REFLECTIONS ON THE SPACE NEEDED BY MAKERS, PART IV: THE CONS OF AN OUTSIDE STUDIO SPACE, AND HOW HEALTH PROBLEMS CAN SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE.
April 22, 2019 § Leave a comment
In the last post I was telling you about all the positive aspects of having my own music space in San Sebastián, and yet my relationship with that space was always a love-hate, rollercoaster one. For every advantage it had I could think of a disadvantage, and some of these proved to be really problematic in the long run. The dampness problem, which I already mentioned, had multiple origins and therefore could not be solved (especially not by me as a mere tenant). The last thing you want when you have precious instruments and gear is for them to go mouldy, and I ended up having to store my cherished violas da gamba at home. I tried to monitor the state of my other instruments and gear as best as I could, but got really worried again last year as I started to own quite a few high-quality electronic analogue instruments, including a very valuable vintage piece. As I packed for the move to Barcelona in January and was faced with mould-covered item upon mould-covered item, I realized it was indeed high time I faced the reality of the situation: a damp studio is *not* a viable long-term solution for storing your instruments, nor is it ideal for a human being to work in such conditions.
There can also be serious safety issues in the old spaces that we makers often end up working in, in this current context of real estate madness. It would take too long to tell the whole story here, but in the winter of early 2017, as I had two electrical heaters on, an electrical fire started in one of the studio walls: I was thankfully downstairs at that moment, so was able to see the flames and act right away, with the fire being put out swiftly and no damage being done to the studio apart from the trace of flames on the wall. It scared the hell out of me though, and even though the firemen who came and inspected the place told me the electrical installation was correct, I never felt completely safe afterwards (why hadn’t the fuses blown?), and I still shudder to think of what could have happened if I had been upstairs in the mezzanine space at the time the fire started.
Another issue that never went away was the noise one: ultimately, a non-professionally soundproofed ground floor space giving onto a street will always have noise issues. At the time of The weighing of the heart, so much outside noise filtered through the old doors that, after fruitless attempts at recording late at night, I ended up having to record – also late at night – in our flat. I did manage to record the vocals in bits and bobs at the studio in a small corner which I tried to isolate as best as I could (I felt too shy to record vocals at home as it was my first time singing!). In late 2013 my landlord agreed to replace the doors and windows with triple glazing, which improved the problem but did not solve it (street noise still filtered through the area of the metal blind, and noise also came from the building’s elevator). As I moved to more and more electronically-enhanced close-miked instruments (Captain of none) and then to fully electronic (A flame my love, a frequency), I was thankfully less dependent on having a completely silent environment, but the problem remained acute for vocals (out of desperation, I recorded the vocals for A flame at home, on a couple of miraculously quiet days).
Finally, there is the maintenance aspect: even if you’re not a cleanliness freak, you do have to take care of your space, and when it opens onto a street, that also means having to clean dog poo, dog and/or human pee right in front of your door or *on* your door, cigarette butts and all sorts of rubbish, as well as the grime from car exhausts … Now you might think I’m exaggerating a little bit with this one, but this actually takes me to my final point.
Last year I found out that my severe exhaustion – which I initially thought was due to overworking – was due to an autoimmune chronic health problem – thankfully not a life-or-death problem, but one that can seriously alter your quality of life, and in my case left me unable to work for months on end. In the first half of 2018 I went to the studio only very occasionally in order to rehearse for the shows I had planned back then. After this, as my energy levels plummeted even further, I went there even less. I not only felt really down about not being able to do my work, I also stressed out at the thought of all the gear collecting mould in the dark unopened studio, not to mention the financial waste of paying rent on a space you’re not actively using. But whenever I tried to go, the 5 minutes it took me to walk there, pulling up the heavy metal blind, and possibly cleaning whatever mess there was to clean in front of my door – all this was already a huge drain on my energy, and at best I sometimes sang a little, read an instructions manual, connected a few instruments and vaguely went about trying to make music, and gave up in less than an hour, overwhelmed by the need to lie down and rest. For the first time in years, I started to think that if I had a music space at home, perhaps I would be able to “catch” more easily the moments when I did feel OK, and this was when the idea of moving back to a home studio situation became not only acceptable but even *attractive* to me again.
My health issue is now more or less under control thanks to the help of medication, but even though I am now feeling ok, I do not take good health and normal energy levels for granted anymore, and feel confident that right now, having direct access to my workspace from within my home is the ideal solution.
I thank you for reading me this far, I hope that this series somehow may have been illuminating if you too are facing the dilemma of where to pursue your creative practice!
April 4, 2019 § Leave a comment
Four months ago I was telling you about how I had finally recovered the rights to my first 3 albums and EP after a long legal battle, and I am so so very happy to let you know that finally, those records are available again, and have found a new loving home thanks to Thrill Jockey Records! Not only that, but my least-widely available album, 2013’s The weighing of the heart, originally released on Second Language in 2013, is now available via anost.net, the record mailorder of Morr Music.
