Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?
I would say my very first piece of gear was my cello, it was built by a guy named “Chevrier” in Mircourt (France) in 1810, the varnish seems to have been applied somewhere in Italy but I don’t have any further details about this. I also used my bow, a Millant made at the begging of the last century. I recorded the first tracks using my pair of vintage Schoeps M221.
How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?
That is a tricky question for me. I have been using many different setups. The very first one was in the house of a couple of friends of mine, quite isolated. I just used my laptop, a sound device (I believe at this time it was a MOTU Ultralite) 2 mics (one far and one close), and my cello, my bow. Then I installed quite the same setup in my room in Paris, and in my parents’ house in the south of France (Banyuls sur mer). I added to this an extra screen and a Coles 4038. I changed my sound device for an Apollo Twin by Audio Universal. I also started using a few electric pedals, mainly the POG2 by Electro Harmonix, and some gear from Strymon.
Later I spent 5 weeks in the marvelous studio “Labo & Sea” in Trouville. It is a studio related to the famous “Labomatic Studio” in Paris, Champs Elysées. This is a fully equipped studio, with a great desk, 3 screens, a lot of things that I don’t really know how to use… Benedicte Schmitt, who takes care of this place with Dominique, helped me on the first day to build my setup, and then she left me to my own devices.
I have also spent two days in a Paris studio “studio des variétés” with my friend Angy Laperdrix. This was in a moment of panic when the tracks made no sense to me. We mostly recorded additional takes. And for the track “1999” that one was composed and recorded in Benoit de Villeneuve’s studio, with him. It is another very well-equipped studio in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris.
I spent two periods, and the most important for the album was the second one, in David Chalmin’s studio, in the Basque Country, the studio LFO. It is a noncommercial studio, but maybe one of the most amazing places to record music one can find in France (and abroad). It has a huge room, surrounded by nature, all perfectly built and shaped and equipped, where the track “E.T (Extra Terre version)” was recorded, and also most of the final takes. David was the engineer, and he put maybe 8 microphones around my cello. We opened the windows to record a bird while I was playing the first take of “E.T” and the whole album was mixed there (we spent 6 days together on it). I cannot describe all you can find (gear wise) in David’s studio, but it is all so beautiful, and wisely chosen, It really felt magical to get to work there, with David.
Tell us about your favorite piece of hardware.
Haha, you will be disappointed. I recently and finally found a solution to feel comfortable when I record my cello alone at home. It isn’t easy with this instrument to go from playing to the computer, making some edits, putting the rec bar on the right place, push “REC”, Stop, watch the screen while recording. The cello is too big between the computer and me. I really had trouble, hurting my neck, which started making me feel anxious. It was in Labo & Sea that Benedicte showed me the solution: a Bluetooth keyboard and a Bluetooth trackpad to control my computer from where I am seated. This is a life-changer to me!
I also have a very special machine, it is an electric bow, made by Leo Maurel. It is basically two leather bands mounted on a rotator engine, that I can control with a foot pedal (for the velocity of the rotation). I put this on my 4 strings and the cello transforms itself into a crazy kind of hurdy-gurdy loud as a bagpipe… I love this. I use it live a lot.
And what about the software that you use for production?
I’ve been using Logic Pro for years now. The first time – a very long time ago – it was because I pretended at a Festival (ATP festival in England) that I was a sound engineer, following my friend Vincent Moon on his gonzo shootings in this crazy sex, drugs, and rock’ roll festival. I was holding microphones for him. Very late in the night, I had a (drunk) chat with the producers of the movie. They asked me “will you also mix the movie?” and I answered “For sure!” A week later I received a hard drive at home with all the multitrack board recordings of the festival. This means a live show from Mercury Rev, Portishead, etc… I had time in that period of my life. So I cracked open Logic and started to mix those for the movie. By instinct. I didn’t even know how to do a crossfade at this time! I sent the results, after a few weeks of day and night instinctive work (all saturated, very strangely paned, etc…) The answer was “hell we have never heard anything like that!” They found it awesome. It was actually full of big mistakes, things that at school they teach you that you shouldn’t do 🙂 And it made the sound of these movies very very special. This is how I started…
For the live show around the album, we work now with Ableton Live. It’s a whole new world for me, but I knew one day I was going to use this software, as many people had shown me how infinite the possibilities are. This is happening now for the live show, and it gives me the possibility, with the help of Basile 3 – who is on stage with me – to play the album live without falling into the trap of a solo played on backing tracks or to be stuck in loops.
Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on and do you think one day you’ll have it?
Gear comes because I am looking for a special sound or technique, and when this happens I ask around, to my “geek” friends, and they help me find the best solution! I’d love to have like 6 pieces of my electric bow and to invite 5 other cellists to play with me. But apart from that, no, not especially.
Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?
On the album, there is the sound of the shore at the end of the first track. This was recorded with my Sony Ambeo, which are binaural microphones, plugged into my ears. At the very beginning of this track there is some sound of “emptiness”, I wanted to make the listener feel like floating in space. This is the sound of the shore, treated by David to get to this point.
