Name: Jérémy Labelle
Occupations: Composer, producer, conductor
Nationality: Reunion (French)
Current Release: Labelle's Eclat, described as "string quartet meets electronica in outer space" is available via InFiné.
Recommendations: “Les sept plumes de l’aigle “– Henri GOUGAUD; “The Robot Series” Isaac ASIMOV
If you enjoyed this interview with Labelle, visit his excellent homepage for media and information. He is also on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram.
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
It all started when I was a teenager, at 14, with DJing.
I was passionate about techno and particularly Detroit techno. But it's only from the age of 19-20 that I had the desire to compose my own tracks, to mix them to create new sets. At that time (2003-2004) even if my DJ sets were very techno, I took great pleasure in inserting maloya tracks, because there was always something that pushed me to express my Indian Ocean roots.
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?
At the beginning, during my years of DJing, I imitated a lot the DJs I liked like Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills and Derrick May.
[Read our Jeff Mills interview]
But with composition, I also practiced the rhythm of maloya, notably by playing the kayamb and percussion, to understand the construction of the songs of artists who fascinated me (Danyel Waro, Granmoun Lélé).
I have always studied the music I love in detail, to understand it and better absorb its energy. I studied musicology and musical composition at university, which gave me a solid theoretical and practical foundation.
It was at university that I started composing and my first experiments, like my DJ mixes, were driven by the desire to bring together techno and maloya, my two favorite music styles.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
For me, identity is above all the question of the relationship to the world in time. The relationship to the past, the present and the future. Identity is the feeling of belonging, but also of being, of wanting.
Personally, I have always felt myself to be in the interstice between the Northern hemisphere through my mother, the culture of metropolitan France in Europe, and the Southern hemisphere through my father, the culture of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. This space is a cultural interstice, an identity interstice, but also a spiritual interstice in my relationship with the material and the immaterial.
My identity is crossed by these interstices where everything is to be cleared, revealed and created. Creating bridges between worlds and cultures, uniting body and mind. These are the key elements of my poetic universe that animates all my creations.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenge was to unite maloya and techno.
I succeeded in doing this, but I am still trying to develop and expand it, particularly with the ambition of promoting Creole culture and bringing it to the highest musical levels.
But more intimately, this question of union between these two forms of music hid deeper aspirations which, today, are at the core of my creations, such as the union of body and spirit, shamanism, voice and body.
Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
The question of time is central.
There is a lot to be said about the question of time. For me, time is synonymous with space. The space, the universe of a work is only expressed because there is time, the time of listening. This space, this emptiness, has a perspective, a depth, a vertigo, an emotion, which for me is the character of the work. The space-time of a work has a colour, an emotion.
This is a central meaning in my creation: the void and its perspective.
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?
This question makes me think of Pierre Schaeffer's "Traité des objets musicaux" and of musique concrète.
I was heavily influenced during my studies by the compositional techniques of electroacoustic music. One of them is "micro-sampling". This is one of the keys that allowed me to create my first maloyo-electro tracks. "Ballaké", on my first LP Ensemble was created with this technique. Indeed, I was looking for a way to unite electro and maloya on a "genetic" level, but I was only doing superimpositions, "edits" that did not satisfy me. It was then by cutting up "note by note" a kora melody played by Ballaké Sissoko and a maloya rhythm (roulèr, piker, kamab) from a Danyel Waro track that I was able to recreate the rhythms and melodies that I wanted most deeply.
[Read our Ballaké Sissoko interview]
It was by doing this work of microsampling notes that I understood that I was not simply manipulating the sounds of an instrument, but everything that the instrumentalist had put into his gestures at the time of the recording. So, I had finally recomposed musical phrases from the sounds I wanted while keeping their original soul. That's why I never work with sound banks, but always from live recordings or playing sessions.
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?
The collaborations that worked well for me were collaborations where I invited vocal and instrumental artists and performers into fields that are not my own.
I believe that the best collaborations happen when two artists discover each other's universe, history and love of art.
The meeting with Prakash Sontakke (univers-île), for example, was a very intense exchange between what he had to do with Indian culture and what I had to do with Reunionese creolity.
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?
For 10 years I worked mainly in the afternoon and at night. I used to go to bed before sunrise every day.
But since the pandemic, I have totally changed my rhythm and I now work from morning until early evening before dinner. I can work at night from time to time, but only exceptionally to find certain emotional frequencies that can't be born when everyone else is asleep.
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?
The final of the Indian Ocean Music Awards in 2015 in Mauritius.
I was one of the last four projects selected to play in this final where the winner would be able to tour for a year in the network of national festivals and events. In order to win, you had to be successful on stage and get the audience to support you. The competing projects were all groups with one or two singers. So, they had a clear advantage over me. I was alone, without microphones and with only my machines!
I was totally afraid, because I didn't have this direct relationship with the audience through my voice, I had no possibility to communicate with them and to involve them. But when the stress and stage fright were at their peak, I realised that I had to communicate in a way that was not the voice, but with my body, my eyes, my smile, in short with my stage attitude in the incarnation of my own music. And that's what happened! I played, I communicated on my feelings, on what my music gave me, and I had an incredible "non-verbal" exchange with the audience. The audience and I were totally transported, and I won the contest!
The warmth and intensity of the applause will remain in my memory forever.
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?
There are many better ways to enter a creative state. Breathing, feeling the air, listening to the emptiness and connecting to it. I also have times when I need to use ceremonial incense to bring me into a specific state of concentration.
But ideas can come at any time and that's what's so exciting about this job. Living from your creation requires you to know how to tame yourself so that you can put yourself in a state of creation (almost) whenever you want. However, it requires you to always be alert to find the right path, which is extremely difficult.
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?
Yes, I think it´s true. I focus mainly on the good to bring or rather on the experience brought by the music. I have a sacred relationship with my music, whether it is for the stage space or for the creative space. Music can release emotions, energies, connect with certain spirits, with the ancestors.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
The question is particularly delicate with so-called "traditional" music.
For me, using a rhythm or a melody from the traditional repertoire is not done without having studied this inspiration in depth, even if the reuse completely transforms the material. It's a form of respect that I have for the ancestralism and history of what precedes us.
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?
If you talk about synaesthesia, I can't really speak about it. But in everyday life the senses are linked, for me, by the body and its memory. A sound, a perfume can evoke the memory of another sense thanks to the body's memory.
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 am a very political person, but my position as an artist is deliberately not political.
Poetically, I try to convey, as best I can, a detached view of society and to focus on our intimate relationship as human beings to the sacred, to the spirits, to nature, to the cosmos. My music allows me to feel sensations that I could not express otherwise.
For example, every year on Reunion Island there is the cyclone season and during this time you can lose running water, electricity and telecommunications for a few days. This is a powerful moment, because it constantly reminds us that we are not eternal and small in the face of the elements ... That the answer to many existential questions lies in our relationship with nature. It is this intimate feeling towards the world, towards nature, towards life that I try to transmit through music.
Finally, on an artistic level, I have a deep desire to promote my culture and to take it to unexplored paths and spheres.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can express everything that cannot be expressed by words, i.e. everything that touches on indescribable emotions and feelings, on states of the body and the mind.
For me, music is a broader means of expression, you can awaken and move things that are much more deeply rooted with sound.