You are starting to have quite a long career as a musician/philosopher. You are certainly not quite the same now as you were at the beginning. What has changed in you and how, and what has stayed the same and will probably stay the same forever?
by Frédéric Gerchambeau for the French webmagazine Rythmes Croisés (10 march 2021)
For sure, I’m not the same anymore!
Before 2005 I made music to express an inner flame. I gave a voice to an intensity that was looking for a way. An intensity that was regularly titillated by inspiration and led to explorations without end.
A major bereavement broke in and turned things upside down. Music became a composition and a link with the deceased one, each piece was a way of walking together. Poetic, sad, yet playful elegies – paradoxically. My intensity had almost sunk The music saved it from the waters.
Then I became aware that this intensity was bringing with it multiple universes. I had already come into contact with them through painting and drawing during my adolescence. However, the sounds also brought time and space to their deployment. And when I was brought to accompany a live set with actors-dancers in free performance, this intensity found a new playground. I explored the paradigm: to be anchored in the present, to set sail led by an inspiration evolving according to a dialogue, an-encounter with the constellation of performers on stage.
Around 2011 the opportunity to create my first album came to me. It was a kind of commission. Creating an album with specific aesthetic choices and continuity in the matter was a new step. My creative intensity allowed the syntax of my musical writing to blossom. It was refined through many small concerts.
The meeting with the wonderful singer Mukti was the climax of an ‘ethereal’ period.
Our concerts and recordings were live improvisations, and she not only had an exceptional voice, but also the gift of following me on my journeys without itineraries that however arrived at destination. I became aware that the organic coherence of these worlds was based on the foundation of my intensity. If it “overflowed”, like “taking an inspiration on my own account”, it was ruined. To receive this inspiring flow (which is a fire), a form of meditative asceticism (found in the martial arts) is essential. A discipline that I have integrated and still practice. The album ‘Hymns 64’:46” (produced in 2014), played in one piece in a 10th century Romanesque church testifies of this.
I continued to co-create for the stage, as well as for various projects with visual artists.
Then I met Africa (my native land – left at the age of one) throught a Burkinabé “tradi-modern” music group, which I became for a while the regular guitarist of. The group propelled me on stage in a different way from the experience acquired until then. With the rhythms I discovered another public, the dance became a pulsation and the joy an evidence.
At the end of 2016, as I was preparing to return to Black Africa for a short and inspiring visit, and after a period of many and exhausting hazards, I was struck down by a stroke. That imposed (temporary) limits on my mobility and the use of my left hand. To prevent me from going under sinking , my creative intensity took over. I met some Flemish electronic musicians and together we founded a band (Aerodyn). We gave a few concerts at festivals dedicated to this musical approach. Three different but complementary personalities and styles, who combined together in the quest for the ‘magic’ of the present and are aware of the risks involved. A joy!
Throughout my convalescence and despite the limits of my motricity, I composed several albums that in some way transposed the odyssey of resilience.
In my opinion, artistic creation is inseparable from the life of the creator, or at least from the way in which he lives the anecdotes of his biography, but it does not explain it.
If indeed many things have changed, the invariant would be this creative intensity – a sleeping inspiration that, like a volcano, awakens and makes fertile the land on which it has spread its territory…
As for having a “career”, which implies a framework in which it fits (in this case 13 albums), I prefer the notion of a journey – or path – made of meanders, evocative of a free course, punctuated by stages, resorts, residences, dead ends, detours and guided by the power of an inner horizon. All of this is illuminated by fruitful encounters.
I would like to return to the artist-philosopher or (musician-philosopher) articulation by invoking a quote from JANKÉLÉVITCH: “Music and philosophy are two worlds, two strictly parallel disciplines. They have, however, a common denominator: time. …] But the essential problem of music is the problem of the mystery, a mystery of which it gives the idea on condition that it does not intend to. “(in “L’Enchantement musical”, Albin Michel). I must say that I find myself completely at home here.
Where the “logos”, the discursive, explanatory and linear reason, is in apnea, music takes over; it is of the order of “mythos”, that is to say of the creative imagination in the visionary (and not phantasmatic) sense of the term.
I feel myself first an artist and then a philosopher. To tell the truth, it is the dash between the two poles that suits me best: one and the other. Both ask the question “what is man?” and “What is the mystery he carries ?”. It is the gap between these two poles (imaginary and rational, sensitive and cerebral, diffuse and precise, etc.) that opens up the field in which I “operate”.
What has happened to your music and the way you make it during all this time? What has changed? What has remained constant and will remain so?
What has remained the same and will remain the same, I’m convinced: I don’t try to make, it’s made through me. An inspiration that, while offering itself to the unknown, opens up unknowns. It touches on this “I don’t know what” to use the beautiful expression of JANKÉLÉVITCH.