On 2359 I sampled each note, to edit them in order to make a phrase played faster than a cellist could play. It is funny how unnatural it gets right away. It feels very synthetic, yet it is an all-natural cello. On this track, we also used a “Biscuit” pedal for distortions in the middle.
On “E.T. (Extra terre version)” we just opened the window in the studio while recording the first track (an arpeggio, played with the bow). So the bird you hear is actually playing with me, not post-production added. Then I re-recorded several times the same arpeggio above the first take, but detuned, this gives an artificial feeling too, like some kind of weird chorus, but it is actually all-natural. There are many other little tricks like this, that feel synthetic in the album but are analogue.
What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?
It is a very sophisticated one. We are two on stage. I only have my cello, a looping station (Electro Harmonix 95000), a 2-button MIDI pedal, and my electric bow. On the cello, I have dpa4099, which gives the beautiful natural sound of the cello, with all the air it needs. This goes directly to the front speakers. Then I have two piezo mics, from K&K, They are used to treat the sound with no parasites, feedbacks, or monitors pollution. And in between, that serves for the two options, I have a REMIC, very good cardioid mic, that goes under the cello neck, and has a beautiful sound and not so much pollution. Those go to Basile’s setup. He is using two iPads, one with some software like granulators, samplers, etc… the other one that monitors is Ableton. He receives my sound and treats it, loops it. He also plays his sounds. I have earplugs, just for the tempo and some cues from time to time.
What is the most important environmental aspect of your current workspace and what would be a particular element that you would improve on?
I don’t work very much at home. I have a pair of monitors (Focal Solo 6be) a screen, my Apollo twin, a little MIDI keyboard… this is enough for what I do. I mainly work in venues or studios. Maybe one day I will own my own studio, in this case, I would like it to be a studio where the daylight comes in, I have trouble with the basement studios. It’s important for me to have daylight. I am not a vampire, apparently.
What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?
Mmm, each time they are different. Sometimes I hear something, music that has most of the time nothing to do with mine, or with the cello. I get inspired by the energy of it and try to find a way to approach it with my instrument. I know it will be radically different from the inspiration since the cello is limited. That is a start sometime. Other times I just start with a little phrase, that has been in my mind – sometimes for years – and I build something around it, see where it can take me. It is always very instinctive. Never deeply planed. I have no specific writing skills or techniques. Mostly, after a certain point, I see the limit of the proposition, and this is where the troubles can start. How to break this limit. It can take months for me to find the solutions. I am very slow in that process.
After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?
Since the album was finished I did some listening with close friends and family. I love the idea of sitting down and listening to the album with other people. It feels so different from when you hear music on your own. The main mistake is to play it to people when things are almost done. I did this with this album, with friends who are great musicians. The order of the songs and the songs themselves were still in process, very close to the end. I felt so depressed after this. I felt I failed heavily in the whole process. I couldn’t see any solution and felt sorry for my friends to have had to listen to it until the end with me. Until now, of all the albums that I have recorded, the only one that I really like to listen to for my own pleasure, as if it was the album of somebody else, is the one I did with Casper Clausen.
Let’s see how it will be with this one. Oh, and since Tancade was finished I have had two “public” listening sessions with friends, on two very different systems. First on a pair of Klipsch, with a very audiophile system, and this was amazing, I kind of discovered the music again, hearing things that I hadn’t suspected, and such a great landform. The second time was on a 6kw sound system that I co-own with my ancient Collectif Sin~. This wasn’t a good system to hear it on. So yes, it depends on the music I guess…
Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?
Like many amongst us, I lose a lot of time in front of the screen. I’ve got back to reading since a few years ago and finished amazing books. I often take a loooooong breakfast. I take care of my plants. I don’t breathe music, I work enough to focus on my work only when it is time to work. And since I run a little label called “Les disques du Festival permanent”, this takes me a lot of time. I love to cook when I have time. Nothing very original 🙂
What gets you inspired?
Everything I guess. I am not passionate about anything. I feel like I have many layers of life, and all mixed so there is that unique thing that is my experience of life, my knowledge about this world, its mysteries, its paradoxes, its different options, everything that I know, everything that I don’t, but I have the feeling of it. There are no words to describe that great mix of the totality experienced by each one. Maybe there is music to describe it.
And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?
I think there is no such thing as “electronic music”. There are “electronic instruments” that play so many different kinds of music. I don’t know much about the state of music today. I hear on one side productions that are extremely well mastered, on the other hand, productions that are raw and greatly poor. And in between those two hands all possible shades. I will not give examples here to say what I mean because it feels infinite and every day there is something new to discover. I am amazed at how inventive this all continues to be. I can just say that from Skrillex to Aisha Devi thru Andy Stott, Eartheater, Pritchard, Xiu Xiu, Tim Hecker, Visible Cloaks, May Roosevelt… they all inspire each other, and that makes music played with electronic instruments so rich and vivid (oops, I did gave some examples in the end)…