Name: Ben Bertrand
Occupation: Clarinetist, composer, sound artist
Current Release: Manes on Stroom/Les albums claus.
Recommendations: Piece of music: Mystery Sonatas of David Lang. Book: Ubik by Philip K. Dick &
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
During my childhood, music was omnipresent at home. I learned to play the violin and the clarinet from an early age and I started going to concerts with my parents when I was very young. All of this made me curious and made me want to invent music: I have always considered the world of sounds as a space of freedom.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I spent a lot of time working on my instrument (bass clarinet) while studying classical music. During these years, I had the chance to approach a wide range of music (from classical music in orchestra to improvisation through chamber music and music with electronics) and to play the music of many composers (Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Luc Ferrari, Terry Riley, David Lang, Henri Pousseur, Stockhausen ...). I also had the opportunity to take music analysis courses. These courses allowed me to understand what tools composers use to create music.
Once the conservatory was over, I started wanting to make electronic music only using my bass clarinet. So I started to work with effect pedals and loops - and there I discovered a world. By mixing these sounds and different composition techniques, I found myself making the music that I had always dreamt of making.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, I was looking into the possibilities of using effect pedals. The more time advances, the more I am focused on the music itself. I still use effect pedals, but I try to use them as a full-fledged instrument, not as something that I add to my instrument.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
When I first started using electronics, I only had one loop station, a delay, an octaver and a distortion. Then I began to use an eventide pitchfactor. Later, I added a mixer with two auxiliary sends to have different channels with many desynchronized loops. Furthermore I use an eventide H9, this machine is tremendous.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I don't think there is such an antagonism between human and machines. As usual, it depends on how and why you use the technology. The technology I use the most is the one found in the effects pedals. Using those machines with my bass clarinet really permits me to open my way of playing the clarinet.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I use the H9 pitchfactor a lot. It intervenes more and more in my process of composing. For the moment, my goal is to interact with the effects I use, so the machines allow me to enlarge the search area of my creative process.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love working alone. However, collaborations are learning moments for me: I really like to see how others create and manage the different aspects of composition and production.
Taking the time to chat and jam with the people I work with is important to me: I think that musicians must be connected to each other for collaboration to be fruitful.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I try to work my instrument and composition daily. I don't really have fixed hours, but I try to play music for most of the day. I always start by working on my instrument, then I compose. I have a well established routine regarding instrumental practise, however I give myself much more freedom in terms of composition.
Musical practise is essential for my personal balance. Almost all aspects of my life are linked to music.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
For example, for the song "Delayed Monologue" from my last album "Manes", I started researching what I could do with the Band Delay of Eventide H9. This effect allows you to have two delays that are in rhythm with each other. By playing only one note on the instrument, you can generate a polyrhythm thanks to the delay.
I decided to use on the Band Delay of the H9, a 5 on 4 polyrhythm. Then I wrote a two-voice melody (low notes and high notes) which follows another polyrhythm (5 on 3) that I play with the double delay.
This allowed me to compose a long rhythmic melody which changes slowly over the repetitions. For this song, the fact of having sought to interact with the machine really allowed me to go further in my compositional process.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don't feel like there is an ideal state of mind for being creative.
For me, it's more related to the desire to seek and/or understand something: what happens if I use such an effect in such a way, how does this artist create this sound, how does this composer achieve this atmosphere.
It is by asking myself these kinds of questions that I begin to compose my pieces. Then, I try things and the composition process is then a decision-making chain (this idea is good: I keep it; this one does not give something that satisfies me so I abandon it).
In my compositional process, the time factor is very important. I spend a lot of time finalising my compositions: I often have the impression of doing manual work and slowly polishing pieces so that they fit together perfectly.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
So far, I have composed my records with a live perspective: I record an album that I can play on stage. What I appreciate in studio work is the precision work to get the best of compositions. Playing live is a very instinctive step although it requires careful preparation. There are improvised moments in my albums and in my concerts but these improvisations are very framed.
On the other hand, during the composition process, improvisation is a very powerful tool: giving me musical constraints by improvising allows me to discover new territories and compose.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
For me, these two aspects are completely linked: since the effects modify the sound of my instrument, they allow me to transform my bass clarinet into a large number of different instruments. Thanks to the loops, I use these timbre changes so that I can have a kind of orchestra when I compose.
In addition, the use of a specific effect will also influence my creative process.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
When I like a certain music, it gives me goosebumps. I see music and the world of sounds as something that allows us to forget ourselves and connect with something bigger.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My artistic practise is above all linked to my personal balance: playing music has become a need, it allows me to channel my energy. Musical practise also gives meaning to my existence: the fact of daily playing my instrument and composing are pillars of my life.
For me, artistic creation makes it possible to show that our passage on earth is worth more than our daily worries, that something transcendent is crossing us.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
For me, the basic concept of music is still intact because whatever the technological advances, the existential questions of men have not changed. Music allows us to connect with ourselves, to have confidence and to give meaning to our existence since humanity has existed.
Is there such a difference between using a delay on your instrument and singing in a cave or in a church as our ancestors did? For me, it's exactly the same. I think that the tools for making music will of course continue to evolve but that the search for transcendence and beauty will remain the same.