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Interview with Erik Truffaz

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 interview, trumpet player Erik Truffaz stresses the close connection between honesty and originality – and why improvisation is the key to unlocking it.

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?
From my youngest age, I composed smooth and aerial melodies. Of course, the expression of my trumpet has developed throughout the years and composition has developed through collaborations with my musicians friends … With my quartet, as well as with Murcof. I also composed a classical piece for a symphonic orchestra and a contemporary piece for two pianos and one trumpet.


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 poetical aspect that comes from an artist, a recording or a piece is essential in my eyes. It often defines the originality of a band or musician.


What's your own definition of originality?
For a musician it’s more about the originality of his sound and his musical direction. Being mysterious and transmitting emotions while trying to find a direction and a sound and not copying what has already been said and done is a process older than the world itself I would say!


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?
It is very difficult not to do what has already been done and to not be inspired by the past. But it is essential to be yourself. Therein lies the key of the originality.


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?
I think that the more artists there are the more chances there also are to find real gems, but there are also more chances of finding very bad stuff. This law is almost scientific isn’t it?

I like the Rock bands my daughter listen to, like Girls In Hawai, Radiohead, or The Ice
From my side I tend to listen more to stuff like Stravinsky, John Adams or the old Miles Davis from the Prestige period. I also love Anna Aaron’s latest album. I am looking for originality and honesty in the music.


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?
To write the music I play and propose to Murcof or to write my own pieces for piano, I work with the piano … searching and trying and testing a lot. When it comes to playing to Murcof’s music, I compose and record my ideas on trumpet and then I select the best parts.
For the most, like all musicians, I just try to do my best even though what comes out is not always in my mind, life inspires me.


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.
I will only use one word to answer this question: IMPROVISATION.


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 recognising originality than the one currently in place?
To be very honest, I am very happy to be able to live from my art. Even if currently I don’t get as much money because of the music market going down, I still manage to live from my passion and that’s the most important thing. I do not want to enter this debate.


How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
Tools are instruments that allow us to channel dreams and poetry, they paint a picture of an audible instant. There isn’t any relationship between tools and originality, which should first and foremost be the result of an internal journey.


In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
To be able to imagine music for a symphonic orchestra and try out my ideas on a computer is something incredible, and that is a positive result of technological advances. Way more positive than the gradual extinction of grasshoppers, bees, butterflies or of my wife tonight.


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?
Chance accidents which have allowed humans from all kinds of cultural worlds to create music are at the basis of the evolution of music. Blues is the perfect expression of this. Then the technical evolution of instruments has modeled sounds, the shift from the harpsichord to the piano for example. Finally the social evolutions which have made us evolve from Gregorian chants to Radiohead, Massive Attack, Ligeti and Jimi Jendrix … All this has been the poetic expression of an evolving and moving society.


Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
I always find a way to make my dreams come true even though sometimes it may take some time … but I always go through with them.

Erik Truffaz Interview by Tobias Fischer
Image by A. Pavleski

Homepage: Erik Truffaz