March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

Part III on my series on the space needed by makers! :-)

When I decided to move to San Sebastián in 2010, I knew that I would not have the option of working from home as I did in Paris, as the flat where I would live simply did not have a sufficient amount of space available, and I was also acutely aware of being clearly in need of a space where I could focus on going back to making music, far away from the potential distractions of home, whether that meant replying to emails, getting the laundry done, or trying that new cake recipe (I was really passionate about cooking back then!). I went in search of the ideal “local” (the Spanish word for ground floor or basement spaces not intended for living), no easy task given how insanely expensive San Sebastián already was, and ended up finding one in a neglected area of my neighbourhood: even though it stank of mould (it hadn’t been used in years and was formerly a brinery distributing olives and guindilla peppers to the local bars), I immediately felt drawn to its high wooden ceiling and overall feel. It also seemed like just the right amount of space, with 21m2 downstairs, and a mezzanine of roughly the same size, high enough for me to stand up, welcome my ceramics, vinyl and music book collection, and instrument cases – and more crucially, this mezzanine could act as a “cushion” protecting the 1st floor neighbours from the sound of my music. It was also really close to where I lived, and a mere 5 minutes walk from the Zurriola beach – what more could I want?

We set about “improving” it as best as we could, with a super conservative budget given that I initially thought I wouldn’t necessarily spend many years there, and you can see our work in the 3 before/after pictures. The doors were from the 1940s, so to say they were drafty is an understatement,  half of the ground was just bare ground and so uneven we couldn’t even add flooring and had to make do with just covering it with some kind of aluminium-coated material and bamboo carpets, and the mould problem never did go away: the city is built on sand, meaning most ground level places have damp rising from the ground.

In spite of all these flaws, the place provided me with what I needed most: concentration. I had no smartphone at the time, and the place had no internet connection: when I went there, the only thing I could possibly make was music, and so I did. I also found that the fact I was paying rent each month on that space meant that I felt guilty when not using it, and this also pushed me to show up and use the space even when I felt I’d rather just take some time off.

Having more space meant that I was able to slowly upgrade in all the necessary areas (near field monitors with sub and PA with sub were especially game changers) and buy instruments I wouldn’t have dreamt of having in a flat, such as a floor tom. Even more crucially, I finally felt and knew no one could hear me, which gave me the psychological freedom to try the things I was afraid of trying in my flat, starting with singing, and then learning percussion. The next step was discovering the joys of rehearsing on a real PA with my amplified treble viola da gamba and discovering the power of bass once I added an octaver pedal to my viola for Captain of None.

I can safely say that without this space, my music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did.  But renting this space was not without problems, and that’s what I’ll tell you about in the next instalment.

In other news, I’ve had the great pleasure of being interviewed lengthily for Turkish magazine T24!
The photo is one I took in a small side street of Istanbul, I love the sweet calm poetry emanating from this mural painting, and hope I will be back soon in this incredible city :-)

Thanks for reading as always! 😊


March 20, 2019 § Leave a comment

Disclaimer: You will note that I’m not talking of home studio vs professional studio: I’m well aware that a truly professional recording studio is not the same as using a shop/workshop-type space and turning into a studio-of-sorts, which is exactly what I did in San Sebastián. At no point was it set up to record other acts at a professional “commercial” level, which would be a venture of a different kind, requiring a technical know-how which I do not possess and a financial investment that would no make sense for the “unusual” solo recording musician that I am. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m talking about the possibility of opting for a workspace that’s outside the home, as opposed to having to make music inside your home – and even within those two ends of the spectrum, there are variations (dedicated space vs using a room that already fulfils another daily life purpose for instance). Of course a few people have the luxury of having a professional-grade studio inside their home, but they are so few and far between that I’m not really thinking of them here! Also, my reasons for *not* recording in a professional studio are beyond the scope of this discussion, but even if I did record in a professional studio, I would still need a place to *make* music.

I would like to go back in time and share a bit more about where and how I recorded my first three albums. The Colleen project was born during my two years preparing the agrégation d’anglais in Paris and then completing teacher training: borrowing records and trying to make music using software on a computer I’d bought the previous year to write my master’s thesis were the only two things I allowed myself during that time. I lived in a 17 m2 studio flat in the XVème arrondissement, and “Everyone alive wants answers” was born in that tiny space. When I got the opportunity to do my first shows, I immediately felt like reconnecting with the guitar, and I had by then developed a strong interest in musical instruments from various time periods and geographical areas. With my teacher’s salary, I started to gather a few instruments and sampling pedals, and the studio flat became very crowded indeed.

