by Jérome Langlais, Jun 2004 (France)

Interview in English, translated into French for the printed version.

1) What decides you to use guitar or only electronics ?
It depends on what i am trying to do. Some kinds of pure sound are better achieved without the guitar, and some other times there is a network of signals and having the guitar there or not is just a small variation…

2) You take in turns from dense, deep pieces, to more refined, “purified” works. Records sleeves even become white… Are you, as painters do or did (like Rothko for example), turning into a “new period”, in your abstract period ??
Well, yes, in a way… i am changing my whole approach to music in something i call the “Space program”, it’s a whole working program for many years, and the first big change in almost 20 years. The basis of all my work will now be silence and its articulation with sound. Performance is the primary element of composition (and not sound itself, as before)My composing strategy will cease to be subtractive (removing matter to layered drones), becoming additive (complementary sound events having silence as points of departure and arrival). Silence here is seen as musical matter – it played as if it were a sound… My works have a natural diversity, and their depth and density is variable, of course…

3) Now you work more on frequences, even if you’ve always worked on sound spectres or acoustic resonances coming from instruments. In which way are frequences so deciding for you ? It seems that your discography can be divided in two parts : a “low / deep” period and a “shrill” period. Do you agree ?
[i can’t understand the first part of this question – sound spectres are frequency ranges, resonances are frequencies with more energy in certain conditions. All sound is frequencies.] About the 2 periods, i don’t agree. My discography is a group of works that have no linear relationship between them (there is no chronological line of evolution), they are only in the same field. Well there are some continuities, such as the leap to pure resonance from Wave Field to Aeriola Frequency, or the continuous series of small pieces starting on Early Works, including 2 small tracks on Sound Mind Sound Body and concluding in Violence of Discovery… I see my discography as a kind of a tree, with a main body (the main works – SMSB, WF, VDCA – and the forthcoming Space) and some branches (live recordings, special projects, etc). Electric Babyland, Aeriola Frequency and Harmonic Series are branches.

4) Your music is impossible to date. Pieces from Early Works sound as if they have been created very recently. They keep a unity with VODACOA for example… Do you attach importance not to leave a datable work ?
Yes, that is extremely important to me. Very often it happens that i complete a record and only release it a year later, after listening to it many, many times and having a feel about how it starts to “age”. I’m very proud i succeeded to produce works that survived time. It is interesting to watch their relation to the passing of time.
5) By using guitar and effects as “the source of the instrument that you’ve created for yourself”, do you feel close to composers of musique concrète ? Why don’t you invest more this concept of a music made from everyday sounds or nature sounds ? What is your conception of “musicality” ?
No, i have no relation or interest in musique concrète. But i am very interested in environments. I like either to create environments or to enjoy environmental sounds as the naturally happen around us. I feel that musical activity has a deeper nature if it is based on the idea of instruments – objects used to produce sound for musical purposes. Found sounds are an interesting concept as musical source, but a music practice based on them is sort of away from the center of music action, if we can imagine such a thing. And, above all, found sounds are best listened to musically in their own environment as they occur in life.

6) You have declared that the drone was your way of associating a kind of harshness with a form of peacefulness, like in Wave Field. One of your releases contains the words “violence” and “calm”. Why searching the confrontation between these opposites ?
I don’t search that, it just comes naturally. Just like in life not everything is sweet or sour, soft or hard, etc., i like to keep a natural balance in music. Being ambient music, if it were only sweet and peaceful, it would become boring too fast. I hate things that are beautiful just for beauty’s sake. A tree can be beautiful, but its beauty comes last after everything else it is.

7) With the experience of John Cage, with his discover of the anechoic chamber and, finally, of the impossibility of pure silence before the death of perception, then of the being itself, what would be for you the ultimate experience of perception ?

8) You have sometimes compared your music to a river : is stream always varies, but it apparently keeps the same shape, always…
Now i’ll have to find a different metaphor… maybe the fish and the boats on the water…?

9) A kind of warmth emanates from your music, which makes it familiar and human, less severe than the one of other artists moving in the same areas. How do you explain this ?
I believe the weather may have some influence in the overal “temperature” of an artist’s work. Some musicians that i like, from Iceland or Finland, have a predominantly “cold” sound. About the “human” feel, i take that as a compliment… I can’t think about it, i know i care about that but on a very intuitive, irrational level. I don’t even want to understand it. I think it must have to do with love.

10) Each of your new releases takes new orientations, however until now your work keeps a unity that we can qualify as “exploring ambient music”. Is your music’s evolution programmed ?
No, not at all… as i said above, there are several paths in my work, and they mostly run in parallel. For example, i recorded experimental works and produced rock bands while “VDCA” was in production (it took 7 years to complete). But now i concluded this 20 years of work and – it seems that you guessed it – i am entering a completely new territory, and the sequence of works in it is… a program! I don’t program the step-by-step actions, but the general lines of evolution in the Space program: First, i develop a series of live pieces and instrument approaches, both for solo concerts and for collaboration with Sei Miguel. These are called “Space Studies”. Recordings of this process will slowly build into an ambitious recording project, called “Space”. After “Space” is released, there is a series of simpler releases, titled “Space Elements”. In parallel, i will increasingly become involved in collaboration works. This will take about 8 years and may continue further.

