FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘A flame my love a frequency

Chosen One: Colleen

leave a comment »

Interview with Cécile Schott.

This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music. ”

—Cécile Schott 

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Isabel Dublang

Colleen by Isabel Dublang ii

The world-renowned French artist Colleen has crafted one of her most captivating, absorbing and empowering works to date in the form of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. The latest record marks Colleen’s first fully electronic-based album, having departed from the viola da gamba instrument (which was integral to the last two sonic treasures ‘Captain Of None’ and ‘Weighing Of The Heart’). The results are nothing short of staggering whereby Schott’s singular melodies shimmer across the radiant warmth of shimmering electronics and textured rhythms, creating, in turn, eight resolutely unique and stunningly beautiful sound worlds.

The delicate synth tones of ‘November’ immediately transports you to an ethereal dimension that serves the perfect prelude to the album’s lead single ‘Separating’. The gorgeously rich polyrhythms of Schott’s trusted Pocket Piano and Moogerfoogers creates mesmerising soundscapes that encapsulate the French artist’s achingly beautiful vocals. A charged immediacy and striking intimacy exudes from ‘Separating’s  masterfully interwoven sonic tapestries. As Schott sings on the opening verse: “Separating from the world /Is like a drop of rain/Falling to the ocean floor”, it reflects the artist’s emotional response to the inevitability of death and life’s impermanence. The hypnotic refrain of ‘Separating’ emits a healing force as a myriad of utterly transcendent moments continually fill the human space like stars dotted across the night sky.

The stand-out instrumental  cut ‘Another World’ forges a deeply moving journey into the depths of the human heart.  A piece of music such as this truly reflects the singularity of this remarkable musician, forever pushing the sonic envelope and exploring new avenues at each and every turn. The production’s richness and warmth is a joy to savor, which continually evolves and mutates into various shape-shifting patterns (a cross somewhere between Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio productions and Nils Frahm’s synthesizer works). The ambient bliss of ‘Another World’ feels just like that: co-existing in some far-reaching stratosphere of unknown dimensions.

Winter Dawn’ is steeped in the darkness of anguish and pain: “The world had nearly ended and the sky was blue” is sung beneath rhythmic pulses of synthesizers. The glorious rise in the song forms one of the utterly transcendent moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’ as Schott laments “O dear soul, flesh and bones/Love alone is your home” beneath intricately layered and sumptuously crafted electronic passages. The dichotomy of light and dark permeates throughout as Schott pleads “Deep and warm, golden dawn/Shine some more of that light of yours”. An intensely beautiful and soul-stirring tour-de-force.

The gripping heart of the latest full-length comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’. ‘Summer night (bat song)’ is an intimate, heartfelt lament that conveys Schott’s deep love for nature. Lyrically, I feel there’s a closeness with the timeless songbook of Sibylle Baier or Townes Van Zandt in the innate ability to create an entire world – with such striking emotional depth – within a song. A deep sadness is etched across the “descending milky night” of Schott’s masterful poetic prose wherein the metaphor of the bat’s mystical movement conveys the necessity of change. A masterful song-craft.

Nature’s peace flows throughout the sublime ‘The stars vs creatures’. The glistening blue of a kingfisher by a river or the rare sight of a terrific red fox in the early night sowed the seeds for this magical song-cycle. Lyrically, the song feels more like a parable – a message of divine wisdom – that reminds us to savor life and appreciate each moment. The blazing light of hope shines forth like a million stars.

The album closer – and sprawling title-track – is yet another defining moment of this monumental work. This meditative lament casts a spell like no other as Schott’s beguiling vocals ascends into the atmosphere with eternal rays of optimism “so stillness now can reign again”. The extended electronic sections (a key part throughout the record) swells like that of the ocean waves as they traverse the vast human space. As the sun-lit horizon looms in the distance, we – the listener – are reminded just how far the journey has taken us: “I will call you when the sun has reached the final hour”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is a precious and divine work of art. To coin Carl Sagan, music such as this can “break the shackles of time”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

 

Colleen by Isabel Dublang iii

Interview with Cécile Schott.

