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———– Writer / Music re-views / inter-views / and my points of view ———– The GROUND Magazine / HungerTV

Tag: artist

William Orbit / Interview / HUNGER TV – Long Edit

Read it on HUNGER TV

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 Photo by Rankin

British musician and record producer William Orbit is well known for bringing a Ray Of Light in Madonna‘s career back in 1998 and more recently for creating an Alien on Britney Spears‘ latest album Britney Jean. What often goes unsaid is the influence he had in establishing progressive house and ambient music as a genre that could embrace the pop world and, at the same time, be as emotional as a symphony. William made his latest album, Strange Cargo 5, available on SoundCloud and it features singer-songwriter Beth Orton and longtime friend/collaborator Laurie Mayer, who encouraged him to build the first of his many Guerilla Studios. It was within those walls that William started remixing The Cure, Peter Gabriel, Prince and Depeche Mode before venturing on countless collaborations including U2, Blur, Beck, All Saints and Pink. What we call ‘recording studio’ is for William Orbit a longing, a place to call home and a laboratory, where molecules of sound are accurately created and filtered through his witty personality and gentle sensibility. After all, only an experienced musical chemist like him could have arranged Pieces in a Modern Style, an album where classical pieces by Beethoven, Vivaldi and Handel are given a good dose of electronica. As he enjoys a cup of coffee in LA, Hunger TV has an in-depth chat with the talented musician about his 35 years-long career, the ups and downs of success and the only collaboration that can equal the ones with Queen of pop: a Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury unreleased track.  

 

HELLO WILLIAM, IT’S GOOD TO HAVE YOU ON HUNGER TV! 

Hi there! It’s a pleasure, I like Hunger‘s “visually and culturally hungry” thing and I love Rankin; he’s such a character and a unique man. One of the last times I saw him he was taking photos of me. He had me emerging from some sort of chest-of-drawers with a plastic dog on my head or something like that. The very last time, was at a party that I threw for Madonna at China White. My girlfriend had obtained a beautiful beaded xxx Jean Paul Gaultier kilt, before kilts briefly became all the rage I hasten to add, and M said that if I wore it that night, she’d give me all the royalties for the song we were working on that day. Well I didn’t hold her to her bet, bless her, but wore the kilt with pride. I noticed that I was constantly being goosed by the girls… and Rankin! There are certain people like Rankin and Will.i.am that we have to cherish. I hear people say: “there are no popstars anymore” but when they look back 20 years from now and start to say the same thing about the current artists in 2034, they might proclaim that “it was great in 2014, why can’t we have it like that now?”

YOU RECENTLY RELEASED STRANGE CARGO 5 ON SOUNDCLOUD. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO RELEASE AN ALBUM DIGITALLY AND SHARE YOUR MUSIC IN THIS WAY? 

First of all, well done for spotting it! Yes, I’ve put it out in the lowest possible profile. Music business is changing so fast that I decided to just do my own thing; you’ll drive yourself mad otherwise, unless you are an adventure capitalist but it’s creativity that we are talking about. You do what you do, hoping that people will come around to it eventually. I’m really good at making music but I’m really bad at selling it; I just cannot do that. It has been such a disappointment in the past, marketing and press wise, with the records I’ve done on my own and it always left me thinking “why did I do that?” I feel terrible afterwards and though I understand that you have to make a living, I know that it’s not going to come from my music and selling downloads so, why going through the indignity? Also, the professional reviewing elite don’t really apply and what I do is to see what fans say. They are brilliant and always very polite. If you read through the lines of what they are saying about your music, you’ll find out whether you’ve done a decent track or not. That’s what fans do, they’re going to let you know in a way that is impossible to challenge. It can hurt sometimes but it’s the best way to release this kind of music and in due course you’ll see what happens. Water From A Vine Leaf is a track that I released many years ago and everybody is talking about it all over the internet but, believe me, when that came out, it did very silently so I’m glad that you found out about Strange Cargo 5. The response I’m getting is certainly fulfilling. You see, I’ve just released a symphony and it only got 6 listens but I’m happy. I’m going to be living somehow, I’m perfectly capable and of course producing artist pays well.

THE ALBUM HAS BEEN RECORDED ALL OVER THE WORLD AND IN SEVERAL OF YOUR GUERILLA STUDIOS. WAS THIS INTENTIONAL OR IT’S JUST YOUR MODUS OPERANDI? 

Going around the world is my life, I’m a nomadic and I have so many studios. As a result of that, to answer your question as you’ve asked it, I didn’t go around the world specifically to make the album. I travel and make music, in Palm Spring or Las Vegas or you name it! There’s always a studio everywhere I go and I’m always in them with these pieces of music with no identity yet. I love studios, they are very valuable places but there are also homes and laptops. Somehow I always feel at home whenever I’m in a studio.

WAS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU WANTED TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS ALBUM? 

