Name: Elg aka Laurent Gérard
Occupation: Sound designer, sound artist, musician
Current Release: Elg's Dans Le Salon Du Nous is out November 26th via his own bandcamp account.
Recommendations: Book: "The will to change: men, masculinity and love" by Bell Hooks
Record: "l'Homme à Zéro" by France Sauvage. ("l'Homme à Zéro" has many possible translations and explanations, some could be "man from scratch" or even "crushed man" or "Humanity at level zero")
If you enjoyed this interview with Elg and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was a kid in the early 80s, my dad repaired synthesizers; he worked for the Roland after-sales service in Lyon. He used to steal broken synths and amps, then fixed them and so we had some gear at home. He also made his own effect pedals (wahwah in sewing machine pedal for instance), drum machines in shoe boxes and even midi-guitar. I grew up surrounded by this geeky environment.
I learned to play the organ as a kid as well. I felt really bad as an instrumentalist, I had this vision of virtuosos playing fast and I had a dumb appreciation of myself. I thought I was crap at music. So as a teenager, I was mainly listening to music. My dad showed me some techniques of folk guitar picking, I bought guitar rock magazines and was practicing with tablatures.
Things really started around the year 2000 during my film studies. An American friend of mine made me discover tons of new music (in no particular order, Oval, Boredoms, Stereolab, Bukka White, Smog, Luciano Cilio ...) and I realized that I didn't have to be a virtuoso for composition, it was mainly about attitude, texture and time.
All the synthesizer and organ experiences of my childhood had suddenly been really helpful. My father gave me a Roland RS09. And at this time you could still find analog gear for cheap. Friends of mine bought an 808, ms20, some rack effects, also Atari trackers and we started to record.
In 2002 we were a trio called TUN and we recorded our first LP "Le Disque" released by Creaked Records (that was the first release of the label catalogue, he was the guy living upstairs).
For most artists, originality is 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?
Right after TUN I started to record my own things and I released my first album called "Le Prototype de l'Homme Bébé" in 2003/2004.
Sometimes, with a few years of distance, I have the feeling that the first song I recorded for this album, "Tim et Henri", already contained all the ingredients of the music vocabulary I would develop afterwards. And these elements, these obsessions have since then been tested in many different landscapes, textures and temporalities. What I know is that I have to keep my curiosity, my learning and get out of my comfort zone regularly. Otherwise it smells like death and dumb tricks repetition.
It's very hard to make a language shift in time. Life and music are interlaced. If you keep things fresh in your mind, you can apply this to your work and vice versa. It's not easy not to be nostalgic and move forward, meaning to get old with your music, not to pretend at 41 you're the same as you were at 25 like the Rolling Stones are still doing at 80. It's so embarrassing.
I'm lucky enough to have never been "famous" and by the fact not crystallized in an image of what my work is supposed to be. It's always shifting. I know it's my strength and also my weakness. Coyote never catches the Roadrunner. But slowly I have the feeling I'm getting a bit closer to what I am. Even if I've been in sound and music for 20 years, it means nothing. Life is a path and so is music.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I'm a conglomerate of anxiety, obsession, lol and love. I suppose it's a good fuel.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenge was to become Macaulay Culkin when I was 9. I was obsessed. I also wanted to play in movies with Joe Pesci and be in Michael Jackson videos.
Three years ago, a musician who was at one of my shows told me he was in a residency in Berlin and one of the other artists was Macaulay Culkin. And his artistic proposition was more or less stand-up comedy with no funny jokes and uneasy silence. I was like "ouhhhh, weird path". Maybe our roads will cross at one point?
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started recording with a bunch of friends in an apartment. At this time it was a combo using Mac/Protools. I already hated macs then and the dangerous fanaticism around Steve Jobs. I also didn't like Pro Tools with its "please give money anytime you have to use a new option" philosophy. In the end I chose very ugly PCs and Nuendo as a DAW and then Reaper became my favorite horse.
There are many analog instruments and rack effects that have their own personality that digital can't have and vice versa. So I'm surrounded by these two worlds of approach and textures to create contrasts and specific movements. The main things for me are 1. contrasts (in terms of colors, energy and emotions) 2. depth (in terms of space, the wider the horizon, the better the sonic experience) 3. technical skills have to be questioned all the time to get out of habits and to stay in constant learning. Sometimes a frame of constraints can be interesting.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I’ve been sharing a studio space with music mate Sagat (also on the Vlek label) for four years. And this new environment opened new possibilities, especially in terms of chain treatments on sound. You can create amazing patchbay paths between hardware racks, tape machine, synths, mics, pre-amps and computer. The feeling of being in the cockpit of a small plane or laboratory full of LEDs and knobs is very motivating. I suppose it's a cliché of the baby-in-mum's-belly experience.
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'm obsessed with people. I can't prevent myself looking at people’s attitudes and expressions absolutely all the time in any situations. It's like a never-ending movie for me. I'm always imagining what their lives are like, where they come from, what their weirdness, joy and obsessions are. I often fall in love with tiny details, series of words, awkwardness, body movements, sensuality etc. I know I store these images somewhere in my brain to be processed later. One person equals one temple. One temple is a bag of vibrations. After a while, all these vibrations shape something in your mind, a shadow, a foam, a monster, a cake and progressively you're full of mixed emotions and feel the urge to shape something sonically from this mood.
