232 SHOWS IN 20 YEARS

January 12, 2022 § Leave a comment

THIS IS WHAT 232 SHOWS LOOK LIKE.
This year I’ll be sharing thoughts and stories on my 20 years of activity under the Colleen moniker.

Yesterday I showed this list of shows from my website to a friend who only met me a couple of years ago, when I nearly stopped playing live shows because an untreated and then not-adequately-treated health condition (Hashimoto’s, aka autoimmune hypothyroidism) left me totally exhausted and unable to live a normal life for more than 2 years.
At the time, she was under the impression that I wasn’t “doing much” and had no clue about the amount of live shows I’d already played worldwide. Showing this to her yesterday, even I could barely believe the sheer amount of work this represents. Strong memories of people and places immediately came to mind for some shows, while others elicited a complete blank.
Time passes and it is weird how sometimes our own past life seems to belong or to have been lived by another person, or even several different people. I don’t really feel I’m the person who did all this traveling and playing, nor do I feel I am the person who then was not able to do *any* of this. 
In any case, I’m laughing at myself now for any feeling of guilt / laziness I felt last year when I decided to stop playing live shows. And I’m smiling at the thought of reversing that decision, even though the pandemic makes everything seem remote and unlikely. 
If you want to catch me live, your best bet is Barcelona 11 March @elpumarejo and London 19 March @kingsplacelondon where I’ll be playing not 1 but 2 full albums: Captain of None and The Tunnel and the Clearing.

2022: 20 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE COLLEEN PROJECT!

January 9, 2022 § Leave a comment

In the fall of 2002 I released my first record ever, a 7’’ on tiny French label Active Suspension. Around the same time, I sent a CDr of my just-completed first album to various labels: I got a couple of replies, but only one was interested, The Leaf Label, and this is how this whole journey truly started. I had *absolutely* no clue it would lead to this. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined all that would happen, and even less that it would last this long. And fingers crossed in the hope that this is still a long way off, but I now truly think this project will die only when I die.

7 albums: 3 made in Paris (2003-2007), 3 in Donosti, Spain (2013-2017), and so far 1 in Barcelona, last year’s The Tunnel and the Clearing, with LP8 well under way. The 3rd record on the table is 2006’s (nearly album-length) EP Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique.

It is my hope (and a plan) that little by little, the albums that have been out of print on vinyl will be reissued in a coherent manner (sadly the last represses of my early albums are now largely unavailable due to a legal dispute with The Leaf Label that led to these albums having to be put out of distribution).

In 19 years, with a large gap between 2009 and 2013, I played 232 shows in 23 different countries, with the US being by far the country I’ve played the most (38 shows) followed by the UK (24) – which makes sense considering I was first on a UK label that also had good US distribution, and my current home is the mighty Chicago-based Thrill Jockey. The full list is on this page.

I did not go as far as counting the number of instruments I’ve played on those albums, but I reckon that would probably be around 20 perhaps? If you are fairly new to my music, you may not know that I’ve changed setup/instrumentation on almost every single album, and that this was once a purely instrumental project. A great place to start if you’re curious is the wonderful retrospective that Bandcamp Daily so kindly wrote last year, which was conducted with my input.

No Oscar-style thanks to end this post, since I regularly thank online and offline the people who have helped me the most. But a massive acknowledgement of the importance of YOU the listeners, both new and old. Some of you have been listening to my music for 20 years now, and what a privilege it is to go through life with the knowledge of this shared journey. And I feel just as happy about all the newcomers. THANK YOU.

“THE TUNNEL AND THE CLEARING” VIDEOS

December 29, 2021 § Leave a comment

“THE TUNNEL AND THE CLEARING” – PART I – THE TUNNEL

Shot in my studio last week, this is the first part of the song which gives the title to my 7th album and symbolizes for me the entire album and the life experience it retraces. There is no way out but through the tunnel (I apologize that this is dangerously close to a recent Nike slogan I saw in a massive sports shop here in Barcelona). Somehow I can never get to play those staccato chords with utmost regularity, but I try to take a generous view of my shortcomings as a player and see this as a reflection of what it’s like to go through the tunnel: you’re kind of shaking and you’re just doing your best. The gritty sound comes only from the Farfisa emulation of the Yamaha Reface YC combined with the Roland RE-201 Space Echo lovingly overhauled by Soundgas. Nothing else. Space Echo is 100% wet and panned 25% Left against the Farfisa, panned 25% right, to give the whole thing subtle stereo.