11) “Lullabies / Electric Babyland” is your most experimental release to date. Lullabies part is a lot near from your recent works on resonance and frequences. The entire release is paradoxically more melodious as well as it is less accessible, more abstract. Do you intend to rub people up the wrong way ? Is there a play(ful) part in your work ?
There is indeed a playful aspect in my work, creative processes are more interesting to me the more playful they are. I don’t think Lullabies/ EB has an experimental nature. It’s probably my most conventional release. The most experimental thing i was involved in (other than Mimeo) was definitely No Noise Reduction’s “On Air”.

12) What are your tools ? Do you use computers ?
I have always used whatever tools could take me to results, from wrecked electronic toys to rusty distortion pedals… I always used the computer as a working surface – the recording/ editing/ mixing studio. But now i am using the computer as a performance instrument. I avoid the computer as an interface, i find it extremely primitive. My interest is in enhancing the visual aspect of computer perfomance, and in the last years i have been working with modular theremin and, recently, with my new glove controllers.

13) You have created your own music boxes, do you always need to create your own instruments ?
Not always, of course – i don’t build guitars. But i enjoy modifying electronic equipment, and i’ve been working more and more on custom electronic boxes and controllers. For instance, the gloves interface with the computer is a box that i’ve built myself. It’s fascinating to be able to design and build the gear you really need for yourself. At some point i found myself with very specific needs, i can’t go in a store and buy the equipment i need – i have to build it myself.

14) “Wave field” seems to me like if it has been played by a rock band under “niblockian” perfusion, as if I was listening to a rock group after having inhaled ether… what do you think of this ?!
One of my mental images for Wave Field when i recorded it was the the sound of 1000 rock bands playing in a distant, revereberant space. Actually, one of my inspirations for it was a rock concert i attended at a venue with exceptionally bad acoustics – all you could hear was an amorphous roar, and i found it interesting.
15) You’ve talked about My Bloody Valentine as a sensual entity. One can feel the same by listening to some of your guitar pieces, with this guitar becoming as warm as a cello…

16) Most of your releases are collections of pieces created in a long time scale. When are you really satisfied of your works, and when do you know that it is the good moment to release them ?
It’s simple. After a piece takes on its shape and after it’s refined and basically finished, there is a number of things that are still not quite right. I gradually change, correct, adapt and improve all of them, until at some point there is just nothing else to do. Then it’s perfect. Normally, i never find myself in a situation of not knowing where to stop – the improvements i do always have a clear end, the completion of a piece is always very clear to me. I would never know what else to do, from that point on, the piece would become something else, or degrade…

17) Can one say that your first releases were a kind of meeting between “rock” influences (My Bloody Valentine for example) and other more minimalist influences as John Cage, Tony Conrad, or Phill Niblock ? Some rock as refined art ?
Conrad and Niblock were never influences of mine, but Alvin Lucier and John Cage had a huge impact on me. Some rock as refined art ? No, i don’t think so, not rock, really. There was a mix of many elements, ambient, improvisation, rock, minimalism, chance.

18) Can you tell me about the No Noise Reduction project : how it was born, what was its aim, ect… ???
It’s a project with my friend João Paulo Feliciano, started in 1990 and dedicated to exploring radically experimental practices and working on conceptual or artistic views on music. Our first meetings were very rich, with a very intense exchange of views and experiments. In recent years, i have maintained collaboration with him, but we often find that working as a unit under the NNR name is not the most appropriate way to be in certain contexts.

19) You have made some collaborations, what does make you collaborate with someone ?
Mostly, mutual interest. A vision of complementarity of the works and the poetry of how things come together. Friendship. Tension. So many things…
Do you need collaborations as a balance with solo work ? What is the difference with solo work, and what do you prefer ?
Yes, just as in life sometimes you need space for yourself and sometimes you need the company of others. Well, anyway, if i had to choose i would continue doing solo work, that’s my most important priority. But collaborating is very enriching. The main difference is that in collaboration the outcome of the music is an unpredictable precess that depends on several individuals, whereas in solo work i can control every detail.

20) Once you said that “a music that has an organic quality, to in some way resemble nature”, as Eno said, is one of your preoccupations. Does music need to create emotions, then ?
No, i avoid that at all cost. I like to make music that is somehow emotionally charged, but in a way that the listener can project his/her own emotions in the music. I would hate to put my own emotions in the music – it would immediately become very small and insignificant. And, that statement you quote (if it’s Eno, he was probably quoting Cage) is about getting rid of human anxieties and tastes, about the stillnes of how sounds happen in nature. A music inspired on that has no concern with emotions at all.

If yes, is it a reason for your first releases to be so melancholic ?
If you find them so, it’s your opinion… other people find them happy, boring, violent, colorful, whatever. As i said, this is an example of people (you in this case) projecting their own emotions on the music.

