“Here is an interview done by Jean-Michel Calvez of Clair & Obscur, a French webzine about EM and beyond...”
C&O Your double CD “Finally” released in 2017 is a compilation, a sum of “the most important tracks you produced”, you said. Upon to you this album is also “a conclusion or maybe an assessment, hence its title” and might thus be considered as a goodbye or final act. But one year later is released Catvaratempo composed in collaboration. Would it mean this new duet is a turning point in your musical activity or creating process?
BLIbecame a fan of electronic music in the end of the seventies thanks to Klaus Schulze, so he highly influenced my first compositions. All along my life I never stopped listening to music from Klaus Schulze and other musicians, I mean music made with synthesizers to compose dream music based on pads and sequences. Then when I started recording as a professional my own releases in the middle of the eighties, I gradually introduced in my recordings melodic elements which might have been composed before on the acoustic piano. Although I continued all along the nineties to compose tracks based on synths and sequencers capabilities, I became aware I preferred music focused on melodic parts. Since my meeting with German label Spheric Music, I paradoxically recorded and distributed Berlin school style CDs that perhaps brought to me some recognition inside a musical world that was not that highly sensitive to the melodic music I had already recorded all along 1986 to 2006. The impression people had about me (mostly in Germany) to be an artist devoted to Berlin school led me to express further my melodic mood through producing a compilation of tracks representing another side of myself, and this other myself I do consider essential too. This "best-of" is Finally. The title also conveys the idea this might be sort of conclusive release, as I doubt I will go on further with music tracks in this vein, the reason is I feel I have now reached the end of the way in this direction.C&O You have been known a long time for your solo CDs (and sometimes compared to Klaus Schulze), but far less for collaborating with other musicians. So can you tell us about your encounter with Frédéric and what led you to release a CD on which you are not alone to compose, in other words: not the “captain of the ship”?
BL It is quite true I really don’t feel motivated by collaborations. Through music I’d want to share emotions, so I think when you are searching deep in your own feelings and trying to translate this in sounds and notes, it is not that easy to get along with another composer… and it would be even worst if it were a band. Vangelis said « Have you ever seen any great composer in the past who was involved in a band? ». Naturally, although I don't consider myself as a “great composer”, I wouldn’t feel easily tuned to or compatible with any other artist, due to the way I use to work. However my friendship with Olivier Briand led me in the past to ask him to play keys in some of my tracks, and we worked together too on a CD titled Interférences. But to tell the truth, Olivier had just to add his own musical parts on tracks of mine, most of which were already composed, along with the same process for me with his tracks. Olivier and I stayed in the canvas of Berlin school style in which individual sensibility is less important than our own abilities to blend into a shared mood or global feeling. This probably happens very often in the world of synth players, and many of these artists turn to work with synths just for the feeling of freedom it promises. Klaus Schulze told quite the same thing in 1976 when his LP Moondawn was released. He explained in many interviews that there were bands only because a single musician could not play alone the whole of his instruments. About collaboration again: very recently, Lambert played with me on In Search of Silence and else, I have played once too on a track composed by Awenson.
It is easier to understand my project with Frédéric when you know that beyond melodic music and Berlin school I am fond of experimental and avant-garde music. It has been so since I was a child and when I heard Pierre Henry’s music but this feeling deepened when I heard of Marc-Henri Arfeux’s works released by Patch Work Music. I’m very interested in the idea of a feeling being expressed through sounds or even silence, instead of giving too much importance to the key I play. Thus, I was interested in Frédéric’s works (who I knew through Patch Work Music). He plays neither abstract nor electroacoustic music but his research works stress on raw sound material and his tracks of sequences are like nude stone still to be sculptured and polished. My motivation to play with Frédéric were favored by the fact he let me improvise freely on what his material would lead me to play, without any second sought or specific aims. In fact, I let Frédéric’s music tracks guide me, while I still stayed aware his avant-garde spirit mixed with my taste for serene harmonies would work as complementary elements. Frédéric has firm ideas about (his) music. Sometimes we don’t agree about it, e.g. because he thinks technology in se can lead us towards something, while I generally consider that the composer ought to know which are his aims prior to composing. In the end, Frédéric was right as both records we released together came far more naturally for us that we thought they would do in the first steps. But the most important is that we agreed on the idea of composing a so-called Berlin school set of music, while the music would not forget the search for atmospheres and may also tend towards avant-garde in mood. Frédéric and I do share the idea that the most interesting music opens ways and doors that let imagine other possibilities beyond, as the artist only takes the main track opened to him at the very moment he is creating.
C&O Having released two CDs with Frédéric, can you tell us what brings to you the process of creating in collaboration? For example, what brings to you these imposed/proposed rhythmic patterns that existed prior to your own composing process?
BLIonly considered collaborating with Frédéric as an experiment which might work or maybe not, and might not necessarily lead to further works as a duet. But both of us were astonished by our complementarity and the many doors and possibilities offered during the whole recording, issued from the sequences he proposed. It sometimes happens Frédéric records very strange tracks far from tonal scales or create very unexpected breaks that forced me to change either sounds or harmonies, things I would never have done or played in my own solo releases. The most stunning is that we achieved two releases set in the same vein, which simultaneously were very different from each other. On Catvaratempo we found back the vein of great tracks that are sort of invitations to travel for the listener, tracks where one can both closely and carefully listen to the music and freely let his thoughts fly and evade.C&O Which is the role of improvising vs formal composition in such a CD (same question for your other CDs, if relevant), keeping in mind improvisation always played a major role in electronic music generally speaking, of course in your live sets, but not only on stage (example, Klaus Schulze and many other musicians).
BL The music I composed can be the result of acoustic piano improvisations that progressively melt in melodies, chords or harmonies but for me, both Berlin school and avant-garde music are mainly based on the moment and spontaneous playing. The most difficult is to find the stamp that will be tuned to Frédéric’s proposals. Anyway, for one part of the track, what is played on the release is most of the times recorded from the first take. But I often had to stop playing when a sequence drove me towards harmonies I couldn’t follow in the very moment because I am less talented as Keith Jarrett for this. I usually begin with layers and bass sounds that will enrich the harmony, then I add a solo part in a second take, working once more on the sound in order to obtain something that will work well through the mixing step. Then I add some other sounds, noises, effects, and in the end the last polishing step with echoes and reverb.
C&O All along your long career, you released CDs on labels Musea, PWM, and now Spheric Music since 2012. Does it imply having with each of them a specific musical direction, color or mood? Of course, I think of Berlin school for Spheric Music. Can you tell us about your relations with this label? This German label perpetuates a specific tradition and mood with all that this implies such as a specific image, including a link with space and with so-called cosmic music, and this can clearly be seen on their homepage.
BLIdiscovered Spheric Music and Lambert Ringlage (the man who created this label) (thank to Patch Work Music). I had the idea I could send to Lambert some unreleased tracks of mine from my Schulze influenced era I recorded in the beginning of the eighties and saved on twelve CD-Rs. He proposed to release a CD with extracts from this material. Spheric Music is almost the one European label specialized in this music and I was proud to sign with them. And happy too that could be released some of the old tracks in which I still can hear the feelings I put in them in the past. Since 2012 I have developed friendly relationships with Lambert who is a truly honest, highly sensitive man. He only distributes and sells the music he likes, with no concession to the market. I guess he influenced me and led me to compose new floating tracks based on sequences and Moog sounds. I realized also that as a composer, Lambert is a great Berlin school artist, you really ought to to listen to his CDs, they are “must have” for any fan of Tangerine Dream.
It is true that Berlin school is associated with space and science fiction. I played with this kind of images on In search of silence, and Lambert played in this release along with me. Space is silence…C&O This link sounds less claimed and maybe somewhat blurred or more discrete on PWM releases, this can be guessed too from the titles or artworks of these CDs. It seems your CDs released with PWM, such as Amarres rompues or Correspondances, are more “personal” or, to some extent, somewhat experimental; same for the use of the piano which is quite unusual in Berlin inspired electronic music (while I remember Tangerine Dream too used piano on some of its older releases)
BL Iclaim my passion for German electronic music of the seventies and most of all the music of Klaus Schulze, but I think this music will have no future if it only uses and repeats principles that turn to clichés. Playing the piano, inserting natural sounds and musical breaks, getting closer to experimental and electroacoustic music and so on are means to open new doors and give a future to Berlin school music. I sometimes moved away from the most classic Berlin school patterns such as noise effects, layers, sequences and solos, just to prove that other ways can be used in synth based electronic music while keeping its pioneer spirit issued from the seventies.C&O On the opposite, Catvaratempo feels directly and fully obliged to Berlin School (this we can even read on the booklet!). Is this trademark still pertinent nowadays, from either its vintage flavor or its German origin (i.e. German, from a historical point of view)?
BL It can’t be denied both Schulze and Tangerine Dream have pioneered in a musical genre that was based on synths and sequencers from the very beginning of the seventies era. It must be reminded too that during this era this music was not yet called Berlin school but Krautrock or “Kosmische Musik”. Thus, whatever the name, sticker or “file under”, I claim feeling obliged to these artists because they have fueled me with the passion or electronic music and synths. In fact it must be most of all admitted that neither Schulze not Tangerine Dream have ever been equaled. As for K. Schulze, LPs like Timewind, Moondawn, Mirage, X, Dune, Audentity are second to none, same with Rubycon, Ricochet or Stratosfear for Tangerine Dream. These releases will stay forever as true milestones because as far as feelings induced by their music and technical skill are concerned, they are true classic that never will be out of fashion.
C&O Nowadays the so-called Berlin School music is quite set back from other more “contemporary” currents of electronic music (which were born later… but were greatly inspired by this Berlin School). How can you explain this decay? Can it be considered you perpetuate a current born in the sixties/seventies or on the opposite, that you kind of renew or refresh it? While fully contemporary (if taking into account the date of release), the music on Catvaratempo comes from, and remains faithful to the canons and patterns of vintage Berlin School. So, could it be in the same time seen as “contemporary” music (considering the meaning of this word as used by media)?
BLIfeel our civilization is decadent. German artists have composed stunning music nobody wants to hear any more nowadays, just because they created music that was made to be listened to. The very act of listening means staying quiet and sitting in front of high-end loudspeakers, not in front of a computer with headphones on your ears, or in a car. In fact, only very few people still really listen to music nowadays. Either in electronic or in rock music, media induce people not to listen but to move their body with the music. Music is no more made for the mind but for the body! Maybe you have seen videos of artists clapping hands during their concerts. Downloading, streaming and so on are new ways of consuming music, and this too is responsible of the voracious listening of music, which is incompatible with another kind of music requiring listening efforts, patience and availability. Being now able to have an access to music for free or at low cost is a shame because this leads to zapping. Some time ago I read an interview of Chick Corea who said he intended to have his music available on line, and the journalist told him: “If you want to delve seriously in something, you first have to invest in this thing”, this is just what I too am thinking.
For music fanatics who have been listening for a long time to authentic Berlin school and know it well, Catvaratempodoesn’t pretend to renew the genre; nobody will ever renew either Bach or Mozart (Schulze and TD were the Bachand Mozart in this music). This release just intends to offer new feelings and emotions and to show that this style has not yet delivered the whole bunch of what he may deliver. Then I have to say Frédéric sometimes creates and records literally never heard stunning sequences, because he dares to go where even the masters of this genre didn’t go because they wanted to stay accessible for their audience, so they avoided going too far.
And I hate the word “contemporary” music too because I think Mozart is far more contemporary than most of these guys making music by just programming a bass drum on whatever beat they want. While it depends on to the use you make of this word, I have to admit Catvaratempo is not that much “contemporary”. On the opposite, this release has been composed for a careful and quiet listening, not to move or shake your body and dance on the music.
C&O Maybe I insisted too much on the Berlin School trademark, which is obvious (nobody will deny this) but can be in the same time too simplistic and incomplete if not irrelevant to fully describe your style of music. Would you prefer to define or classify your music with other, more relevant words or concepts?
BLCategories can be useful as marks or references to help and guide you to select the music you like. The problem is that within a given musical genre, you might love one release and hate another one. As an example, while beloved by more or less the same fans during the seventies, Klaus Schulze’s and Tangerine Dream’s aims and projects were very different. I guess that Schulze’s ambition was to compose “great music”, so instruments and gear were only tools he used to reach and achieve an ambition he had in mind from the beginning, On the opposite, the guys of Tangerine Dream were influenced and led by the capabilities of their instruments and hardware to reach the best possible music they could do with that.
C&O As an example, a pan flute sound can be heard all along Eka (first part of Catvaratempo), which is quite unusual in a genre where people are far more used to hear “classical” synthesized sounds issued from analog oscillators, instead of say “natural” sounds imitated/emulated/sampled from an acoustic, fully recognizable instrument. Could you comment the choice of such a sound leading the listeners somewhat on the verge of the concept of pure synthetic music? While a pan flute is perceived as exotic and oneiric to European ears, would it have a different, more personal or intimate meaning for you? For example, something closer to (or inspired by…) the famous mellotron-flute sounds often used in the sixties and seventies era?
BL Well, I don’t really care that much about the meaning of a given sound in my music. I just wonder whether it may be useful for the musicality of the track and the feelings it may induce on the listener. Anyway many examples of flute sounds can be found in electronic music thanks to the mellotron, but not only that. To be remembered Steve Joliffe in Cyclone, Tangerine Dream with Schulze in Electronic Meditation, Genesis in Selling England by the Pound, Jethro Tull and so on. Flutes can be heard on Pink Floyd releases too, as in Ummagumma or Atom Heart Mother.
C&O Can you comment on the two language booklet? The use of English in a German release (i.e. not French) is quite logical; lots of French pop/rock artists do the same (an English booklet to help worldwide sales). But why no dual English/French booklet? Why didn’t both artists select either the same language or even better both languages for a wider audience. Doesn’t it sound strange or paradoxical?
BL Yes I admit this may sound somewhat strange. Well, you know, the release has been produced by Lambert, who loves both France and French people. Then Frédéric’s words are perfectly tuned to my own thoughts, and I was pleased that doing this way, our friends in Patch Work Music could access to the content in their mother language. Here we took an odd way to do but this remark proves that even in this field, some habits or rules should be taken into account. Well, this was also a way to help people keep in mind we are French artists, while released on a German label.C&O Which are your aims or projects for next year and the years after? Maybe one or some other collaborations close to Catvaratempo or in any other style?
BLI hope I could create within the following months a mostly melodic release, but I have to say I have not yet started working on this new project. I mostly would like to play quite simple tunes, in the same mood as if I was improvising on the piano but with beautiful synthetic sounds. I also have prepared a new compilation or 1981/82 tracks of mine I have somewhat arranged; the kind of highly floating tracks I still love much. I grant myself some more time left but I hope I will release one day a vol. 3 and 4 of Finally, a highly Berlin school oriented release, sort of “Best of” of what I had composed in this style, which would start with my very first 1981/1982 recordings up to tracks I compose nowadays. Now, when I look back to my older recordings, I often realize some tracks I recorded in the far past times are more precious to me than what I can compose nowadays. Anyway, the most important to me is emotion and feelings I can share and offer to listeners, but I think some wearing out of inspiration can occur, being tired to have to express your feelings on each release, year after year. When you are at the very beginning and recording your own music, you do this with lots of passion. And as far as I am concerned, even many years after, I still can clearly hear this passion when listening back to this music I created in my young years.C&O In fact, it seems passion and emotion conveyed by music are crucial for you, although all in all synthetic music (not only Berlin school) is often considered as cold, soulless and focused most of all on rhythms or trance (e.g. Klaus Schulze’s long improvised live sessions, same as in his studio releases). This is very different from any melodic touch and mood that can move one’s heart – I mean music one can feel, that conveys feelings too. Catvaratempo delivers sort of nostalgic mood of the seventies and of their vintage sounds, which can trigger strong feelings too, just like a moving melodic tune. Do you share this feeling about the fact a sound can convey an authentic emotional/reminiscing power comparable to the reminiscing power of a scent or a perfume, something close to the famous “Proust’s madeleine”? Does this have an impact on the sounds you used, such as this flute sound in the first track of Catvaratempo I already mentioned? Is this sound “analog” (a play on words here) to a human voice that can be preferred to another one in a song? In fact, is it true we may “fall in love” with a human voice or even a given keyboard or guitar sound, whatever the tune it sings or plays?
BL Maybe what pushed me to love Schulze’s music in the middle of the seventies is most of all my fascination for electronic sounds. When I still was a child and even before I has heard of Klaus Schulze, electronic sounds already intrigued/fascinated me. Anyway, Schulze’s music has always been very important for me as it revealed to me that melody is not really necessary to generate emotion and feelings. In fact, we can understand with Schulze’s music that even when there is no formally melody or tune played, there is some suggested anyway. In Mirage’s booklet, Schulze talks about this and explains the listener ought to add his own interpretation to what can be heard in the music itself. Although it is quite impossible to sing Schulze’s tunes, when you are in the mood to feel and receive his music, you can guess and hear inside yourself songs that will turn out to become your own songs. Bergson said: “The aim of art is to engrave feelings in you far more than to express them”, and all in all nothing could reach better this aim than a supposedly not-melodic music.
Of course I love melody based music too and I feel happy when I can have a tune I will be able to play many times and to modify on each take the way to play this tune. But I am aware too of the intrinsic limits of any melodic pattern, i.e. you can feel bored with it just because the tune is sort of imposed to your mind. Paradoxically I think that a tune freezes and limits the listener’s imagination; that is the reason why you can’t infinitely listen to a tune, even the most beautiful one. In the eighties, I thought of a concept to create music that may be simultaneously hypnotic and floating while including some melodic parts too. As an example, on my recent release Correspondancesimostly based on electroacoustic and field recording techniques, I have included some piano based melodic themes along with others based on Berlin school style. Anyway, I never intend to demonstrate anything, I just let my intuitions lead the way I compose.
When I was working with Frédéric, we composed together mostly Berlin school oriented music while the music opens ways towards other musical worlds. I avoided playing melodic themes in order to prevent any unexpected unbalance applied to his previous work on sequences, thus still allowing the sequences to play a major role in the final released tracks. Frédéric’s ever present improvisations along with his way to carefully avoid taking musical paths sounding too hackneyed or polished or perfectly tuned give to Catvaratempo a specific unusual color second to none, hence a release sounding simultaneously floating and experimental.
C&O On the same subject, I guess there would be much to say about the piano: the sound itself, the specific touch of piano keys, its influence on the way the music is composed, what pure acoustic piano sounds can tell to listeners, highly different from synthetic electronic sounds. As for me, great fan of vintage Tangerine Dream, the piano intro on Ricochet is one of the purest emotional experiences I could ever feel in the whole bunch of Tangerine Dream releases, and another one is the almost romantic tune in the middle of Monolight track (on double LP Encore issued from their 1977 US tour).
BLYes this is an excellent example of complementarity, sort of « Madeleine de Proust » effect (reminiscence of the past). Obviously, piano sounds will always echo on something hidden deep inside your mind; as an example the music of Chopin. And this is a very efficient way to give a romantic mood to a track. In fact, which is the most essential in electronic music is its sensitive content, its ability to drive specific feelings. On Ricochet (and even far more on Stratosfear), Tangerine Dream fabulously succeeded in matching acoustic and electronic gear and sounds. Rather than being opposed, electronic and acoustic sounds fully blend and complement one another. Schulze too created his best tracks with the help of Klaus Krieger’s drums or maybe even better with Wolfgang Tiepold’s cello. Acoustic instruments enforce the feeling of mutual exchange or communion between an “authentic” player and a listener. Which allows a better understanding of what makes all the difference between electronic or romantic Berlin school music and music issued from machines, these ones being made to measures for the body more than for the soul. Although Schulze or Tangerine Dream electronic music from the seventies were avant-garde in style, they delivered the feeling that there was a real musician delivering each sound or playing each instrument. And this “human” dimension makes a huge difference with most of contemporary electronic music, which is quite too clean and perfect and so, it could have been created by anybody or “anything” (such as a robotized hardware?)C&O You use to evoke emotion and feelings in your music. Could you tell more about what you have in mind, and which feelings you would want your music to convey?
BLKlaus Schulze said: ”I put my whole soul in my music”, and the same sentence I could apply to myself. For me, music is not only a source of pleasure. The artists I like the most are those who make me think I feel connected to something set inside myself, something that might be called God. So I feel inspired each time what I am playing makes me think I am in osmosis with something simultaneously intimate and great, and each time I can share this feeling. I feel happy when I think what I have played tends to connect me with something greater than myself, something that just travelled inside myself or crossed myself. So, it is not just by chance or for fun I have been playing or composing music. My releases have titles such as Prière, Sur le Chemin, Connexions, In Search of Silence and in such titles, I always intended to tell about sort of a quest of mine. Most of the time, when I feel I succeeded to express my sensibility and “put my whole soul in my music”, as Klaus Schulze said, it happens through quite simple things that can be felt inside the silences, that can be felt in the intervals between keys. Of course, I know this matter is quite subjective, and I imagine that what I can hear either in my music or in pieces of music I like, other people can feel it too, would it be in other music than mine.
C&O Can you tell us about your work in the PWM association before you met Frédéric?
BLSince the end of the seventies and my involvement in electronic music, I signed in associations of passionate fans: fans of Klaus Schulze at first, then technology and hardware freaks, then just musicians in the end. In 1995 was created the Patch Work Music association thanks to my friend Olivier Briand, this way was launched KS Mag, a magnificent fanzine. This association also produced a compilation CD, the title of which was just PWM. In 2009, the association decided to go one step beyond and distribute on its Internet homepage the CDs we and our friends composed then on a more and more regular basis. In order to find the way to create a quality homepage, Olivier and I gathered some artists we knew, in order to give them the will of investing in a homepage that would distribute and sell their music. Frédéric and I met for the first time during this meeting. We made friends at once as Frédéric knows how to share his passion and he drives us as artists in almost philosophical debates that give us the impulse and the will to compose music.C&O You have been releasing CD since the nineties on Musea label. So what else does the PWM association bring to you?
BLIhave been deeply involved in PWM since 2009. Paradoxically, I did so because at these times I was in a deeply no-inspiration mood to compose my own music. So, I thought I could find back the pleasure to compose and record again my own music through helping and promoting other artists. And this worked beyond all my hopes as I met Lambert Ringlage thanks to PWM, who helped me compose Berlin school music and new sequenced tracks. Being part of PWM and working for other artists, e.g. writing inspired by their music, brings me the will to share their works and to share mine too. I think that almost all PWM artists have heightened their ambitions through this process. Thanks to PWM, most of its artists are now referenced on important distributors lists such as Cue-Recordsand Groove Unlimited and can reach this way new electronic music fans previously who had never heard of them. Thanks to PWM too, these artists had the opportunity to play live, and this led too to the launch of Synthfest festival.
C&O Is there no internal competition between PWM artists?
BL For me, the main concept and aim of gathering artists under PWM banner was the opportunity to share contacts and fans, and to succeed in promoting French electronic music through us as artists. Up to now this worked pretty well. In 2009, we were only about ten artists: and now more than twenty. I think all PWM artists are now aware the success of a given artist will ever profit to the whole team and will help too to distribute and sell all other artists’ releases. I think nowadays both Netherland and German fans know there is also sort of “French school” that is perfectly able to compose good music.
C&O How is this “French school” you mention that special and different from Berlin / German or others electronic music school or genres?
BLIthink Jean-Christophe Allier (maybe me too) symbolize a specific and personal approach of composing and working on sound material. I think that to some extent we may symbolize what Debussy represented vs Wagner. German artists tend to privilege huge orchestral masses and loud heavy imposing majestic sounds, while French artists tend to privilege more delicate and suggestive tones. I admit this statement is somewhat rough and caricatured but I do think French electronic music tends to sound lighter while deep altogether.C&O You use the notion of “progressive electronic music” to describe your music. Can you comment upon this word?
BLProgressive is a way to describe our musical style, and since 2009 I have been trying to share this idea in order to highlight the difference between ours and other electronic music. The idea is to claim our homage and our connection to Tangerine Dream, Schulze or Kraftwerk, as they were themselves inspired by early Pink Floyd music. In the seventies, electronic music that pushed us to compose our own music was considered as belonging to the progressive genre. And I bet Jean-Michel Jarre is a fan of Pink Floyd music too. Hence, our music stays somewhat connected with progressive rock music and in the same time with earlier vintage pioneers of electronic music such as Pierre Henry.