Congratulations firstly Cécile on your truly moving and groundbreaking new album “A flame my love, a frequency”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this latest sonic marvel of yours. This sixth studio album represents something as close to a concept album as you’ve ever done. Rather than having to recount your specific memories of being in Paris – your hometown – during those atrocious terrorist attacks of November 2015, please shed some light on your mindset and outlook when it came to the immediate aftermath of this harrowing experience? For instance, you began to compose and make music again after a (much-needed) silence post these awful attacks, I would love to gain an insight into the feelings, colours, musical language that you soon found yourself heavily immersed in (and what would be the inception of “A flame my love, a frequency”)?

Cécile Schott: In July 2015 I had just finished the Captain of None tour and enthusiastically acquired a Pocket Piano by the brand Critter and Guitari and a Moog filter pedal from the Moogerfooger series called the MIDIMuRF. I experimented throughout the whole summer with the combination of the two and my Moogerfooger MF104M delay pedal (the one I already used on Captain of None), the initial intention being to create rhythms with the Pocket Piano + Moogerfoogers, which would form a kind of basis on which to play my viola. But somehow the two sounds did not seem to “gel” and I couldn’t find the excitement and freshness I had felt when playing the viola on my previous two albums. Instead, I did start to have little kernels of songs born just out of the synth and pedals, and I recorded these initial tests and took notes as I went along. This initial work period was suddenly interrupted by the illness of a close family member whom I had to go and visit immediately in France. I returned to Spain briefly, then went back to France again, and when I had to go back to Spain again, on the way back stopped in Paris on November 13th. So that when I came back, I found myself in the situation where I knew I had to work on a new album, but it felt like both a superficial and impossible task in the light of all the things that were happening on both a personal and more global level. For two weeks our flat stayed completely silent except for the online TV news, even listening to music just felt wrong. However, little by little, I realized that not working was not the solution, and that perhaps working on a new album might be helpful in taking my mind off the things that worried me so much. I felt an intense need for what I could call a joyful sound,and that’s when the basic ideas for the first songs were born: the instrumentals “Another world” and “One warm spark”, and “Separating”. “November” was also created early, as well as the basis  for “A flame my love, a frequency”.

The choice to have “A flame my love, a frequency” as your first fully electronic and keyboard-based album works so wonderfully on so many levels. The stark intimacy of your new song cycles – as your fragile vocals are masterfully embedded in sumptuous layers of electronic tapestries – and the cosmic quality of this latest voyage is further heightened by the minimalist nature of the new music. It’s this sacred space that your songs forever inhabit that makes for such an enriching, empowering and deeply affecting experience for the human heart and mind (which becomes the essence of the new album). Can you trace back to your decision as to remove the viola da gamba from your musical world (for now, at least) and I’d love for you to describe the various electronic instrumentation and studio set-up for the new album?

CS: I think that as a musician who has worked for more than 2 decades now, even if the first 12 years were not professional, I have a pretty fast understanding of when something is working or not. You always have to fully test out your ideas and give them a chance, but there comes a point where if something really feels forced, then you’re just wasting your time and not looking for alternative solutions that might work. I just remember that at one point it dawned on me that perhaps this album would have to exist as a purely electronic album, and because of the gravity of the situation, this drastic musical decision did not actually seem so drastic to me, or at least did not scare me as much as it might have done otherwise. The one thing I knew, from a composition and production point of view, was that if I was going to leave the viola behind for this album, then I needed to make sure I didn’t lose any of the characteristics of my music, which I see as a certain type of asymmetrical song structure, the combination of pop or at the very least melody and experimentation, and a warm sound.

As for the gear, I first saw the Pocket Piano at King Britt’s studio in Philadelphia during the Captain of None tour, and was immediately in love with its small portable size, and I was able to test the MIDIMuRF briefly twice, once again in King Britt’s studio and also at the house of my old friend French musician Dominique Grimaud. The Septavox came later, as I realized I wanted to expand the possibilities already contained in this extremely small but versatile setup. Pretty soon I made the decision that the album would have to be recorded live, because cutting into electronic soundwaves to correct mistakes (something I’ve always practiced in my past albums but always on acoustic sounds) is something that is extremely time-consuming and sometimes bordering on impossible. This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music.

