Name: Monolithe Noir
Members: Antoine Messager Pasqualini, Christophe Claeys, Yannick Dupont
Interviewee: Antoine Messager Pasqualini
Occupation: Songwriter, composer, producer
Recent release: Monolithe Noir's Rin is out via Capitane.
Recommendations: Pierre-Jakez Hélias “Le Cheval d’Orgueil” which talks about the disappearance of a civilisation and its tradition from the 1900s to the 1950s. It is funny, heartbreaking and it felt important given my origins.
I will never stop recommending Eliane Radigue’s "Trilogie de la mort".
If you enjoyed this interview with Monolithe Noir and would like to discover more about their music, visit the band's official website. They're is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started putting things on tape when I was 11 or 12, before I could write a proper song actually. I think I was first attracted by the process, the technical aspect though I couldn’t manage any of them properly.
My early passion was playing drums and the idea that this could allow me to get along with other people.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Music is the shortest way to get close to my emotions. What I feel is a physical vibration and a call to make and play music.
I can even get impatient because I want to express myself with music. I cannot longer lie on my bed and wait for a record to finish, and play it again.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think the search for honesty was my biggest challenge. I had bands before and the question of how we could succeed was always there, even somehow in the creative process. Which is not healthy.
After my previous band split up, I had to live with the fact that failing wouldn’t be an option in a musical career, especially for the kind of music I wanted to make. Failure is present everyday and it’s not sad or anything, it’s one of the things that gives me the energy to go on. And the only way I can live with failure is doing something personal, that is mine before belonging to other people.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
The places I come from were part of the way I’d describe my identity to others for a long time.
On my father’s side, my grandmother was from Glasgow, my great grandfather was from Corsica and the family on my mother’s side is Breton over lots of generations. I thought and still think this influenced my attitude, let’s say my strong character. I feel that I’m moving with my family history and that it has influenced some of my choices, the people and the things I love. While I feel my origins in my cells, I know my identity is shaped with narration. If I want people to get to know me, I will probably give them access to another kind of narration.
Composing or/and listening to music would be a way to get to the core of your identity, as a personal thing but also as a human being, and to shape it at the same time. I can see identity as a territory with parts you’d never explore without the help of some objects of art that will help you make the connections, throw bridges, sometimes over troubled waters, dig tunnels.
However you feel it, therefore, the search for an identity, which you feel would be yours, or your will to shape it is at the heart of creativity, in an essential interaction with your environment.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I want my approach to be spontaneous. I like to theorize things after they’re done which makes even more sense when you mostly create instrumental music.
What I do does not arise from concepts. I don’t play games with music genres or references. I must feel sincere while creating or it won’t work as a piece.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I don’t question myself about originality. I’d rather think about what I’m doing is personal or not. Is it mine whether it might sound like something I or somebody else would have listened to? I don’t want to torture myself or twist the songs I compose just to make it slightly different which sounds like disguising your music so you think people won’t identify what your intentions were at the beginning. I don't reject this per se, this can work sometimes. It’s just not the way I work.
The tension between future and tradition is permanent in my approach.
When it comes to composing and recording, Yannick and I were dragged into that thinking, but it felt good. I like the sound of lots of records from the 60s and 70s but my creative process is definitely rooted in the 2010-20s technologies which allowed me to do a lot myself. I mean this is not the future but it means I’m welcoming new methods. This clearly affects how Monolithe Noir sounds.
I don’t really care if my music doesn’t sound futuristic but I’m also very reluctant towards nostalgia and I don’t believe music was better before.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I have to say Ableton Live has been the most important tool for me for the past 10 years though it doesn’t sound very appealing. It expands all the time and you can see it was created and updated with the help of musicians.
The Moog Voyager is another tool that accompanied me through Monolithe Noir’s three albums. It’s not even mine but I’ve felt in love with it instantly and I have composed lots of songs basis with this synth. Hopefully I will have enough money someday to buy my own.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I don’t have a typical routine. I do and have to do lots of different things to make a living with my music. That includes finding gigs, communicating about the band, and so on.
So some day I will play with other bands, some other day I will participate in workshops with young fellows from a mental health institute, or shoot some video material for someone else or myself. And I can focus on music, my days are filled with it.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
One of the pieces I like the most is “Profondeville” (from my first album Le Son Grave).