“THE TUNNEL AND THE CLEARING” – PART II – THE CLEARING

When I found the first chords to this song, in august 2020, roughly 3 months after starting work on my 7th album, I almost instantaneously got the image of a tunnel and a clearing at the end of it, and realized this would be the title not just of that particular song, but of the whole album.Even though I always work from the ground up through playing my instruments, there is also a more “conceptual” layer to what I do, especially when I’ve been working for several months and material needs to be organized in a coherent whole. From the start and by necessity, the “core” of the album was clearly to reflect the extreme emotions and sensations caused by breakup and the forced changes this brings to one’s life, and for this song, it was clear that the existence of both the tunnel *and* the clearing would have to be translated musically (and in this case without lyrics).

The change from the gritty Farfisa sound to the almost mellotron-like quality of the Hammond through the Space Echo was one way of doing this, sonically. Compositionally, introduce subtle changes to the main theme of the song as exposed in its first part: adding a few notes to a motif, changing the order of those notes, changing one note within a chord, then introducing completely new chords – all meant to be a musical representation of what it’s like to slowly be shifting and expanding your thoughts, and to see the first glimpse of what it might feel like to start feeling better.

When Luis Torroja shot the mini-documentary on my album, we ended with “The Crossing” in darkness, with just a few flashlights and the lights from my machines. Luis was so enthusiastic that he just kept shooting more material based purely on the pulsating lights of the machines and synchronized it to the second part of “The Tunnel and the Clearing”. I can’t think of a more wonderful visual representation of the very real magic of machines and of the love I have for them, as precious tools that allow me not just to make music, but to literally feel better and live a better life. I hope you will enjoy it too.

RETURN OF THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE UNICORN, BARCELONA TICKETS, AND A PRESENT FROM BIBLIOTHEQUE BUFFON

December 21, 2021 § Leave a comment

RETURN OF THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE UNICORN + BARCELONA DOUBLE ALBUM LIVE SHOW 11 MARCH 2021: TICKETS AVAILABLE!!!
This makes me so happy 😃 In May I made the difficult decision to stop playing live. It wasn’t so much about local shows, given that I barely play any, but about international shows, which can be exhausting physically and mentally, especially as you get older. I was also feeling overwhelmed by the “neurological” load of my shows: just looking at all the information I need to process to play live, I got the feeling my brain could not handle something as demanding anymore.
The sense of relief was immediate, but I didn’t expect the following… Given that my London show in August was postponed due to the quarantine rule, I was able to enjoy one of the most relaxed months of *MY ENTIRE LIFE*, in August. It was incredible. Like living with somebody else (at the end of the day, one lives with oneself – it’s obvious, but it took me a really long time to truly get this). So relaxed, that when I decided to rehearse a little to check that I wasn’t forgetting everything, I had a blast. And tried to see if I could still play older songs on the viola da gamba… and had even more of a blast.
Meeting another musician who is very experienced with concerts at a high level and with whom I was able to talk about my situation ended up convincing me that yes, I could go back to playing live, it would “just” have to be in a slightly different way.
What ended up fully convincing me was attending an incredible night on 17th September in El Pumarejo, organized by David aka @furvoice@mutabor_music who will organize and open my own show: I felt such a positive energy and it was there and then that I felt ready for my new decision.
That I was able to switch from thinking “I’m not playing anymore” to preparing shows with 2 totally different setups to play 2 full albums is proof of the power of rest, removing pressure from yourself, and surrounding yourself with good vibrations and people who support you. The work-life balance unicorn, which I’d never seen in my entire life, made its appearance this year, and I consider this a major new step in my life.

Something else that’s beautiful and happened recently…

ON NON MATERIAL PRESENTS: ME AND THE BIBLIOTHEQUE BUFFON, 20 YEARS DOWN THE LINE.
I’ve long been convinced that non material presents, such as time, attention, affection and recognition, are the best presents. I have just received one such present in my inbox. If you look at it and speak a bit of French, you might think: ok, it’s just that her music is among this year’s favorites of the music section of a public library in Paris, so what? So here goes… 

