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15 Questions to Sebastien Roux

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
21st of February: I’m pretty good. My wrist is a bit painful these days, so I can not type that much… At the moment I’m in Reims, waiting for the light designer of the dance piece I’m working on.
21st of June: Now I’m in Paris, in my apartment.

What’s on your schedule right now?
21st of February: Working on a dance piece by Marinette Dozeville which we are premiering in Reims on the beginning of March. Preparing for the performance of my piece called Revers Ouest at the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales). A gig in Paris with Vincent Epplay to celebrate the release of our first CD on the Brocoli label. A few shows with Vincent, performing our soundtrack for Robert Flaherty’s movie Nanook of the North.
21st of June: I’m getting ready to go to sound art festival City Sonics, in Mons, Belgium where I am showing a sound installation called Wallpaper Music. Then on the 28th of June, I am performing a radiophonic piece based on sound archives and language. The piece is called Résidus, it is based on the useless sounds and words that one produces when talking (I mean unremarkable, all these material we use when we talk which don’t have a proper meaning “mmm” “rr” “you know”). It is part of a projet called l’encyclopédie de la parole, ran by Joris Lacoste. This will take place at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, near Paris. Then I will go to Bordeaux with my friend Célia Houdart (writer). We will start a collaboration that will consist in sound portraying the city of Bordeaux, for the Evento festival, next October.
Then I will go to Athens to perform Morton Subotnick’s music for the reactivation of Anna Halprin’s choreography Parades and Changes. By the end of July, Annie Dorsen, DD Dorvillier, Anne Juren, Roland Seidel and I will be in residency for a dance-theatre project called PSP (Pièce sans Parole$), a project based on the following question: what happens when you remove the text of a play? The premiere will take place in Vienna, spring 2010

And then I'm off on vacation in my beloved Alps !!!
How would you describe and rate the music scene of the country you are currently living in?
I often feel that music in France is very much divided into strictly separated scenes. In other words, there's the impro scene, the contemporary music scene, the electroacoustic scene and the experimental scene - and they don't mix that much. Fortunately, spirits are changing, and there are some festivals like "megaphone" in dijon (where you can hear composers like feldman, romitelli or murail, but also lydia lunch + philippe petit or bérangère maximim, watch godard's one+one, etc ...  ) who try to really "open" their program to a wider spectrum of music.

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
I could say I was inspired by a certain tradition. I do feel inspired by the European avant-garde from the 50s and 60s. I would say not only by the music itself but rather by this will of searching, experimenting, inventing new systems, this excitement of discovering new things. I was also strongly influenced by the GRM music (mainly Schaeffer, Ferrari, Bayle, Parmegiani) and the concerts at the national radio in Paris, in the French Musique Concrète style…
I belong to a technical movement called laptop music. I share ideas with friends, musicians, composers, directors and dancers but I don’t think I belong to an artistic movement, for different reasons: For one, the Paris scene is quite spread out. Peoples work on their own. Then, electronic music doesn’t require a studio to rehearse. Usually electronic musicians can work at home. You don’t meet people : )! And finally, thanks to the Internet, you can make worldwide connections. You don’t have to be part of a scene to exist.

What, would you say, are the factors of your creativity? What stimulates you to write music?
The stimulation comes sometimes from the fact that I need to prove to myself that I am not that bad at making music. Every piece of art I see, hear or read, regardless of whether it's good or bad is part of the process of creating. I would say that the good ones inspire me while the bad ones stimulate me: “ I am sure I can do something better! ”. That’s a pretty stupid trick to get to work but…

How would you describe your method of composing?

It depends on the projects: Whether it's a CD, collaboration, sound installation, music for dance or movies, etc … Since „Songs“, a CD released by the 12k label and my work for Georges Aperghis’s opera „Avis de Tempête“ that has been a great influence, I try to compose some electro-acoustic music that does not want to be what I call a „slave of sound“. I use very primitive formal techniques (very simple mathematics series) to chop up sounds and reorganize them. Sounds lose their original temporality, and you get a new inner rhythm due to the use of these series. The original material, the former sounds are usually the result of computer driven improvisations. See also improv / composition.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Composition is about finding ways of organizing sounds so that these sounds together mean something. This meaning can also be the absence of meaning...