I wouldn’t be able to make the album without my longtime friend and collaborator Laurie Mayer and that is absolutely true. I was actually in a quite difficult place because of a drinking issue that I overcame and I had a management company that I left. She basically got me healthy again and got me feeling inspired. She’s somebody I write with so it was important. There’s also Rico Conning, another member of our little group, and I’m really enjoying making a robot with him. He has been developing this musical robot and we’re planning to use it on stage in London in the autumn, it’s a big deal and a technical challenge for us; literally time consuming. We’re going to film it on YouTube in June so all sorts of interesting thing are happening that keep me busy. I’m also writing a book but I’m keeping this to myself at the moment because if I mention it on my Facebook page, people wouldn’t believe me. They know me for somebody that works with Britney or Madonna but there’s room for everything in my world. The book is biographical in a way but it’s more of a social commentary. I’ve been writing and writing compulsively and I’ve never published anything so, let’s see how it goes. As for music I’m working with Queen on an unreleased Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury track, Rico has done a beautiful remix, he’s so talented. They had a track they recorded in the early 80s but nothing happened to the song and it didn’t make it down to any release. I’ve developed it with Brian May who added more guitars and it has been an enjoyable process; they were such incredible singers. When you work on a track with a vocalist, you really start to get inside of his or her soul.

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I GUESS THE VOICE IS A PECULIAR ELEMENT WHEN YOU DECIDE TO START A COLLABORATION OR PRODUCTION… 

Absolutely, I get so into it. It’s the best thing in the world and, probably, the first thing human beings ever did that you could call music, had to do with either the voice or banging a stick to a wall. It’s a fundamental core to music creativity. The voice does something and when you like it, obviously you listen to it over and over again, especially if you are paying attention to details as I do. Bono, Madonna, Britney, Michael Jackson or Freddie Mercury are all so special and they didn’t get so big just because they put on great shows; they got to be that way because their voices are unique: you hear two words and you know who is singing. This is fascinating to me because you get so much emotional information just from that. When I have the voice and melody in place, I’m the happiest person in the world! On the other hand, I can’t stand the marketing’s bullshit, I’m really bad at it, it’s probably the reason why I’m not more famous than I am. I don’t disdain it by the way, it is pop music we’re doing and it’s always been that way. You can’t put on a circus from nothing, you got to tell everybody, it’s important but I’m just not able to do it myself.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN OVERWHELMING WHEN YOUR PRODUCTION WITH MADONNA ON RAY OF LIGHT  RESULTED IN 4 GRAMMY AWARDS… 

After the Ray Of Light experience, success tore me up to be honest. The force that makes you strive to do better becomes even more powerful and you don’t need anybody to motivate or question you. This is why I’m happy to do my own things and even when you just put something out on SoundCloud, I feel exactly the same sort of fear of failure and hunger for excellence. The amount of time you have to spend promoting music is enormous. It’s good if it works for you or, if you are like Katy Perry for instance, you have to go and promote your work otherwise it loses the whole point. If you do a symphony on the other hand, there’s no point in promoting it because you can’t persuade people to like it. This is why I really love doing the Facebook page, it’s a very good platform and it integrates with SoundCloud and I love it. I just hope that we won’t see adverts on there. Interacting with fans is great and surreal. I wake up in the morning, check their comments and they always say interesting things about music and they also criticize. It’s a great source of information, I don’t like Twitter as much.

I PAINT WHAT I SEE IS A TRACK AS BEAUTIFUL AS BETH ORTON’S VOCALS. I KNOW YOU LIKE DRAWING, WORKING ON CARTOONS AND PHOTOGRAPHY. WHAT DOES INSPIRE YOUR MUSIC VISUALLY? 

Light. The way it plays on things. This is how I see music, it’s totally visual. The context informs the music like a candle in a painting; the way it is placed and what the light reflects. I often start with a visual image in my head and music forms around that. In my mind they are the same.

THE TRACK MY FRIEND MORPHEUS IS ADAPTED FROM THE ARIA “AH! NON CREDEA MIRARTI” CONTAINED IN VINCENZO BELLINI’S OPERA LA SONNAMBULA. IT MEANS “I DID NOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD FADE SO SOON, OH FLOWER!” AND IT IS INSCRIBED ON BELLINI’S GRAVE. WHAT WOULD YOU WRITE ON YOURS? 

Oh gosh! I hope I won’t be forgotten but let me think… It would probably be “I Am Still Here”

BEFORE YOU BECAME A MUSICIAN YOU HAVE DONE MANY DIFFERENT JOBS AND LIVED I. SQUATS ALL AROUND EUROPE. DO YOU THINK THESE EXPERIENCES SHAPED YOU AS A MUSICIAN? 

As a musician I’m not sure, I’ve done everything in my life and I guess it shaped me as a person. I so desperately wanted to make music and if I started earlier, before I was 23, maybe I would have been better, I don’t know. I think it made me value the fact that I can do music for a living; you know exactly how it’s like to not be able to. It gave me a chance to relate to people out there who would love to do it but, at the same time, they have to get a job and feed their families. Sometimes their passion for music is even greater than mine! I understand people who write to me and maybe they’re working in the bank and as soon as they go back home they make music and it’s the thing they’ve longed to do the whole day. I can’t help them making a record but I do understand that longing. I don’t want to sound like one of these guys who say how difficult it was in the old days; it sounds old-fashioned but it was, for me anyway.

LAURIE MAYER FEATURES IN A COUPLE OF TRACKS ON YOUR ALBUM. YOU TWO FOUNDED THE FIRST GUERILLA STUDIO IN LONDON. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FEELING OF BEING IN A STUDIO? 

