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15 Questions to Mathieu Ruhlmann

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Things are well here, thanks. I am in my studio at home, just outside of Vancouver in a primarily farming community, though the city is rapidly making its way here.

What’s on your schedule right now?

I am currently working on a collaboration with a field recordist from the desert of Arizona, Banks Bailey, that should be finished in the coming weeks. With Celer, we completed the follow-up to Mesoscaphe to be released on Spekk in early/mid 2011, which is just getting mastered now. Will (Celer) and I are preparing a tour in Japan to coincide with the release.
Quite a bit of collaborations are on the plate for 2011. Also, preparing a couple installations slated for the New Year as well a solo release is taking shape.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the country you are currently living in?

As Canada is such a large country, I am not aware of much of what is taking place in the different provinces but speaking from my perspective there has been a strong foundation built here in Vancouver with R. Murray Schafer, Hildegard Westerkamp and Barry Truax work in the 1970’s in acoustic ecology and environmental sound work. There continue to be organized sound walks throughout the city as well as various concerts and installations pertaining to these fields. There are also performance spaces and art galleries throughout the city that offer opportunities to present work.
As with most of the world currently, the government here continues to cut arts funding drastically, though local individuals and organizations are taking their own steps and creating a way.

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?

There is definitely a tradition to the type of music I compose that I feel connected too, those individuals who went out with a microphone and recorder in hand and recorded their surroundings. I have been inspired by the ethnic recordings of Laura Boulton and her work. Though quite removed from that, this idea of going out and recording my surroundings has been rooted in a similar vein.

In terms of composition, what do you consider your main challenges?

How would you describe your method of composing?
In most instances, my initial impulse to compose is based on a small concept or idea that came about from a discussion, book, thought, or some visual element. I then research and gather sound, which in most cases changes and alters my initial intention. In other cases, I come across some object or material I use to create sound with for no real reason other than curiousness.

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your work?
My background is quite varied. My family is from Dambach, France, a small village which lies on the border of Germany. My family has lived in Germany, New York, California, and Texas. After finishing school I lived in Australia and now reside in Vancouver. How this is reflected in my work I am unaware, though I have always felt a strong tie to those who have gone before me.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

In field recording, this line is very thin. An artist can record a natural sound environment and present it unaltered as a composition. Does the position, selection, or type of microphone instigate a composition? Is taking ownership of sound a composition? Does the act of having a hand or altering the material make a composition?

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

I use both quite intertwined. When working with materials and instruments I am reacting to the sound and space I am working in an intuitive way, with no preconceptions. I then use this source material in composing.

What does the term “new” mean to you in connection with music?
I think John Cage opened the gate so far in reference to the idea of ‘new’, can anything ever fall under this idea again of a new music, as everything is encompassed? I would connect it with a new musician, a new label, a new work, or a new platform being presented.

Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?
Working outside of sound with video and sculpture adjusts your limits and concepts. I have been able to incorporate various angles and aspects or ideas though multimedia. I do feel though that individually each element should be able to stand on its own.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
In most of my performances, I have set up some small guidelines and have let it develop from there. In a lot of the materials I use when performing, such as insects or boiling liquids, I don’t have much control over the outcome so requires a bit of adapting. I enjoy this uncertainty.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?
Though dependant on your views of the Internet, it has allowed a wider lens on non-mainstream arts. There are numerous avenues now to present sound work to greater audiences that would not be exposed to it previously, though in return more music is being presented. In this respect it is much like the advent of acrylic paint. Previous to acrylic paint, art was primarily created by professionals with oils, tempera, or gouache. Now you have grandmas, hobbyist and children creating paintings. Primarily it ends up in the walls of their own home but you also can find some gems. The sound world is becoming much like this. Similarly, it is quite common to find sound installations in the major museums of the world. I think currently it has already reached a far wider audience hopefully without to many souls being sold.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Though I am sure I am leaving some out, something along the lines of: EKG. Loris. Janet Cardiff. Minoru Sato. Ute Kanngiesser. Logoplasm. John Grzinich. Alfredo Costa Monteiro. Lee Patterson. Steve Roden. Jeph Jerman. Ivan Palacky Jana Winderen. Joel Stern. Corey Fuller. Olivia Block. Mark Peter Wright. Eric La Casa. Lee Patterson. Magda Mayas. M.Holterbach. Giancarlo Toniutti. Jez Riley French. Toshiya Tsunoda. Annette Krebs. Jacob Kirkegaard.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
No, I have never thought of trying to create something like that.

Picture by Devon Hjorth.

Mathieu Ruhlmann Discography:
Two Stills Concrete (S'agita) 2004   
Broken Vessels (Mystery Sea) 2004   
The Earth Grows In Each Of Us (Afe Records) 2007   
Mesoscaphe/ w. Celer (Spekk) 2008   
Tsukubai (Unfathomless) 2009   
Gravity Controls Our Myths (Semperflorens) 2009   
Fourteen Worms For Victor Hugo (Gears Of Sand) 2009   
As A Leaf Or A Stone (Afe Records) 2010

Mathieu Ruhlmann

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