April 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’m not a commission and collaboration person; I’ve known this for a long time and have finally embraced it fully, but when I started releasing records, I did accept a few projects, such as the invitation by the Atelier de Création Radiophonique of French national radio station France Culture to produce a 1-hour broadcast that wouldn’t be just music. I had been attracted by the world of music boxes and mechanical music instruments in general for a while, so the choice was immediately obvious. I also love watching old films (by “old” I mostly mean anything pre-80s, from the silent era onwards) and I had noticed the unbelievable quantity of films including music boxes. I spent the next few months rewatching the films in which I remembered music boxes being used, and watching more films in the hope of catching more examples.
As chance would have it, I had already planned a visit to my friend John Cavanagh, whom I mentioned in relation to the rare glass harmonicon used on The Golden Morning Breaks. John had formerly been an antiques dealer specialising, among other rare musical items, in mechanical music instruments, and I knew he had huge Victorian music boxes and a few other music boxes lying around – the timing was perfect! It turned out I wasn’t so keen on the complex melodies produced by those large boxes, especially as I couldn’t quite see how I could manipulate the music they produce; however, their combs were so large that it was impossible not to see their percussion/ plucking (thumb piano style) potential. We spent a couple of afternoons with John recording my improvisations (quite a feat in itself, as the sound produced by hitting a comb with small mallets or plucking it with your thumbs is not very loud, to say the least!), and once home I proceeded to cut and manipulate the results. The other half of the project I recorded in the living room of my Paris flat, using a couple of music boxes from my collection, including my beloved componium for which I had composed two melodies by punching cardboard strips.
The idea was to go beyond the “cutesy” image that music boxes tend to conjure up, and I think that I succeeded in that, especially when coupled with the film excerpts. The Leaf Label liked the results so much that they decided to release it as an EP, without the film excerpts for copyright reasons. This is the first-ever vinyl pressing, and extra special thanks go to John Cavanagh for his generosity in providing access to his collection and for his expert recording, and to Iker Spozio for the amazing new artwork he has created for this release!
For the curious and cinema-inclined, the films were: The innocents by Jack Clayton – Ensayo de un crimen by Bunuel – For a few dollars more by Sergio Leone – Sedmikrasky by Vera Chytilova – Casanova by Fellini – L’Atalante by Jean Vigo.
Les ondes silencieuses, 2007, The Leaf Label, transparent vinyl gatefold edition limited to 750 copies for Record Store Day, 22 April TODAY!
… and a friendly word of advice: if you don’t live near any physical stores and/or the stores nearest to you don’t have or have run out of those vinyl, there will be solutions, please just be a little patient (and don’t buy ridiculously priced copies on discogs…)
Les ondes was my third and last album for The Leaf Label, and clearly the end of a cycle for me: an artistic, professional and personal cycle, all rolled into one. Artistically speaking, the viola da gamba had been my dream instrument since I’d first heard its sound in the film Tous les matins du monde as a teenager, and it remained just that, a dream, for about 15 years. As a non-classically trained musician, how could I ever hope to play such a complex instrument? And what about the price? But after acquiring a cello in 2004, and beginning to earn a living as a musician around 2006, suddenly these seemed like false excuses. In Paris on a day on which I went to buy strings for my cello, I saw a battered second-hand viola da gamba being inspected by a prospective buyer, and my mind went “click”: I need to find a viola, or have one made. An internet search led me to a couple of French gamba makers, and one stood out in particular: François Danger. In addition to making reproductions of ancient instruments, he had also made a few electro-acoustic models and could get special pickups fitted within the bridge of any viola. I liked the idea of a non-conventional viola maker, so contacted him, then visited him in Rouen and was astounded by the sound and sheer physical beauty of his instruments. Nine months later, in early2006, I received my 7-string bass viola based on an 17th century model. I started to take lessons with another open-minded person, teacher and interpreter Florence Bolton, and almost simultaneously started to make my own music on the instrument.
In September 2006 I was granted a sabbatical from my English teacher job at the last minute, enabling me to go on a tour of Japan that proved crucial to the overall aesthetic of Les ondes. Organized right before the recordings for the album, my first visit of Japan, organised by Kazuki Tomita of Windbell who released my records in Japan at the time, deeply affected me: I was constantly feeling rushed and overwhelmed and in Japan I found a traditional aesthetic and a few concrete places that put my mind in the calm space where it so badly needed to be.
Once back home, recording this new music proved the limits of my DIY-on-cheap-gear approach: the minimalist compositions coupled with the very rich and peculiar sound of the viola just could not be captured with my meagre recording techniques and mikes. My mastering engineer, Emiliano Flores, who is also a recording engineer by training, really saved the day by recording me in the attic of his parents’ home. Once the main parts of the album were recorded, he sold me a mike which is still my favorite go-to mike, a Beyerdynamic MC834, and I proceeded to record the rest of the album by myself in the living-room of my Paris flat.
