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15 Questions to Pascal Savy

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, I’m fine. Spending the evening at home in North London, listening to music.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I’ve just finished working on an EP called Receding and it was released a couple of weeks ago on Twisted Tree Line. At the moment I’m quite busy promoting it, writing and answering e-mails to spread the word. It’s always a really nice feeling to release a piece of work but the process behind it can be quite draining. So I’m taking a few weeks off not making any music and focusing instead on my writing activities for on-line magazine Fluid Radio, which is something I’m also really interested in. I see writing more and more connected with music making, and the creative process that goes into it kind of feeds the creative process related to my music. In a few months, Fluid Radio is going to released a physical edition of the magazine and that should be something really special and unique. Dan Crossley, who is the main man behind Fluid, has asked me a contribute a piece of my choice and for the next couple of months, I’m going to be busy writing a lengthy article which is a difficult but very interesting challenge. Other than that, I have a few collaborations in preparation and also a release planned for the summer on a small Russian label.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
I live in London, and as you know the music scene here couldn’t be more vibrant. It’s not so much THE music scene but so many different music scenes that co-exist and more often than not cross-pollinate. I wouldn’t risk trying to give you a true picture - it’s so varied and eclectic that it’s an impossible task I think. The ambient/drone, which I feel the closest from, is very strong here and it’s been for decades actually. At the moment, Cafe Oto in Dalston is perhaps the best place in London to listen and experience this kind of music on a near daily basis. The quality and variety of artists who play there is just astonishing. Other than that, there are plenty of things happening on a more one-off kind of basis, be them in churches, warehouses, pubs, art studios or regular concert venues.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?

I bought a cheap sequencer/synth in 1997 followed closely by a second hand Atari ST and a soon after a few more machines. I was heavily influenced by the techno originating from Detroit and New-York at the time. It took me ages just learning how the machines worked and just trying to come up with my own musical vocabulary through trial and error. I was also really clueless regarding audio engineering, so I had to patiently figure that out as well. Back in the day I was more interested in a very cold kind of techno which is miles away but not completely disconnected from the music I make now. I’d say those years were more formative than anything else, buying vinyl, studying how the tracks worked and trying to re-inject that into my own music. In terms of early influences, I’d say people from that scene had all a very important role. A couple of years after I got into those music-making activities, I remember clearly buying that Autechre album with a black cover and no name on it (sometimes in 1998 or 1999) and being blown-away by it. For the first time I was listening to a kind of music I didn’t understand at all but that had a kind of magnetic appeal that made me come back to it again and again until one day it clicked. So I guess that would be an important influence because from that point onward I got less and less interested in music with a straight beat and predicable structures and more by awkward type of electronic music.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
I feel that incisive moments keep happening to me, and more and more so in a way. But historically, going to rave parties from 1994-1995 onwards started to feed my fascination for machines, sound and electronic music in general and I feel it represents a pivotal moment for me. I couldn’t quite say exactly how, but the feelings I had back then still find their way into my music now. I can see how many things have been very important in the development of my own aesthetics, which has taken so many years to shape up, and I would say it’s a constant work in progress. When I say that incisive moments keep happening it’s because I can feel how very simple things have a major influence on my musical development, so I try to be as open as possible to new possibilities and the present moment. And it hasn’t have to be musical to be relevant. For instance whilst reading  ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, I had a complete revelation and that’s perhaps the most important discovery of the last few years for me. It’s a book I’ve never stopped reading since then and it continuously gives me new ideas and insight into my own creative process.

What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
I make all my music on a computer over daily fragmented short sessions and I work very slowly usually. It’s not bad in a way but it’s sometimes difficult to work around a particular feeling or an emotion and hold onto it for a very long time so it can inform the creative process. Sometimes I have to quickly sketch out something to crystallise a particular emotional space and then shape up a track around that for as long as it takes afterwards until the first impulse feels embodied enough into the music and finding ways of doing that efficiently is certainly a challenge for me.

What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
I have no set rules and it’s sometimes difficult to remember how things started. I try to change the way I approach the creative process for each project. Sometimes I revisit old sketches for which I had lost interest or that I had forgotten about. Coming back to something after six months or a year, I often see things from a different perspective which allows me to continue developing them in new and unexpected ways. Recently I’ve used more and more the guitar which I can’t really play, so I approach it more as a tone box than anything else. Using looper and delay devices and combining tones until that sounds interesting to me is usually a good starting point. Ironically enough, I can use a guitar foundation created that way, be it a loop or a few chords, and build a track around it and at some point discard the guitar part altogether, so it leaves only a trace, like a empty space that continue to exist through its absence. Very lately, I’ve started new pieces using processes of cross-pollination between tracks. For instance when working on an EP, I take a sound from a well advanced piece and then develop that sound in a new context, the sound itself being completely transformed so the pieces are kind of related but in a strange abstract way. From that new environment, I extract another sound which I either re-inject into the orginal track or start a new piece from it. So in the end the EP has a sort of rhizomatic structure, it reappears elsewhere but differently.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
I don’t improvise in the classical sense of the word and have never taken the time to create a system that would allow me to do so but I’m starting thinking about it. But whilst composing I can have small parts that come from improvisation. It can be a few notes on keyboards or guitars, very simple stuff layered on top of a heavily composed foundation and I find those small parts always breathe some organic movements into the piece so I always try to incorporate them one way or another.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?