It feels great because it’s like collecting memories. When you finish an album, months go by as you master it and you reach a point where there are no more ifs and buts. It’s done, for better or worse, so you go back home relaxed and listen to it with a different set of speakers for example, and it all comes back to you. All of the sounds of the record are like reminders and memories of the places where you’ve been recording. You don’t listen to it as music but as a scrapbook of all those experiences. Memories come floating back and that’s great, especially the ones from Las Vegas! It’s pretty crazy there and I can tell you that your imagination is probably nothing compared to how crazy it was there.

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YOUR MUSIC IS HIGHLY EMOTIONAL AND CINEMATIC. HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED COMPOSING A SOUNDTRACK? 

People use my music for movies sometimes but creating an entire score is a different story. You have to be a certain kind of person with the ability to be very quick and on your feet in order to change ideas; it’s something I don’t think I posses. I think I’m better as a producer because you put yourself at the service of the artist. I’m an artist myself but when it comes to producing someone, I literally take my hat off and I become somebody who is at the service of the artist’s vision. It’s all about the artist, not me. I only bring my skills and I’m really good at it; I enjoy working with this willingness. It’s the same with movies, the composer has to put himself at disposal of the director and be very musically adept; it’s like being in a limbo and that’s not me. I have not the ability of composing music as it is done. I know how to make a good record and when people ask me why I don’t score movies, the answer is that I probably can’t. I’m happy to kind of create the movie in my head when I make music; music and the lights in a picture are exactly one and the same to me. Don’t get me wrong I’m a movie buff! I also watch movies about directors and therefore I’m aware that I’d probably disappoint somebody if I’d compose a score! I’d have trouble changing things and not because of my ego, it’s just the way I work. I’m not a painter like Michelangelo who could reproduce anything. I’d love to supervise a score on the other hand, finding the right people and going in the studio with the composer but I don’t know. I guess that world is closed for me.

I WOULD TAKE THAT RISK! ISN’T IT ALL ABOUT TRANSLATING YOUR EMOTIONS IN THE END OF THE DAY? 

Oh thank you! Yes it’s got to do with that and I know it’s not easy to write about music because it’s so impressionable compared to writing about movies for example. What I’m trying to say is that I usually don’t get asked much about my emotions during interviews, and it’s good that you did. I don’t get asked because I’m not a singer I guess, I’m not bearing my soul with singing lyrics but I can assure you that every sound and every aspect of what I do is extremely tied up within myself. If it doesn’t fit emotionally then it’s not happening: it’s all about that. I am not comparing myself to Shostakovich, I’m nowhere near that. Except that after he had composed one of his wondrous symphonies and announced its title, he’d be asked to explain some bits of his music or why something sounded in a certain way in the scenario he had created. About the siege of St. Petersburg he would later say that the music itself inspired him to write the music. It’s impossible to convey this to people. They need something tangible and that’s the difficulty in facing music. A visual artist will deliver paragraphs of exposition but musician can’t do that, it’s not in our DNA.

We want our music to be heard in the end of the day and the reason why I admire film composer and I collect all the records is because a lot of the most exciting music comes from them. Alberto Iglesias and Yann Tiersen for example, anyone who is not Hans Zimmer! I don’t want to hear another Hans Zimmer, I don’t even think he does scores anymore. He just has a team of people, like Howard Shore who did The Hobbit trilogy; he goes in there and gives us two hours of the same old stuff. What the fuck? There are some brilliant people out there who get less money than they do. The classical world is in disarray. They are still struggling with the legacy serialism and they’re afraid of melodies. They spurn the film world. However, I find very exciting what’s happening in modern choral music. There is tremendous innovation happening there. Innovation and beauty.

I THINK THAT AS LONG AS PEOPLE WILL BE EAGER TO LISTEN TO SOMETHING MORE PROFOUND, THERE WILL BE ARTISTS WHO MAKE INTERESTING MUSIC. FOR EXAMPLE, YOUR PRODUCTIONS ALWAYS PRESENT THE POPSTARS WE KNOW SO WELL UNDER A DIFFERENT LIGHT…

What’s interesting is to identify something within the artist that hasn’t necessarily flown free before. You can do this brilliantly and surprise yourself but you have to trust. Actors have to do this! The first thing they do is the trust game, consisting in leaning back with your eyes closed and let somebody catch you. It’s crucial. When Anthony Hopkins goes on set he’s told what to do by the director and there’s a script to follow. What he then does brilliantly is bringing his talent within this framework and it’s very effective. It’s different in the music industry because everybody’s got their own individuality. We don’t work in a big set and record producers’ role is to be passive aggressive; we are different individuals and it makes it hard to work sometimes. People are hesitant to give you a chance or at least try something out and I find it a bit exhausting. Actors are not given enough credit for their talent; you don’t realize how good they are until you see someone acting really badly. If it was up to me, to executive produce and overview the whole process of Madonna’s MDNA and Britney’s Britney Jean, I do feel I could have done an absolutely exceptional job. Something as powerful as Ray Of Light but I guess I don’t have the ability to inspire this kind of managerial level of confidence.

I went through a period where I convinced myself that I was rich because I was lucky with Ray Of Light and its big success and then I spent all of that money. You can’t be rich and do the music that you want. Once you become one with that choice and you don’t drive around, looking at big houses and wishing to have them, then you realize how fortunate and blessed you are to be able to make music. You can’t have everything; I’m in my fifties and it took me decades to get to this point and most of the people I work with professionally are half my age…

ARTISTS ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT. HOW DO YOU BALANCE IT WITH YOUR ARTISTIC INTEGRITY? 

