Interview with Vincent Berger Rond
What is Spasmacousmatic music?
One of the several terms that I use through time and space to explain what could be, if one is sensitive to this idea, a good impression that my music leaves the listener with or without. It is not meant to be music to listen to on a 40 h / week life style week-end, to relax with steady tones . Rather music for dreamers who can hardly handle any scared productive rhythm and regular pause café music, because they have discovered far more stimulating ones. So far, about 70 compositions, 10 albums, a mix of songs and instrumentals, most well known acoustic instruments explored, never the same structure every time, different themes, not electronic music about technologies and conferences, but with a lyrical, poetic angle, subjective choice of fractions of seconds, sound fragments in unity and shifting patiently done harmonies instead of a steady big sound with the latest real time effects. I believe in the purity of a subjective approach, emotion more than analysis.
It’s probably a long story, but I’ll ask anyway. How did you come to discover this kind of music making?
First, I started to really listen to music in my teens and soon came to look for certain emotions and ? coming through my minds while I was listening to music. For long, I was a dedicated listener of different kinds, musicians from all fields, not getting into genres or musicians skills (I never really played any instrument or wanted to for long, the idea of recordings always seems more natural to me). Perhaps the voice is my instrument, but my voice is nasal, all wrong to most ears. I tend to enjoy far more popular vocalists with flawed techniques and odd sounds getting in the way. My ears are not meant at all for music classes, that is for sure. My roots are essentially pop songs and sampling music in songs, but through my 20’s and composition habits, I turned more and more to chamber music and avant-garde jazz. Even in my first compositions, primitive sampling with random noises, I never was able to make one piece of music in a pre-established style. Anybody can learn that easily, probably not me. Instead, I start right away with this obsessive quest for these rare feelings when you don’t know where you are anymore, what is happening or what you should think. When I know the answers already, my love for music becomes superficial and I can barely enjoy it with the same intensity. As a listener, it is still not a question of skills, conceptual sound or even originality for originality, but of reaching this approach that sounds removed and pure to me. It can be made with a lot of complexity but also with minimalism. I am more into complexity because I feel the urgency to explore a lot of sound, in a few years. There is also a lot of minimalism and simplicity right now, making the feelings I am interest in, harder to find in these approaches. Also, my love for melody keeps me within certain worlds. I had a lot of ideas in my head about the music I dreamed about making, I build them during years. One day, I decided to get through the most difficult recordings I could use. I set myself to accept no easy shortcut, to take a ridiculous amount of hours to create it, to push it until no detail was left like I really heard it, without any interior voice saying to me that it could be better (you learn after that you can always make it better, with more dedication, but I am still happy about my first work with this personal method of discipline), even going far away from my favourites artists, if it is what would happen, anyway even my OK early music never really sounded much like them either, like my quest was far more important than my admiration. So I started to use my software on the least lazy way I could think about. On a way, it is getting easier more and more through the years, when you start early with such a difficult approach. It is where nothing stands still with a desire to please. There, what musicians are doing with more simple approaches (often described as pure, as opposed to an all over the place sound, but it is mistake to think this way, I always thought, what matters is the concentration of your own intensity, not just making clear references to pre-established music styles one after another), I can still do it too, just don’t have to focus on it.
Tell me more about, ” It is where nothing stands still with a desire to please.”
If you have a desire to please in music (I don’t think what works well in music usually do in other fields, except perhaps if the desire to please is so intense that it makes you totally dependant, that is something else anyway), it usually leads to a strict imitation of something you have half forgotten, even when you are being careful not to do it, you start to exclude yourself and everything you can bring to the world. The result is dull and stay the same as before you did anything. You worked for anything like a slave. But, being dedicated on the continuation of your own project allows listeners to recognize their own effort to reach that too, in their lives. Their interpretation will be different, and that too is one of the key elements of creativity, trusting your own interpretation of the music you listen, instead of erasing it to fit the objective views about your favourite music. The most creative years of a new music is when it is still badly understood. That is why, I don’t want to get involve in overly technical sound treatments when I compose. My music is essentially based on my own mental process. I can explain what I do for some parts, to allow some understanding from musicians, but it won’t help to know why it works. The most important I can’t describe it with words. And so if I can’t describe it, it is not a still process to respect something strict and established.
I am also intrigued by this statement (from the album notes): ” it seems to me that the music is becoming a counter weight of positive energy that only gets into dark zones with confidence and strength to get out.” Please discuss this further.