And then, what kind of emotions do you intend to communicate through creating your sounds ?
Absolutely none, as i said above. I don’t intend to communicate anything at all. My goal is to provide objects that people can relate to. It’s the space in the music into which people bring themselves that is of vital importance to me. My own feelings or emotions are totally irrelevant, i would be ashamed to see people spending money on records about my emotions…

21) Can experimental music open itself to a popular form without losing its “apart” essence?
I like to keep some sense of humor related to my work. I believe humor is a sort of life force. Things without humor are sort of dead. This has nothing to do with being funny. I hate funny music. Humor can be very subtle. Sometimes it’s in a title. Sometimes it’s some kind of smile after a concert. And sometimes it’s embedded in the music. I prefer not to think of “experimental/ popular” as 2 opposed realities, but as a continuum. The essence of things is not about being “apart” or not.

23) Are your records some immobile journeys ?
My records are only music, there’s nothing more in them.

24) When playing live, you use different kinds of objects, are you searching musicality in objects, as musique concrète, again, does ?
Searching musicality in objects is musicianship itself. That’s not what musique concrète does. This genre works by declaring the musicality of “concrete” sounds, or found sounds, in their recorded state. It says “this is the sound of a train, and it is music because i say so”. Well, fine with me, but i’m not interested in that at all. I prefer to listen to the train actually passing by, and eventually i may find it musical or not…

25) What is the part of improvisation in your work? Is improvisation more important in collaborations than solo ?
Solo improvisation for me is the ultimate challenge, the hardest, most difficult accomplishment. In my compositions improvisation does not play a key role, since they used to be based on sound and they are usually shaped in laboratory. Improvisation (i am tending to drop that word – i am in the process of developing and learning tools that allow me to take compositional decisions in real time, according to a kind of structured language, which is something more disciplined and cultivated than improvising – thanks to Sei Miguel) has always been very important to me. In true improvisation, art and life merge together for a moment.

26) What does live playing bring to you more than studio work ? Does an artist need to play live ?
Live playing has a certain magic and excitement, sharing and performing music live to an audience… i think that’s what a musician lives for. I think it is essential to play live, if you regard yourself as a musician. Of course you can live in studio only, but i think that every musician i know would freak out if someone told them they would never play live again…

27) Let’s talk about Touch : Did you choose to work with them because this label is a lot about minimalism (P.Niblock again…) and also about guitar (O.Ambarchi, Fennesz…) ?
Touch has a level of care with the quality of their releases on all levels, they are committed to excellence. They are great people and perform brilliantly. I’m proud to work with them.

28) How do you generally choose labels ? Is it a question of seriousness, friendship… ?
It’s a mix of many things. Friendship and trust, of course, but also the label’s artistic scope, its distribution, etc…

29) You release few records. Are you a perfectionist ?
Yes. I believe that a record should only be released if it really must be. I work very slow producing my music, so my output is very little.

30) Would you be ready to make the Engine experience again possible ?
No, that piece has reached the end of its lifetime. It’s a good example of a problem i am now resolving, of having dual work – for studio and for live performance. My studio works were impossible to perform live, so i had to make new pieces purposedly for concerts. Engine was a live performance piece. In the Space program, performance is the building blocks of future compositions, therefore my source material for studio will be something that is usable (or already used) for live performance.

31) Can you tell me more about your bridge music ?
Well… it was a project that fascinated me for a long time, but on the other hand it never had a high priority, therefore it became suspended, delayed forever. i still intend to work on it, but unfortunately it has nothing to do with the Space program and i can’t afford to lose concentration on it. Bridge Music consists of music based on resonant frequencies found on bridge structures.

32) Is there a part of spirituality in your work, even non religious ?
Yes, but apart from whatever spirituality my frame of mind may have, that spirituality is put in by the listener.

33) What do you “see” when you’re creating sound pieces ?
I may “see” the structures of the music, but nothing else. Above all, no images. I make music exclusively for the music’s own sake and it refers to nothing but itself. Images, movies, whatever imaginary things related to the music are brought in by the user.

34) How would you like, in an ideal way, people to listen to your music ?
No ideal. I am sincerely honored that people use my music in their lives. That is an enormous compliment and the greatest recognition i can have.
What is the utility of music in the current massive production ?
Music performs many functions on many levels, as always has. There is too much music out there.

35) About video, you’ve said that you try to make non-narrative videos. Do you feel close to people like Phill Niblock who makes unusual associations, for example, between his music and movies about South American workers ? Why not releasing sometime, like him a music+video release ?
The only thing in common is the kind of structure. Static, no beginning, no ending. Otherwise, no… In the Space program i will tend not to use video, and focus on visual performance instead. Yes, i’ve been thinking of releasing my whole video work on DVD.

36) What is your “Love” project becoming ?
Another suspended project like Bridge Music.

37) What are your next projects ?
What i am working on now is “Space Element 1b”, which is a new software synthesizer for the gloves. I am also refining “Space Study 1” for solo live performance. In the mid-term, i am looking forward to start actual recordings for the “Space” CD. Other next projects are another quartet of Sei Miguel (i already participate in 2 different quartets of his).