Well, it is not your record, it’s their record. I can get frustrated with artists when they have a pure and passionate vision for something unique and special at the beginning which then becomes watered down by commercial pressure, or trendiness. You should never go down that road because you will end up sounding and looking dated. It’s like torturing yourself. I’m a very trustworthy person but I find it impossible to inspire a kind of trust in the music scene. Recently people are suspicious, they thought I was messing up with All Saints and then it went on top of the charts. I see the look in their eyes, they think I am mad but I always say “what are we doing here? Do you want a record that will last forever or what?” I’m happy anyway,  I’ve just released the album and kept fans happy uploading different versions of the Madonna and Britney albums. Let’s give the fans what they want! No one told me off yet.

PEOPLE GOT SO EXCITED WHEN THEY KNEW YOU WERE INVOLVED IN MADONNA’S MDNA. FANS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WAITING FOR ANOTHER RAY OF LIGHT  TO COME ALONG. HOW DIFFERENT WAS IT TO COLLABORATE WITH HER ON THESE TWO DIFFERENT PROJECTS? 

I knew people were excited, they ask me about a new Ray Of Light every minute of the day. Think of it this way: Ray Of Light came about very spontaneously. We were in this studio in a rather unfashionable part of LA where nobody came. The record company guy came down only once and made some comments and I do remember Madonna telling him “This is art. This is how we are doing it. We’ll let you come and have a good listen but we’ll see you in two months when it’s done.” It was a very pure experience; it was all about making that record and nothing else. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out at the very beginning but the moment I saw her jumping into the tracks in such an artistic way, I instantly thought how great it was going to be. She’s an amazing person, producer and it was a true collaboration. It’s important to get this across; I don’t like it when people assume that I was the clever one doing the whole job. It has been a bit of a curse and I’d feel mortified if I was her because on the album there is written “produced by Madonna and William Orbit” and that’s what happened! She didn’t put her name there out of vanity, she was fucking in there with me and it wouldn’t have happened without the two of us. As for MDNA it’s important to say that I jumped on the project later; she had already started it. She had a lot of stuff going on, I honestly don’t know how any human being could cope with making an album, directing and producing a movie, launching products and everything that comes with just being her. I mean, I had to cancel a couple of appointments this morning because I was overbooked! She’s so organized and such an incredible time manager, just like a general. Anyway, we were just not really able to lock the door and everybody out for MDNA. She was having such a great time at first but it somehow became very complex for everybody. I would have mixed it myself if I could, or only together with Madonna in front of the mixing desk because she’s a great mixer. We have spirited debates about things but we both always end up in the same direction because we’re good at mixing. Moreover, I should have told her that technically I did more album than she did and even though there’s nothing I can ever do to even come close to what she achieved, I know she can trust me on the technical side of things. Just let me fucking be in charge of the technical, it’s so important! I would have dropped three of the six tracks that she had already made with the other guys. They were not good enough in my opinion; too puerile. As for the remaining three I would have suggested to put more depth and make them more special. I had the best team and other brilliant songs and this is why I am still a bit puzzled to these days. It’s not that I ever give it a second thought; I’m only talking about this because you’ve asked of course. Life is too busy to worry about stuff, you have to move on. Any saying I had on my part are down to me, so if I have made some mistakes then it’s my fault.

ACTUALLY THE SIX TRACKS YOU PRODUCED ARE UNQUESTIONABLY THE MOST POWERFUL ONES. I GUESS MADONNA WAS IN A DIFFERENT EMOTIONAL PLACE DURING THE RAY OF LIGHT ERA… 

It was definitely an important time when a lot of things happened. The day we were recording Swim in the studio, Madonna got a call from her friend Donatella, informing her about that terrible thing that happened to her brother. We kept on recording and of course it had some effects on the song. On a more positive side she had a daughter, her first child, this tiny little thing. What a perfect time to be writing and recording! What she does in the studio is fantastic and as I’ve said, her involvement in that album is much greater than what she has ever been given credit for. We did not have a plan but she’s good in driving things along, in fact when we finished Ray Of Light she immediately set up a listening party for the people at Warner. As we were waiting outside in a little sitting room, picking on strawberries and biting our nails, I realized “shit, Madonna has no idea about how they’re going to respond! She’s nervous! Madonna does no nervous!” I did not expect her to feel that way because she never shows it. As it turned out everybody loved it and started jumping and to me it was a really great example on how making a really good record. I mean, that woman has never lost any money even on a bad year but still… It’s different with Britney for instance, because Madonna is a different kind of artist of course, but nevertheless she deserves to be given a chance and I wish I had the possibility to do what I can do for her. Maybe let’s talk about this in ten years, I’m here to stay. I feel reborn and excited so don’t look at me as a seasoned producer because I am ready to go with the same zeal I had for the first record. If you manage to live on music for 35 years, it means that you’re a hard worker, smart and that you’ll definitely carry on until your death. It’s a long horizon, there’s no rush.

ALIEN, THE TRACK YOU PRODUCED FOR BRITNEY, OPENS HER LATEST ALBUM AND IT SETS A WONDERFUL VIBE. DON’T YOU THINK THAT THE REST OF THE ALBUM IS A BIT OF A LET DOWN? 

