Name: Orphan Swords
Members: Yannick Franck, Pierre de Mûelenaere
Occupation: Producers, Sound Artists
Current Release: Ascent on Hedonic Reversal
Recommendations: Y: Anna Tsing: “The Mushroom At The End of The World: On The Possibility of Life In Capitalist Ruins”
P: Ivan Seal & The Caretaker “Everywhere, An Empty Bliss”, a book published by FRAC Auvergne. Ivan Seal’s paintings have accompanied almost all of James Kirby’s output as The Caretaker over the last two decades until it recently came to an end with the release of stage 6 (“Everywhere at the end of time”) This book provides a look at their collaboration, focusing on the issues surrounding memory: its wanderings, its flickers and its malfunctions.
If you enjoyed this interview with Orphan Swords, visit their website, where you can find more information and music. They also maintain a facebook page, an Instagram account, a bandcamp shop and a soundcloud page.
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?
Y. I started with electronics around 2005. I was studying visual arts but the performative aspects of music, especially experimental music, seemed closer to the function I thought art must have. Creating a ritual, questioning common sense. Also I found the visual arts system too materialistic for my taste.
P. I attended a laptop show by Fennesz at Ancienne Belgique in April 2004, when he released Venice on Mute. The same night I decided to learn music production (MAO) on my own, starting from scratch, just with a computer and an Internet connection, and zero knowledge in music, software, instruments, etc. At this time, I was a bookseller. Ten years later, with our respective background and experience Yannick and I decided to create Orphan Swords together.
For most artists, originality is first 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 What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
OS: In our modern culture, we aim at singularity. Being different seems like a transcendental value. A modern religion. A celebration of individualism. We hear it all the time. In the late nineties, Apple wanted you to “think different” and buy their product, so about 1.3 Billion users “think different” today. These days with Pierre, but also with our friend and musician Otto Lindholm, we read a lot about Taoism and ancient Chinese philosophies, and we are always impressed how deep their understanding of interdependence is. We try to be ourselves by acknowledging that ideas don’t belong to us, and as a matter of fact we are not much. Just temporary agents, trying to do the best we can with that state of being.
To answer more thoroughly, it’s always been a mishmash of influences and personal elements. Someone (was it Cocteau?) said “it has been done before, but not by me”, which seems so true to me. How could the same thing happen twice?
Also an interesting element about Orphan Swords is that we have extremely different musical taste from one another, and each time we work it’s like an explosion of things that are so diverse that a lot of unexpected things happen in our music. We both like that very much.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Y: We always wanted to make good, unadulterated music, regardless of the genre we were / are exploring. That has never changed.
P: The first challenge was to initiate a production process between the two of us. In fact, not only one process but many. And it is still a creative tool to experiment with those processes, usually along with a conceptual basis. In the case of our debut LP Ascent - released this year - we have started with playing live together in the studio but we spontaneously decided to interchange our usual musical roles. I started to play with a Dave Smith Mopho synthesizer, loop pedal and effects while Yannick was bringing rhythm with his modular synth and reprocessing the whole thing in real time. It was a radical change, as from the beginning I took care of the beats.
Funnily enough, at that time we were starting to think and talk a lot about inversion, for example with this sentence of situationist Guy Debord that Yannick likes to quote « “Dans le monde réellement renversé, le vrai est un moment du faux”. ("In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.") ...
Y: … which led us to conceive Ascent both as an ascension and as a descent within oneself. Similarly the second volume (LP to be released) called Breach is both some kind of fall and the story of an elevation.
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?
Y: The studio was a bedroom with a few guitar pedals. Now it’s a living room with a couple of synths, some compression units, a rhythm box and still guitar pedals. The set up changes according to what you come across at a particular time and feel turned on by hearing. And of course the kind of cashflow you have at the time. For Ascent we switched roles, which might actually be a more powerful change than buying more stuff.
P: The Elektron analog RYTM was for a long time my main weapon for Orphan Swords. It's such a powerful tool. Lately, as I’m working with Otto Lindholm for our “Maze & Lindholm” project (Where The Wolf Has Been Seen, Aurora Borealis, 2018), I started to work with homebuilt synthesisers, various analog synthesisers, effect pedals, looper, and more recently singing bowls, bells and claves.
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?
Y: Humans are very good at fucking things up. In some cases you get Fukushima, in others you get Orphan Swords.
P: I would add; in some cases you have HFT (high-frequency trading systems) or dark pools (a private financial forum or exchange for trading securities) and in others you get Orphan Swords.
OS: Recent researches in the A.I. (like the Alphago project), are contributing to the question what is human and what is machine. But its clearly not a new topic. In fact the questions about the nature of the machine started in art and literature with the myth of the “Machines celibataires” identified by Michel Carrouges in 1954 in the artistic field. Marcel Duchamp, Jean Dubuffet, Georges Bataille, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze, Andy Warhol, Charles Baudelaire, Jules Verne and last but not least Franz Kafka – with for example The Trial or The Penal Colony – with the foreboding sense of technological fascism and the notion that the machines are “evil” in his work.
Human beings are now experimenting more and more with technology around the world. For instance, the data surveillance systems in China that they have now started to sell in the west too. Philip K Dick in his time considered the man-machine question extensively, asserting early on that the difference is not about the level of intelligence but about your empathetic capacity, in fact your “kindness”, meaning a human being – a psychopath especially - may be considered a machine.
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?
Y: It’s all about choice, like pretty much everything else.
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?
Y: Sharing ideas all the time. We’ve sent each other literally hundreds and thousands of messages since we started the band. We cultivate a confrontational worldview and talk about ideas rather than talking shop too much.
P: That endless exchange between us goes in many directions including film, literature, technology, politics, gear but also through collaborations with artists outside of Orphan Swords, like other musicians, fashion designers, visual artists.