Name: Mari Samuelsen
Recent release: Mari Samuelsen's LYS is out via Deutsche Grammophon.
If you enjoyed this interview with Mari Samuelsen and would like to keep up to date with her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Over the course of her career, Mari Samuelson has worked with and recorded the works of a wide range of composers, including Max Richter, Ludovico Einaudi, Jeff Mills, Hildur Guðnadóttir, and Laura Masotto.
[Read our Max Richter interview]
[Read our Ludovico Einaudi interview]
[Read our Jeff Mills interview]
[Read our Hildur Guðnadóttir interview]
[Read our Laura Masotto interview]
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you?
I think the impulse to create something comes from the need and the urge for me to do – or try to do – something unique, to not only repeat what other people have been doing for centuries.
It is something I feel that is my true purpose as a musician, to really try to bring something new to the table.
What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc. play?
I am very much inspired by and find inspiration in nature. Other forms of art play a big role in my life, and I especially find modern art, architecture, and the relationship between architecture and nature very inspirational.
I do also get inspired by many different people, but I don’t necessarily need to have that personal relationship with them to get inspired. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone close to me, but rather someone I have met briefly or have read about. Some chance encounters can manifest into larger ideas …
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a ‘visualisation’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like to you?
That is a good question; since I don’t really compose pieces myself, next to being a performing musician I see myself as an initiative taker for projects and a curator of these projects.
So yes, I have almost a ‘red line’ through the whole idea or the project I’m currently working on. I start with the big lines, or some sort of an idea, and then work myself closer and closer into the details – whether that is the different people it includes, or the pieces.
For instance, with LYS, there was always a clear vision for me where I could see all these fantastic composers relating their musical stories in all the many ways light reveals itself to us.
Is there a preparation phase for your process?
I think I have several preparation phases – for the current projects which have been going on for maybe two, three years.
It starts with some vague ideas and then at some point it really comes down to the detailed preparation of learning the pieces and creating the sound that I want to have.
Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do ‘research’ or create ‘early versions’?
I’m never alone in these processes and as a team – from my close team with my management to my producers – together we absolutely do a lot of research, especially for the most recent project where we put together both old music and new music.
I always work with the idea that I want to do things in a new way, or I want to do them in my particular way, and to do that you have to know what’s already out there.
So, there’s absolutely always the research part involved at an early stage.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating?
Creating, or creative thinking, comes a bit in waves for me; it’s never a constant thing.
Growing up and being a violinist, I definitely have rituals for doing that part of my work and for practice. The ideas that I get, and the creative part is more what comes in waves, and I cannot really say what puts me into the right mindset for that.
I do know that I need to be spending quite a lot of time by myself, which I like because that makes my brain think about different things and that often leads to something.
So, I think maybe time alone just thinking and being in the quiet is the right mindset for me for being creative.
What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Coffee is definitely needed in order to function as a human being!
But absolutely, lighting goes hand in hand with LYS the album. I think for all of us human beings, light is so essential in both good and bad ways, which is actually what I was looking at with the album … thinking how important the light is for the mind.
Living in Norway, we feel the impact of not having enough daylight for many months of the year – of course it depends on where you live but in the winter months especially that was a little bit of an awakening to feel how big of an impact the light has on my state of mind, and it was important to reflect this feeling in LYS.
Exercise is also crucial, being out and moving my body, especially in nature, is something that again I think is very important for me to function and to be able to create.
Often, while creating, new Ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes absolutely. I mean it’s a flexible process that’s never set in stone until you have recorded or had that concert and tried it out in ‘real life’. And even then, you might change it until the very final product, or maybe you change something for the next concert.
I take it as inspiration, and it’s not always the case that it’s you who gets new ideas. Sometimes there are new composers, or there are new pieces by certain composers that you want to work and play around with, and even include in a recording project or a concert programme.
I think throughout these processes I see myself as a communicator, I think of what I’m doing as storytelling – and my stories are never constant.
Once a project is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you’re satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
If we take a recording project for example, it is a very long process from recording to master. I’ve almost done my part when we have been in the studio and we have laid down the recording, worked together with musicians and recording engineers. But then it takes a bit of time, and you listen to it, and there is always room to change things or rework it, and I think that is very exciting.
In practise, the process is that I have recorded, or we have more or less decided on what will be recorded, and then we put together the people and sometimes we will also add on things very last minute, or maybe in the studio we change things there. I play and then after I have done my playing and recording part, there is still room for improvement, and tweak sounds and rework things.
In fact, until the masters have been sent off, there’s always room for changes in a recording project, and that can be challenging but worth it.
What’s your take in the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering, for you personally? How involved in this do you get?
I try to be as involved as I possibly can be in all aspects. I of course do not master them myself - I leave that up to the absolute experts such as the magnificent Rupert Coulson who was my engineer for LYS - but I enjoy and relish being apart of the editing and mixing process alongside my producers at Deutsche Grammophon.
The beauty of making a record is creating a stunning snapshot of a moment and it is crucial to have the best team around you who understands and feeds off your vision.
When building the live show for LYS, I love working with working closely musicians in different locations and venues were touring this.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I can relate to the feeling that you have had an idea and it’s taken a long time – maybe years – and you have realised it, and now it’s time to come up with something new. But because I am a performing musician, I do have a combined creative life.
One thing is the project that we do for recording and another thing is the project of curating and creating my own concert programmes, so I try to keep myself busy one way or another. I do sometimes have a fear that I will feel completely lost and have no idea how to come up with a new idea, but luckily they do tend to come to me!
I get inspired by so much, and from day-to-day I am also busy again as a travelling musician, so I am very lucky that I get to continue my life on the road, meeting and working with wonderful musicians and people all over the world.