Otherwise the direct collaborations with people are very important, it's absolutely necessary. To be questioned, criticized, challenged. The Orgue Agnès trio has been important for me to get confidence in playing classical instruments live and to think about democracy in the composition process within a band, how to get more energy with few elements. I used to work for the theatre or dance and this is very useful for my own practice. It gives you new ideas and perspectives. You work on things and ask yourself questions you would not ask if you didn't have to face these new work environments.
Now, for concerts, Èlg is a band called "Èlg et La Chimie". We did our first series of shows recently, it was great . It's the first time I composed for an ensemble, a band and that's totally invigorating. You compose with human beings’ skills and sensitivity. You have real limitations and you have to find a way to get the best from them without drowning them in painful technicity, because it has to stay smooth, enjoyable and, I hope, fun. We want to spread good vibrations and I guess that's what we do.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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 don't sleep much. I'm always awake early around 6:30 / 7:30 am, but I love the morning. It's the best moment of the day for me. I practice an awkward mixture of homemade yoga / gym / DIY stretching for 20 minutes.
We have bought a house in Brussels with friends and we fixed the house together so it's really nice to wake up in an environment that we shaped ourselves. We often have breakfast, lunch, drinks together. My other housemates also work in the sound world so we share our experiences.
Especially since the pandemic, everything is upside down. My schedule just depends if I'm on tour (obviously not the last 2 years) or working for theatre, dance companies, cinema or radio. If I don't have a commissioned work in the studio, I can use the free time to work on my own music stuff, I love these moments of pure experimentation and learning. It needs a discipline of its own.
I think it's absolutely necessary to do nothing when possible. You can't be a machine and "create" new things all the time. Pauses are mandatory. The soul needs time to digest all the experiences one has in life. All the emotions we meet have to be processed. I'm always a bit scared when I talk to friends, artists, who are having one residency after the other. It's unnatural to me. It's good whenever possible to do things that have nothing to do with "art". For me this is mainly where I feel new intuition. When I'm cooking, riding my bike in the city or working in my brother's garden.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Each time I work on something new I think "Oh but that's exactly what I was looking for in my life, this is a revelation!" until the next time.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music can heal yes. Certain frequencies and melodies make me feel good, Music has a resonance with my body and calms the nerves, makes me shiver and reduce my heart rate. That's what I sometimes look for in composition, in songs. A warm feeling in a cocoon. But most of the time I love to also inject some acid and bonkers vibes into it. I have the feeling it gives me an honest and true painting of the world.
When I was playing solo before - some kind of long electronic and vocal processions, prayers - it made me feel good, like a healing ritual, to play with your own inner monsters. And I've always been very careful to welcome everyone in that trip. It would be pretentious to say it really heals. But it can tune some of your inner strings and wash a corner of your fucked-up karma.
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?
I think nowadays so many people are artists or pretend to be artists that I don't have a clue anymore about what this word means. I could recite the Joseph Buys or Robert Filiou definition but honestly, I don't know anymore. I don't know what I am either.
I suppose I am a human being who puts energy into shaping sonic worlds, sonic trips to invite people into a parallel space-time dimension experience and I'd like them to have a different approach to their daily lives after this experience. I’m sorry, if this sounds a bit pretentious, but I'd love if it could help in that way. Personally, this is the kind of experience I'm looking for in the works of other artists.
Two days ago I went to an exhibition about death and its rituals at Brasseries Atlas in Brussels, two blocks away from my house, and that was totally immersive. I remember being in a basement, surrounded by sand and soil while watching a movie about a girl reciting her last will lying down on a bed. The mood was strange, not polished and suddenly I realized we really were in another era. That the world changed drastically in ten years. I knew it intellectually before, but until then I didn't know it with my whole body. So that was an experience in itself. And it has to do something with death. By the way, my last record “Dans le Salon du Nous” is dealing with death all over.
Young art students I've met over the last few years are really working within communities, collectives and that's really important. If art is a collective force to gather energies and initiatives against the dirty decisions made by politics it's useful.
I'm very stressed and sad about ecological issues. There's not one day I'm not affected by that. I can't see a sunrise or a sunset or the snow on the mountaintops or birds in a tree anymore without thinking we fucked all this up and that what I see in front of my eyes is already a specter, a rest of the life which used to surround the whole world before. We need a revolution. I agree with Barbara Stiegler when she says revolution starts where you are, so you do what you can do here and now. Help your friends, welcome them at home, stay fun, spread as much love as you can and why not play some music.
I consider music and shows as a Final Carnival. The original soundtrack of the magnificent ending of our human race. I know it's a bit desperate but it has at least this aesthetic force of Actionist performances. That said, I still have hope we will manage to "stop" at least a part of our abuse on that planet. I want to be more involved in different political and ecological associations, I'm not doing enough.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
"Universal Consciousness" by Alice Coltrane and "Trilogie de la Mort" by Eliane Radigue would answer your question.