Name: François Bonnet / Kassel Jaeger
Occupation: Sound Artist
Current Release: Swamps/Things on Shelter Press
A text: The Lord Chandos Letter by Hugo Von Hofmannsthal
An artist: Michel Journiac
If you enjoyed this interview with Kassel Jaeger, visit his website to find out more about him and his 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?
Very early on. I was following piano lessons from an early age, but always remember “experimenting” meaning: not following the rules. I kept doing that.
What drew me to sound and music were early experiences of listening, from a distance, to sounds. Sounds of the piano my mother was playing while I was in bed in the evening, Glissandi of some motorcycles riding on the long road next to my grandmother’s house in the late afternoon, sounds of the thunder in summer nights. Sound, for me, was an emotional compass measuring distances in space and time.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I learned a lot by actively listening to the music I was into when I was a teenager, not so much in terms of composition and musical ideas, but in terms of production. I was really fascinated with the studio techniques, doubling, panning, filtering. And I was also very interested in recording sounds. So I mixed these things to discover a bit later that all of this has been extensively explored for 50 years. But I was already “bent” in a certain way and didn’t start again from scratches following a strict methodology or teaching.
Later on, I had the privilege to work with great musician and icons of the electroacoustic and experimental music world. I’m still learning today thanks to the friendship and collaborations with awesome artists.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I would say “taming the sounds” but more precisely, being skilled enough in collecting and building proper sound material. With experience, I tend to collect and produce less sound materials, but I’m able to find a purpose for most of them. That’s a good thing because I hate derushing.
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?
My first studio, was the old discarded family PC with some sound-synthesis freeware. My first “real studio” was composed of a Power Macintosh G3 Blue & White (I loved this machine), an Audiomedia III sound card, some cheap microphones and bad speakers.
Currently, the most important pieces of gear are my omnidirectional microphones, my digital audio recorder and my laptop. My modular synth and my guitar too, but I could still do music without them.
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?
My music is based on recorded material and the recording process. So this technical aspect is fundamental. It precisely allowed this direct feedback between acting on the sound and listening to the results immediately, like a painter can evaluate their last brushstroke.
What the machine allows is plasticity, transfer and memorization of energies. It allows therefore trial and error in a very effective way. And it allows infinite pentimento. But at the same time, machine architectures suggest, sometimes implicitly, musical ideas (like, for example, tempo or grid-driven software imply specific metrics). Then human expression has to transcend the tools, and avoid being trapped into them. Note that machines are artefacts, made by humans. Machines are human extensions.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
A tool is a tool. You don’t co-sign a solo piece for violin with the violin or the luthier. But of course the tools can have a strong influence on the compositional process. In my case, I built tools or systems of tools that allow me to be surprised, to discover sounds and ideas I didn’t anticipate.
Composing is very much, for me, making choices amongst several options offered to me. Options that have been made possible by another composition: the creation of the architecture of tools and processes.
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?
To me, collaboration is something precious and linked to a shared space and time. I don’t collaborate remotely. I don’t really share files. It’s an experience of being together and sharing time and thoughts. It’s a human experience. That’s why I only collaborate with friends.
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?
My typical day is a multi-layered stream of administration, writing, reading, thinking on musical ideas, recording sounds, listening to music, exchanging thoughts and feelings with close ones, walking in Paris, having a drink and often wishing I was on an island.
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?
There is no real methodology and the process is each time different and each time the same. But it’s impenetrable. I don’t really “create” my works. I unveil them and hopefully catch a moment of music.
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?
I would say there are several states of mind compatible to creation. One thing is making it really hard: being captured by the tyranny of the instant.
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?
To me it summons two different things that are really complementary. Composition work in the studio is a long form. It’s about creating depth, taking a step back, exploring, making choices, working on the core of the sounds, crafting them.
Playing live is about feelings, intensity, ritual and experience of alteration. And it’s really inspiring for the more cold-headed studio practice.
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?
There is no opposition for me, for the simple fact that I work with sounds that already possess an inner morphology and imply by their own qualities one or several possible compositional paths.
My purely compositional work is to make associations, create dialogues and combinations compatible with the sonic becoming of the sound materials I have produced. There is no separate method with the form/structure and one side and the object/qualities on the other.
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?
I’m not really sure. Of course in my own experience sounds can easily migrate towards proprioception and tactile sense since acoustic vibration, under certain circumstances, can become mechanical vibration. In any case, being alive means being in a constant multisensory experience. Isolating one is a strange quest, and most of the time an idealism with stakes that are no longer motivated by the sensory experience itself.
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, for me, and especially music, as I understand it, has the power to offer an alternate experience of being in the world. A world that is not dominated by the Empire of Signs. At its best, Art is a window opened on another world, which is the same world, but transvaluated.
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?
Actually, I just wrote a small book about that ! The Music To Come, on Shelter Press. It starts like this:
This is not a study. It is a manifesto for a peculiar conviction: that music remains to be discovered, that it is still hidden. That, nonetheless, it does sometimes appear, but most often incompletely and unevenly. And that what we have hitherto referred to as ‘music’ is in fact only a preliminary, a prodrome. That all musics produced up until now have been nothing but simulacra, rituals to call music forth. This may sound crazy, and indeed unwelcome. But the sole concern of the following text will be to make this statement legible, understandable.