Work fast, think less
There is a fine line between music that is challenging and art-for-art's-sake. In the work of Yves de Mey, however, the difference couldn't be any clearer. Operating out of Brussels as a sound designer, engineer and musician, de Mey's pieces are thrillingly inventive energy blasts from the future - complex, visionary and yet emotionally direct at the same time. Comparisons with autechre are not entirely unjustifiable, considering a 2001 live performance by the UK duo left a lasting impression on the Belgian producer, inspiring him to submit every single sound particle to a process of continuous renewal. And yet, even the wilful autechre discography hasn't gone through as many twists and turns as de Mey's, which has moved from drum n bass to the experimental dance score of his 2009 release Lichtung, the crisp electronica of his more recent mini-album Frisson to the constantly evolving explorations of Sendai, his long-running collaboration with Peter van Hoesen. To some, the result may prove to be too challenging. And yet, they're never overtly conceptual, creating intense sonic adventures outside your usual realm of experience instead.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I think I made my first demos around the age of 15, so that’s 25 years ago. Noisy things they were, made with hardly any gear or knowledge. My interest in electronic music was fuelled by Front 242 and Depeche Mode. My older brothers had tapes from New Wave clubs in Brussels and Antwerp, and I really liked what I heard (I was 12 then). A few years later I heard Einstürzende Neubauten for the first time, and I was totally gobsmacked by their sound and the energy. After that, it was Autechre and Panasonic that broadened my musical scope, still do. Although there are dozens of other artists who influenced me in one way or the other, but they never topped the importance of the ones mentioned above.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
1) My first proper release (a 3-track EP, 1998): the simple fact that someone wanted to release my music, and how this changed the way I approached producing. As if a hobby turned into a profession.
2) The moment I started working with modular synths. I always had the odd synthesizer, but I mainly did everything in the computer. The very first day I bought this ever-expanding Eurorack system, I entered a totally different realm of sound design, sonic sculpting and producing.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
There’s a few:
- Mastering synthesis.
- Restraint: doing away with the unnecessary, holding on to the core of a new piece.
- Work faster: due to some changes in my personal life, there’s not that much time to work in the studio these days. Not sure when this situation will end, so in the meantime I should try to work faster.
- Think less when I’m producing. I think my music would benefit from a wilder approach. Combined with the restraint I want to achieve, I might actually end up with the audible version of what I have in mind.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
A monophonic sound I patched in my Eurorack.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
There’s no strict separation for me. I don’t have an academic/classical training, so I don’t know too much about certain rules to follow or other theories. My entire way of composing is, technically speaking, improvised. That doesn’t necessarily mean I work in a random fashion or fiddle until I have something I can live with. I often set my own rules or restrictions, for instance deciding to work with a very limited set of tools.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
I guess most of the music/sounds I love create a space or an area where I want to stay. And I see any singular sound as a micro-composition, so there’s no way to separate those three elements.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
Not at all. How an audience perceives a certain piece of music is a combination of things; process and ideas are just two amongst many others. The only thing I really want to deduct from work is whether it's genuine or not.
In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?
I suppose it’s impossible to translate this to concrete figures, but it’s obvious any culture with its own aesthetics and preferences perceives another culture differently, and not just regarding music or sound. I find it hard to say where one culture stops and another begins. That’s probably why cross-overs are so interesting.
The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
I often work with cinema, so for me there’s an obvious connection. And I’ve been a big fan of audio-visual shows and got myself going by making visuals for my own live sets and the Sendai gigs. But admittedly, for the moment I don’t really care that much about it. It comes in waves, I suppose. Right now I’d rather spend my time on the sound and music. Music is often perceived as being cinematic, simply because there’s a moving image attached to it, and that’s something I’d like to avoid for a while. Unless I find a perfect narrative match, I'll probably stick to sound-only performances.
And that brings me to the second part of your question. Sight is only one of our senses, and probably the easiest one to mess with. I think I prefer the feeling of a sound wave traveling through my body, than seeing it visualised. The tangible impact of sound leaves a print on my bodily system, and that print seems to last much longer than any visual one.