled unlike many other sample library vendors.)

    Anyway, enough digression, continue on with the awesome content here! (And please don’t forget that article you promised in the comments on the TM404 article…)

  • vroom lao phen

    Long live the living room! I agree that electronic music may have unique potential to be part of family life. I think stretta mentioned somewhere that he is drawn to electronic music because you can keep it pretty quiet and that is more compatible with his household that, say, a drum kit. On the other hand, it allows for experimentation by kids, too…

    • Michael L

      These songs remind me how important is the expression of every note in a performance, and the interactions among the performers. That is so rare in much digital music performance! When Switched on Bach first came out, the critics raved about the soulful performance. Wendy Carlos said that she missed those interactions. Where are the synth quartets, and the controllers as sensitive as a violin?

    • vroom lao phen

      Excellent point. I keep thinking that when I see the eigenharps and the soundplanes… I still get more expression out of a guitar or even a piano. Not saying that I don’t like digital music but I agree there is much potential to be tapped. Synth quartets… yeah… I’d be game for that :-)

  • Daniel Davis

    Making music at home is the best. I’ve recorded over 30 albums in various rooms in houses that I’ve lived in over the last 20 years.

  • MB

    living places are always full of inspiration, and such artists do their top to get the finest out of these experiences! really love Olafur Arnalds and thanks for the introduction to Exit Signs. I do completely agree on the fact that self discipline and rules are vital. Last year I personally embarked in such an experience to explore other territories of my ambient music production.. and inspired by the von Trier/Leth docu-movie “5 Obstructions” I decided to put different gear and time limitations to my production for 1 year. if anybody is interested in listening, here is the final result of this “Dogma” project with all the rules I set up: http://thevolumesettingsfolder.bandcamp.com/album/year-ii-a-dogma

  • TaraBusch

    Wonderful, yes!! I absolutely love Olafur’s work – see him live if you get the chance!