The artistic process with Halldór Eldjárn

Oct 22, 2020

Halldór Eldjárn is an Icelandic musician and software developer who mixes music and technology together. His recent project, Poco Apollo, is a generative music piece based on NASA's Apollo Space mission archive photos. In our recent interview, Halldór shared his artistic process and explained his unique approach to incorporating Wave in his setup.

Art-First Approach

Halldór believes that while technology is part of the process, art comes first.

"Poco Apollo is a computer generated music piece that is built around NASA's library of photos that were taken during the lunar landing missions. I created a program that would fetch images from their server, there are around 14,000 photos, then my algorithm analysed the images and put the data into a monolith of code that I created that can spew out musical compositions based on the detected mood of the picture. So this was basically a way of composing a lot of music at once by creating the musical rules and how everything should connect together. As an artist, I made a lot of decisions, so this isn't an AI that can generate any kind of music, this is a very particular style of music.

Maybe the challenge was that when I started doing the project, I thought I could do something more generic, like a more clever algorithm. In the end, I ended up curating a lot of it to suit my taste. With generative music, the most important part is the curation that happens. You generate something but then you select the ones that are actually good, because it creates a lot of obviously computer-made music. What I did after, was release the project as a web page to see the entire music piece with all 14,000 songs, but I also created an album where I selected my favorite ones.

I really like coding and writing music, and trying to find unconventional ways of making music. This is all part of a journey as an artist.‍ I want to empower musicians to take part in this conversation with computers, so that the computer is not just a tool but it becomes a collaborator in a way. In areas where it makes sense, because it definitely does not make sense everywhere. I want it to be usable and maybe a bit of a magical experience, you don't know exactly how it works. But the musician always has the last word. You decide whether you like the stuff or not, if you are using it or not."‍

Wave Performance explanation

Halldór was an early adopter of Wave, but instead of using it as a MIDI controller, he has been thinking about it as a pickup, "like a pickup on a guitar that picks up the vibrations of the string, but instead this picks up movement." For his Wave performance last November at the Icelandic Design Awards, he wanted to amplify his movements with Wave and use it in a musical way. He took this approach, "because it puts the art first and the technology second in a way, but it becomes completely essential to the project, nevertheless."

Explaining his performance, he said:

"I wrote this song wearing two Waves. I started the song with a piano loop that I had on my phone then I put it in a granular plugin so it would chop it up and loop parts of it. Then I found it really interesting that I could actually change the composition by changing the parameters of this granulator and shifting to another position in the audio file, and I could connect that to movement so it was not completely obvious that I was doing it.

It was really powerful to be able to change the chord structure just by using a movement. So you are not only changing how the song sounds, but you are changing the actual song.

Continuing this approach I took a drum loop and chopped it up into single beats that were mapped to a sampler, then I had a plugin that would play random patterns. A randomized arpeggiator was playing the drum samples, and if I kept the range of the arpeggiators short, I would get more bass drum hits but if the range was larger, I would get high hats and snares. It wouldn't be possible to play the song again, it was a completely unique performance."

Learn more about Halldór:

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