The Bibliothèque Buffon is THE public library where I went every single week, several times a week, from 1999 to 2001, to borrow at least 10 or 15 CDs per week. I can safely say the Colleen project (which will officially turn 20 years old next year) was born in great part thanks to a place like this.
I grew up in a small provincial town and later on, as a penniless student, had to find clever ways of discovering music in a pre/barely-starting internet time. I had 3 options, and I used them all: 1) listening to radio programmes 2) going to music shops (Gibert Joseph was a favorite because it was just next to where I studied English at Sorbonne Nouvelle, and had headphones listening stations with rotating selections every week) 3) borrowing CDs from public libraries. 
I’m not sure how I ended up there the first time – possibly through a friend’s recommendation, possibly because it was next to Jardin des Plantes, another favorite haunt of mine. In any case, from the first visit it was clear this was a veritable Ali Baba cave, and when in 2000 I took up a part-time job at university library BU Censier during my agrégation d’anglais, the Buffon library was literally on my way, which made me increase the frequency of my trips, since I had also started sampling.
That year was pivotal in my life: I understood I would not go into academia, because I wanted to have time for music-making, and borrowing CDs and ripping them for samples was the only luxury I granted myself that year. Hip hop, electronic, minimalist/contemporary, film, Jamaican, African, Indonesian musics, jazz… I could go on and on… I am so, so deeply grateful to see my work, 20 years down the line, among the library’s favourites.

MOOGERFOOGERS AS PREAMPS AND DRIVE UNITS + ELKA CLEANING

November 29, 2021 § Leave a comment

ON GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME AND USING MOOGERFOOGERS AS PREAMPS AND DRIVE UNITS.

I am not prone to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, for those of you not familiar with the condition). I was very close to Instrument Acquisition Syndrome in the 2000s, but thankfully, square metre shortage in Paris, where I lived back then, ensured that I did not buy 70s organs, or other such space-consuming monsters.Now that I have discovered the joys of analogue instruments, especially vintage ones, I sometimes catch myself wishing for more. But that’s the thing: I catch myself. Knowing full well that with my current setup, truly, I can work for a couple more years at the very least, and not feel limited. If any feeling of limitation were to arise, it would be down to me not spending enough hours with my instruments – one of life’s many unpalatable cold hard truths. I may still buy something if I truly think it will bring something unique to my setup, but at least I’m aware of how desire operates: mostly out of magical thinking, whereby we convince ourselves that once we get this or that instrument/piece of gear, *then* we will make truly incredible music (the next step of magical thinking exists and is as follows: the instruments will make music on their own.)

In the spirit of “let’s not rush to buy a new thing – as wonderful as it may be – when we actually already own something that may serve the same purpose”, I have now clarified for myself the fact that *all* Moogerfoogers can be used as analogue preamps/drive units, *without* the effect they’re intended to provide.Their bypass behavior puzzled me for a long time, as it varies across the pedal range, so testing each one both on and bypassed (as well as re-reading the manuals 😃) has helped me a lot. Since the question arises in forums, I am publishing the table here in case it is of any help to anyone (my explanations are a little overkill, but that’s just me 🤣). Since my Moog session was meant to celebrate them, there couldn’t be a better time to publish this: discontinued they may be, but their price has risen on the second-hand market, given that yes, they were really special.

ELKA DRUMMER ONE POT CLEANING AND TRANSPLANT.

In July 2020 I had to clean some scratchy pots on my Elka: this involved squeezing a special cleaning liquid called DeoxIT directly into the pot mechanism (as opposed to just spraying something on the outside), which of course meant opening the machine. It was the first time I opened *any* piece of gear, let alone a vintage one, so I was extremely nervous, but totally awed by what I found inside.

At the time, I had to send the Elka back to Soundgas, as the procedure did not work for 2 out of the 4 scratchy pots, which probably meant that the pots had “reached the end of their life”. This enabled me to learn of a new concept and practice “donor machines”: a donor machine is a piece of gear from which you remove parts that are then transplanted, as it were, on another machine. You are basically sacrificing it, piece by piece, for the good of various other machines.

Today’s cleaning operation was successful: 2 out of the 3 scratchy pots are now silent, and scratches appear only occasionally on the bass drum. Unfortunately another small issue has come up: some of you may have seen in my stories that I occasionally have to rescrew pots into their proper position (to have the white mark aligned with minimum volume, which corresponds roughly to a 7 o’clock position) as the pots tend to “slip” out of the knob underneath (they are held by a tiny screw called a grub screw). The knobs themselves function perfectly, but since the white mark gives a vital visual indication of volume, things quickly get confusing if minimum volume is indicated where half or full volume should be.Turns out the reason this keeps happening is that the plastic the pots are made of is becoming brittle with age. Indeed, today I checked this thoroughly, and almost all of the Elka pots are cracked to some extent. Since the 2 pots that have actually caused trouble are on Tom 1 and 2, which I use a lot, I decided to do my own transplant using 2 less used pots (Snare Drum and Cowbell). This seems to have worked for the time being, but Soundgas are working on finding a DIY solution to this problem.