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

A few years ago, I built a bunch of max/msp patches that I would use as improvising tools: FX with random parameters, random samplers. Then I would use the results of this improvising sessions as a starting point for composition. I have noticed that when I use manual, analog, in other words, standard improvisation, I find it difficult to forget the gesture. I can’t listen to the texture without thinking about the underlying gesture and it’s giving me a hard time composing. To let the computer improve is a trick to avoid that. Or leaving time between the improv and the composition session so that I forget the recording conditions is another trick. I would very rarely release an unedited improv on CD: I am not skilled enough, when improvising, to escape certain unconscious scenarios - a natural tendency that makes things predictable. I like to keep the listener involved by using surprises and hard edits that I can hardly provoke when improvising.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?

To me, new means that you found something. Or better, that you are searching for something of which you don’t even know what it is.


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?
You use a tool because your piece needs it. It can be a hammer, a fake moustache or a super-advanced gesture-follower connected to a real time synthesis application. So of course, multimedia can be enrichment. But if  technology is used as a justification for a piece, then there’s 90% chance that this piece is crap.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? 

Of course, first, the music has to be good! Then, there is the question of the body, the gesture, the incarnation of the music. It also depends on the kind of performance. If you go to a concert to hear Beethoven’s last string quartets, you know that the score is good. Your opinion is made up about the question of the interpretation. Then, there are many criteria to evaluate the quality of the musicians, as single and as an ensemble. If it is music for dance, then it would be: Did it blend well with the dance? Which doesn’t mean the music moves with the dance but more something like: dance (=1) + music (=1) = 3.
For a laptop gig, then I don’t know, really. I usually don’t like visuals: If the musician displays some kind of over-synchronised visuals. then I often feel that the guy thinks I am too dumb to follow the music by myself so he added some very clear visuals… It’s a too direct visualisation of the score for me.
What’s your approach to performing on stage?
If I am invited for a solo gig, I don’t really play. I’d rather propose a listening session: the audience is in the dark, surrounded by speakers (4,6,8...) and listens to some pre recorded surround pieces. Between each piece, you can hear an air-attendant-style voice (in French or English) introducing the next piece. I also play electro-acoustic improvisation with Kim Myhr. Kim is a super-talented young guitar player from Norway. When we play, we just improvise without any pre-defined scenario. I either process Kim’s sound, control some pure digital synthesis or add some field recordings. I like the idea of the musician in the middle of a soundscape: By the sea, by the mountains, or having a virtual duo with an accordion player playing from an open window. With my friend Vincent Epplay, we perform the soundtrack of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook from the north. It is in between musique concrète, and wrong, twisted sound design. We have a twin-laptop-duo half improvising on our recent CD called Concatenative Mu.
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?  
I think the Présences Electroniques Festival is a good example. It’s part of the Présences Festival, the contemporary music festival of the French national radio, and it’s curated by Christian Zanesi, GRM co-director. It’s an institution but the curating ranges a large field of electronic music. Usually, every night of the festival,  you will get at first a classic of musique concrete, then one or two gig of very experimental electronic music and then a headliner (like ikeda, matmos, pan sonic, etc …). The sound is always very good, the shows are short so that you can handle 3 or 4 gigs (and if they are bad, it’s not too long…). It’s very livable and… it’s free which of course makes more people attend. 
You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Here is a list of things I saw live and that I really enjoyed or music I would love to hear live.
Christian Zanesi plays Luc Ferrari’s Heterozygote
Michel Chion performs his Requiem
Japanese Gagaku
Georges Aperghis’s Wölfli Kantata
Helmut Lachenmann’s Allegro sostenuto
Pesson’s Nebenstuck
Webern’s Sechs Stücke für Orchestra
Beethoven’s late string quartets
Vincent epplay + Antoine Schmidt perform Display pixel
Bob Dylan
Hervé Birolini and Dominique Petitgand present and Yann Paranthoen’s Le phare des roches douvre and Un Paris Roubaix
Pierre Boulez conducts his Dérives 2
Nurse with Wound
Mozart’s Fantasia for piano
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don’t particularly like the idea of magnum opus… As I consider my pieces as variations on ideas that are leading my work, I prefer the idea of “smaller” pieces that can “live” independently or that can produce sense together, echoing each other.

Paquet Surprise (Carpark Records) 2005
Pillow (Apestaartje) 2005
Songs (12k) 2006
Revers Ouest (Room40) 2007
Merveilles/ w. Greg Davis (Ahornfelder) 2008
Précisions Sur Les Vagues #2 (Optical Sound) 2008
Urban Field Muzick (Field Muzick)    2008
Concatenative Mu (Brocoli) 2009

Sebastien Roux at MySpace

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