So here’s the lowdown: we only bought part of the Leaf vinyl stock, not all of it, and we did not buy any of the CD stock. Please note:
2) Bandcamp orders are now fulfilled by Thrill Jockey *from the US* – which is great news for those of you who live over there and so far had to pay prohibitive shipping prices from the UK. 3) If you live outside the US, then it might be best for you to shop from Thrill Jockey’s webshop, which can send from both the US *and* the UK.
4) If you are after CDs of my early output, the best place to get them now is Thrill Jockey’s webshop, and they will ship from the UK: the available quantities are extremely limited, and it’s unlikely that my albums will ever be reprinted on CD, which is a dying format, so take advantage of the few dozen copies that remain.
5) The Beacon Sound tapes are available again on my Bandcamp, shipping from the US. A few are also still available directly from Beacon Sound’s webshop.
6) The weighing of the heart is now for sale on CD and vinyl via my Bandcamp and anost.net, the record mailorder of Morr Music – in both cases getting shipped from Germany, with – I’m pleased to say – fairly competitive pricing for non-EU customers (at least much better than the ridiculous Spanish postage fees I had to charge you!).
A big thank you to Morr Music, a huge one to Thrill Jockey Records, Nicole Kasper in particular for handling all the dirty work of putting things up for sale, and the biggest thank you of all goes to Thrill Jockey’s Bettina Richards for all her help in making this happen and giving a new life to those records – THANK YOU BETTINA!!! :-)
And to celebrate, here’s the beautiful video made by Makino Takashi for “Humming fields” from The weighing of the heart back in 2013! :-)
REFLECTIONS ON THE SPACE NEEDED BY MAKERS, PART III: MOVING TO SAN SEBASTIAN AND THE PROS OF AN OUTSIDE-THE-HOME STUDIO SPACE + TURKISH INTERVIEW!
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! 😊
REFLECTIONS ON THE SPACE NEEDED BY MAKERS, PART II: HOME STUDIO VS OUTSIDE-OF-THE-HOME STUDIO, MY PARIS EXPERIENCE AND THE LIMITS OF WORKING FROM HOME IN A NON-DEDICATED SPACE.
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.
REFLECTIONS ON THE SPACE NEEDED BY MAKERS, PART I: LEAVING SAN SEBASTIAN AND MY MUSIC STUDIO, OR THE CHAOS OF HAVING TO DOWNSIZE 27 YEARS OF MUSIC-MAKING.
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
December 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
My first full-length interview in Japanese is available on Ele-king! I had the pleasure of doing this interview while playing in Tokyo last month, thanks a lot to Ele King and the amazing Oshi Kunii of PLANCHA who release my records in Japan!
On the interview’s photos (by Yasuhiro Ohara), I’m wearing a jacket which is one of my favorite makes ever (for those of you who didn’t catch last year’s post series entitled Make your own clothes!, well, I make my own clothes ;-): I am now most filling in the gaps in my wardrobe (I haven’t bought any clothes in almost 3 years, with very rare exceptions, which means that when my older shop-bought clothes fall apart, I try to find the time to make those clothes myself). I really needed a mid-season jacket that wouldn’t get dirty too quickly (I love spending time outdoors) and was travelling-compatible (ie does not take a lot of room and does not crease like crazy when you have to rumple it up in 2 seconds onboard a packed plane). I also wanted to cut down on my fabric scraps, because when you sew, you invariably end up with lots of these. I had failed some winter trousers by using wool coating that was too thick, so I turned these into shorts, and ended up with the bottom parts and a few other scraps; there was also a black tailored jacket which I had acquired as a misguided youth in my early 20s, and which my mother kept in a wardrobe as the coating was of really good quality: I deconstructed the jacket, and since it contained tons of seams and cuts, I realized I would just be able to use the fabric scraps, and not the actual jacket parts (by this I mean I could not salvage entire sleeves or fronts). The way to go was color blocking and hacking a basic short jacket pattern (the Ivanne S Magnesium) into a teddy/bomber-style jacket, therefore allowing ever further use of scraps on the collar, cuffs and waistband. I spent almost 3 days just doing the color blocking (made more complicated by the fact that both fabrics had a nap) and top-stitching to keep the parts flat, but I ended up with almost zero scrap, and I now have a super comfy one-of-a-kind jacket (complete with matching shorts!) that has cost me (apart from my time) about 25 euros for the organic bamboo silk I used for the lining (available at the amazing fabric store Ray Stitch), elastic and zipper. Even though it was a lot of work, I’m so glad I took the time to do it, and increased my skill levels in the process!
I wish you all a peaceful end of year, and will be back with fresh news next year, which hopefully will be better than this one. Love