Oh God, yes. When I thought I might be involved, I made a point of listening to every track I could find. And the ‘Britney Army’ would send me links to obscure numbers via my Twitter and Facebook. I became a super fan at that point and her voice was superb. I joined the ‘Army’! For some reasons, nobody can really understand these things,  she just has that special ‘thing’. If you listen to the remix of Alien I recently uploaded, it’s more indie pop and I did it for fun but hey, listen to that voice! It’s special. My specialty with artists is to make it seem like we’re not working and quite often they’d say “we’d better start recording” and I tell them “you just did!” They insist to do it again properly but I try to let me understand that if I’m smiling, it means I’m happy with what we’ve just recorded; it means they touched my soul. When artists unconsciously bring this out, I’m the happiest man in the world. I’m slow to make a record, you probably wouldn’t hire me if you had to have something done by tomorrow but when it comes to be in the studio and recording vocals, everything runs quickly and it’s fun. I know what I want technically and what I can work on later, so there is no point for the artist to do it over and over. I know what I can fix and I’m not talking about auto-tune but rather about spontaneity; that something great and special.

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR? 

Knowledge. I’m brought up that way, I’m addicted to knowledge. I’m starving for it, aren’t we all? I always need to know more, particularly things of a scientific nature, or philosophical. If I had all the time in the world and someone would tell me that music will completely cease to exist, or I went deaf, I would definitely take a degree course in philosophy. I have no education and I left school at a very young age and would just spend all my time reading the classics and messing around with inks and paints.
As musicians we can’t be social activists but there’s no reason why any human being can’t help each other. I’d love to have more knowledge and make things better. I probably sound like a beauty pageant contestant when asked: “what do you want to do in life?” and the answer is “I want to make the world a better place.” Anyhow, maybe despise is a strong word but greed is something I really loathe. It’s all about money and people do terrible things for it. They think they always need more money in the bank and more influence than they have.

M.P.

William Orbit on Facebook / Twitter

 

 

 

Yann Tiersen ∞ Composing the sound of Infinity

Interview for his new album Infinity – Read it on The GROUND Magazine

I think it’s great to be able to communicate with the world, it’s brilliant. On the other hand, economical globalization is the worst thing that happened to us. It’s horrible and the opposite of what we do as artists. I’m afraid that this situation will lead to the end of the world.

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“Technically and legally I’m French but from where I come from, culture is really different compared to France” tells me Yann Tiersen about Brittany and the Ushant Island, the place where he finds himself for our conversation. It’s the place where he was born and one of the three islands that inspired his latest work, titled Infinity. From the secluded north-westernmost point of France, Tiersen continues to play and experiment with music, sailing away from the safe harbor and etiquette of the Amélie composer, the 2001 surreal film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The timeless, and French, soundtrack was heavily driven by the accordion and piano but it also featured a spinning bicycle wheel. It’s fair to say that Yann Tiersen has never been the typical kind of composer, in fact doesn’t see himself as such; he’s an anarchic musician and a visionary. Through his studio albums and countless collaborations, as the instruments he can play, he pushes music closer to our us, creating a universal soundtrack and language made of different moments, textures, sounds and noises. Everything life is made of.

For someone in the middle of rehearsal for his upcoming tour, Tiersen sounds relaxed and I immediately understand that his sensibility is the same as the one we feel in his music. As with every true musician, music is the only meaningful language worth speaking, the only one he knows to communicate. Nevertheless he needs to use words to tell me how good he always feels about going on the road, “We’re almost ready and the set list is finished”. The making of Infinity has definitely something to do with his peaceful state of mind; the album is so minimalistic to a point where, the first time I heard it, I found myself in front of an immense landscape where something esoteric was slicing the air. This feeling is remarkable if you think about the layered process involved in the creation of these sounds.

“I was pretty relaxed and excited to finish with my modular setup. I wanted to avoid all of that without ending up with just modular sequences, so I did something radically opposite. The starting point was completely acoustic and I played with the cliché kind of things let’s say, but why not?! I went to Iceland just with my toys instruments for two weeks and I recorded with the intention to transform everything afterwards, through the modular and computers. I’ve kept everything; even the bad ideas and I used those songs as a base for new songs. It was like doing remixes of songs that don’t actually exist yet, it was quite funny to do”.

The endless back and forth of the album, from acoustic to electronic and digital, and then back to analogue, is in line with Tiersen’s working ethic. His previous work, 2011 Skyline, already contained tracks from the recording sessions of 2010 experimental Dust Lane, in the same way Amélie‘s soundtrack was made of a selection of compositions from his first three albums and the then upcoming L’Absente. Such restlessness creates an ever changing sound, always open to new frontiers and fusions of classical, folk, and indie music. “After a long time, I had this idea to work with acoustic instruments. The last song from Skyline is Vanishing Point and I did it during the mixing with my computer. It’s made of samples from all the songs of the album so I was really excited about pushing things further for the next album. I like to transform things and maybe for the next album I could do the same but with free recordings during my travels. I could try to recompose the sound, manipulate it and try to make songs bases from that”.

