Conversations with Celer

In March 2009, I attended the the Los Angeles Resonant Forms festival, where I got a chance to meet and interview the husband and wife duo, Danielle Baquet-Long and Will Long, known to the minimalist and ambient community as Celer. Only a few months later, on July 8th, 2009, Dani passed away from heart failure. I left Los Angeles with a bag full of custom packaged music from Celer, a newly made connection to a few lonely souls, and this audio interview, which I have finally transcribed.

Before the performance, we had lunch in an noisy diner, where we talked about the Buddha Machine, and the way you can play both versions together, and Danielle said that she received the first one as a gift on her first Christmas together with Will. We started chatting about repetition and I asked if they work a lot with audio loops.
We used to, more than we do now. We used to have the same exact portable reel-to-reel that William Basinski has, but it was destroyed in an accident about six months ago.

HC: Did you guys record a lot on analog tape?
Will: Yes, just because it’s easier to splice. We always liked the crisp sound instead of digital. We still record on tape, but I guess it’s more a professional process now.

HC: Do you do field recordings?
Dani: That’s kind of where I got started. I was living in India, and I brought a little recorder to record teachings and music. And then when I listened to it later, I thought that it sounded terrible, because you coudn’t hear anything that they were saying. So the recordings got put in a drawer for many years. And then when I developed as an artist and listened to them later, I thought that they were really amazing. They are so raw and gritty, that they totally capture what India is all about. Suddenly I could smell it, and I could see it. The pictures that I took in India… you look at them, and they just capture an image. There’s something missing. And I feel like the audio is one of the missing links.

HC: Are any of these recordings in your current work?
Will: They are mostly in the two releases we have on Infraction [ed: Discourses Of the Withered (Infraction, 2008) and The Everything And the Nothing (Infraction, 2008)]. They’re pretty audible throughout both of those. And those are very much tape loop influenced.

HC: So when you actually bring those into your work, what is the process like?
Will: We would just set up three or four different loops, on several different players, and then have a live-like session where we would just play them all together, at their own speeds, so they just kind of randomly mix with themselves.

HC: And are those being recorded into digital or still on tape?
Will: Usually just straight to digital. Mostly because some of the pieces that we have recorded are longer than tape reel. The tapes we own hold only thirty minutes. And we’re doing a lot of tape manipulation, by putting three or four strips of tape, so they’ll be going and overlapping with each other, but pieces of each splice would come through, and other times they’ll be just a total mess, since they’re interchanging… It’s constantly remixing itself. And that’s, by the way, what destroyed the player.

HC: Talk a little bit about your performance tonight.
Will: It’s supposed to be a performance piece for our next Spekk release. We don’t really have a release date for it yet, but it will probably come out next year. Spekk usually goes through several batches of releases a year, like two or three, and I think it is about to release a couple in the next month, and we may be on the next one. So our performance is a live version of that. This is going to be like a tester, in a way, because we made this piece to accompany the main album that will be on Spekk. Like as something to tour in Japan and play with the visuals just to support the release. And it’s just a really different sound for us.

HC: What do you mean?
Will: Well most of our music doesn’t have breaks in it at all. It’s just kind of like huge waves of sound. I wouldn’t say it’s drony, but it has this consistency to it. And this specific piece is like cutting… it’s like a CD skipping, but a lot more smoothed out.

HC: How long are the intervals between each skip?
Will: I don’t know the exact percentage. We just kind of found a particular length that felt good, that sounded good with little pieces, and then just put everything together. The one we’re performing tonight is about a 40th of a second. I think the Spekk CD is a little faster, but not much. It’s kind of like a little new experiment for us.

HC: As a husband and wife, what is the dynamic of your collaboration?
Dani: Actually for the past year and a half or so, it’s been easy. It’s the best part. Will has been working at night, and I’ve been working days, so it kind of gives us time apart to be isolated with the work, as opposed to any opportunity to bicker much.

HC: So do you ping pong the work between each other?
Will: No, mostly we’re working on different stages.

HC: Do you ever get excited about a specific moment and then call each other?
Dani: Actually the way we really started making music, learning on our own, was when we first met each other. At first we wrote letters to each other constantly, and that’s how it kind of evolved: “Look what I made. I made this for you…” You know it’s really simple.

HC: So were you making music for each other as gifts?
Will: Yeah, once we moved in together, we couldn’t really send letters to each other anymore. It was easier to make music for each other. Dani usually makes most of the acoustic recordings, and I do most of the digital editing, and that’s how it all comes together.

HC: And do you design all of the hand packaging?
Danielle: Yes. I also do most of the titling, except when we’re doing collaborations.

HC: Do you participate in the art direction when your album is released on another label?
Will: Yes, as much as we can. Generally all the labels that we work with are really great about working with the artists.
Dani: A lot of my photography has been used. Like the photo of the train station is currently featured on the cover of Engaged Touches.

HC: What do you tell your parents? How do you describe your music to them?
Will: We haven’t really figured out a way to actually describe it, so that they can understand what we’re talking about.
Dani: I call it sound art.

HC: But I assume you have played your music for your parents. And what do they say?
Yeah, I played it for my dad before. He’s not really accustomed to experimental music at all, but I guess when it’s relative to field recordings, or if it has a theme that he can follow like a concept, then he can totally get it and figure out what’s going on. It just sounds to him like something that he’s never heard. He sits there and listens to it and says that he likes it. He’s actually a great critic, because sometimes he’ll listen to something and say: “Oh, this made me think of this one time when I was out on a boat and a seagull flew over me”… and that makes me think: “oh, maybe we should put a seagull in there…”
My mom… well… she appreciates it, and when she listens to it, she is impressed with what we do, but she kind of goes off on a tangent and thinks “oh are you guys gonna make a million dollars and be on a radio”. Well, we’ll be on a radio, but not the one that you listen to…

Mom, it’s not what it’s all about…