Members: Willem Ardui, Jean-Valéry Atohoun
Recent release: blackwave.'s no sleep in LA is out via black.wav.
Recommendations: I know it’s a classic, and a lot of people will have read it already, but I still want to recommend I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou. I just read it for the first time this summer and was blown away. Not only by her story but also by her poetic and insightful way of describing situations, people, places…
Secondly I would like to recommend the album A Museum Of Contradiction by Mk.Gee. He has to be one of my favourite producers of the past few years, producing for the likes of Dijon and Omar Apollo. He has such a recognisable, deep and layered sound that I love. The drums sound incredible, the synths and guitars otherworldly. I can really get lost in it and it’s probably the album that I went back to the most since it came out in 2020.
If you enjoyed this interview with Willem Ardui of blackwave. and would like to find out more about the duo, visit their official website. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
And, of course, we recommend you check out our interview with Jean-Valéry Atohoun, his partner in blackwave., too.
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?
I started playing violin when I was five years old. My parents tell the story that I used to pretend to play along with the classical radio at home, so they decided to get me into violin class. There was always a lot of music in the house when we grew up. My parents, as well as all my siblings, played instruments so it wasn’t hard to just pick them up and try my hand at it. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t learning an instrument and experimenting with it.
Not only the sound of music drew me in but mainly the act of producing that sound myself is what intrigued me and what I got hooked on. Creating rhythm, harmony and melody is such an intrinsically human and therapeutic experience, I feel like we would all benefit from trying to implement it more in our daily lives.
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?
Honestly lately, the biggest part of what I listen to is my own unfinished music. We’re working so hard on it that it’s often too much to listen to more music in my free time. A lot of the time I just need the silence to recalibrate.
When I listen to an unfinished piece I always try to go back to the initial feeling I had when writing the very first idea. That idea is like the rough diamond that I need to shape into something people can understand and maybe even relate to. The question I ask myself is: ‘How can I shape this so I come closest to the truest form of the initial emotion?’. I’m always listening very closely, trying to examine how it makes me feel and if that’s what I want people to take away when they listen to it.
I guess going through this process almost daily left me with some kind of professional habit when I listen to other music, and sometimes even sounds in general. I try to shut it off, and sometimes I manage to, but a lot of times I don’t.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Somewhere along the way I learned that I’d rather try a lot of different things and sometimes fail, then try and keep everything for myself until I’m one hundred percent happy with it, because that might literally take forever.
When I started releasing music, I definitely realised that I wasn’t at the point yet where I wanted to be. I felt like I could still improve a lot, and had much to learn. But when I hear from people that those songs inspired them, got them through tough times … I’m just very happy that I decided to release those songs and didn’t hold back.
A lot of the time it’s good to let things go, and then learn from it.
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 don’t know if I think about that too much. Just being yourself sometimes requires not overthinking your own identity. I try to go with what I feel. As a listener that means I can go from classical to rap to folk to historical podcasts to pop, but I feel like that’s the case for most people nowadays. I don’t know many people that listen to only one genre, let alone one subgenre. Everything is so readily available, and there’s so much great music being made that it is inevitable that a lot of people’s taste in music is so eclectic.
It’s the same for me with creating. Just going with what makes you feel good is often a way better starting point than thinking about what you want, who you are as an artist.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
One great way of thinking about it for me has been: ‘What do I want to hear? What would I like there to be, that isn’t there yet? What would I like there to be more of that there isn’t enough of?’. With that in mind it’s easier to create something true to yourself, something personal that you resonate with heavily.
I think this might ring true not only in creating music but also in life in general. For example when I’d like there to be more understanding, I could start by bringing that into the world myself by being understanding.
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”?
The interesting thing about this is that when you think back on albums that are considered ‘timeless’, those are often the pieces of work that were very groundbreaking in their time, but at the same time carried something in them that represented the zeitgeist of that specific time.
Music is always a continuation of what came before it. It’s pretty much impossible to not be inspired by anything at all. I feel like innovation and timelessness therefore go hand in hand in a lot of cases. Same goes for originality and perfection. I don’t see them as opposites but as compatible.