Tiersen may be compared to contemporary composer Philip Glass or referred to as the Gallic Michael Nyman but none of these two smashed a violin at the age of thirteen to buy an electric guitar, like Tiersen did. His love for the punk culture will not only shape his avant-garde style but also affect is vision where there are no rules in the world of sound. Instinct and freedom of expression has always been more important for Tiersen than his classical training but he doesn’t see his artistic journey as a series of random shifts. “I think that my music is not really changing, it’s just evolving. I need to feel that what I’m doing is genuine as it was at the beginning and in order to reach that, I need to explore new ways of making music. This is the only way for me to be able to play music and let ideas or inspirations come to me”.

Infinity does not only represent a return to acoustic music as the base for a new textured sound, it also stands for a connection with Nature through songs inspired by stones, minerals and their infinite nature. “I live on an island and I see nature, especially stones and stony places, all the time”. Le Phare, his third album, was inspired by the light house of the island that through his rays of lights revealed to Tiersen hidden details of the land. This time around he goes beneath the land, using different languages trying to reach a universal meaning. Steinn is sung in Icelandic, Grønjørð in Faroese and Ar Maen Bihan in Breton. The closing track of the album, Meteorite, is a true piece of poetry reciting “my heart could be a stone or a sponge” as to express our carelessness or openness towards the wonders of nature and our lives. “I am a massive fan of Aiden Moffat and I asked him if he was keen to write some lyrics about stones. He came back to me with this beautiful piece and when I first heard what he did, I thought that Meteorite had to be the last song”

I would never dare to say something like “out of tune” to someone like Yann Tiersen but as it slips out of my mouth, he gives me permission to use it to describe the somehow distorted and haunting melodies of Infinity. Every track is as complex and layered as the geologic process that formed the Grand Canyon, and yet the outcome is at times introspective and at times joyous like the first single A Midsummer Evening. “Everyone chose it, I guess because it is the catchy one I don’t know!” he sincerely tells me about it before continuing “You can say out of tunes because I love out of tune things. There is this piano at the beginning of the song and I detuned and actually during the whole recordings it was out of tune. When everybody found out they just said that maybe it was better to tune it, at least in one point of the song. It was funny!”

Despite being tired of talking about Amélie, Tiersen’s contribution to it, as well as on 2003 Good Bye Lenin! and 2008 Tabarly, are all examples of how the music for a film can sometimes be remembered much more than the film itself. What Tiersen explains to me is that he’s now far away from those little streets of Montmartre and that Amélie girl played by Audrey Tautou. “Actually I don’t really see it as an important moment of my life. I am happy with it, it’s a good film to have my music featured in but on the other hand, it is really far from what my music is about right now. I am also really far from the Parisian scene and though I am proud of it, I’m also a bit embarrassed because Paris is almost a concentrate of what I really hate; I hate Paris and people always think about it when listening to that soundtrack so, it’s strange to be associated with that since it’s far from me”.

It seems redundant to ask him about a possible new soundtrack in the future; in fact the answer is no. Still, Tiersen gives me an insightful point of view on the relationship between music and images: “I have never been into soundtracks; my former music is not a language but something really abstract. Making music is a sort of DIY for me and I want to be free to experiment and play with music. I really need to have fun with what I’m doing and, on top of that, I think that it’s impossible to make music from images. This is why I don’t really like soundtracks”. I can’t allow myself to be disappointed by his statement because, even if another soundtrack won’t come along, I now understand what he means: every album he makes is a soundtrack on its own and it’s up to us to imagine the film we want to see as we listen. On Infinity, he outlines a few details like his love for Iceland “I felt at home the first time I was there; it smelled and felt like home with its impressive nature” and his fascination with stones and minerals. The rest is left for our personal discovery.

As I picture him with his toys instruments in Iceland, I ask him about his first childhood memory about music, and just like the lighthouse that inspired Le Phare, light symbolizes his first encounter with music. “I know that what put me to music was light actually; it was an exhibition happening somewhere and it impressed me. You had to walk through many lights and there was music so, the whole thing really struck me. My memory is blurred but I definitely remember the feeling”. Those lights keep on showing him the way and one thing is for sure: they keep his teenage sensibility alive. “The hardest thing about being a musician is to keep playing, even if it’s not working. Beside that it is actually a dream life!” he say with no filters “my life didn’t change that much, I live as if I was still 15 thanks to music and the fact that it’s my living. It’s true, I became a father along the way, but I didn’t really change me. Growing up doesn’t mean that you can’t do silly things anymore; actually I do more silly things right now! I’m more in peace with myself and I enjoy my girlfriend and kids. As you grow up you enjoy the real things a bit more”.

Tiersen is ready for another extensive tour and will be presenting Infinity for the first time in an intimate show in London, at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts] and having the chance to travel the world, and gaining access to different cultures is for him the only good thing about globalization. “I think it’s great to be able to communicate with the world, it’s brilliant. On the other hand, economical globalization is the worst thing that happened to us. It’s horrible and the opposite of what we do as artists. I’m afraid that this situation will lead to the end of the world; people are not able to find their place and feed themselves in this world. If we are able to talk to each other, we can rebel to all this and I think it’s the only way to avoid going to war, and save ourselves”.