Well, the first song is about the darkest in my catalogue and the music that comes after is much more uplifting. The theme of the Japanese goddess Izanami that starts off the album tells about gods who create deformed children and after both destroy and produce life on earth. The instrumentation is slightly slowed down, deformed with some filters too. The second piece has moments of the same family, in the theme of the goddess Maât (Maat), more a concept about balance and order. But the message is both with the idea of a good order and against it, in celebration of the wild..and against it too. It can be about introspective thoughts someone have about his own life or about the nature and the tendencies of human beings in both good and bad things we can do. There is nothing that is definitively wrong or right in this music. Then comes Hathor, goddess of art and music, birth and maternity, where musicians are both together to create beautiful music and in competition (something I always hated, I would make everything in my power to end up last in such a context, if I was forced to do it, just to be against it, unmotivated by it, worry about the search for perfection to please one person). I think it is more about the idea of sound fragments put together to make a creative whole. In my quiet life that fits me, I always feel more intellectually available, when I put recordings together than people – I have no social drive and go to sound instead of friends, always in an expressive goal only, even now in Quebec, my interest for social protest of any kind is stuck at zero or with a subjective twist (why fight for a dumb education system that makes you less creative ? learn by yourself, let it die…), I only care about my music, this is where my heart can go, and crowds make me anxious, I feel the worst energy out of them, even when it is for a good cause -, so there is both no possibility of what I am trying to express (Hathor also means “was wrong”, in the word in French language) and yet this what I do most clearly in this music. It is also not a world that encourages this process much, usually ; the recent law against protests in Montreal anyway, hard to go out of it now that I write about this piece. The original meaning is about music created out of diversity of sound and ego-less playing around. The music for the goddesses Sedna and Circée have a lot of tension still, but nobody is bad and nobody is good for sure. The energy circulates through the sound like it does in gods and human beings, there is nothing obvious like we often want to make it so, in our lives and even more in fiction. Sedna tells a story that could be fiction or linked to our History in America, but everything is left abstract and open to interpretation. I know how my understanding of something that really happened get always deformed through my own interpretation. This is what I do best and it works well in music and fiction writing 🙂 Circée is as much about personality than a myth. I get really far from the original Circée story. It is always how I do things, get to a point where there is really little left of the original source of inspiration that can be easily spotted or explained. Then, I find satisfaction. Perhaps, the strength to get out is that too, getting out of the imposed meaning and sound sources patterns to give you my own interpretation, even though I could love the dark zones too.
How do you gather your source material?
Mixing bag of found recordings and collaborations. I have also made a lot of synth improv and sound modification in the past, but it tends to come off more like a complement to other sounds. In the found recordings, often out-of-print, I almost always avoid the obvious new music with sound techniques that can be recognized easily. Soloists doing their obscure studies or folk music are best. I gather individual chords and rapid progressions confused with other kind of fragments, I do mix with slower ones and funny bits that don’t seem to go anywhere with melodic parts. I would like start using field recordings in the mix. Vocals are rarely found, but from collaborators I allow lyrics rewriting, they can do what they want really and then I compose with it after and credit their work. I try to keep every part of a composition with unlikely mixes, not ending up half the parts with just violins from one kind of sound source (classical études) or the trendy over use of silence and sustained chords in contemporary chamber orchestra (anyway, my method doesn’t encourage that much and I am not getting any fun with it when I compose). I would never take any sound and loop it until it sounds good. It is a lazy way of thinking and everybody is doing just that in most electroacoustics, academic or not, any time era. Any sound is good, any way, but depending of the context, otherwise it soon sounds all the same when you work with loops of acoustic instruments. Not a lot of music that work in these aesthetics of progressive loops and acoustics are to my satisfaction. Everybody seem more interested in the echo effects added than the sound selected. I enjoy this kind of approach a lot more lately in the context of a animated movie, even so the music there often reminds me of the very first step of my composition, when I am still searching for the key sounds of one or two instruments out of 14, and so listen to the same sound in loop. I would probably get some collaborations with video artists going with less sound. It is a true disease lately, this popular idea that less is more. Often, I feel like leaving the minimal and calm instrumentations to composers working with more traditional means. In my case, less instruments also means I am using less sources for a composition, so it can become more derivative somehow. Although, I make sure it isn’t, with shifting lines and more and more variations, my main patterns are still simple to invent. Like composition for music sheets, you start to use hints and tricks to work faster and avoid getting stuck with sterile parts.
Was it more or less difficult to realize a concept for the female idea in this work as opposed to the male idea of your previous work? How did the vocalist help you to capture the meaning of the piece?