Right at the time of the release of the album, I got the news that my request for a second sabbatical year had been refused, so I decided to resign, convinced that I just could not let this unique opportunity of dedicating my life to music slip me by. The next year was filled with touring, promotion, a dance commission, the inevitable administrative chores and worries that come from having a non-conventional job, and inevitably in 2008 I started to feel I was losing the feeling of magic I’d once associated with music-making. In 2009 I decided to take a long break (you can read about it here and here), and came back refreshed and with a new musical approach in 2013…
Thanks so much for reading me and to all those of you who’ve followed me on this path for so long!
April 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
These days, within the broad “electronic” genre within which my music is generally classified, there are few acts operating live on stage without a computer and/or prerecorded elements, and I’m one of them: over the years I’ve developed a specific pedal-only setup and refined and diversified my way of using it in order to try and replicate my albums live – smething which I wasn’t really able to do during the first half of my recording career. In this workshop I will discuss how my live setup and approach have evolved over the years, and playing concrete examples from Captain of None on the exact same setup that I use for my shows, I will show you the various approaches and tools that I use to try and solve the very real problems facing the musician that creates complex layered music within the studio and tries to replicate it as a solo performer.
This will be my first ever workshop and after giving more than 200 concerts in the space of 13 years I’m truly looking forward to sharing some of my methods with you! I will play live the previous day, Saturday May 20th at 4.40 pm in the First Presbyterian Church, and the workshop takes place on Sunday May 21, 10:30am – 12:00pm at The Mezzanine at the Durham. Places are very limited so if you are interested, please head over here!
April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment
First things first, a weeks ago I finally finished my sixth album, and the next day when I doublechecked everything for the last time, I had the joy of receiving my vinyl copies of the Record Store Day reissues of my second and third albums and music box EP! Now that’s the kind of coincidence that brings a lot of joy!
Although by now I should be familiar with the “mixing-takes-forever” experience, it still always takes me by surprise: I think I’ve *almost* finished a record (that was me a month and a half ago), and it turns out there’s still so much to do to take it to the level where I feel comfortable putting it out in the world. Doing this all by myself means it can be hard to have the necessary critical distance with the purely audio aspect of the music, especially when I’ve been recording for months, but last week I finally reached the happy stage of thinking “This one is ready”!
To celebrate the upcoming reissues of my past work, I’ve decided to do a series of short posts about those records this week, for those of you who have found out about my music only recently and are not too familiar with my previous output. It’s also nice for me to revisit the context in which those records were made after all those years.
I’ve been interested in visual arts for many years (in high school I seriously considered studying art history) and one of the things that interests me most when reading books focusing on a single visual artist is seeing their evolution, and how almost everyone begins by working in the current “fashionable” style, gradually evolving to more personal and mature work – but it’s the idea of every step being necessary and leading to the next one that calls my attention.
Looking back at my own discographical output, I can see that sampling records on my first album Everyone Alive Wants Answers was what I needed to shift from a pop/rock/experimental guitar-player approach to a more open, genreless style of instrumental music. However, when the time came to make a second album, spending hours listening to other people’s records in order to find a few seconds to sample did not appeal to me anymore; reading an article in The Wire on Lou Harrison was pivotal in that respect – I wanted to make my *own* sounds too, and became obsessed with musical instruments, visiting every single musical instrument museum I could go to. I had also begun to perform live and had taken my classical guitar out of storage and begun to play it again with the help of a newly purchased Boss RC20 Loopstation.
The combination of that simple step of beginning to sample my own instrument and having income of my own for the first time of my life (I’d become a teacher) paved the way for all the rest: I started to buy more pedals to further sample and delay my sounds, and more instruments, deciding I could play whatever I felt like playing, even if I’d never touched any of them: music boxes, glockenspiel, toy gamelan, toy synth, ukulele, zither and – crucially – my first cello, a sorry plywood ¾ thing that I only kept a few months before I bought a proper full size cello. I was also lucky to have a good friend in musician /broadcaster John Cavanagh, in whose home I had the privilege of recording a rare 19th instrument, the glass harmonicon. Even the wooden recorder of the dreaded mandatory music classes in French “college” made an appearance (Français de mon âge qui lisez ceci, je pense que vous aussi vous aurez des souvenirs merveilleux de ces leçons de musique au collège… ah ces fausses notes à la flute…). I recorded the album in the living room of my new flat in Paris, with extremely crude gear and an even cruder recording technique, but somehow, I really love the sound of that album, and have a lot of affection for it because of all it represents for me.
