by Stoffel Debuysere, May 2002 (Gent, Belgium)
Original interview – used for the Dutch article.
– For your ‘Electric Babyland’ project, you use a little musicbox. We’ve heard this before on the ‘Lullabies’ single and on some No Noise Recuction material. This is a completely different, more minimal setup than your previous work, is it? Was it time for you to explore new instruments, new sounds, new methods?
Not more minimal, it is an exact equivalent setup to the guitar, only the sound source changed. But it’s a big change. It was fresh to do something different, and a challenge to work with an instrument that only plays notes, when my approach to music is not note-based but sound-based. And in this laptop-everywhere time we’re in, it was nice to use a very primitive, mechanic instrument. Actually, the very first computers used the same technology, perforated cards…
– As Niblock does, you often use filmfootage or other visual elements during your live concerts. Do you consider these as an extension of your music or are they just ‘part’ of it?
No, i use video. I never worked with film, which is a totally different media. My images are just part of the landscape of perceptive elements in a show. There’s the music, there’s the images. They do have some level of relation to each other, but it’s not very strong and above all, it’s not explicit. It’s not music-for-images and it’s not images-for-music. They’re independent, but they go along together very well…
– Another important factor of your music seems to be the space in which it happens. Do you consider spaces, architecture as instruments, as sources of inspiration?
Some times, if i do some site-specific work or installation, but on tour i’m just surprised by each space, and i adapt to it. Space has a great impact on the music, together with people (both the audience’s physical presence and their attitude) and the local sound system.
– One of your future projects consists of music sourced from the resonance of bridges. How did you get the inspiration for this? Are you still working on it?
One day i was on a bridge and it occurred to me to listen to it, so i put my ear against one of the steel bars in the structure. I couldn’t believe what i heard, it was a beautiful symphony of resonant frequencies and harmonics, with the deep rumble of the bridge’s large and heavy structure. I began looking at bridges as huge music-making structures, paradoxically making practically no sound. I’m waiting to start working on it, i have many tapes of bridges sitting on my shelf.
– Other future projects? How is the John Cage project evolving?
It’s not evolving, that’s another project i still have to finish, although i don’t know if i want to release it. I’m working on a great renewal of my approach to music. “Violence of Discovery” represents an end of cycle. Curiously, this will be the last interview belonging to the 15 year period that ends this year.
– You played on one track of Sonic Youth’s ‘NYC Ghosts and Flowers’. Do you feel a great affinity to what they do and to ‘popmusic’ in general?
I have great admiration for their way of progressing. Each new record of theirs looks like a dead end, like “where are they going after this?”. And they always find exacly the right move forward, always surprising and unexpected. ‘Popmusic’ in general? Hmm, considering i’m interested in a tiny fraction of it, i’m afraid the answer is ‘no’.
– Do you sometimes dream of the ‘perfect’, most emotional touching sounds, the ‘perfect’ composition? What would it sound like?
Sorry to say, but all my compositions are perfect… Otherwise i wouldn’t release them. This may seem to be quite pretentious, so let me explain what perfection means to me: When i’m at the final stage of creating a composition – after all the sounds are there, the form is there and it’s shape is nearly ready – i still have a number of problems to solve. These can be of different natures, such as technical, conceptual, poetical, emotional, formal, in several combinations.
I solve these problems one by one, slowly improving the work. At a certain point, all the problems are solved and there’s nothing left to improve. At that moment, it’s perfect.