First, the male concept did not capture my mind before I was done with Un doux rêveur dans. Homme Sauvage dit., complete with the fatherhood picture (Pyramidal Patterns) and my vision of the man as a more predictable and self-centered creature (all the pieces of the project really do not show a really positive picture of the man and I include myself). It was composed rather fast since I kept going a bit further with my softwares. At this point, I had to make a change, even if the change was not radical, I thought a new software would make me change my composition a little bit, and it did. Now, I am using more of the potential of the recordings as shifting recurrent patterns and put on background the flashy extensions for these. I love baroque excess but when some parts get wasted in transitions, it is not what it could be, not that this is a musical problem. It is important to keep on trying new approaches, even with a similar way of thinking music. A slight change in method can really be heard in the result. Elle avait raison Hathor is also an experiment among my other works, by far my most guitar oriented work, and it will probably remain this way. It was easy, since I listened to a lot of rock music in my early 20’s and teen years. The end result is half the way with the original guitar approach that I had in mind. At some point, diversity and full orchestral sound is too important for me to focus on guitars for too long. Also, the first piece, Izanami (for Alexandra Fol) is my first composition under Ardour software and I had the most extensive instrumentation yet (about twice as dense as any other piece on the project), so yes, it was a bit painful to work on it for one month, since I did not know any of the shortcuts, how to work my way with this software. Otherwise, once done, everything else after feels easy and light, once again it is best to start with harder things to keep on the quality up, I think here again. Laura Kilty’s voice really had the fragile quality I was looking for on this piece, Izanami (for Alexandra Fol). The lyrics had most of the elements I wanted to be heard for this project (the lyrics on the previous male project are more different from each others). She was able to sing well almost all of this central poem, so her presence is capital to the project ! The other poems feel like variations to me now. Also, goddesses are not supposed to be heard too often, are they ? 😉
Do you often work on a piece for one month? Do you focus entirely on just one piece when recording, or do you work on many pieces at the same time?
No, I guess some pieces I have made in one month but with spread work, mostly I will compose within a few weeks. I see my music as one work in process though. It really works well if you listen to it from start to end, so far, all the transitions and the way I play with the themes, how it evolves from 2004 to 2012. But, a single named piece on one file / track like Audiomachie (Audiomachie / Logomachie, 2009), I remember it took several months of spread work. The sounds were so harsh that I had much difficulty to work more than a few hours on it, in one blessed day. Now, I am used to such sounds so it is easier to do for me, on pieces that suggest it, like the most recent and more expensive Des fourmis d’ailleurs (2012), made in a few weeks. Usually two to three weeks. It is hard to work everyday on a piece, I need break time to make the sound new again to my ears. Otherwise, many things would be flawed. I have tried to work on many pieces at time in the past, this is usually what I do for the vocal part still, but the instrumental works, I feel like I lose time getting used to a composition when I shift. Now, I always focus on one piece at a time. I don’t understand why so many musicians feel like doing 6 projects at once, they often end up with half-baked music, with ideas that could easily be mixed together for a far richer result, in only one project. Maybe now, everything has to be easy and to require minimal mental concentration. Perhaps people are just too busy and tired to work on one project. This world can be hard, if we have too many activities at once, around the music making. Maybe it is question of personality too. Some persons move a lot for no reason, I often notice. They move place every week, without any clear objective, it seems to be fun. They never stay in place in their lives. My music can be perceived this way, with the various shifts, but it is never moving to satisfy my need for speed. It is a prepared move, a desire to explore clear possibilities, nothing made on impulse as a whole. Many choices are made fast when I compose, but with careful dedication to the detail. I might also remove whole sections, minutes of work, if I feel like it is weighty and there to satisfy my ego or superficial pleasures soon felt pointless.
What are your feelings about people’s understanding your music?
Less and less sensitive, yet an half-faked naive side of me would come out on top of my body when people are mean toward me sometimes, lol, specially arrogant vocalist with academic breathing techniques. Seriously, I only give one or two performances a year so the few comments I get become overly important for me. It is another world when it comes to comments about my music composition on recording. I often barely remember most of them anymore. And I think it is an era for live performance, but I never went to a lot of concerts, since it doesn’t give me more satisfaction than a recording, even the best ones it seems. So it is another proof that I essentially don’t care for people’s feelings and don’t really want any audience for my music. Since I focus so much on composition with so few listeners. I love to share ideas, this will never change, but I don’t need to appear on stage for that and a few listeners are OK for me.
What are you working on now?
A project for which I still don’t know much, many poems on the side already, no big picture yet. Some pieces on site freakywaves.com might end up on it under another form.