Name: Isolde van den Bulcke aka Tristan
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Recent Release: Tristan's Wellif is out October 21st 2022 via PIAS.
Recommendations: The book My year of rest and relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh; The Japanese film Hausu from 1977
If you enjoyed this interview with Tristan and would like to know more, visit her on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/ or sound that drew you to it?
It’s a cliché, but I grew up in a very musical (mostly classical music) family. My mom played the cello when she was younger and has always sung in choirs, even the day she was due she was still performing in a church to then 5 hours later give birth to me. My parents always loved the more experimental and inventive music so I heard artists like Bowie, Zappa or John Cage when I was growing up.
I started playing the clarinet when I was 8 after hearing Max from Paulo Conte on the radio. The sound just resonated with me so I learned to play it. Fast forward, when I was fed up with the clarinet and started studying jazz vocals at the conservatory, I was listening to Oneohtrix Point Never non-stop which was something I couldn’t explain to my teachers.
The textures he uses and the emotion he can create with instruments that are mostly electronic is mind-blowing to me so I wanted to create something that had this merge of electronic, art-pop, classical & jazz influences.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Both when I listen and create music I have a very vivid image popping up, some kind of visual memory or dreamlike landscape and it very often contains nature elements like water or fire. There’s one song I wrote called WPTFO, and while creating this I could really picture this view, while standing on a cliff, of a forest that was burning to the ground.
I’m sad I don’t have synesthesia because I think it must be such a wonderful thing to experience. When I write music I always start with the instrumental athmosphere so I can come up with a fitting subject for the storyline of the lyrics.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I started out as a very insecure girl who people would tell she had a beautiful voice so I decided to write songs.
It began with me working with beat makers because I was lacking the confidence to think I could make my own music, but I felt like I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what I was really searching for. So I decided to download Ableton and that’s one of the best decisions I made til this day.
As a female producer I get asked 'who makes your music’ so often, and it breaks my heart that so many people still think that women aren’t able to produce themselves. Look at hero’s like Kate Bush who has been doing it for decades … So that’s still a challenge to me.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider. When I was at the conservatory, I both studied jazz- and popmusic, I never fit in. I was too niche for the pop-scene and too pop for the jazz-elite so I always felt like the strange duckling.
When I graduated they even asked me in a very elitist way ‘Why don’t you just play jazz? Why did you study jazz if you want to play ‘that-kind-of-music’ and I was totally struck by how conservative this idea of music was. It fortunately encouraged me even more to do something different from what is considered ‘the good music’
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Just try out things and have fun, search for sounds that trigger something and mostly don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Music of the future as a musician, even though I absolutely love timelessness as a listener. Heroes of mine are overall considered inventors like for example Yellow Magic Orchestra, Björk or Francois De Roubaix.
I also think that it isn’t as black and white because invention is a reaction to tradition so in a way it is continuing a tradition but with an experimental approach.
For instance if you look at Björk’s work, she always incorporated her classical baggage which makes her the perfect example of the symbioses of tradition and invention
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I really am a kid of my generation, meaning I have a very small set-up and do most things on my computer. To make music nowadays you don’t need to own a luxurious studio to create something high-end, which makes it so affordable, fun and easy to just work on demos anytime anywhere.
If I have my Ableton, a basic mic and interface and some vst-plugins I like I’m good to go
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I wake up, make or go drink coffee at a coffee bar so my dog can pee and poo and then the chaos starts. I have 3 different jobs; I teach, I work at a shop and serve coffee so it depends on which day it is.
But one routine I try to stick to is working on music at least 1 or preferably 2 hours a day. There’s truly no better feeling in the world than writing a good song, even though the day after when you listen back it’s total shit. But that’s a problem for the following day haha.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I remember seeing Arca in 2015 at the Botanique in Brussels when I had just started my journey of writing my own music and she just blew me away. I had never experienced such uniqueness, boldness and structured chaos which I felt so drawn to that it was from that moment I decided to not be afraid of creating something that is considered inconvenient.
I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but this concert felt like the instigator of my creative development and process
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
The first steps are always in solitude so I can dive deep into trying to translate the image I have in mind. Sometimes it takes a lot of rewriting or some song just fit like a glove from the first version. Then I mostly need a couple of days to let it settle and to also find the courage to show it to those I trust.
I’m very easily influenced so I have to narrow down the opinions I think matter and resonate with me, otherwise I would get lost in the forest of judgement.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
A couple of days ago I saw an interview with David Bowie in 1983 addressing there were very little black artist given a platform on MTV and thought this was such a good example of how to use the opportunity to go into conversation about things that need change.
As an artist you have the privilege to speak about certain topics and take a political stand but you easily cross the line of sounding pedantic or uninformed.
This balance is something that I still have to purify, but find really important to research.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
It can have a healing purpose because you can process and digest things.
Wellif is a record that is dedicated to going through and dealing with heartbreak. I’ve cried so much while creating it because I felt like I was both mourning and honouring these relationships, versions of myself, etc.
It really was an opportunity to dig deep into the pain I went through and also search for emotions I’d never dared to feel.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Someone recently told me about ‘Trappist-1’, a red dwarf star with 7 planets comparable to earth circulating around it. Three guys made this solar system into a composition of which the outcome is a strange yet beautiful harmony and this gave me the good kind of chills. Or the Janet Jackson song ‘Rhythm Nation’ that crashes laptops. These are such fun anecdotes that show the correlation of music and science.
I’ve never been a huge geek regarding the more technical/scientific part of music and sound, and I really feel like I’m missing out on such beautiful and intriguing information. But my concentration span just doesn’t let me go into nerd-mode.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I would consider myself to be more of an introvert who taught herself to be extraverted; as a musician I dare to be more dramatic, self-confident and ‘cool’ than I am in my daily life. So it gives me the strength to express things I’m too shy to show as my dorky normal self.
Also, for me personally, mundane tasks hold some kind of routine that gives comfort and structure whereas music always needs some kind of discomfort and edge to push my boundaries.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Music as you said is a vibration and our bodies memorise sensations we encounter. That’s why I believe a song can be experienced totally differently by different individuals.
If I now for instance listen back to my favourite music when I was 18 while I was going through a hardcore identity-crisis-party-phase I can really feel the darkness creep back into my spine.
So I think this deep messaging is not exclusively created by the artist, but is contributed by the listener and their experiences.