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Interview with Agoria

img  Tobias Fischer

These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or rip-off, no praise higher than having one's work being commended as 'unique', 'personal' or 'inventive'. And yet, as much as it's in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done - every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

In this in interview, electronic producer Agoria (pictured, right) suggests the idea of originality as a form of useful pollution – and as shaping an approach that no one else can imitate.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
You are right. Most people try to be close to each other, having the same phone, the same car, the same house, the same way of life. It’s obviously necessary to listen to, to read, and to speak with others. But you can be original only if you assimilate influences. If other artists feed you, you have to digest them before to make your own story. Sadly being original is badly welcomed in everyday life, but it becomes a quality when we speak about art.

When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
The first record I bought when I was 12 was Inner City's "Good Life", a Detroit record produced by Kevin Saunderson. Later, I had the chance to remix "big fun", their second single, and as an "original dedication", I arranged 3 seconds of silence in the middle of the track as a tribute. The second artist that influenced me has been Edgar Varèse. I was working in a studio and duplicating "deserts" for every musician at the Lyon Opera. After listening to it ten times, I found myself in love with this piece. Copying it all day opened my mind ...

What's your own definition of originality?
Many things have been written about originality … A French writer said that "The original writer is not the one that isn’t imitating others but the one that nobody can imitate". I like this definition. I forgot who said that, though!

Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
I was recently speaking with Philippe Parenno, a contemporary artist. It came out in our discussion that in the end "originality is pollution" …We were saying that originality comes from an excess, a default somehow, something that will stay, a component that you can’t eradicate. A valuable pollution?

With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
We are in a total music mass production but only the pollution, the original music, will get attention and then maybe an audience. The other aspect of this over production is the radical change of interest and listening. If yesterday we were in a culture of the audience, we are today in a culture of attention.

At the moment, I find it relevant to be working with artists outside of the music landscape (cinema, writers, art contemporary) and sharing our experience. We're learning a lot. I’m obviously always into the club scene and I appreciate this techno background going back on the map. If there’s nothing really new here to my ears, I understand the hype around the rough techno sound as it's totally new for the youngest generation of clubbers. It might be original to play only techno records from 90’s in a set in 2014 (laughs).

What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.
Originality could be seen as a concept I guess. There is often a method behind the madness. Most of the people consider eccentric people like artists, but being eccentric without method might not make you very original. Originality might be the balance between madness and method.

The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself – where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
I love to be fully closed and emerge in studio during months with no dates, no tour, no meetings, no obligations, nothing but life. It’s the best condition for me to achieve music. Most of the time, it’s coming after an intense worldwide tour, full of images, memories, music and ideas I wrote while travelling. I'm going to stop touring from 1st of November to 1st of March to work on a new album. In a way I would say my pollution is the result of my frustration or my happiness. Let’s see if this method is still reliable.

The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an idea / composition as being their own - is there, perhaps, a better model for recognizing originality than the one currently in place?
I’m not sure claiming a composition is mine will make it more original. Every single track uses melodies already used in the past. There is no doubt about it. Although does it mean that your music isn’t original because your bassline might have been already performed in a jazz band in the 70s? Time could give the place you deserve to your work I presume. I’m not sure what will be the place reserved to famous electronic musician using ghost writers? We are not pop singers. The sound itself is our originality. The best way to claim originality is not to protect it for a copy but to share it as much as possible.

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
I appreciate that the gear-industry and artists are more and more connected, exchanging ideas and desires. Cooperation is the best way to be creative, the better way to be emancipated and finally original. We could imagine a new generation of producers sharing their specs, preferences, home made presets, sounds and arrangements online to elaborate tracks together to make global albums. Various projects have already been initiated in this sense; I guess technology will help to make it more fluid and easier in the next years.

In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
Looking for musical accidents sounds like a good departure.

The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?
Actually, obstacles are the main source conducive to originality.

Do you have a vision of a piece of music that you haven't been able to Realize for technical or financial reasons?
I’m speaking with a renowned mathematician named Edward Frenkel, teaching at Berkley and author of the best seller "love and math" about how to experience and achieve the notion of "infinity" in music. It will be a deep work for me in 2015 and I’m curious to see which direction it will take.

Agoria Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Agoria