To create I put myself in a state of availability, that of letting myself be surprised. In “open presence”. New instruments, unexpected associations, choices of sound colors, impressions, states of consciousness. My process is quite close to the modalities of Chinese painting: welcoming all possibilities, avoiding imposing or freezing a fixed device, letting the flow of transformations take place. Then I ask my body, which will tell me “yes” or “no”.
This “open presence” will refer to the listener’s own presence, to the space of “inner duration” that he is ready to explore within himself or not… Which can be confusing. I agree.
What has changed is that this “open presence” moved from being relatively “distant” to being closer, “warmer” in a way, enriched with rhythms, melodies, panoramic views while welcoming the space of silence. It is also more and more carried by a fine joy that is emerging. And it becomes more perceptible even though, in reality, it has always been there.
Basically, what defines your music in its essence, and maybe even, if you could tell me, in its unique aspect?
Formally, it could be classified in a common genre (electronic music) and specified according to the sub-genres which are not lacking: Berlin School, space music, ambient, new age, dark ambient, jarresque music, darkwave, ethereal, chill-out, downtempo, cinematic… However I don’t like these classifications very much, there is a bit of everything in my music, like the different types of pigments on a painter’s palette. From contemporary music to shamanic music, from electro to Indian ragas, from rock to techno, from ambient to jazz… The playlists that feed me include David Sylvian, Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Virgin, Magma, Carl Cox, Avrô Part, Manu Dibango, Luc Ferrari, Kraftwerk, Phil Glass, Alphex Twin, Ry Cooder, Marley… to name but a few. All these flavours stimulate my “auditory palate” and are more or less reflected in my creations.
In a more generic way, my music is neither impressionist nor expressionist, it would rather join the current of so-called “inexpressive” music initiated by Satie, Ravel, Milhaud and then, much later, Brian Eno. I like saying that my music brings together the vast with the intimate in a powerful, joyful and benevolent dance. And this takes a form that I call “sound calligraphy”.
My last column about you plunged us into the philosophy of Spinoza. Now, with Nut, we are in the middle of ancient Egypt. How does one go from Spinoza to Nut, in your opinion or perhaps in spite of yourself? And in the end, why ancient Egypt, why Nut, who is she for you?
She is the infinite present of creation.
Nut has fascinated me since I was 13 years old. This female figure who, according to the myth, swallowed the sun every night and makes it be reborn every morning, gave us a glimpse of the night as a space of gestation, an immense matricial field concealing a mysterious process. Metaphorically, the sun must have been regenerated or recreated in some way during this transition, to be daily revived. Ancient Egyptians represented the goddess with an arched body which, like the vault of heaven, overhangs the day, the phenomenal real. Her limbs, which touch the ground, symbolise the four cardinal points.
During autumn 2020, another album was finished but its release scheduled on November was suddenly suspended (it will be available on spring 2021, in another more favorable context). Firstly, furious by this delay, I decided to release a new album in order to end the dark and chaotic year 2020 with a note of hope : a note of an alchemic crossing, a possible transmutation.
During a conversation, I talked about my cat which was entrusted to me whan I was 13, as partner of my adolescent melancolias. She run away every night and came back, faithful and perk, every morning. During ten years almost, she was an unwavering support, my first fan in a certain way. I named her “Nut” as an explicit reference to the goddess. Then, I had my subject ! And I dove again in the cosmogonic universe of the ancient Egypt. So this album is also an homage ton Nut, my dear kitty.
The Spinoza’s “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature) resolved in its own way and with reason the abyssal tension between the creator and his creation. The One manifests itself in the Multiple which is an infinite expression. The album (“Amor Mundi” released in 2020) explored the dimension of the Nature, perceived as an infinite flow.
With Nut, we are in the (cosmogonic) Myth of the origins of the world, what caused it and how the constitutive elements were distributed.
Nut, the goddess of the starry vault, is the daughter of Shu, god of air (who will become Ra later) and Tefnut, goddess of humidity. United with Geb, god of earth, were born Osiris, Seth, Isis, Nephtys and Horus. A whole narration that organises the story of the world, a conception of the world. Where its “creation” its emergence, are continually renewed in the present. Thus I perceive the myth.
As a philosopher, you skillfully point out, and this is indeed remarkable, that ancient Egypt was the only civilisation where the Earth was male and the Sky female. What made you insist on this point? Why is it important to you?
Ancient Egypt got the fertility of its land from the Nile, not from rain. According to a legend, Shu, a father jealous of the love between his daughter Nut and her husband Geb, decided to separate them for 360 days. Nut succeeded in winning the dice game against Thoth (the god of time), who then offered him 5 more days, making the year pass from 360 to 365 days. During these 5 days, Nut unites with Geb to give birth to their 5 children.