Finally, you can catch the performance I gave at the Standard on 26th March as part of the incredibly curated and wonderfully managed Big Ears in Knoxville, Tennessee via Red Bull Radio today at 4 pm EDT /10 pm CEST or catch the replays on Wednesday, 4/19 11AM EDT and Saturday, 4/22 1:45PM EDT.
I spent an incredible 4 days at the festival, managing to catch quite a few performances and squeezing in 2 very rewarding half-days of birdwatching – my ideal way of attending a festival as a performer: time to also be a member of the audience, discover the area, its people and its fauna ;-)))
By the Sunday evening, as the festival drew to a close and the time came for me to perform my second concert, I was feeling super relaxed, and thought “At least this concert is not recorded for TV or radio, so I can talk between songs as much as I want!
Indeed, when I know that a concert is being broadcast, I tend to restrict myself in terms of talking between songs – talking or not is always something I decide on the spur of the moment, based on length of time allocated for the show, the atmosphere, etc… but in general I tend to avoid talking when I know that there’s a recorder or camera rolling, as it feels a little more “constricting”.
Anyway, here I was, convinced that it was my first performance (at The Mill and Mine) that had been recorded for both Aurora TV *and* Red Bull Radio… During my soundcheck at the Standard no one from Red Bull came to say anything, so I just proceeded with the concert and had such a good time and … talked a lot! ;-))) Well, *that* was the performance that got recorded by Red Bull Radio, so if you listen to this show you’ll hear me in one of my most talkative moods! ;-) There are a few issues soundwise (for some reason the bass tends to generate a buzz, something I heard as I played, and that did not happen during soundcheck… such a classic) but on the whole I really like the feel of this concert – there’s nothing like playing live and feeling happily connected to the music and the audience!
Thanks ever so much again to all the lovely people at Big Ears in both the audience and in the organisation, and to Red Bull Radio for recording this!
Big Ears + Moogfest + Record Store Day vinyl release of Colleen et les Boîtes à musique and vinyl reissues of 2nd and 3rd albums!
March 21, 2017 § Leave a comment
Tomorrow morning I’m leaving for Big Ears in Knoxville, Tennessee, a festival with a truly amazing lineup, where I’m playing two shows on Friday 24th March at the Mill and Mine and Sunday 26th at the Standard, plus a participation in a panel on Sunday morning! The 24th March show will be available to see via live streaming on Aurora here.
I’m also delighted to let you know that I’ll be playing at Moogfest on May 20th, where I will also give my first ever workshop – details on the workshop’s contents and how to sign up will be made available in early April. Before that I’ll hit San Diego at UCSD on May 18th, so this will be quite a trip!
But apart from these live shows news, I’m beyond excited to let you know that The Leaf Label are issuing for the first time on vinyl my special EP from 2006 Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique and are reissuing my long out of print The Golden Morning Breaks and Les Ondes Silencieuses for Record Store Day on 22nd April! For the first time my entire discographical output will be available on vinyl, and that means a lot to me. The Boîtes EP features new and truly stunning artwork from my partner in life and in art Iker Spozio, and all three releases are on coloured vinyl limited to 750 copies each: silver for the Boîtes EP, gold for The Golden Morning Breaks, and transparent for Les Ondes Silencieuses. They will be available on Record Store Day through participating shops in the UK, North America, France, Germany, Benelux and Italy.
PS1: A little birdie tells me that if you really prefer your vinyl on the black side, there is a possibility that Leaf might repress this on black vinyl later…
PS2: talking of coloured vs black vinyl, lighter colours are supposed to sound better than more opaque ones, so my colour choices are both aesthetic and acoustic. The test pressings by Optimal sounded really great so I trust that these vinyls will not only look beautiful but even more importantly *sound* beautiful.
November 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m delighted to announce that you can now purchase my first three albums and the Boîtes à Musique EP released on The Leaf Label on my Bandcamp: digital of course, but also CDs of all four records (including a specially-priced bundle), and black vinyl and a few *white* vinyl copies of my first album Everyone Alive Wants Answers in the Leaf reissue of this year. And talking of vinyl, if all goes to plan, I should have more great news for next year!
On a seemingly unrelated note (but there *is* a relation: what nurtures my life nurtures my music ;-), Plateau on plateau, a new online platform that invites artists to talk about their favorite things, asked me to write about something I really care about, and I felt it would be the ideal place to write about my passion for birdwatching. I’ve written tiny bits here and there about some of the birdwatching I’ve done while on tour, but I had never had the chance to try and articulate what it is about watching birds that feels so deeply special to me, so here goes! It even includes tips for beginning birdwatchers at the end, so now you can all ask for a pair of binoculars and a good bird guide for Christmas! ;-))) I’m leaving you with a picture of one of my absolute favorite birds, taken by the company I used in Lisbon on a great half-day of birdwatching I had while I was there for my last show in 2015, Birds.pt… this photo has actually been my desktop photo ever since then, I’m that much in love with them… please meet the incredible bee-eaters :-)))
October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m so so thrilled and excited to let you know that I’ll be playing at Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, next March! In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about playing at a festival: look at the line up and you’ll see why, it’s definitely one of the best festival line-ups I’ve ever seen!
