Name: Noémi Büchi
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current Release: Noémi Büchi is part of the community of artists around the -OUS-label, for which she will soon record her debut album. In the past, she has recorded a 12inch vinyl EP for the Light of Other Days imprint, titled Matière. Noémi Büchi's current release, Prismic Passages, was culled from her live set at Stockholm's LjudOljud Festival (KMH), in November 2020. It is available as a beautifully designed tape through Visible Dinner.
Recommendations: Luc Ferarri – Photophonie; Gilles Deleuze, l'abécédaire
If you enjoyed this interview with Noémi Büchi and would like to find out more about her compositions and work with modular synthesizers, visit her personal website. You can also find her on Soundcloud, Instagram and bandcamp.
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?
I discovered playing the piano at a very young age. My parents owned an ancient, unused and out-of-tune piano. For me it was clear from the first keystroke that the piano and music would never leave me, or rather that I would never leave them. A world opened up for me in which I could suddenly express myself so easily and intuitively.
I tried to understand this massive instrument and began to improvise freely on it. My parents then decided to send me to a composition class and piano lessons, where I learned the classical repertoire and discovered my fascination for romantic and impressionist music. Although my enthusiasm for learning was always great, it was very difficult for me to get excited about reading and writing notes, as it was quite contrary to my desire to improvise.
I always let the sound guide me, and not the other way around, and that hasn't changed until today.
I can't say exactly what attracted me to music, it felt like a kind of destiny for me, without wanting to seem religious. And music was really a place where it was possible for me to deal with difficult moments of my childhood. I don't want to use the term 'escape', but maybe it was a form of expedition, a journey from which I came back a little smarter each time.
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?
I strongly believe that as an artist, and as a human being in general - be it in the field of science, art, or everyday life - you never stop learning. And I don't think that one excludes the other, learning and creation. With every creation you learn, and with learning you develop new understandings, new ways of thinking and new ideas.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
The moment of creation is very close to meditation for me. In this moment I don't think about identity, on the contrary, I detach myself from it. At the same time, I am closest to my true self in this moment, and closer to my authentic self than ever before.
For me, this is my true identity, when I don't have to subject it to a social and cultural context and can and may just sound like 'me'.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My biggest hurdles have always been those presented by the school context. Music creation in school and an institutional context has always been difficult for me to handle because there are other demands on music and principles that often do not meet with my musical thinking and feelings. Instead, they collide with them and sometimes have even nullified them.
The challenge is that I, at the same time, don't want to exclude myself from it, because I'm interested in all kinds of thinking in art and in music. I consider this as a form of openness and very important. That's why I find it even more important that every kind of thinking should, and may, express itself everywhere, in all different kinds of contexts, as long as tolerance, understanding and consideration are cultivated.
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?
When I started to take a deep interest in electronic music and to deal with it, thousands of questions came up, especially questions of a technical nature. The range of possibilities is enormous, and the danger of getting lost in them is very real.
That's why I stayed true to my basic approach and let myself be guided by the sounds. I always think first about what and how I want to sound like, what sound experience I want to determine. Based on this, I decide on specific instruments and software.
And I really like to explore new forms again and again. My first 'electronic years' were very focused on computer music and I was mainly concerned with software, plug-ins and programming languages such as C-Sound, Max Msp or Supercollider. Over the last few years, I have built up a very hybrid little ‘orchestra’.
I don't want to limit myself in terms of sounds. For me, each of my sonic fantasies must be possible. That's the reason why I have such a hybrid way of working. I work a lot with my modular synthesizer, which I use as a source of transformation and synthesis, digital synthesizers, such as my old good friend and my first synthesizer, the Blofeld, objects, computer programs, acoustic instruments, my own sound recordings, my voice, etc.
I like to make my own sound mixes, in which I think already during the production, this mixture and exactly this sound I will never create again. It's unique every time, which also makes each piece special and non-reproducible.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I get inspired by all sort of things. Even when I'm not sitting in my studio, I'm always working and get inspired by things, which are also external from music. So, my life changes every day somehow, because of instruments or extra-musical things.
What has been a real challenge were the programming languages, with which I can still not really reconcile my creative and intuitive 'flow'. This was often coupled with small but intense existential crises. (laughs) And I can say that the recourse to analogue instruments, like the modular synthesizer and the hybrid mixing with digitality has fundamentally strengthened my workflow and my power of imagination.
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?
For me, it is first and foremost important with whom I work, which person creates something with me. The musical approach can be quite different. Anyway every artist has his own technique and idea of how and why. But it is important for me that I can relate to this person on an essential level, and I am talking about the aesthetic level above all. The way of working together is also secondary for me and I like to give every new form of work its chance.