For me, this evokes a relationship to time and creation that is reversed. Nut gains time by playing, and by outwitting the Master of Time. It reminds me of the experience we have all had one day: this or that long-awaited thing ends up happening at the right moment, the famous greek “kairos” A moment that does not necessarily correspond to our legitimate but often arbitrary expectations… Coming at the right time, it happens in a way when everything is ‘holistically’ ready. The metaphor of childbirth would be appropriate here, or that of the fruiting of a tree. A praise of waiting, of a fertile slowness. Where speed is measured and slowness is effective.
This also induces another societal imaginary that is no longer exclusively vertical and hurried. It is the reversal that is appealing. It gives the feminine a dimension of wisdom and protective power. Let’s remember that women in ancient times had equal rights with men and often, in times of crisis, they were called upon.
How did you approach musically, and especially as an electronic music composer, the fact of having to immerse yourself, and consequently us, in ancient Egypt?
I wanted to avoid any exoticism or “acting as if we were in Ancient Egypt”. To this end, I immersed myself in the qualities that the ancient Egyptians attributed to the goddess and which have been found and translated. A way of accessing the poetic charge contained in this symbolic thus made intelligible space. Here are some of Nut’s adjectives: “She contains a thousand souls”; “In whose hand is always”; “She who listens”. Musically, I have set up immersive chromatic vaults studded with playful, sometimes heady, if not danceable ritornellos. A “multi-dimensional” sound universe. As one abandons oneself to the enveloping and panoramic firmament to be won over by a deep emotion of “peaceful connection” and gratitude.
Basically, since we are talking about Nut and often very danceable electronic music, isn't there an abysmal paradox between the multi-millennial past and ultramodernity? What does the philosopher in you think about this when he is not a musician, if this distinction is possible?
I don’t really see it as a paradox but rather as a continuum. These myths, like those of other ancient cultures, are constitutive of our world and its vision of itself. Myths are the manifestation of one of the main structures of the human mind (if we refer to Mircea Eliade), and the expression of the archetypes that organise its imagination.
Look at India, whose founding Vedas go back several millennia and still permeate this society: they even inspired some physicists in the nascent field of quantum mechanics in their search for a model to explain what they were in the process of uncovering: the certainty that it is uncertainty that lies at the heart of matter!
What, for us, dates from 3000 BC, is posed from a relative year zero that legitimises a perspective: this of the person writing the story. Who knows if one day our 2021 will not be the year -150 of another era? That our era will then be called ‘twilight’ in a future that will rewrite its history differently, from another perspective.
The very notion of history as a succession of events is also correlative to a concept of time that is linear, moving from a given point to another, and envisages a temporal finality. Other civilisations live time in spiral cycles and do not expect a glorious and final advent that would resolve everything (the famous “Great Evening”); they do not consider an initial moment of creation and an end, but a continuous transformation…
If I place myself at the global level of the Anima Mundi (or collective unconscious, or intelligence of life) I find an omnipresent and timeless continuum in which humanity unfolds.
Your name as a musician coming from the sacred language of India, Spinoza and his philosophy and now Nut and ancient Egypt. What is the deep connection?
Anantakara is indeed a Sanskrit word meaning “to make without limit”, “ananta” for infinite and “kara” for form. I chose it because it carried the idea of an infinite unfolding of the One in the Many so that Totality could be realised. The world, nature, the sensible world, the body are not decay, but bearers of the fundamental unity that underlies the manifestation of the sensible world. A proposition I find in Spinoza.
The figure of Nut too, in the sense that, as the mistress of life and death, she is the protective and regenerating enveloper (she assures each being of resurrection after death). For me, the deep link between these different elements is found in a “re-enchantment” of the world that recognises the fundamental unity of the world and of man.
In the end, what stage or achievement did this new album represent for you and how do you still think, after so many diverse albums already, to bounce back to other, even different musical projects?
For this new production, I continued the work I started on the album “Momentum Lapses” (2018): architectures where chord progressions take more and more space. And more combinations between soundscapes and rhythms at the heart of dynamics that unfold between the mobile and the immobile, between high and low.
As for bouncing back, it is my creative intensity, supported by my inspiration, that leads the way, and I have full confidence in them… so I follow the movement!
In the immediate future, I am still co-creating with the Burkinabe singer and musician Ras Madi on a formula that is a meeting between West Africa and ambient electro. There’s a lot of potential to explore here. With more rhythms and songs.
I would also like to practice film music. Documentary, series or fiction. I’m looking for projects in this direction.
So, I leave it to life to concoct surprises for me, big inspiring gaps, quantum leaps or small steps…
What else would you like to add on one or more subjects already discussed or not, or simply as a conclusion?
An extract from a recent poem.
Slowly but surely
Raise your head to the horizon.
An angle of view
Declare a dimension.
Extracting oneself from the basement
The roots pulsate at the top,
many thanks to Jim Richard for editing the translation from the French text