Recently back on the scene after six long years with the challenging “The Weighing Of The Heart” , Cécile Schott speaks about her long way back to making music and the new one to including vocals in her tracks.
What’s been your musical education? Are you classically trained?
I’m not classically trained, I took guitar lessons from age 15 to 17, first on classical then on electric guitar, but from day one I started doing little compositions of my own, and by age 17 I was definitely into the idea of experimenting rather than following any particular tradition. I did take viola da gamba lessons from 2006 to 2007 as it is such a difficult instrument to master, and at that time I learnt how to read basic scores, but I definitely can’t “hear” music if I’m in front of a score.
Beside many traditional instruments, electronics played a role especially in your early works: how do you relate with electronics as “musical device”?
I am more attracted to “primitive” forms of electronic music, people who worked with tape loops and the first electronic devices in the 50s and 60s (in the style of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), groups like This Heat at the end of the 70s and all the amazing production work done by Jamaican producers in the 70s. I was never that much into so-called “electronica” except the best stuff produced in the 90s by people like Autechre, who definitely left a very strong impression on me. I have never felt my sound was “electronic” as such, even though I do use a computer for putting things together and for applying certain effects. However, I’m becoming more open now and more passionate about all that goes into the production of a record, and it’s quite possible that my next record will be more “produced” in that sense, although the idea will still be to have quite a raw sound, not a “polished” sound.
You recently released “The Weighing Of The Heart” after a quite long hiatus from your previous album; how come such a long silence and what happened in the meantime?
I started to lose the inspiration and motivation to make music in 2008, about a year after the release of “Les Ondes Silencieuses”: with that album I’d made an old dream of mine come true (making a “modern” album with baroque instruments), so I wasn’t sure where to go after that, and the practical realities of being a “professional” musician barely left me enough time to actually make music, let alone have a “normal” life.
In 2009 I stopped giving concerts altogether and made no music at all apart from a short score for Japanese film-maker Makino Takashi. I took lessons in ceramics, in which I’d had a strong interest for several years, and later on in stone carving, finding in those two activities a creative outlet for what I felt I still had in me, but couldn’t express in music anymore.
In early 2010 I started making music again, with very little confidence but with a great desire to find a new musical path.
What’s actually changed in your approach to music, working on “The Weighing Of The Heart”?
The need for a more rhythmical music, movement, light and colours within the music itself, and of course the introduction of the voice and lyrics. I feel like I’ve gone from black and white to colour, just like the artwork of my records!
One of the main features of the album is, of course, the appearance of your voice: how did you come to the decision of singing? And what’s the difference from releasing only instrumental music?
I have always listened to sung music, since I come from a pop background, but I thought I wasn’t gifted enough to sing. But after my break, the need to sing was just irresistible.
Fitting the lyrics within the music was the main difficulty and change compared to my previous music, especially because I didn’t want to do singer-songwriter stuff. And writing the lyrics also proved very challening, as i wanted them to be open and evocative.
Is there any artist you consider important in your musical formation or at least someone you feel close to your way of making music?
Arthur Russell and Moondog are two heroes of mine: their music is instrumentally very rich and inventive, with very personal sounds, but also incorporates the voice in a non-traditional manner with lyrics that are closer to poetry than to your more conventional “song lyrics”.
Other inspirations were:
Brigitte Fontaine’s poetical and genre-defying lyrics, vocals and music
Stina Nordenstam’s wonderful lyrics and often bold production choices
PJ Harvey’s last two albums for their unconventional beauty
The most dream-like songs of Tim Buckley for their layered soundscapes
Bands and artists from the 80s who were very inventive with their song-making, sounds and use of the voice: Kaa Antilope, the Servants, Laurie Anderson’s early work
Traditional English music and its American extensions
African music (Kora music, Gnawa music, the oud playing of Hamza el Din, and the more contemporary sounds of Mauritanian electric guitar and African musics from the 70s were a great source of inspiration) but also Central Asian music (particularly from Kyrgyzstan), early and medieval European music.
Which is your ideal condition for creating music? Where does your inspiration usually came from (both technically and emotionally)?
To make music I mostly need peace of mind, silence and long stretches of time, and those three things are not easy to find! Technically, I just sit down and play, and see if anything comes out of it.
Inspiration comes from listening to great music, seeing great cinema, reading fiction, art books, nature books, biographies of other artists, and just keeping my eyes and ears open to everything, especially in the natural world: animals and landscape are such an inspiration to me.
How would you describe the meaning and the goal – both personal and artistic – of your music?
Why anyone feels compelled to create is such a mystery. The meaning and goal are one and the same: i make music for the sheer joy of bringing into the world something that otherwise wouldn’t be there and which can hopefully bring joy to others too. It’s very important to me that what I put out should be really personal: if it sounds like other people’s music, I don’t think it’s worth putting out, as there is just so much music out there already. And the personal and artistic are completely mingled for me: I feel more complete as a person if I’m able to create.
Looping and repetitions of notes are somehow related to the concept of ”hauntology”. Is this something you feel close to your idea of music? Generally speaking, how much important is conceptualism in music, and especially in experimental music?
I don’t think of my music and of music in general in terms of concept: we’re lucky that music is one of the most immediate art forms available, so personally I’m not inclined to see it within a conceptual framework. However, for this record I thought a lot in terms of painting (colour/texture) and textiles (the idea of weaving, making patterns): I’m especially into Paul Klee and Juan Gris’s painting, and Sophie Teauber-Arp and Gunta Stölzl’s textile work.
Regarding repetition, I just love getting locked into a “groove” and let it “expand”: it’s more about a physical sensation.
You released “The Weighing Of The Heart” on Second Language, a label probably unique in the music market, for its philosophy and for its lovely care for packagings. Also, around the label has grown some kind of “collective” of artists that share a somehow common style: how did you get in touch with the label? And how’s been working with people who run it?
Both my boyfriend, illustrator Iker Spozio – who has been doing all my artwork since 2004 – and myself are friends with Mark Fry, the painter and musician. Mark released his last album on Second Language, and in addition to that, Iker himself has known Glen Johnson – head of the label – for many years through ordering records of his first label, Tugboat. For me it’s definitely a mixture of the human element and the more prosaic quest for a label that would leave me in control of the rights to my records, as opposed to a more traditional label that always keeps the master rights for a certain amount of time. I’ve learnt a lot about the music business in the past ten years, it’s a tough world, and I’m not ready to accept all that’s in it just because I’m supposed to – I do think it’s worth trying to do things in a different way.
How do you feel about playing your new (and old) music live?
It’s been so exciting to play live again, i’m so pleased about it, especially as i’m playing 99% new material. I still find the hours spent in airports and the lack of proper sleep challenging physically, so i think that for the future it’s going to be all about trying to keep a good balance between being at home working on new music peacefully and being out there playing it live.
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