“I love old movies and stories. I enjoy the fact that film scores demand a piece of music to have emotional depth. It has to convey multiple emotions and therefore has its part in telling a story."
Gabriel Olafs possesses an exceptional talent for telling a stirring symphonic story through instrumental music. At just 19, the composer and pianist wowed viewers and a live audience on Icelandic TV during his first ever live performance.
“My favourite thing is to compose a ‘theme’ for somebody – a character or even a place. A memorable melody that instantly takes you somewhere else” -the young musician elucidates. At just 14 years old he wrote ‘Absent Minded’ – an imagined theme tune and subsequent lead single from his forthcoming debut album of the same name.
Olafs is an expert in the art of tension, creating a lingering breath in between the gaps – something he observes about good movies. Single ‘Absent Minded’ expresses those lost-in-thought moments, the daydreams, the imaginary worlds we create in our quietest hours. Called so, because people have always referred to Olafs as ‘absent minded’; “I like to imagine things and let my mind drift off”
The teenage pianist would admit to being somewhat isolated growing up in his small Icelandic hometown, creating cinematic moments in his head from mundane things he sees around and nearby the house; a poster of a French cyclist, his mother gardening, the harbour down the road, a female friend who is named after an Icelandic bird, ‘Lóa’. His home studio is his world, his family home his universe.
One piece, in particular, came to life following an incident during an Icelandic storm; “'Staircase Sonata' is a piano song that I wrote when there was a horrible storm in Iceland and the lake flooded into my studio. All my instruments and microphones were in a big pool of water and the fire department came and carried my piano into the stairwell. Although it was an unpleasant event, I really enjoyed the reverb in the stairwell - so that's where I composed the song. It's bittersweet but it's meant to capture positivity in a moment of unhappiness.”
'Floral Hymn' is inspired by a real-life muse, in the form of Gabriel’s mother, who he describes as an introvert like him. “She has a beautiful garden with many plants where she spends a lot of her time. It's meant to capture a peaceful solitude.” Olafs wrote the song as his mother tended to the garden. Similarly, ‘Cyclist Waltz’ is a theme for a man on a vintage French poster in Olaf’s house. “It's a painting of a guy with a moustache and his bicycle, and it hangs on the wall across from where my piano is, which is where I compose.”
Gabriel began playing the piano at age 5, studying classical and jazz piano, but always preferring to veer away from traditional teachings, playing by ear and making up his own miniature melodies and musical phrases within his own imagined world. The musician discovered how the use of felt piano created a new other-worldly texture – a certain density to the notes he composed; “I like to put a layer of fabric between the hammers and strings of my piano to make it sound softer, and then I just play what I’m feeling or thinking at that moment - and then I try to capture it on my tape recorder”.
The undoubtedly emotional pieces are somewhat surprising for an artist so young – yet the young artist flourishes most when encapsulating a certain sensitivity within his music that’s perhaps lost in adulthood. “My album is very personal to me. It reflects my imagination and along with it my deepest emotions – but I'm hoping that when someone listens to it, they will start to imagine their own movies or stories, and interpret the melodies in their own way.”
released August 23, 2019
Written, arranged and produced by Gabríel Ólafs
Recorded by Gabríel Ólafs, Finnur Hákonarson, Birgir Jón Birgisson, Bergur Þórisson at Arctic Tern Studio, Harpa Concert Hall, Tónlistarskóli Garðabæjar, Sundlaugin Studio and E7 Studios
Gabriel began playing the piano at age 5, studying classical and jazz piano, but always preferring to veer away from traditional teachings, playing by ear and making up his own miniature melodies and musical phrases.