Name: Yann Tiersen
Occupation: Producer, composer, musician
Recent release: Yann Tiersen's 11 5 18 2 5 18 is out via Mute.
Recommendations: I love the the book The Birds by Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas. And I'm really glad and happy that I got to do a remix for the 30th anniversary of the Neu! album. It's one of the best albums of all time.
If you enjoyed this interview with Yann Tiersen and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter. He also has an official homepage.
When did you start writing or playing music and what were your early passions and influences?
I started making my own music when I was a teenager around 13/14. I got a cheap guitar for my birthday. And then I went through the classic development: I had a band and started playing thje guitar. A bit later on, I turned towards synths as well and bought my first Juno 106, which was a revelation for me. I love this one. I still have it.
[Read our feature on the Juno 106]
Do I still remember the first album I ever bought? Actually my mother got it for me. It was Organisation by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Which is a good album, actually. Really! Later, I was more into Joy Division and then New Order.
Some people experience intense emotion when they listen to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
I think I have a really basic relation with music. It can make me dance or move. It can make me want to smash everything or put me in a trance-like, meditative state.
Music is more an emotion than anything else and it speaks to the body. I don't listen to that much music when I'm working, so it's a good thing that I now have this Blast radio show, which means I get to listen to music and prepare a DJ set.
I'm genuine with music. When it when it comes to listening to it, I'm just like everybody.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges searching for a personal voice as well as any breakthroughs?
I'm always thinking about the next album, especially in this time of COVID. Simply because I haven't been playing that many gigs. So I did the album Kerber and then I have the new one now.
And you know, when Kerber was released, I was already working on the new one. And now I'm already thinking about another one. So I'm just always a bit ahead, which is good. But sometimes not. (laughs) I'm tempted to always play new songs on tour, instead of playing the album. This time, however, we'll play the album but mix things up by playing different versions.
But yeah, COVID made it more extreme, at least last year.
Could you tell us a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist?
I don't know actually. I think I have a really non-fixed identity in every sense, and that shows through in the music as well. I don't want to get stuck. Actually, that's something that always drove me.
In more general terms, I think we're living in exciting times for music. This can be an exciting period or it can be really bad because it could go the other way and all the way back to the 50s. But importantly, we're smashing all the musical jars and personal identities! Terms like “male” or “female” don't make any sense anymore, so we're definitely experiencing a shift to something else.
Will we be able to move in the rigth direction in terms of the ecology, and our happiness and everything? I want to be optimistic in this time of a pandemic and of war.
What would you say are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I try to be me and to be true to myself and to my identity. Being simple and just expressing stuff. I think music has nothing to do with meaning. It's kind of magical, a shamanic force. (laughs)
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness? Are you more interested in music of the future or continuing a true tradition?
I don't like perfection. It just isn't me and it's not something I can admire. I don't believe in perfection in a way. And so I don't fall into this category for sure.
When it comes to traditions in music, I may be too lazy to even be aware of them. I do think it's good and important to reconnect to basic knowledge, to a deeper feeling, to be genuine, to feel the elements. But when it comes to choosing between tradition and modernity, I will not choose tradition.
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?
In terms of strategies, I think being more comfortable with electronic instruments and with modular synths in particular. Also, working more on texture and trying to forget about inspiration, this myth of searching for a good idea. After all, what is a good idea anyway? Even the concept of having good ideas is bad. I want to forget about that and try to express stuff and to be sincere instead.
Strangely, I feel more sincere with electronic instruments. Electricity is an energy, it's like fire. It's kind of magical, dangerous. And you know, the last couple of weeks, I worked on a remix. It was the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine. Personally, I was in an insulated and safe place and hearing the news about the war really devastated me. I was just working on a patch, on new random, generative music. When the remix took shape, all of that went into it, all my anxiety everything was in the music and that's really obvious when you listen to it.
That's something that I'm incapable of achieving with a traditional instrument. It would be rubbish, with me going all dramatic (laughs) - or you know, playing the piano or something really bad. But with my electronic tools, it went more subconsciously. My state of mind just went directly through the electric component and into the details
Can you take us through a day in your life from a possible morning routine through your work?
First, I bring my son to school and then I go to the studio. I'll work and then pick him up again. It's a really simple schedule and I try to ride the bicycle while moving from one place to the other.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece live performance or album that's particularly dear to you?
Right now, I'm trying to record some ideas. And not actually using them in a traditional sense, but using them as a sound bank and to manipulate them.
I was speaking about this remix I'm doing before. For it, I recorded the voice. I cut the tape into pieces, randomly and then stuck everything together. So I made use of granular synthesis or just playing the tapes or I recorded some tubular bells and with a cheap tape recorder and then played it at a low speed.
I'm really into tapes at the moment. I want to avoid the computer more and more. Tapes are time consuming, but they can be creative.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creative music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these influence creative results
I usually work on my own most of the time, and I enjoy it. But I love collaboration as well. I want to develop more in this direction.
I had the chance to have this studio here. Now, I am looking for collaborations in person with people and inviting them to come here and just spend a few days doing music and seeing what happens. There should be no obligation. When it comes to studio time, it's really good that now we can do everything on a laptop or a small recorder.
The studio I have here is special. It's away from everything, away from the world and I'd like to explore that with other people.
How does your work and your creativity relate to the world? And what is the role of music in society?
I think music is something which allows you to express deep stuff, but not thoughts. It can also get you high. That's a powerful thing in music and the dance part is kind of the same thing. You can also express violence or sweetness but I don't think you should take music as a language and as a tool to express something.
That was the case with the modular - I wasn't trying to express anything. And then, precisely because of that, everything was there. So I think that's a good rule to make good music: Don't try to express anything.
Art can be a way of dealing with big topics in life such as loss, death, Love and pain, which in which way and on which occasions has music both your own or others contributed to your understanding of these concepts?
I don't think music makes you understand anything. It can help, it can also make it worse. Yes. But understand - No. Mushrooms maybe can make you understand something, but not music. (laughs)
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional rational and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science? Can these two fields reveal what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I don't really see this. Or maybe I don't know what it means. Okay, that said, I do really love technical stuff. So I like to read manuals and I am thrilled by new developments and new instruments or new modules. So that kind of ties in with the scientific aspect, I guess.
Music is vibration in the air captured by our eardrums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it's able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I don't think it transmit any messages. Just vibration. And maybe messages are contained within the vibration.
The good thing with music is that we can actually hear it, just like we can see colours. There are other kinds of vibrations, subtle air vibrations, for instance, or particles. We can't experience those - but they're not less important.