Many melancholic shades and textures shimmer across these new recordings, Cécile but I feel there is an undeniable light of hope and strength and beauty that radiates from the depths of darkness. Aesthetically, I just love how you place several instrumental tracks among the vocal tracks (obviously something not new here) but it really feels like one of those dub treasures from the 60s/70s as one hears these beautiful, transporting instrumental tracks alongside the richly poignant ballads. For example, how the ethereal, blissed-out instrumental ‘Another world’ follows precedes the deeply affecting (and latest single) ‘Winter Dawn’ – and the many intricate arrangements and moments within moments that effortlessly occur – creates such a profound listening experience. I’d love if you could discuss more in detail about these intricate transitions that occur between tracks (and within tracks of course) and the aesthetic quality of “A flame my love, a frequency”.

CS: Thanks for your kind words Mark. Because the subject matter could not be anything other than the very large question of life and death and our fear of death and illness, I immediately felt that this would almost be a concept album, and my feeling was reinforced by the limited instrumental palette – something I’d already tested on Captain of None. The idea in the case of a restricted instrumental palette is not that the songs will be similar, but the reverse: *because* theoretically you are limited in terms of the variety of sound, you cannot hide poor compositional ideas behind a lushness of diversity of instrumental timbres. Instead, the song structure itself, melodies and chords, effects used dynamically to truly shape the direction and mood of the song, the choice to include lyrics or not, and the actual lyrics themselves – everything needs to contribute to the diversity of the album. And to make extra sure that I wasn’t using the same sound combinations over and over again, I kept a precise account of what synth settings I was using (which mode and type of wave), what pedals I was using and what for (just the filter pedal / just the delay one / both, was I using preprogrammed filter patterns, LFO, etc). I really became lost in this electronic soundworld and found it immensely enjoyable, and was surprised at how I did not miss the viola da gamba once: it just felt like exploring a different country and thinking that it was worth a visit in its own right, without comparing it to other beautiful places you’ve visited. Exploring the various combinations was endless, time-consuming too, and not always fruitful, but regularly I found a combination that really spoke to my ears and heart and each time they became a new composition for the album, and little by little I started to get a clearer idea of the tracklisting, which follows a rough chronological timeline: November obviously refers to the worst month of that year, Winter dawn to the subsequent period, Summer night (bat song) already leads to a more peaceful period, and The stars vs creatures and the title track are more about the remaining uncertainty that one realizes will always accompany life, this emotional rollercoaster that life will always be: there simply is no way of evacuating death from life, it is part of it, and we have to learn to live with it.

Colleen by Isabel Dublang iv

The gripping heart of the new album comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’ on side B. ‘The stars vs creatures’ is one of the most profound and moving ballads I have ever heard, one that reduces me to tears upon every visit. Please recount your memories of writing these particular songs, Cécile? The natural world and this magical, otherworldly realm that ‘The stars vs creatures’ inhabits exudes this remarkable source of intense healing. The lyric of “a single one of my feathers is worth a million stars or Venus” represents one of the most magical, celestial moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. 

CS: These were part of the 3 songs that were born with the Septavox during the second half of the making of the album: Winter dawn, Summer night (Bat song), and The stars vs creatures. Summer night (Bat song) is one of the darkest sounding songs on the album, and yet it was inspired by a moment of profound peace: in the summer of 2016 I once again visited my parents in France and was lucky enough to find exceptionally good weather, so spent my afternoons either outside in the garden or inside my childhood bedroom with the windows wide open, giving me a great vantage point to watch birds and do birdwatching-related readings or listenings (something I’d planned on doing for a long time). In the evening after dinner I particularly looked forward to watching the house martins flying high in the sky and sometimes flying right above our house, but the moment I loved even better was waiting for the last bird to fly and for the first bat to appear. There are only two or three bats every night, so seeing them always feels quite special, and over the past couple of years I’ve grown more and more fascinated by these incredible animals, and the fact that they appear right after the last bird seen flying, sometimes within seconds, strikes me as an amazing symbol of a passage from the world of the day and light to a world of night and darkness, which in spite of the commonly associated negative themes is actually brimming with life.

