OM Gossip #4
An interview with Laure Boer
time for the fourth newsletter. I kind of rediscovered the fun I am having while doing interviews, so this might evolve into an interview zine straight to your inbox.
Some weeks ago, I guess over some insta post, I dove into a tape called “Agate et la pierre de Sable“ by french musician Laure Boer. Totally mesmerized by the lightness of her loop-based improvisations, her use of niche instruments and the power of the musical outcome, I contacted her for an interview.
So, to start off Laure, I really don‘t know that much about you, and I didn‘t dig super deep for this interview - I stumbled over your brilliant tape on Kashual Plastik some days ago and immediately connected with the way you use repetition to reach trance-inducing states, and just messaged you. Where does your interest for repetitive structures come from?
I think my interest for repetitive structures comes from my fascination for loops. I like to work with it in a random way, pressing twice on the looper button without trying to create something which fits, and then hear what comes out of it. It’s like a game for myself. Something unexpected can happen, and I react to it, see what I can build with that. It’s magical for me to catch a specific moment, a loose little piece of sound which becomes a structure through the repetition. I like this kind of games or strategies which create sounds that would be very hard to produce consciously.
I’m also fascinated by the physical power of repetition, in the way it makes you dive into the sound. There might be an explanation for this, and the reason why trance-ritual music also uses repetitive sound to help you access other states of mind. It feels to me like the brain gets comfortable and secure in the repetitive structure and can let go more easily. And in this clear structure you can welcome the sound in a more open way maybe?
Laure, thanks, that's an interesting twist - I totally agree on repetition as a way to dive deeper into the sounds, but honestly, I never saw it as a game. But I love that! I guess this is also a quality of your music - its playfulness and its openness for different aspects of sound. How does the recording take place? How much do you rely on prerecorded material and composition? The tracks seem like carefully evolved improvisations, the recordings sound like you used different channels/tracks and did overdubbing.
You’re right, the tracks are improvisations. They are actually a one shot recording cut into two tracks. It is a session recorded at home. I use a 5-channels looper, a distortion and a delay pedals. My instruments are an amplified Vietnamese monochord called Dan bau, my voice, percussions and a metal cooking pot with contact mic. I don’t use prerecorded material or composition, all sounds are generated live.
Improvisation is central for me. I come from a classical music family and received a strong classical music education as a kid. That led to stop everything about music when I was a teenager! Improvisation is what brought me back to play music, years later. I love the feeling of falling in the unknown and catching something that appears, catching a thread out of nowhere and following it to see where it takes me. It’s a precious moment, full of fragility, sounds take shape and disappear. In this cassette, I am also discovering a new instrument, the Dan Bau. I can’t really play it, that’s why it sounds quite wobbly. It’s a get to know each other track.
So, you really work with hardware and not with a laptop. This is nice, and maybe a reason why the recordings sound so organic. It is interesting you refer to your classical background as a reason why you lost interest in music as a teenager. I experienced the same thing from a different angle. As a young adult, I mostly played in punk and noiserock bands, and one day, I was so tired of practising the same riffs and breaks over and over again - that's when I discovered improvisation. Ephemeral sounds with a live of their own, and as a player, you really have to listen closely and respect the direction the sound gives you.But as you mentioned your background, two questions come to my mind. As a trained musician from an early age, how do you profit from that today? And what drew you to the scene in Berlin? I guess you originate from somewhere in France or Belgium, countries with music scenes which really work a lot with repetition and traditional music (like the whole La Novia collective, the Kraak scene etc.), is here any conection to these scenes? And btw, what is collective 1/2?
First I come back to what you wrote about improvisation. I like a lot how you describe the process: „listen closely and respect the direction the sound gives you“. I can’t describe it in a better way. That was for me very new! To listen to a sound, something not even defined as music and question if it is interesting?
How do I profit from my musical education? I guess there are two sides to it. One side feels to me like a present. I started violin, read and write notes at the age of 5, and learned piano at 7. At this age, you learn so easily without thinking much about it. Now I can hear notes and write them if I need to, or I can play on my instrument the notes I want. It helps to be reactive when playing with others. Also I always enjoyed a lot to play with others, playing in orchestra, singing in a choir or playing chamber music with my family. I think it was good for getting a feeling for how the different „voices“ interact and reinforce each other. My dad is a music history teacher, and he would spontaneously explain why a part of a music piece is beautiful, how composers worked on it, what period of history it was. These were nice stories to hear, and I think these stories are stored in my head somewhere and are part of my culture and heritage in my sound. The other side of this education is that I had to learn to hear in an open way. Of course it closes my horizon, if I know how to do things „harmonious“. For me it often feels like a tension between harmony, nice comfortable melodies and also to seek for abstraction, pure sound. I try to go out of my musical grid, to open up, be out of the comfort zone. This is something I have to consciously trigger. This is where games like I told you with the loops can help.
I can’t tell you much about the scene in France (yes, I come from France), because I started to do music again as I was already in Berlin. Now I’m super curious to discover what happens there! I came to Berlin after I graduated in graphic design in Paris. I thought I would stay a bit and move to the next city. But I stayed. I met my boyfriend. He’s a record collector and used to play and organise experimental music events before we met. He showed me the movie Step Across the Border from Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel about the musician Fred Frith. This movie blowed my mind!! This is what brought me back to music!
1/2! These are my friends, my soulmates :) We met during our graphic design studies in Paris: Lucie Pindat, Anne-Pauline Mabire and Chloé Thomas. We had this in common that we were studying design, but our personal work beyond design, drawing, painting, writing, video and later music was also very important to us. We always supported each other in pursuing this personal practice beside our professions. After our diploma we all left to 4 cities: Vienna, Amsterdam, Rennes and Berlin. And we became even more friends and started to do artist books, everything hand made in a limited edition. We’ve done exhibitions in amazing places together, book fairs, performances, and also a residency in Tbilisi in Georgia. This was the first time since years that the 4 of us were reunited in the same place during a month. And this is when I started to do music again. I did a CD accompanying our trip and the artist book.
This friendship and what we’ve experienced together are precious for me. Now the project has slow down as we got kids. But they are important people for me.
Yes, I know the album, and it's interesting how your music changed since then, like, you went from work that was more techno/synthesized sound-oriented to a very pure, idiosyncratic sound where you can move very openly from incorporating elements of different backgrounds, neither collaging them nor using them as tokens, but you really create something unique - a very non-exploitative way of incorporating elements of different cultures. You also refer to witches and ritual a lot. What do these words/concepts/metaphors mean to you? I am not super well-read when it comes to paganism, but I spent some time with Arnold van Gennep's theory of the rites de passage (pdf book) and concepts of liminality, so I am interested in that.
Good question! The reference to witches and rituals started when people asked me what kind of sound I do, and my boyfriend said „Witchtronic“ :)
I have big respect for ancient knowledge and cultures which still have a living practice of it. I’m careful with these references or roles, because it can be quickly fake if it’s not your culture and background. I want to be coherent to here and now and to what I am.
I relate to rituals on a personal scale. There are elements in my process that definitely have something to do with it and have an influence in the sound and the feeling people might get of it. If I’m too nervous before a live show, I often start the performance with sounds which calm me, like repetitive movements with the bow on the monochord. It has a physical calming effect on me at least :) And also I like to finish the performance with sounds which are bringing me and people back. Often I’ll use the voice for that. Also I need to have a physical connection to the instruments I play, that’s why I quickly took distance to the computer, because I can’t relate to it. For me sounds and physical sensations are connected. It’s important how the instrument feels physically to play and how the sound resonate in the body.
I often have feedbacks from people in the audience after live performances, that they were totally away, walking in a forest, being in the nature, and they had very similar images in their mind. Also it happened that I was singing a text I wrote about sunlight, and someone came to me after the concert and told me that she felt light over her head! I was singing in french and she didn’t understand the words I was saying, but she felt exactly what I was talking about, and also what I felt singing it! Hahaha this is pretty mysterious!! I’ll definitely have a look at Arnold van Gennep, sounds super interesting.
I saw you mentioned Noiseberg on some occasions - Which role did Noiseberg play in your evolution as an artist? What's the importance in places where hierarchies like those between trained artists and amateurs are blurred?
Noiseberg is a fantastic event series. Events like this are precious. It’s an open minded space full of kindness. There, I feel I can do whatever I want, try new things and take risks.
Non hierarchical events like Noiseberg are important. At the end, the curators thought that people should have the possibility to hear you. It’s just about sound, and not about representation. And this makes everybody humble and to really listen. Also, you learn a lot from seeing the setup of other musicians and you can share infos directly with them. And when you spent time together, it helps to create connections. I’ve met great people at Noiseberg, and musicians I collaborate with today.
There is also another event series in Hamburg and Bremen called Anachronism which is also very interesting. They invite musicians to play one day in Hamburg (on the amazing boat Stubnitz), and on the next day in the theater Schwankhalle in Bremen. It’s like a mini tour in two totally different locations. The musicians are very diverse in the sound and the experience. Like Noiseberg, they manage to create a situation where musicians can really get to know each other and discover each others‘ work. They’ve just done a radio show to present the event and the last 5 years, if you want to listen.
For further exploration of Laure’s work, check out her collaborative album with Auspicious Family out on Chinabot, with whom she recorded an album on a residency in Manila; Fred Sandoval also makes use of non-typical instruments in a club-oriented context, but also doesn't simply use them as a token or a gimmick. Also, take a look at her last digital Noiseberg performance.
The next OM tape will be out at the end of the month, I’ll keep you updated on that.
End transmission 4.