Does Infinity also represent the artist’s desire for escapism? Not really, it’s more of a reflection or, as Tiersen simply tells me, “Infinity is life itself. It’s quite an optimistic vision on things like unity and life”. The sound of Infinity is not meant to provide us with some philosophical answers. Infinity is the pursuit of life itself, with its unsettling sounds, outburst of happiness and magnificent wonders. The language of Nature is as universal as the different languages we hear on the album. Yann Tiersen is the mere, and master-composer of a positive moment that allows us to experience our own view on mortality and immortality. “It’s good to be positive at the end of the journey, or at least at a certain part of your life”

Infinity is released on May 19th via Mute Records

Tour Dates and Tickets Info on www.yanntiersen.com

 

 

The Salvador Dalí Theater and Museum / The GROUND Magazine Issue IV

BREAKING BOUNDARIES

An interview with Montse Aguer, Director of Dalinian studies at The Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres.

By Marco Pantella

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image courtesy Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, 2014, all rights reserved

When André Breton first defined Surrealism in 1924 (a “pure psychic automatism”), little did he know that Salvador Dalí would take his words to an extreme extent, by not only introducing a revolutionary way of painting, but also changing the interaction between the artist and the world.

Dalí’s genius lied in ceaseless exploration of the world he lived in. Instead of homologating his identity, he unleashed his genius, creating an unconventional and provoking character that managed to challenge the important role of the media in society. There is no question that he redefined the meaning and the role of the artist, who might be unafraid to experiment with all art, from painting to fashion. He created a unified field in a fragmented world with his versatility and his thirst for modernity. Dalí continues shake us free from our fears and limitations to connect us with our “genius-gene.”

The indisputable genius of Salvador Dalí comes down to the exaltation of the self, combined with a raw talent that defies logic, creating a body of work that goes beyond a mere painting. You don’t become a genius by playing it safe; you have to understand the world you live in before turning it upside down. You also have to be misunderstood as you embody the revolutionary ideas that are provoking and shaking up tradition.

There was a time where Sigmund Freud was playing with something the masses didn’t know they already knew: the unconscious. At a time when painting was an academic matter, mass culture was about to invade us and fashion started setting trends. As tradition was faltering, Dalí grew his flamboyant mustache, influenced by Spanish master painter, Diego Velázquez, and Dalí’s history was made in front of the media. Dalí became a pioneer in using and manipulating the media to achieve global acclaim for his utterly intimate work. Dalí’s inspirations are found in the most remote corner of the mind where the unconscious floats, fears lurk, residues of dreams remain, and talent and personality are unleashed. This is why anyone can connect with Dalí’s mind and yet, the only place where we can try to find more answers is at The Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres, Spain, the place where he is now buried in a crypt and where his essence is more palpable than in any other museum. Director of Dalinian Studies, Montse Aguer, invites us to play the game that Salvador Dalí left for us to play with and that only an artist like him could conceive.

“Instead of being mere spectators of the museum, Dalí suggests us to discover all the enigmas hidden within it, to look deeply at his works and discover another reality, a double image. He provokes us and raises questions. He amuses and even disturbs us. This is the atmosphere he wanted in creating this museum.”

– Montse Aguer

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Photo by Josep Algans

Visiting the Dalí Museum is a real and surreal experience. The museum used to house the town’s theater when he was a child. It was bombed during the Spanish Civil War and it was finally inaugurated in 1974. “I like the museum as a whole,” Ms. Aguer said, “the fact that it is meant to be a complete work of art conceived and created by the artist himself to express the totality of his life and artistic career is extraordinary.”

Ms. Aguer was offered to become the director for Dalinian studies in 2004 during the celebration of Salvador Dalí’s centenary, and this task turned out to be as challenging as looking at one of his paintings. “You enter a new dimension. Whenever you believe you mastered a certain area of his life, a new document comes out and you have to question everything again from the start. It takes me to a permanent state of expectation and awareness.”

How did Dalí become a genius? Dalí said that he wanted to be a cook when he was six years old, Napoleon when he was seven years old, and the parallelism is striking when you think that Surrealism was born like a revolution that Dalí, like the French emperor, transformed into an empire reigned by his wild personality. He proclaimed himself as “El Salvador” (the savior) of painting from the dangers of Abstract Art, Academic Surrealism, Dadaism, and all of the anarchic “isms,” a statement that only an expert like him can express. “He knew art history extremely well and all of its different techniques,” Ms. Aguer said, “He knew the Italian Renaissance and found Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s treatment of perspective and colors fascinating but also… avant-garde. His style is to be found somewhere between tradition and… absolute modernity with the incorporation of the latest scientific progresses and discoveries such as stereoscopy or holography.” With his archetypal eyes wide open, Dali’s investigations shifted from art to the mysteries of the mind.

“Each morning when I awake, I experienceagain a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.”

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”

Dalí had one-time encountered Sigmund Freud in London and to prove that he was Freud’s most ardent pupil. It was then that Dalí showed Freud the painting, “Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” The drawers of the unconscious discussed by the Viennese professor work as much as the ones portrayed by Dalí. It was a way to state that psychoanalysis was able to shed some light on the unconscious, but what was he looking for in the psyche, dreams, and sexuality of the human being? “I think he was looking for answers, but at the same time he reflected on his obsessions and tried to break free from them.”

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image courtesy Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, 2014, all rights reserved

At the age of 17, his mother died. His homage, “The Enigma of Desire” couldn’t be more complex. Dalí’s mother never actually appeared in his paintings. However, in this work, she takes the shape of a monstrous womb, resembling the weather-beaten rocks along the Cadaqués coast, a place Dalí loved which became a source of inspiration for his fantasies. “His relationship with women used to be quite complicated and he actually speaks very little of his mother,” Ms. Aguer commented.