One evening, as I sat in my room, one of them literally nearly flew into my room, and turned around at the last millisecond. I marveled at the dexterity and perfection of its flight, and reflected that I wished that I as a human being were able to do the same thing with my thoughts: just stop them when they’re going in the wrong direction. I knew there and then that I would need to make a song out of that experience, and out of the peace that I felt in that room so loaded with memories.

The stars vs creatures is indeed like another chapter in those reflections on the power of nature and its redeeming beauty: I really do see a kingfisher regularly in a river not far from where I live, and I had a chance encounter with a red fox in Switzerland while birdwatching in a low mountain area – a fleeting second in which I saw him and he saw me and then was gone, a second that filled me with an immense joy that lasted for weeks, the sensation of having had a privileged glimpse into the life of a wild animal where he’s really supposed to be.

Were there challenges posed with the electronic instrumentation and particularly when this provided the sole musical backdrop (excluding your vocals of course)? For instance, I presume some the Moog pedals were used on your previous ‘Captain of None’ tour and I presume you acquired some new equipment to be added to the mix for the new record?

CS: The Moog pedals were really crucial in giving width and analog warmth to the synths, and I used my favourite panning, 50% Left 50% Right, on all stereo returns from the pedals, so that the music sounds like it’s kind of dancing between your ears. I also added my favourite plugins which I’d already used on Captain of None, one is a spring reverb emulation and the other a tape delay.

I must ask you about the gorgeous album-title and how you came about choosing this deeply poignant title (which embodies the music so perfectly)? Also, please talk me through the song itself, it’s one of those meditative laments that maps the impending sunlit horizon. I also love how there seems to be a strong correlation between the album’s title-track and the lead single ‘Separating’, feels like they are sister songs. The title-track reminds me of ‘Lighthouse’, with its hypnotic, meditative feel and the everlasting light of hope that shines forth. Also, this organ sound that melds with your voice creates such a heavenly, soul-stirring sound.

CS: I had the core of that title song early in the making of the album, but the words came to me right towards the end, and in general, this album’s lyrics were hard to write given the serious subject matter. I knew I wanted to stay on a “poetic” (for lack of another word) level because that’s really the only way I manage to write lyrics, and the image of the flame seemed to work for me as a symbol of something that we need to keep alive in times of hardship: some people use a physical flame to represent life or the loved one in times of mourning, but in my title I use the flame more as a metaphor for anything that we hold on to make us survive fear and pain. The frequency was obvious because it’s literally what I did when making the album: I got lost in a world of sound to make myself feel better, and I know that music plays that role for so many people. And since I was in love with the filters’ sound on the MIDIMuRF pedal, I knew I wanted to have a song where the ending would be just that, a play on frequencies appearing and disappearing, with a final resurgence at the end, like a sun coming back from behind the clouds, as a musical symbol of hope.

You must feel deeply proud of this magnificent new album, Cécile. Looking back over the making of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’, I wonder did one song (over other ones) form a gateway into the rest of the album, which allowed you to nearly see the path you were navigating, in a way? Or in some ways, did mistakes or happy accidents occur during any of the sessions that found their way on the final album? 

CS: I actually think the whole process of making an album is a combination of disciplined persistent work and loose explorations where you should just let go and let so-called accidents happen, and electronic music-making is actually the ideal playing field for this approach: there are so many parameters that can change a sound, and with analog gear, there is no way of saving settings, so it’s all about capturing the moment. I take notes because I know I’m going to take the album to the stage later on, so that is also a fascinating activity, learning to know how your machines react to try and replicate something that can be very fleeting. I just loved the learning curve to this project, and I really feel that a new door has been opened in my music-making.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

Written by admin

November 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm