Name: Christine Ott
Occupation: Pianist, vocalist, ondist, composer
Current Release: "Nanook of the North" with Torsten Böttcher out October 25th on Gizeh Records
Recommendations: I'm thinking of the books "L'intelligence des Plantes" by Fleur DAUGEY (edited by Ulmer & CNL), "Choses qu'on dit la nuit entre deux villes" by Francis Dannemark (edited by Robert Laffont). And the music, the album "Hold this moment still" by Raphelson
If you enjoyed this interview with Christine Ott, visit her expansive homepage for plenty of personal information, music, videos and an overview of her entire work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music when I was teenager. Like today, the writing begins with and through improvisation, and then I structure the piece. Writing has always resulted for me from a gesture, a spontaneous movement, intimately linked to the musical gesture. This has made it possible to express what was difficult for me when I was a teenager.
My passions and influences are very broad, from classical music, (Liszt, Mahler, Wagner, Rachmaninov, Hungarian music, piano repertoire - especially the French repertoire (Debussy, Ravel, Satie) - to pop-rock (Genesis,The Doors, Pink Floyd ...), folk-music (Cat Stevens) to jazz and film-music, especially repetitive American music (Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley ...), Meredith Monk or Joni Mitchell. I was always very found of “sounds-sculptures”, original and rare sonorities ....
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? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think that the musical and technical learning of the instrument at the conservatoire, which I completed with music history and analysis at the university, have of course allowed me to have solid foundations. It helps me a lot when composing. At the same time, the collaborations with a wide range of different artists opened up more horizons and varied musical universes for me. But, I think that, unconsciously perhaps, we gently soak up the things we love.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
With the exception of the first album "Solitude Nomade", I always worked with very little means. But it's sometimes a good point musically. It helps sometimes to return to the basics, in order not to get lost.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I do not have a proper studio of my own. But I'm often in residency in different places with concert grand pianos I like. Sometimes I record live stuff with good sound engineers, such as Benoît Burger for the piano tracks of “Only Silence remains” or Eric Gauthier-Lafaye for "Nanook".
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I am very bad with computers and “technology”. Maybe I'm experiencing a mental block with all of this. You know, I sometimes feel like an old dinosaur! What I like will of then be most simple and natural, sometimes recording just with a small recorder to keep the idea. Sometimes just writing music on paper.
I admit that I would like to have more time for learning a few pieces of software better, and to be more autonomous on that, especially for the writing of musical arrangements, strings, ondes Martenot quatuor, etc ... But I'm sometimes supported by other people for that. I am lucky to have beautiful souls who re-transcribe my scores on software sometimes!
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I really like collaborations in all their forms. When you can play live with the musicians, improvise together with spontaneous musical reactivity, it's always better. Then again, that's not always possible with the distances!
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A good day could start early with yoga time, then lessons to prepare - Ondes Martenot or "Music and Cinema" for the conservatory where I teach, with research of Ondes repertoire for my students or research of films on which we will perform improvisation or composition. Then, administrative things on the computer for personal work. But answering e-mails can sometimes be very hard for me! On good days, there's still some time for instrumental practise and creation. The schedules are variable, according to the days but especially according to the projects in progress. It's not always easy to jump from the teaching to my professional musical life for which I sometimes need immersion and time.
A beautiful day will end with a walk in the forest, sweetly smelling trees and flowers, looking at and hearing birds, looking for mushrooms in Autumn.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
For the song "Disaster" for example, on “Only Silence Remains” (Gizeh, 2016), the piece is built like a short film in my head! I left the sound material of one of the most wonderful synthesizers, the Jupiter 8, recorded at a friend's house, then I imagined a scenario. For the ambiance, I had in mind very strong images of the film "Blade Runner". The essential idea was to tell my vision of an end of the world due to the cruelty and violence of men in the face of nature. That's why I wrote a text, committed to me by thinking of the voice of Casey Brown, our tour manager in the USA when I was touring with Yann Tiersen. I remained in friendship with him and he immediately agreed, I heard his voice for the text. The vision and the final outcome is positive, since after the explosion of the earth, there is finally hope in the meeting of two survivors ....
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The creative act is natural for me. It doesn't need to be created and there is no strategy. It simply is!
As I was telling before, since it stems essentially from improvisation, you just need time and it will depend on the state of my mind at the moment, my emotions, but also the instruments that I will have close to me then and there, to express the music.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
It's a different state and it depends if you compose and write music for a film, for someone else, or if you compose for your own album; the experience will be different!
On stage, playing live, there is always the spontaneity but also unexpected things. With other musicians, with the instrument, especially the piano, the reverberation of the room, the relationship with the audience, that you can feel react or not. You must be concentrated and alive, it's “the art of the moment”, with some surprises, and the stage fright to overcome.
Writing music in a studio is so totally different, you can work slowly, review things, go back to things ...
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
For me, it's the same universe! I have the chance to work quite freely, not under the constraints of a production.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
The sound is above all organic, intimately linked to the body, linked to our sense of touch, to our skin, our epidermis. And sometimes, it can even live internally to create a trance.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art and being are for me intimately linked and difficult to dissociate. At the same time, art is above all the expression of our being and a way to exist.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I think it will evolve by perhaps creating more and more bridges with the other arts.