Name: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch
Occupation: Composer, pianist, sound artist
Current release: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch's Ravage is out via FatCat’s 130701 imprint.
If you enjoyed this interview with Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Other artists on 130701 include Max Richter, Johann Johannsson, Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka, Maarja Nuut, Clarice Jensen.
[Read our Max Richter interview]
[Read our feature on Max Richter's New Four Seasons]
[Read our Dustin O’Halloran interview]
[Read Dustin O'Halloran share his creative process]
[Read our Hauschka interview]
[Read our Maarja Nuut interview]
[Read our Clarice Jensen interview]
You mentioned in the press release that your relationship with your father was fraught. Do you think it already entered your music prior to this release?
Not in a specific/thematic way, no, although in the way it shaped my personality and reading of life it would have had some influence on my music.
Losing one or both of my parents is something I have thought about a lot. Still, no matter how much I think about it, I wonder if we can ever be fully prepared for this. After having just gone through this yourself, what are your thoughts on this? With a little more distance, how would you describe this feeling of loss?
I completely agree with you that you can’t really prepare for it, especially as there’s no way to know how each passing will affect you.
What I missed at the time wasn’t so much knowing how I would feel, but rather for a space to grieve within our culture, for more openness around the subject.
What kind of tools or what kind of space would have helped you, would you say?
This idea of space for grieving within society felt like an imposition, like a taboo subject. I can understand why there’s a discomfort around it, it can be very animalistic and reflects back to our own mortality in a non-abstract way.
When I was looking at ways of grieving within non-Western society, it was so interesting to see that there’s a space to publicly express the pain of grief, even to the point of hiring professional mourners who will chant, sing and cry for the departed, even if they didn’t know them at all. This also shows how much music and sound is a part of human’s way to process these feelings.
What you were able to express through music but not through words? Was it a feeling of working through the emotions – of allowing something to be released - until you were able to verbalise them?
Yes, a lot of those emotions were felt in the body, on a primal and preverbal level.
So trying to put them into words was limiting, reducing it to something too small, too specific yet insufficiently complex. For me music triggers emotions and physical sensations too (I have some degree of auditory–tactile synesthesia) and was a better transcription, a better way to let it out of me than words could be.
When did you know that what you were playing was actually about what had happened?
Immediately, when I wrote the piano part of Ravage.
It was at a moment of not knowing how to talk about it to people, and it’s what I was feeling when writing it. And as you mentioned earlier, it did bring a release, a structured way to work through and witness how my grief evolved over a couple of year. I needed it.
Music, even in its most raw state, is usually a form of poetry, death itself is naked, brutal or as you put it, “banal”. How do you transfer the brutality and banality of death into that other medium without sacrificing something?
I think the act of dying is naked and brutal, but mourning allows to look at more than death, we also look at the life of that person. I wasn’t trying to represent a universal representation of death, more of a personal account of the aftermath.
To me, the music on Ravage feels like there is something pent up in the music, which never really fully resolves … it certainly does not come across as a work documenting consolation.
It wasn’t a process of self-soothing, that’s for sure. But I figured that the only way forward was to go through.
I suppose it never fully resolves because this type of event never does, but moments like recording my father’s letters, or pushing a WEM copycat feedback to the max to parallel emotional intensity, or recording my voice with a contact mic to the throat, a body part that felt dis-functioning (from the difficulty to talk, to a sense of extreme muscle tension), it all had a symbolic and ritualistic meaning to me.
What did bring me some sense of relative closure though, is when I realised I wanted to end the album on “Parting Gift”, which to me feels like a more peaceful offering, and showed me I had made it to the other side.
Considering the very personal nature of the material and the importance of the right sound for it, did you talk to Raffael about the background to the album? What were some of the considerations in this regard?
I don’t think I mentioned the subject of the record to start with, to let Raffael's own artistic reaction happen, as I deeply respect his musical sensibility. I didn’t want the music to be over compressed, it needed to retain the same dynamic range as the emotions felt while writing
Would you say that dealing with your father's death offered you insights for your own perspective on life and death?
Yes, absolutely. You already start being aware of the fragility of people when the get ill, and how this affect the body and mind. Once they pass and are no longer physically present, you are left with their belongings, the memories, their last words.
I saw it like going behind the curtain in the wizard of Oz: you see the scaffolding, how that person made sense of their own lives, it allows for a compassion that can be difficult to have for your parents, and which then extend to all other human beings.
Unless it's too personal, what's your own view on life and what happens when it ends?
I don’t have a fully formed set of thoughts on what happens after death. As for life, I try to just embraced the process.