I spent months building and finishing this piece but it was a milestone that made things easier I think. I use a lot layers of unchanging notes that sound like telegraph messages. They are like the beginning of a canvas. I think I played various measures of these and then looped them and probably replaced them on the grid afterwards. They were better guides than a click which drives me nuts. With those layers, new patterns appeared.
I had a kind of unpredictable rhythm that allowed me to surprise myself. I converted some of those patterns into drums elements. Some drum elements were also played. Now I had to build something with a melodic consistency. I used the Moog Voyager and it might have been the first time I used It on a track. Of course I’ve looped so many measures of this and at the end the result was pretty boring if I remember well. I had to build a kind of narration and travel through textures and spaces. I wanted the track to feel like it was always moving, in search of balance but with kind of a sick mind which I often sort out using detuning.
I generally prefer some instruments stay a bit out of tune. I also used the Moog Voyager for soundscapes. Maybe the soundscape was even the beginning of another demo. Numerous tracks I’ve done come from merging different tracks which I guess is pretty common.
At some point I really needed to finish the track. I felt I had to shake things up so I went to my rehearsal space and hit the drums very hard (for other tracks I’d hit the drums first and then would turn some patterns into drum machines). Endless mixing sessions later (I was learning by that time) I finally could release the track in a version I wouldn’t even be able to play during my solo sets!
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Creativewise I’ve always been solitary because I have my speed, and I need to have control on the process. But I nourish myself all the time with impressions around.
Rin was the moment I opened the arrangement work to someone else - this being Yannick Dupont - who plays electric bass and synths in the band. He’s also a great drummer. He goes fast, which I like, and could respond instantly to what I was asking him in the recording process. He has played a lot of improvised music in his whole career so there wasn’t any rehearsal needed before we’d record. And that suits me because composition and recording are done at the same time. So everything was generally simpler than what I experienced before.
You have to deal with the other’s personality and respect his approach which gives him a responsibility in the creative process as well. It doesn’t mean I have learnt to work with other people. It just means I’ve learnt to work with Yannick Dupont.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I thought about this for the first time two years ago while working on demos for Rin.
I know and welcome the fact my music was always part of my environment, that it partly depends on it. I’ve lived in 5 different cities those 18 last years and since I’m very porous to what happens around me I can’t conceive myself or my creative process as being out of the world. Like many others I guess I wondered what was my place and role in society as a musician, being “non-essential” and unable to perform for almost two years.
During this period we’ve set up a Ciné-concert on the movie “Plogoff des pierres contre des fusils” which is a documentary by Nicole and Felix le Garrec on the rebellion of a Breton population against the construction of nuclear plant on their lands, in the late 70’s. It was the opportunity to connect with a new type of material which is definitely political and rooted in the anti-nuclear struggle, rather on “not in my backyard” side. This taught me I could meet another kind of audience and that, as musicians, we could have a real impact on how the film’s message would be transmitted to people.
I understood that our role as composers is to help people connect with their own emotions but also to other sensibilities, approaches, to other people generally. This helps me as an individual to connect with others as well.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
The connection between music and the big topics of life is pretty abstract to me. Music can be deep but it’s only music. I know it’s been present at some moments, when I was going through all kinds of phases. But I don’t see songs as mirrors of your thinking about big topics. Art pieces are at the same time much simpler and more complex than that.
Music, as a process or as something I’d listen to never really helped me understand or solve problems. It was a support and my life depends on it and maybe it helped me wire my brain in some way so I could live a better life though.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I don’t think I’m the right person to talk about that connection. Maybe you could ask Holly Herndon or my friend François Joncourt who often works with scientists!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music is what I do for a living and it’s the activity I put most of myself in. I committed myself to music 25 years ago, I’ve had other jobs or occupations but they just couldn’t compete with it.
I don’t feel that I try to express something through music. I craft songs, music pieces and then, hopefully, some kind of meaning will emerge from them.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I have to say it’s a total mystery to me. Do I want to understand it? I’m not even sure.
Several times I’ve cried listening to Eliane Radigue’s music. It goes beyond my understanding. And I’m totally okay with it.