Muted is an alias of Bjarni Rafn Kjartansson. He first came to my notice via a collaboration with Samaris and has recently released a limited edition vinyl called Lizard On Ice. He ended up cutting out the label for each record sleeve himself, something that is indicative of the Icelandic music scene. He spends time watching stars and waiting for the northern lights to show up and yet he seems to be the maestro of the East Fjords. I wanted to know more. What on earth is an Icelander doing producing music as diverse as this from the edge of nowhere?
How would you describe your music?
I make all kinds of stuff, I started out doing drum’n’bass, then I went to dubstep, I’ve also done trip-hop, hip-hop, jazz, theatrical work and a lot of other different stuff. The thing that I keep in almost all of my works, my “signature” thing, are the recorded sounds I’ve recorded in various places in Iceland with my Zoom H4N recording device. I usually have some odd sounds for snares or percussion and use some cool ambience recordings for effects in the background.
I also love using samples, recycling old records, sample movies, tv, cassettes or just whatever really, and last but not least, I’m heavily into analog synthesisers. I’ve never studied any instrument so I’m basically just experimenting with sounds.
Why are you called ‘muted’?
I think it took me like 10 mins to pick that name, no real thought to it really, just really fitting for me. I started out making this deep, kind of minimal drum’n’bass which suits the name “Muted” quite well, it also fits my character pretty well as I’m in general a really shy person, I was also the only one in my hometown who even knew what drum’n’bass was at the time so I was kind ‘the odd one out’ so the name was quite easy.
Where in Iceland are you from? Where do you live at the moment?
I’m from Egilsstaðir, in the east part of Iceland. I’m currently living there but I lived in Reykjavík for a year and Akureyri for a year in 2011 where I made my debut album (which is still to be released!).
What’s it like there?
Over the summer it’s wicked, everyone is home for their summer job and the town is blooming. In late august and until christmas it’s pretty hard, everyone leaves for university and at the moment I am the last man standing.
But music-wise it’s wicked all year around. I live in Fellabær which is a 300 people town 2 km outside of Egilsstaðir (on the banks of the famous Lagarfljót). I’m lucky enough to be renting an apartment in an industrial area so I’m the only inhabitant on my street so I can make music anytime I want without disturbing anyone.
There is also a small forest in 3 minute walking distance from my apartment and there I spend a lot of time watching stars, northern lights, recording sounds, thinking or just chilling.
Isn’t it really hard producing music from such a remote part of the country?
It’s actually a lot easier for me than when I was living in Reykjavík. I think that what matters most for me is how close I am to the nature in Egilsstaðir. Everywhere I go there are forests, rivers, huge rocks, mountains, just everything a nature lover wants. The thing I disliked the most about living in Reykjavík was that everything was so hectic over there, traffic, people in a hurry, just uncomfortable. I mean compared to big cities like New York and London I can understand that Reykjavík is just a chilled tiny city for most tourists but for someone who’s used to living in a town of 2500 people it’s a pretty different story.
Since I’m all alone over the winter months I use almost all of my spare time for music, either working on new tunes, playing my synths, sampling or recording sounds.
Tell me about ‘Lizard on Ice’ – why is it on vinyl, and limited to only 100?
Lizard on Ice was a project that went too far, but I’m glad it did. I’ve always been heavily into hip-hop but I had never tried to make my own. In the winter of 2012 I decided to try and make a beat every week until I had a hip-hop ‘beat-tape’. I started out doing a beat a week for the first 2 weeks or so but then I just wanted to do more and more and in the end I had made like 40 beats. I then cut them down to 17 and just when I was finishing the album I received an e-mail from Kraumur music fund encouraging me to apply for a funding.
I eventually did not get funded since it’s really hard to get funded for something in Iceland unless your name is Retro Stefson or something.
But yeah, to make a long story short I gave the go ahead as soon as I received the answer to my application and my first release on my own label was in motion.
There were some bumps in the road though, I mis-ordered the covers so I didn’t receive those I was expecting and my best friend who was drawing the artwork had to re-think the whole idea in 2 days. I also had problems getting someone to print the covers so I turned to my uncle who gave me a huge sticker roll, which did not fit in his printer so I had to spend an hour sawing a part of the roll off. I then printed the covers at his house in Eskifjörður and then my mum helped me put the stickers on the covers. I used a surgeon-knife to cut out for the circle and hand stamped every copy from 001-100.
To top it all off I just arrived back home from Reykjavík where I delivered almost every copy personally to the people who ordered them.
I’m almost sold out already so it turned out really nice.
The reason I wanted to do a vinyl is mostly because I really don’t like this whole mp3-evolution we got going on, when I do some tracks I want to hold them in my hand and have as part of some collection I will own for the rest of my life instead of some mp3 files that are part of some collection of thousands of other mp3 files who I might or might not have in the future.
I also buy and listen to a lot of vinyl so it was the best thing to do for me.
How did the collaboration with Jófríður Ákadóttir from Pascal Pinon/Samaris come about?
I started working with Samaris in 2011, soon after they won the battle of the bands. I was with my best friend at Subway the night Samaris won and I heard the winning performance on the radio and heard a lot of potential.
I really wanted to collaborate with them or do a remix or something because I feel they’re music is really special. Doddi from Samaris contacted me about a remix in may 2011 and I picked the track ‘Hljóma þú’ to remix.
This was at the same time I was working on my debut album I named earlier and I decided to check with Jófríður if she could sing for me. Iceland is really small so it was as simple as that. The only challenge I was left to face was to write lyrics for the track she were to sing. I chose one of my favourite places in the world as an inspiration and wrote some verses that she sung and Doddi recorded and then he sent me to Akureyri and I finished the track over there.
I’ve also been working on music with them, collaborating on the track ‘Haf’ which will appear on they’re next album on One Little Indian, remixing more tracks by them and probably some more good stuff in the future.
What’s next for Muted?
I spent 3 months this summer working with a small theatre group in my hometown, putting up a show called ‘Næturlíf’ (Nightlife) which received nationwide attention and since then I finished a concept album I started last winter called ‘Planets’, a track for every planet.
Now I’m working on a jazz album with my friend playing the drums, doing another vinyl release scheduled for early 2014, a hip-hop album with Icelandic rappers I want to work with.
But other than that I’m just doing the usual, working on more music, looking for gigs abroad, trying to find a decent label to release my stuff and just trying to enjoy life.
Original article on Iceland Review online.
For more info on Muted.
Photographs courtesy of Muted.