When I heard about the festival about a year and a half ago and saw the previous editions’ line-ups, I immediately thought “Wouldn’t it be amazing if they invited me?”, so when it actually happened this summer I just couldn’t believe it! It’ll be a hell of a long trip (I’m calculating something like 24 hours: coach to airport + internal European flight + transatlantic flight + immigration and customs + internal US flight + transfer to Knoxville), but I felt I just couldn’t turn it down due to the amazing quality of the festival, and indeed I feel so honoured to play along musicians who are among the best of their respective generation and who for some have even made history with their recordings! I’m not only looking forward to playing but also catching as many of the other performances as possible and of course I’ll throw in a bit of Tennessee birdwatching! ;-))))
I’m leaving you with a short video edit of my performance last weekend in Montpellier at the Internationales de la Guitare festival in a beautiful space called La Nef (thank you Vassilis Spyrou for this video!). I was really ill with rhinopharyngitis and a couple of hours before the performance was still wondering if I was going to be able to make it, as I was barely able to sing, and I can say that without a doubt I had never performed while feeling so ill, but somehow I made it and even managed to have a good time thanks to the lovely audience – merci gens de Montpellier et d’ailleurs! ;-)))
September 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
This year seems to be full of birthdays and anniversaries for me: I turned 40 in May, and this September marks not only 25 years of music-making for me, but also 10 years of only dedicating myself to music on a professional level!
25 years ago, at the age of 15, just as I was beginning high school, I managed to convince my parents to buy me a classical guitar – THIS guitar which you see below, and can hear on my second, third and fourth albums. I had been in love with the Beatles for about 2 years and that summer of 1991, I saw two guys in Copenhagen doing cover versions of the Beatles on an acoustic guitar. I’d never seen anyone play live and I was fascinated, I literally could have stayed there forever, and on that day I KNEW that I needed to do this too.
I don’t think it occurred to me that I could make my own music, and yet that’s what happened right from the start. I took classical guitar lessons, but my teacher also gave electric guitar lessons and the day I heard another pupil playing electric guitar, I knew that I wanted to have a go at it too!
With those two guitars began a long musical journey, and I’m amazed and grateful that I’ve managed to keep making music for so long, and hope that this journey will continue for many more years to come!
But this September also marks another anniversary: 10 years of becoming a full-time musician. From 2002 to 2006, I taught English in a high-school, and in early 2006 I asked for a one-year sabbatical in order to dedicate myself to music fully, at least for that short amount of time. It was initially refused, then granted at the last minute in late August 2006, and I remember literally jumping all over the place when I got the news. Had it not been granted, I’ll never know if I would have had the guts to resign there and then, but something tells me that I may have, as my situation made no sense (I was getting so many live offers and had to turn down almost all of them, and I ended up doing surreal things like going to play in LA on a weekend and coming back to Paris to teach on a Tuesday morning…).
In June 2007 the Ministry refused to renew the sabbatical (theoretically you’re allowed up to 3 years in a row), so I officially resigned, since I was left with no other alternative than this drastic choice. Ironically enough, it was shortly after all this that I started to feel overwhelmed by some aspects of being a professional musician (some of you may remember my epic posts about this, back when I was still deep in my music-making hiatus). Truth be told, some things haven’t changed and I still feel the need to slow down regularly, but I’m also happy to say that some things have changed for the better: having a very supportive label like Thrill Jockey has really helped, and also gaining a sense of perspective thanks to the passing of time and the many talks I’ve had with other musicians and other creative artists, and seeing that basically we all struggle more or less with the same issues.
In any case, I’d like to end this post by saying that it really bugs me that we live in a society where the possibility of making a living out of your passion is not emphasized more often: now I’m not saying that it’s an easy path and that anybody can be successful at it, but I truly think that few things beat being able to spend your life working on something you feel really passionate about, and it’s *always* worth a try. For me it’s been music, but with the other passions I have in my non-music-making life (it was cooking and ceramics at one point, and now it’s birdwatching, sewing and yoga), I do see that many other individuals are “making a living” from their own passion. In July I went on a cetacean-watching boat trip, and to think that there are people who spend their life on a boat looking for and studying dolphins and whales, about 2 hours from where I live … now that just blows my mind! So YES to dreams and making them real! :-)))
As always, thanks to YOU for being there to listen to my music and reading my words! :-))) And thank you Isabel Dublang for the beautiful pictures!