Measure Twice, Cut Once: Ambátt
Some things take foresight. Like building a new porch for your house. You can have all the tools, materials, and measurements, but if you build it on the side of the house that only gets sun in the early morning when it’s coldest out, then you don’t have much of a porch. Pan Thorarensen and Þorkell Atlason are craftsmen of electronic music. They think things through.
After working together on the 2014 album ‘If You Fall You Fly,’ released under Pan’s solo title Beatmakin Troopa, the duo still had some ideas to kick around. They came together the following winter and started work on ‘Flugufen,’ which was released on November 1 under their collective name Ambátt.
The record was released by Extreme Chill, Pan’s own record label, as a vinyl and a digital download. It’s a concise thirty minutes that manages, even in a short time, to weave its way from muffly post-rock to screaming jazz to their home stomping grounds, ambient electronic. No song sounds like the last, yet there is still continuity throughout the album. The ordering of the tracks is very deliberate, down to which track will close ‘Side A’ of the record and which will open ‘Side B.’
“We thought very much about structure and form with this album,” Pan says, “specifically about the form of the vinyl.” “Vinyl is a fun medium to play with,” Þorkell adds, “side A is different from side B, it has limitations, and sometimes CDs are just so long…on vinyl you have twenty minutes on each side or the sound starts to degrade.” Knowing from the start that the music would be released as a vinyl contributed to their construction process.
The songs are named after forgotten places in Iceland that the two dug up out of old literature. “It’s very hard to give names to instrumental tracks,” Þorkell notes. They chose each song’s elusive place-name based on the way the words sounded and how, from what they knew of the place, it fit the sounds. For example, ‘Flugufen,’ the name of the album and its opening track, is also a small, swampy pond in the north where a horse, named Flugufen, reportedly drowned. “It’s very small,” Pan says and draws an invisible circle with the hands about the size of a pizza. “No one goes there anymore. Now it’s just part of an old story.”
Though Pan and Þorkell are the signatures behind Ambátt, the record also includes drums by Benjamín Bent Árnason, trumpet by Sebastian Studnitzky, and a vocal cameo by Mammút singer Katrína Mogensen. As a group they played two Airwaves shows and are planning a release party for December. With Studnitzky based in Berlin and everyone working on their own projects, it’s an understandably difficult group to assemble. But Pan and Þorkell know what they’re doing, they’re masters of their craft. And they have plans for Ambátt.