The only female presence that became the absolute love of his life was Gala. Dalí asked her, “what do you want me to do with you?” and she replied, “kill me.” She became his muse and set the machine behind his success in motion. “There is no Dalí without Gala,” he once said, and, in fact, she acts like a manager; she looked for the best frames and materials, and she negotiated with galleries for Dalí. She was the ultimate cure for his madness and a fundamental presence. Absolute despair was what he felt after her death, a strange feeling for someone who never gave up even when he was expelled from The Academy of Fine Arts and from the Surrealist movement.

“It’s obvious that other worlds exist. That’s certain; but, they are inside ours [our world]. They reside in the earth and precisely at the center dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspecting and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”

There are a couple reasons why Dalí wanted his most extravagant work to endure in his own town. The former Municipal Theater was the perfect place for someone who thought of himself or herself as a theatrical painter; it stands right opposite the church where he was baptized and where his first exhibition was held. After ample experimentation, Surrealism was the movement where he found his religion. Ms. Aguer remarked, “It is very important in Dalí’s career as he represents irrationality in a realistic way. There’s a moment when he defines his painting as hand-painted photography. In fact, his canvases are often almost hyper-realistic, but always with references to the unconscious. The mastery and control of technique, his passion and obsession for knowledge and ultimately his insatiable curiosity are all elements that contributed to his success.”

After the Nazi occupation of Paris, Dalí moved to the U.S. and during this period, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, a very important autobiography, was published in America. Ms. Aguer said, “I would recommend it to anyone interested in his life. Dalí was a great writer and used to read a lot. He himself, once declared that he was a better writer than a painter.” As the world started yearning to see what he would come up with, Dalí fed his image and talent to the media, succeeding in different collaborations: Walt Disney’s “Destino,” Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” Madame Chanel, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

Think of Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, Lady Gaga with a lobster on her head and Björk’s music videos. The presence of surrealistic elements is very persistent even today; it is noticeable from the way art is evolving to the way certain pop stars try to create their image to shock the media. When Dalí painted one of his most famous and recognized works of art, “The Persistence on Memory,” people were led to believe that it was inspired by Einstein’s The theory of relativity, but when asked about the comparison, Dalí replied that his iconic melting watches came to existence from the perception of Camembert cheese melting under the sun. Is this the truth or just another of his many provoking statements? Nevertheless, his originality lies in translating something as real as the discovery of the relativity of space and time through art. Ms. Aguer, thinking about how Dalí would respond to modern technology, said that Dalí “would master computers and everything that new technologies and scientific discoveries are offering us.” When asked what Dali would find surreal in our society, Ms. Aguer answered quickly with “Reality itself!” as if it had been a rhetorical question.

Maybe this is still the only way to create meaningful art nowadays: learning to imitate our modern world and creating a new one that would resonate with us more than the reality we live in. Just think about what Salvador Dalí could achieve in experimenting with graphic design and what contemporary artists could create if they would break free from the dogmas we are still dealing with.

“I am not strange. I am just not normal.”

How does a genius see himself? The answer might be seen through an artist’s most personal statement on himself or herself: a self-portrait. Dalí’s self-portrait, “Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon,” portrays the artist’s face as a melting bronze mask supported by mini crutches, another obsession from his childhood, something to lean on during life and, at the same time, something to push death away. He wanted it to be an “anti-psychological self-portrait,” to paint the outside instead of the soul, or as he called it, “the glove of myself.” There is also a piece of bacon and ants in the portrait, to symbolize his generosity in offering himself to be eaten by the media, and to act as inspirational “food” that succulently nourishes our time. Are the props and supports in the portrait a way to express a hint of insecurity? “The private Dalí was very friendly, but he was aware that he had created a character. In meetings with friends, if journalists or a camera appeared, he would immediately say, ‘I’m going to play Dalí.’” Thus, it is not surprising that Dalí painted his self-portrait in the U.S. during a period “when he clearly connects with mass culture” and with icons such as Marilyn Monroe, who were also “playing” their characters.

“People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings.”

No matter what walks of life we are coming from, to stand in front of Dalí’s works is like watching an endless enigma, something that sets our mind in motion with no limitation. “We already know a lot about him, but we need to keep some mystery,” concluded Ms. Aguer. She may be right, as a continuous thirst for knowledge can drive us mad just like with Friedrich Nietzsche, the only person, according to Dalí, who could be on Dalí’s level. “My equal will not be found in other centuries either. My painting proves it,” Dalí said.

Delirious? Mad? Arrogant? Self-righteous? Still, nobody came along to leave a mark like Salvador Dalí did with his art as Dalí manifests our inner worlds, showing us the way we feel about our existence. He portrayed our irrational fears, the things we only see in our dreams, and the magnificence of the human mind with its fantasies, perversions, and endless possibilities. A genius maybe be granted the power to say anything he or she wants. Ms. Aguer shared her personal favorite Dalí quote from memory:

“Do not waste time trying to be modern. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid being.”

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Visit the Dalí Theater-Museum here

The GROUND Magazine Issue IV – Globalization and Empowering Women / Buy Online and Stockists here