The music I make is all about creating a particular space, not so much a physical, representational or purely narrative space, but more something that work with symbolism and abstraction, even though I try to always attach a strong emotional surface to it. The space I want to create is not something I know consciously beforehand and whilst going through the creative process, the space slowly reveals its essence to me. So, in the end,  sound, space and composition are heavily intertwined. As I said earlier, tracks can start from a sound, a tone or a guitar foundation. Those are then developed through process into small compositions (maybe a couple of minutes at most), which then starts telling me the kind of space being carved out. Once I can see how this particular feels like or looks like, existing sounds are processed to a point where they start belonging more to that space whilst new sounds are created to help define it more. And it’s through numerous iterative cycles that sound, space and composition can finally former a singular entity - they stand for themselves whilst being part of a larger ecosystem.

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?

Not at all. As I’ve just said, my music is about creating a very abstract space and for that space to function the processes and ideas shouldn’t be seen or felt by the audience. In my view, this music is like an illusion, a play with reality so the piece can potentially act as a gateway towards different form of realities or a new relationship with consciousness. By allowing the processes to be deducted on the basis of the music, you’re destroying that illusion.

There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
Even though I know of wonderful digital only releases, most notably on a myriad of great netlabels, and I can see how having one’s own record collection on hard-drive can be useful and allow for re-discoveries through the shuffle function, my personal preference has always been for a physical presentation with a cover to look at, some liner notes to read while you start playing the music etc. For instance labels like Raster-Noton, Quiet Design or 12k to name a few put a very strong emphasis on the physical presentation and I think it makes the experience of listening to their music stronger. When I buy music I always go for the physical object, instead of the digital equivalent. For me it gives a certain extra weight to the music even if, in theory, it shouldn’t matter. And I can certainly see how within the ambient/drone scene artists and labels pay more and more attention to this particular question.

The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
That’s a very vast question for which I feel each artist has his/her own view on the subject. Regarding music I was tempted to say that songs, as opposed to purely instrumental music, are a better vector for things related to a political and/or social discourse but Matthew Herbert for instance, who work mainly within the electronic music realm without words most of the time,  is an artist who has always managed to attach very strong political messages to both his albums and performances in a way that is really engaging and powerful. Personally, I’m really interested in political and social questions but I still don’t know if my music should reflect that. And, at least for now, I don’t see how I could approach those questions in an interesting and meaningful way. My own music is more concerned with some psychological and existential questions which I try to convey below the surface of music. It’s not something that I actively strive for when I work on a project, but I can recognise how the constant preoccupation I have with those ideas finds its way unconsciously in my music.

Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?
With the real affordability of creative tools and the explosion of social media, it’s become really easy to make and diffuse music, but even more difficult to have one’s own music being heard and appreciated, that’s true. So it takes the artist huge efforts and a great deal of creativity to find an audience, but I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. It makes musicians really care about their art if they want to do something with it.
For listeners, there is always a new artist to discover, another ‘great’ track to hear, a new album to download. And it’s a tricky question because with so many people making music nowadays, there is a flood of great and inspiring music being created all the time, and for somebody really interested in music, it’s both a curse and a blessing. How to weed out the less interesting stuff to find the gems? On the other hand, having so music music available but more importantly having music always a click away from a potential listener turn it into a tasteless commodity, like junk-food in a way. And even great music can sometimes be brought down to the level of disposable music which is really preoccupying. That’s were the question of the physical presentation can play a very important part in the value we give to music nowadays, it makes people care.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?

In each non-mainstream form of music, there is something radical about it. It might be anything really, but at the end of the day it doesn’t necessarily appeal to the ‘general’ audience because it represents an alternative to the mainstream. People interested in a particular scene have all travel a different path to arrive there and it takes time. It takes time to open oneself to the unknown, it takes time to learn the vocabulary of a particular form of music to fully appreciate its expression. So, it’s difficult to actively widen up an audience. Even if all forms of music are connected somehow, there is an active effort to make to travel from one concretion to another.
So I don’t really know how non-mainstream forms of music could actively reach wider audience. I suppose the Internet is one possibility, by having a permanent platform that people are free to explore or not. Another one being having venues open to the general public and playing a diverse range of less-obvious music.

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
I’d recommend Robert Curgenven and Daniel W J Mackenzie who both belong to that loose ambient/drone scene in a way. I have discovered their music within the last twelve months and I’ve been completely blown away by their talent. Robert makes really unbelievably beautiful and eerie music, playing with the resonances of the room in which he performs. Daniel makes a sort of raw and visceral music that is absolutely wonderful.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don’t  dream of a “magnum opus” at all, quite the  contrary in fact. I see each project I work on as a sort of mapping of an unknown territory. It’s more an exploration than anything else, so in this respect it’s the discovery that make the process so interesting and not the potentiality of making one day an elusive magnificent album.

Intro by Lara Corey

Pascal Savy Discography:
The Silent Watcher (Audiomoves) 2010    
The Endless Seasons (Field Noise Records) 2010    
Fragments (hibernate) 2011    
Liminal (Feedback Loop Label) 2011    
Receding (Twisted Tree Line) 2012

Pascal Savy

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