I’m personally interested in ‘music of the now’. How I see it is that a lot of the albums I consider the best ever made were amazing depictions of the time they were written in. I’m thinking of Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Homogenic by Björk, Because The Internet by Childish Gambino, To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar … and so on.
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?
A while back I realised that all the tools I have in my studio are ultimately futile.
When I started out as a producer I was nervous to go to other studios to do sessions and create with artists I had sometimes never even met. I was scared that missing my studio and equipment would mean that I might not be able to do what I normally do.
After some sessions I started to understand the most important tools I possessed are inside of me. The talent and skill needed to create music doesn’t come from how well you work with equipment, it comes from ideas and imagination. That’s something you can never take away.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
That’s a hard one to answer because every day looks so different.
Most days usually start with me struggling to get out of bed or me realising I overslept. For that reason I routinely skip breakfast and rush to wherever I need to be as fast as possible. This could be a rehearsal, meeting, studio session … When it’s in my hands to decide (for example when I have a studio session with another artist), I try to finish work at around 7pm, but a lot of the time this job doesn’t abide by normal working day hours.
When we play shows, it often happens that we are home at around 2am. Falling asleep after playing a show is never easy, so that messes with your sleeping pattern heavily.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I guess in a way you could describe the process of producing some tracks as similar to a collage artist like Robert Rauschenberg. The layering of multiple elements that are derived from different techniques, the usage of samples and reimagining them.
But sometimes it feels more like a Rothko painting, trying to give depth to each colour / element while at the same time keeping the overall look of the piece serene and staying away from needless complexity.
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?
Collaborating with the right people always works way faster for me. I could finish a track in half a day with people that I perfectly match with. The process of creating alone is in my experience way more time consuming and difficult. But sometimes that’s what you need, to delve deep, think about every little detail, get stuck, get inspired again …
Art shouldn’t always come easy, but it’s definitely nice to experience both sides. I would lose my mind if I could only collaborate or only create alone.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I would like to create art that’s not only a reflection of myself and my inner world, but also of something bigger. I don’t know if I succeeded in doing that yet.
Someone who does that incredibly well in my opinion is Kendrick Lamar. He tells very personal stories but is aware about the fact that he’s not just a lone wolf experiencing these things. He couples it back to his community, society at large.
In our last album as blackwave., I feel like we came close to this. We’re talking about things like depression, loss, insecurity … But we approach it in a way that people can take something away from it. We’re happy to see that it’s becoming more and more possible to be open about your feelings in this day and age, and we wanted to contribute to that by telling our own stories. Music can play a big role in that way.
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?
What happens a lot of the time when I write is that I don’t yet know what the true meaning of it is, until it’s all finished and I read it back. It’s funny, how writing happens unconsciously, you’re in some sort of flow and just let everything out. It’s still cryptic when you’re writing it, but when it’s written down it all becomes clear.
Writing music works very therapeutic in that way. I’ve learned so much about myself, and my relation to these themes by doing it. When you don’t know what to say or how you feel, you should try writing. Without thinking about it just write what comes to mind, and you’ll be surprised by how revealing the result can be.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
What I love about music is that it can’t be pinned down by science, that it isn’t exact, that it’s all about feeling and something you often can’t even put into words. I’m definitely very interested in the science surrounding music, like music theory and frequencies, sound synthesis … But what makes it exciting to me is that it’s so vague and elusive.
You can know everything there is to know about music theory, but writing a great song is something entirely different. I guess what they reveal about each other is how little we know about everything.
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?
Music is just such a lasting experience for me. I can still recall going to my first festival, but I don’t remember my first time tasting a great espresso.
That might just be because coffee isn’t my passion. I bet the best barista in the world remembers everything about that moment.
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?
We as humans love and are addicted to stories. Even when there’s no words in music, it still tells a story, takes you on a journey. When you pay attention to it, it encapsulates your whole being.
My guess is that this, mixed in with our primal reaction to these frequencies creates the deep connection we can feel with music.