Name: Jean-Benoît Dunckel
Bands: Air, Darkel
Current Release: The Man of Sorrow EP
Musical Recommendations: Moodoid, Emiliana Torrini.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started to write and produce music when I was a teenager. I had no equipment except a Korg MS 20 and I was putting everything into it. Voices, drums, guitars. I was in love with the productions of Brian Eno.
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?
I think that artists most of the time try to imitate something - and then they go beyond that without noticing it. Sometimes, it can be a matter of being in love with a piece of modern equipment. The evolution of technology makes us find new things.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My challenge was to create a complete album with only different tracks on it. All the tracks had to be different, they had to have different tempi and different styles and you should be able to listen to without being bored.
Tell us about your studio, please. How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I met Trevor Horn in London one day and he said he put all his money into the acoustics of his studio. That's what we did, too. I think the main quality of the studio now is how good the room naturally sounds.
We have a lot of gear. Neuman microphones, preamps by API and Neve, Real Spring reverbs, keyboards by Roland and Moog, various amps, Roger drums and a Trident console.
I think that everybody has their own way of setting up their equipment. For me personally, it is vital to be able to work fast. So everything has to be readily accessible. I also like to see the back of the machines, so I can get the patching done faster.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
A piano, Neuman microphones and still the Korg MS 20.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity?
I think that instrument plug-ins, such as orchestral sounds, can help you to incorporate new ideas without having to record them first. And when it does work, you can take the effort to really record them.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
If I take my last EP as Darkel, The Man of Sorrow, I wanted to build tracks which felt like caresses and to use a string orchestra. All the instruments were there to support a vast amount of strings, which meant the mid-range frequencies were all occupied. Effectively, I had to take care of low and trebles too, knowing that I would record some real strings when the demos would eventually be finished.
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?
I think that with the Internet, music has become more creative on the one hand. At the same time, the general quality has decreased, because there is so much music accessible now.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
To me, they're the same.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I think the most important thing is to be aware of your own sensations and to try to increase them. Sometimes it's better to mute tracks.
What's your perspective on the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema, for example – and for you and your work, how does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
Other arts excite my senses. And they provide me with examples of creation. After a visit to the museum, I'll say to myself that I need to dare more. And that I need to keep the faith.
What's your view on the role and function of music as well as the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today - and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I think that politics are dirty and music is pure. Mixing them doesn't work.
Listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
Listening to music is making music.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
With PR agencies now, artist can be more independent. This is the last step for artists to leave the record company system.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
I keep on failing in everything I do. Sometimes, however, there's a bug, a mistake in my mistake that produces success. I can't explain why - it comes from my audience's energy.
Stay up to date on Jean-Benoît Dunckel's activities through his facebook page – or the social media presence of Air.