Interview: Le Révélateur

This is an iterview I’ve been meaning to conduct for quite a while. One of the most brilliant Kosmische Musik revivalists, Canadian musician Roger Tellier-Craig, a.k.a. Le Révélateur, has just dropped a new LP on Root Strata, entitled Extreme Events. In this short interview, he gives some exhaustive answers about his creative vision, points out the literary influences and explains his collaboration with video artist Sabrina Ratté.

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Roger Tellier-Craig and Sabrina Ratté.

Jakub Adamek: Root Strata describes your album as “a prescient re-vision of hypothetical cyberpunk futures realized in the desert of digital decay and burgeoning artificial ecologies”. That’s some heavy futuristic talk. Are you fascinated by the future?

Roger Tellier-Craig: I’m not so sure it’s actually the future I’m interested in or if it’s simply science-fiction in general, specifically sci-fi that addresses impossible realities, wether it’s the disconnected, paranoid realities of Philip K. Dick or the virtual worlds of Neuromancer-era William Gibson. I guess I’m particularly drawn to the psychedelic aspect of sci-fi, where the difference between “objective” reality and a more delirious reading of it isn’t so clearly defined, which in a way I can relate to my own experience of everyday life.  

JA: When I first heard Extreme Events I commented that it sounded like the Internet spilling into real life. You agreed with that statement. Are you trying to blur the line between what’s real and what’s imagined – or, music-wise: what’s heard and what’s just a sonic hallucination?

RTC: Yeah, definitely, I’m very fascinated by how the Internet is changing the way we perceive things, how the narcissistic aspect of social networks can alter our identities and the way we see ourselves; we’re creating these controlled representations of our tastes and interests through stuff like Facebook, SoundClound, Tumblr, etc. These accumulations of information end up seemingly “defining” us in the eyes of the world, and I think that we may end up believing some of that ourselves.

Of course this myth-making phenomenon is not unique to the Internet, but having access to so many of these social platforms seems to be creating a feedback loop accelarating this image-creating process. I’m also constantly fascinated by escapism and hyperreality, and our tendency to live inside virtual worlds nurtured through entertainment and art, imagination and projection spilling out into the everyday world. I don’t think my music is a direct representation of any of these questions, but I like to explore these ideas in the titles and I am interested in creating ethereal sound worlds that echo this confused and blurry state of mind.

JA: Your music seems very informed by the science-fiction tradition, too. It keeps reminding me about J.G. Ballard and his Vermillion Sands series. Are there any writers that inspire you?

RTC: Oddly enough, I’m not very familiar with J.G. Ballard, though I have been meaning to pick up one of his books at some point, but as I mentioned above sci-fi is definitely a huge inspiration for me, not just in writing but also through cinema. Philip K. Dick and William Gibson are probably my two faves, but Stanisław Lem’s “Solaris” – as well as Tarkovsky’s take on it – was also a huge thing for me, as well as the Strugatsky brothers’ “Roadside Picnic”. I also have to mention the impact of Maurice Blanchot’s fiction when I first started getting into weirder stuff in my early twenties, as well as “The Invention of Morel”, written by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Basically, I’m drawn to anything that blurs the lines between reality and imagination, virtual realities, delirious zones of hallucination and immaterial impossible worlds.

I think I’m drawn to creating these very dense compositions because I want to create a feeling of immensity similar to the one I first felt when I heard My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” back in 1991; it felt as though I was inside an impossible space, where everything seemed infinite, lines were blurred through the chaos of clashing tones and FX. It almost felt like “shoegaze” was a place, not an aesthetic. I also had a similar experience when I discovered Xenakis’s huge soundworlds – “Persepolis” and “La légende d’Eer”, this feeling of being inside sound, a swirling oceanic mess of electronic tones. Creating these ethereal soundworlds is a way for me to approach these virtual worlds that fascinate me so much, the audio equivalent of these impossible spaces.

JA: We now see a number of experimental musicians turning towards house and techno based genres, and the more club-friendly aesthetics. Is Le Révélateur ever gonna try to hit the dancefloor?

