For almost a decade, Agnes Obel has been one of the most independent and original producers, songwriters and performing artists in contemporary music. A truly unique and genre-defying artist who has crossed the bridge between alternative and art music. She spoke with ZoneOut about her album Myopia (released via Deutsche Grammophon / Blue Note Records).
What is Myopia?
To me myopia is the experience of having very little peripheral vision and where what is left to be seen only gets increasingly intensified. So tunnel vision where what at the end of the tunnel is seen as if under a microscope.
What is the story behind this album?
The idea for the album came back in 2015 and 2016 when I was working on the album Citizen of Glass. The theme of that album was perception and technology, which led for questions like: which feelings are actually your own, and can you trust your own experience and perception? This I got interested in the idea of making songs that depicted an inner distortion of things.
How long did it take to make?
About two years.
Did you approach it any differently to your previous albums?
It’s the first time I have been working so much with processing and pitch-shifting instruments and voices. The idea was to work with something familiar like piano, violin and voice and then pitch them down, sometimes up. So you as a listener could feel at home in the sound while the feeling that something isn’t quite right – was skewed or not quite its normal self – would creep in as well. I have also been working on a synth made of my own voice and choirs – often pitched and mixed it together with strings that also has been processed and pitched – and it that way create an “organic” synth.
Did you collaborate with anyone?
So far I have worked on my own on all four albums until the mastering-stage, which is then taken care of by a great mastering-engineer named Martin Englert.
It is not because I don’t l want to work with others, it’s more because I think I haven’t found another way of making music where I get to the idea that I feel needs to be found or unfolded somehow. You can say I am creating my own myopia or tunnel vision each time I make an album. Everything becomes about the album. For some reason I can’t get to that place while being around too many other ideas and/or expectations of what should be made and how it should sound. But who knows what the future will bring.
Where was it recorded?
In my studio in the outskirts of Berlin.
Did you use any new instruments or techniques?
Pitching celesta, piano, violin and voices to new timbres and frequencies areas and building clusters or organic synths from them.
Do you have a large input into the art direction of your albums and videos?
My partner Alex Brüel Flagstad starts working on artwork and videos when I’m in the last phase of the album making process. The artwork and the videos are very much his interpretation of what he has heard over the last 2 years. It is sort of a wordless conversation that happens.
What would be some significant influences in music and art that you like?
I like how structures of music seem to be loosened a bit, even in pop music. It’s making things more unpredictable.
Has technology been an influence in your career in how you approach making an album, creation art or touring?
I think so. Because of technology (specifically because of sequencers) I can record and produce music on my own. I am grateful for this freedom I have because of Logic and Protools and programs like these. Sometimes I feel like the outside structure around music is still geared towards another and more fragmented/outsourced approach to music making and I find myself having to explain my way of working again and again.
What has been a highlight for 2019?
Finishing the album. Also terrifying.
What are you most looking forward to it 2020?
To play live music with the band I play with and be in the moment as much I can when it happens.
Myopia, the new album by Agnes Obel, is out now to stream or purchase.
Discover more artists like Agnes Obel on our Nordic Noir playlist.