Name: Noémi Büchi
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current release: Noémi Büchi's Matter is out November 25th via -OUS.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Noémi Büchi and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Soundcloud, Instagram, and Soundcloud.
For an even deeper look, check out our previous Noémi Büchi interview and our interview with her about sound.
I find it intriguing that Matter not only is a major progression from the already excellent EPs you published, but in a way a vision that no one else seems to be able to put into sound at the moment. When you started out working on the album, was there a fixed idea of what the music would sound like? A clear direction?
I had pretty clear sonic ideas, yes. But the question how the pieces and the album would finally sound, was on a very unclear and adventurous level. But that's exactly what I wanted.
This sonic concept and aesthetic of an electronic, very massive and demanding orchestral music that I had long desired, that I never really dared to venture into before, was quite a challenge for me, both technically and mentally. I had to discard a lot of things in order to be able to take this next compositional step. So in that sense I can say that it didn't have a clear direction, but a very clear inner drive. I knew indirectly what I was doing without knowing what it would really be like.
I find that fascinating, how you know something without knowing it. So there are definitely different kinds of knowing, intending and planning.
Your press release opens with a quote which seems to have been a departure for Matter: "Music gives us the illusion that time is not time, but space. It is then that the music transforms from process to object, which I find a very interesting thought; a materialisation of the sound process. Sound is matter."
For me, inventing and making music is very similar to painting. A musician also works with matter, the air. The air is part of our material world, our atmosphere. It seems to be immaterial because it has a much smaller density than other objects, but after all, everything is material.
That's why I love to work with electronic music even more, because already in the process of composing, you have to deal with the sound matter, transform it, knead it, shape it like stone, wood, paint or textil — you can work with the real facts of sound already in the beginning, compared to writing music, where first the idea has to develop in your head and your inner ear.
I couldn't describe it more beautifully than my partner Manuel Oberholzer had put it into words in his Feldermelder interview:
“For me it is the purest art form out there, as it's a manipulation of the planet's atmosphere. It's just logical that something so strongly connected to our survival touches us so deeply.”
I am particularly interested in the idea of sound as matter. I've heard this many times, but in the end, it is still very different from paint on a canvas – or is it?
I would like to mention as an example the painter Pierre Soulages, who just died. His art is characterized by the effort of not wanting to depict something, but to create autonomous works that do not represent anything, but only stand for themselves. Matter stands for itself.
In his “outrenoir” paintings, that is, paintings "beyond black," he no longer worked directly with the applied paint, but rather used the paint to shape and modulate the reflections of the light when it hits the processed black surface. Natural light is not depicted, but is itself included as an elemental part of the work.
The changing light conditions and viewer standpoints thus contribute to the fact that Soulages' works can never be "seen to the end," but always remain alive and inexhaustible. For me, this is absolute beauty and accomplished art.
What role did composers like Stravinsky, Skrjabin, Mahler and Ligeti, mentioned in the press release, play for you personally?
I am fascinated by late Romantic music because of its density and its indescribable force. It is difficult to put into words why it plays an important role for me. I think I just get carried away by this music and by individual works specifically. And out of this inspiration comes like a kind of new interpretation, a new genre, late-futuristic electronic-symphonic music maybe (haha).
I find the modernity in Stravinsky fantastic, this creative courage. It is part of cultural progress, but without manifesting this literally, as Schoenberg did, who established a new theory and concepts (twelve-tone music). Stravinsky elegantly, quietly and at the same time loudly revolutionized music. And behind the monumental facade and hyperrealism, there is a modern expressiveness. It is just wonderful.
I am particularly interested in the return and simultaneous expansion of harmony, combined with dissonant musical characteristics, regular rhythms and strong breaks — this kind of pursuit of beauty and completeness. To create something original with simple theories and means is totally also in my focus. I love to use traditional compositional technique with a colorful electronically produced orchestral palette.
Ligeti has a very specific place for me in my inspirational world. His whole way of thinking about the world, about cultural constructs, about composition and reception, and his very delicate way of creating music has influenced me deeply.
I recently conducted a Jean-Michel Jarre interview, and he interestingly enough also drew a line between classical composition and contemporary electroacoustic composition in Europe – something that, according to him, sets it apart from electronic music in others parts of the world. How do you see that line / tradition yourself?
It is clear that we are very influenced by our tradition and culture. We are trained, we are taught ways of behaving — we are surrounded from an early age by codes, rules and principles, that is a constructed truth somehow.
We are involuntarily part of a culture.
It is difficult to completely detach ourselves from this. I also mostly mention artists from western culture as a source of inspiration. However — and that's why I love Ligeti — it is possible to abstract from that and see everything from a broader perspective. In the end, what are we really? We’re only Matter. Matter — humans — without identity.
All cultural constructs could be ignored in the artistic existence. That would make for a fascinating body of work. That is the beauty about making art.
With the names mentioned in the press release, I am curious why you feel like electronic music is the ideal medium to create for you personally?
As I mentioned before, it allows you to work directly with the sonic matter. From beginning to end, you are engaged with the sonic material. You are not obliged to write down or sketch a concept.
In terms of sound palette, electronic music allows any fantasy to become reality. It was a logical consequence of my musical practice as a teenager to move into electronic music.
What are compositional principles that you used for the pieces on Matter?
I don't have any principles really. Only my inner drive leads me to certain constructions. What I can say is that I liked to have a beginning and an ending for each piece. So a very clear structure, like in classical music, with different movements.
The titles refer to the inner states a person has to go through while processing a severe trauma. I have tried to implement these mental states musically.
Your work on the album, as I understand it, involved a lot of research on harmony. Tell me about that and what the results were?
I wanted to use harmony to create a dense orchestral sound where the progression of harmony often reaches the limits of tonality. Interestingly, my music is now almost partially noise. This unexpected result surprises and delights me at the same time.
The general claim of music history is that, around the turn of the century, harmony had exhausted itself. What's your take on that?
As I mentioned, the simple means are usually the most interesting. It's like cooking — it takes almost nothing to make a good dish.
Harmonies will never die out. For me, it is simply a tool, a knowledge, a mathematical concept that I can use and apply as I wish.
Next to your solo work, you also have an album coming up with your duo Musique Infinie. Since I absolutely loved your performance at the -Ous take over, can you tell me a bit about your work with Feldermelder and what to expect from the upcoming debut album?
“Musique Infinie” is rooted in a shared desire to intertwine two composing veins, and to merge them into a new, massive core.
Our music uses simple motives, radically transforming them by expanding intricate structures and fantastic layerings. From this musical hybridization emerge pieces that lead into a paradoxical world, both disturbing and euphoric. Pieces that don't give in to calculations and expectations, but progress through ruptures and repetitions.
We want to create an art of resonance that echoes our world synchronically and diachronically. The richness of the compositions and their orchestral arrangement reflect like a mirror the density of the world with its violence, its decadence, its fragility, but also its power, its ingenuity and its beauty.
The overcoming of genres with eclectic elements from classical music, jazz, film music and traditional music, complete the vertical plunge into this thickness. They stroke musical reminiscences belonging to the collective memory that awaken strange connections. Our universe of “Musique Infinie“ touches the real in its raw state. This giant “monster” — as I perceive it — is in perpetual movement and transformation, which a less radical and more conformist music cannot give access to.
We practice a very intuitive and organic way of working together. For me, that is the condition of a good collaboration. With Manuel this is very present on all levels.