Talking about ideas is very stimulating for me and I love to spend hours fantasising about or planning crazy things. But in the end, of course, it's most beautiful and most powerful when I just play with that person, without a plan, without a big conversation. And that's the best way to find out whether you can work together or not.
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 get up early, between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. For me, the morning is the most important part of the day. It is the moment when my level of concentration and energy is at its peak. It is also a moment of calm and gathering.
I drink a big cup of green tea and then I do something physical. Usually, it's my daily yoga session or a run in the forest or by the river. The relationship between work and body is very essential for me and represents a very important part of my work. If I am not in tune with my body, I cannot make music, nor create anything. After what I call my morning meditation, I choose what needs to be done (deadlines) or what I can do at that moment.
I divide my working process into three phases.
The first phase is in a certain way permanent, and never really ends. So even when I'm not sitting in my studio, I’m always working somehow. I could call this first phase of the working process "the collecting phase". I collect sounds, I record everything that interests me. I collect thoughts, I collect images, I take pictures, I draw things, and I also collect ideas from conversations that could be interesting for my music.
The second phase of the working process happens in the studio. This is the phase of cleaning up. It's a bit like the collector who comes home after his adventure and has to put his things in order. So that's the phase of cleaning. Here I make folders in my computer, divide everything up, make categories of sounds, with the different characters. In this phase I also clean all my material. I repair, delete, cut, and refine the recordings. Here it can also happen that I make certain sound transformations already, although this belongs in the third phase.
The third phase is the most difficult one. I'm not ready for this one every day. I know exactly when I get up in the morning whether today will be a receptive day for this third phase or not. In this phase I compose a piece.
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?
I think I'm in the process of precisely that ... Ask me again in a year.
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 think the ideal state of mind really exists. It comes out from time to time and you really feel it. For me, the ideal creative state happens in this third phase that I mentioned above. I have to be in a specific mindset. The three most important things in this state are: concentration, inner peace and warm energy.
In this phase I always work differently. It’s a sort of a tranny phase and I let myself be guided by my concentration and by my collected sound world. When I am in this concentration phase, my mobile phone doesn’t exist anymore.
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?
I have always experienced music and sound as a form of healing. I think it is the only art that has the ability to penetrate the listener's inner being in this way.
Experiencing music is truly a physical thing, although it is completely immaterial. That's the incredible beauty of it. Sounds come from the outside and penetrate directly into the body and the raw power of the vibrations has a strong physical effect. The ear is an interpreting organ and establishes a reference to the world, and what you experienced in this world. Sounds also have this power to call up memories, they excite directly, like a shock to the organism itself. Through hearing, we are directly and affectively involved in the play of forces in the world.
When I listen to very long and deep drones, like for example the pieces of Éliane Radigue: I’m suddenly a resonating body, and I’m immersed in a sort of amniotic state of being, invited to bathe in the timelessness of the world before birth. Music is also the only art that has the ability to be so strongly in the now. Human beings are creatures that think of simultaneity as happening one after the other. This separation of the simultaneous into the successive, is thinking. Thinking can therefore also be seen as the negation of the simultaneous. But time has only one reality - the moment - and through music we manage to experience and immerse ourselves in this simultaneity.
Beauty through sound, through music, is when we feel life in us. We experience a feeling of emotional or intellectual euphoria - and it is able to provoke poetic activity within us. It can be hurtful or joyful, this doesn’t matter, both are beautiful.
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?
I find it very important to explore, discover and pass on other ways of thinking, other ways of expression and other aesthetics. For me, this also has a lot to do with curiosity, which I think is very essential for artistic activity. This curiosity should be allowed and exchange should be an enrichment for all sides. No one owns culture, it is here to be lived out, exchanged and experienced.
I also believe that nothing is original, that everything that surrounds us in the world and in art is and was already there and that everything is variation. We are constantly copying, reinterpreting the world that has always existed. So why not, I like the idea of 'artistic recycling'.
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?
This idea of physicality in music is very strong for me. Our perception and our mind direct our senses, and as I mentioned above, how memories can be evoked through certain sounds or pieces is very fascinating. It is a very individual path for each person.
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 don't make a connection between my art and politics. That is not in my interest and not in my abilities. I don't see a specific role in my music in a social sense. Except perhaps that it means a lot to me when my music can touch other souls.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music expresses that which cannot be said. You can only experience it as a resonating body and as an involved subject. I experience timelessness through music. So there is neither end nor beginning. Music is self-contained, like a circle.
Every moment in music is only a transition, another intermediate state - like the never-ending flow of life.