The year after the release of my first album, I found a 40 m2 flat – a luxury in Paris for a single person, and when I started to make music in the tiny living-room, it could have been Versailles as far as I was concerned! I recorded all of my second album “The Golden morning breaks” in that living room, with gear of extremely poor quality, but it somehow worked out perfectly for the sound I was looking for. However, when I switched to the bass viola da gamba – by far the best quality instrument I’d ever owned – for ”Les ondes silencieuses”, I was faced with the blatant problem of a discrepancy between how great the viola sounded in itself and how poor it sounded when I tried to record it with my very limited gear and technique. Mastering engineer Emiliano Flores, who is also an apt recording engineer, came to the rescue and – interestingly for the purposes of this discussion – he proceeded to record me playing a great deal of “Les ondes” in the attic at his parents’ house in the suburbs of Paris – so again, not a professional studio space by any means.  I took notes of the mike placements he was using, and he sold me the mike I still use to this day on all my albums, along with a good preamp. I was then able to record the rest of the album at home, mostly parts that needed more layering and/or improvisation, or the spinet song (I got a harpsichord player to rent me a spinet for a month – this is the picture that you see, taken by Iker Spozio as part of the study material for the album’s artwork). By now you’ve probably understood how intimate the whole recording process is for me, and I became determined to learn enough to *not* have to rely on someone else’s expertise again if it could be avoided.

But while the lack of space, of intimacy (this became a big one when I decided to try to learn to sing in early 2010!) and fear of disturbing my neighbours were three real problems in Paris, they weren’t the biggest: CONCENTRATION was. By 2008, even though I had stopped teaching in 2006, I was chronically stressed out through overworking, problems with the label that released my records, and an overwhelming, neverending administrative and email burden. I would start making music, but the urge to check emails to see if something had arrived, been sorted, etc, was just too strong.

I have told this story in an even more detailed way in two longs posts published on my blog years and years ago (here and here), so won’t repeat it here, but will just mention again that it was during stone carving lessons, reflecting on the way my teacher worked (in a garden, from more or less 8 am till 8 pm, with – obviously – no computer in sight) that I finally understood that my biggest problem was indeed a concentration problem, and that I needed to get rid of all distractions, and build a new discipline for myself, within a new space.


March 17, 2019 § Leave a comment

This post has been almost 3 months in the making: at the end of 2018 my partner in life and in art Iker Spozio and myself decided to leave San Sebastián, meaning I’ve had to leave the space I rented for 8 and a half years to make music, a ground-level former olive and pepper brinery. My music has evolved along with the spaces where I’ve lived and worked, and for the past 3 months my mind has been filled with reflections on the very peculiar necessities that come with being an artist – or a maker of any kind indeed – and the even more specific problematics of musicians.

I initially wanted to illustrate this post with a picture of the completely empty studio once the removal men had come and taken everything, or one of the pictures I took while the boxes were piling up, but I lost both sets of photographs – an indication of how mentally intense the whole process was, and how times of personal change are not times to communicate, but to get things done. So instead I’m sharing again my favourite picture of the studio, taken by Isabel Dublang for the Resident Advisor Machine Love feature about my music published in 2017, one of the many photos that will remain as mementos of a space that was very dear to me and fundamental in the evolution of my sound over my 4th, 5th and 6th albums. 

The challenge presented by leaving a 40 m2 space (21 m2 of ground floor where the music got done + 19 m2 of storage space in a mezzanine space upstairs) and selecting the gear and objects that could fit into a 14 m2 space within a flat (*not* a studio space separate from my new home) was very real, turning those couple of January weeks into a time of taking stock not only of what I had physically accumulated over the past 8 and a half years in that space (plus everything musical that I’ve bought since the age of 15 – a 27-year-period all in all!), but also stock of how much I’ve changed as a musician, and how my needs are no longer the same. Indeed – and I will deal with this in future posts – it is in great part the very evolution of my needs and desires that has permitted me to contemplate going back to a home-studio-style setup.

So I would like to take the opportunity of this big life change to write about a subject that’s seldom approached and that seems to me even more crucial to explore in a time of real estate madness: how to make your space work for your needs, no matter what your circumstances are. In particular I’d like to talk about the home studio vs outside-of-the-home studio, the pros and cons of each according to my own (of course very subjective) experience. More soon!


March 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

After a long silence I’m pleased to be back in action both musically and very soon in words too, and I’m very excited to let you know I’ll be playing my first Turkish show ever in Istanbul on March 22nd, sharing the bill with none other than Matt Elliott! The show is held at Borusan Sanat and is organised by Kod Müzik Organizasyon, thank you! :-)

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