Name: Golem Mecanique / Karen Jebane
Occupation: Singer, composer, sound artist
Current Release: Nona, Decima et Morta on Editions Mego
Recommendations: The Temple of the Golden Pavillion of Yukio Mishima. A fabulous novel about the relation we have to beauty and how we must destroy it to be delivered from it.
Every painting of Pierre Soulages. He created one vision of painting with the «Outrenoir». It is beyond black, beyond colour. It is a mass for light.
If you enjoyed this interview with Karen Jebane aka Golem Mecanique, visit her bandcamp profile for more music and her facebook page for current updates and news.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think that there was always music in my life. As a child, I was always singing, trying to imitate songstresses I'd heard, such as Blondie or Maria Callas. My father listened to a lot of music. His LP collection was a treasure to him and I remember him looking at the cover pictures as if it they were canvases by Van Gogh or Rembrandt. The music of my father's collection that he shared with me was like a precious souvenir … and then I discovered Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath when I was only 4 or 5 years old. I experienced such happiness, such precious sensations. I wanted to achieve that as well, making people happy with music.
I started making music at high school singing in black metal- and rock bands. In 2007 I created my doppelganger Golem Mecanique. And I never stopped since to make it shine.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I am a monster I guess. I devour everything I hear. It gets imprinted in my mind and it slowly transform itself. Some words from one piece, a tone from another. I do not think I am a copycat. But I think when I hear something that brings me some light, I work to discover a new path to reach this light. I cannot be Pergolese or Monteverdi, but I try with my voice, my instrument or my tape recorders to forge a new path, a parallel path to reach this kind of emotion.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge of my musical life was to be minimalist and precise. I began with computer, loop station, samples and a lot of electronic devices. But when I saw pictures of me on stage, I was looking at a kind of secretary. My eyes were always fixed on the screen. There was no contact with the audience. No emotion. I let go of the computer to focus on tape recorders which were more interesting in terms of manipulation and the sonography.
Then I encountered what would become my principal instrument: the drone box built by Leo Maurel, a wooden, simplified experimental and motorised hurdy gurdy. It was an epiphany for me. Now I have one reverb pedal, my drone box, my voice. And I can be a songstress, not a girl behind a cold screen.
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?
My current studio still looks my first studio. It occupied a space of two square meters in my living room. It had two speakers, a mixer and a chaos of wires. My set evolved for the reason I explained … to reach the precise minimalism I was aiming at.
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?
Humans excel at making things they do not need. Technology is not the main point of my music. I have an instrument I will have forever, my voice, and an instrument which is weird, interesting, fierce and powerful. I have some reverb pedals but not more. Technology does not interest me beyond that. I just want to be something else, someone else with a recognisable sound proposition. Like belonging to another time space. It is quite naive I guess. But it's what I am working towards.
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?
First the song, then the tools. I have a quite simple way of composing. My head is full of songs, of lyrics, of impressions and I try to make the instrument fit with these. All those complex software solutions are not part of my creative landscape
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?
Collaborating with people is pretty new for me. I was a solitary Golem for a long time, then I met people whose music I adored and I wanted to combine their sound with mine. I collaborate with Clara de Asis and Moshe O’ Grady. Two duets which brought me a new vision, the opportunity to listen to someone else and discuss about our perspectives of what we want the sound to be.
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?
My routine is always musical. I work with my voice and my instrument as much as I can. I record everything that comes to mind. I share a lot about music everyday with my husband who runs a black metal label. We work a lot together on cover design, recording the songs of a dark folk duet we just started. We listen to tons of things everyday and talk about the best concerts to see. I do not have a real schedule because I am always inside the music. I always say music is my therapy. Music is pretty much my church.
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?
I am very influenced by literature, poetry, and movies. The words I appreciate inform the background of my composition. I composed an LP about the Divine Comedy, about Medea of film director Pasolini. They obsessed me and it took me time to compose with this obsession. It took me a minimum of one year to compose, write, record it, then to listen to it, erase it and record again before I was sure.
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 do not know if there is a kind of magical formula. But the act of creation, of being creative is like being bipolar. Someday you are the king of the charts and you could record 23 albums with pride. On another, you are a shapeless ghost and speechless. It is quite a mystery for me how to keep a focused mind, to enter in a deep working state. I guess I am too sensitive and distracted by my emotions.
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?
There is never a connection between the studio and the stage. An LP I composed cannot be played live because of what I call the embroidery of sounds, the polyphony of my own voice. It is a choice I made. I propose something else on stage. But it is never improvised.
I treat every live performance as if it was a unique one and I never do the same thing twice. The live performances are inspired by what I recorded but they are never similar. I wrote a kind of graphic score for my instrument, for my voice. I cannot improvise. I do not like that. I need control and preparation.
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?
I think they are quite bound. I have an instinctive way of working. A sound can be a composition by itself. I cannot read music or write an academic score. But I know my instruments, voice and drone box. They lead me. I play and find something in the chaos. The composition comes, but it is more a design, a scenario than a real composition.
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?
With the music I made as Golem Mecanique I am totally immersed in the senses, the perception and its borders. With the drone produced by my instrument, almost every audience looses perception of time, it is quite hypnotising and at the end of every live show, there is always this moment of coming back to reality. Some minutes of silence, people are quite fuzzy and lost in their blurred mind. Some have described it to me as a state of trance, others as if they were drowning - it is quite interesting. And I can admit that even I can get lost in my own drone and enter into a state of half sleep
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?
Art is war. Art is life. It is a choice. A serious choice to be an artist. The world is becoming a monster, hurting people in every single thing they are, burning their hope and desire. We are resistance. Maybe it's useless, but we are a kind of resistance to the brutality of society. I always act as if art was the answer. And I truly think it is one answer to the violence of our times.
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?
I think that music has been there for hundreds of years. It lives without us. It is everywhere. For decades and decades we were just its servants. We do not need to have a vision. Music was there before us and it is there beyond us.