RTC: I doubt that will ever happen. Some folks are definitely doing interesting things with these ideas and pushing limits, but I’m personally more interested in a sort of tonal and rhythmical electronic music that wouldn’t rely so much on idioms born out of that culture. What attracted me to electronic music in the first place is just how other-wordly it could sound, so to fall back on something as clear as dancefloor oriented tropes just isn’t so interesting to me as a musician. I’m interested in developing a language out of experimentation, finding different ways of addressing form. “Horizon Fears” was the last manifestation from the first chapter of Le Révélateur, one where I was still figuring out how to use my equipment and how to replicate techniques and approaches I loved from classic electronic music like “Berlin School” and stuff like that.

With “Extreme Events”, I was more interested in stepping out of those references and not relying so much on them. I don’t have anything against referential music, but I feel I’ve done a lot of that in the past and it was time for me to move on. I’m not saying that I’m breaking any new ground with this LP, but the process of making it was motivated by the unknown; I literally didn’t know what I was doing most of the time and this was more exciting to me. For example, on tracks like “Stream Terminal” and “Followers”, I really wanted to have a rhythm but without having recourse to a drum machine or a synth arpeggio, so I had to figure out other ways of creating sounds that would propel the pieces. I just feel that there is still so much that can be done with these tools, and it’s too easy to simply create something while relying on your reference points.

I do love and listen to some folks coming from a dancefloor background, people like Actress, Mark Fell (though he’s pretty out there!), Huerco S., Austin Cesear, Objekt (looking forward to his LP on PAN), Inga Copeland, Gas, Norwell & S Olbricht, etc. It’s just that it’s not what I want to make as a musician, though they inspire me with their production techniques and arrangements.

JA: Before you started Le Révélateur, you’ve gained some experience in such seminal post-rock acts as Godspeed You! Black Emperor of Fly Pan Am. Did playing post-rock leave any influences on Le Révélateur’s sound, or is it the other way around – you’re trying to cut all the ties?

RTC: Well, that is a tricky question to answer. When we first started Fly Pan Am we were interested in many different kinds of music, and “krautrock”, Minimalism and electroacoustic music were definite faves that still flow through my veins, but we were exploring these ideas through rock idioms and instrumentation, dabbling here and there with electronic sounds but not as fully as I have in recent years. I kinda started Le Révélateur in order to correct this fact, feeling that I had never fully explored what it was that had drawn me so much to early Cluster records or electroacoustic, studio-based music. So I guess in a way both Fly Pan Am and Le Révélateur were driven by the same inspirations, while using different methods and tools. I definitely think both of these projects are linked.  I don’t think starting this project was born out of a need to cut ties with my past as much I simply got a clearer picture of what it was that I really wanted to explore, and this keeps changing gradually all the time anyways. As a matter of fact, in a way it feels to me like Extreme Events kinda picks up where the last Fly Pan Am record ended, since it feels like this is the first record I’ve done in the past 10 years that doesn’t rely so much on references.

Music video for “Bleu Nuit” by Sabrina Ratté.

JA: You work with Sabrina Ratté, who also created visualizations for your music and artworks for most of your albums, including Extreme Events. It’s a great visual identification. How did you discover each other?

RTC: We first met in 2008. I had just started working on what was going to become Le Révélateur and Sabrina was still in film school. At some point we both started getting into early video and computer art, and Sabrina started exploring video stuff on her side. She ended up asking me to compose a piece for one of her early experiments and it totally clicked. We were both obssessed with early computer music and video art, folks like Lillian Schwartz, Laurie Spiegel, Dan Sandin, Maggi Payne and Ed Tannebaum, the Vasulkas, etc. So it only made sense to connect our forces and see what we could come up with.

I ended up composing the music for a bunch of her early videos so I asked her to make a video to a piece I was working on following the release of my first tape in 2010. I was gonna start playing some concerts in the light of this release, so it made sense to try this out in a live setting together, since I really wasn’t interested in performing solo on stage with a bunch of synths, staring at a computer screen. This worked out so well that I eventually asked her to join the project. She was also a photographer, so I figured it would be cool to have her realize the photos for the project, using video stills instead of actual pictures; this is when we started exploring the idea of creating these video-photos, or “avatars”, that we’ve been using since then and that you can see on the back of “Fictions”, as well as the new LP. It quickly became very clear that I wanted Sabrina to generate the images that were also going to be used on the covers.

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